Sep 022013
 
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Whilst the government called Ed Miliband “a fucking cunt” and a “copper-bottomed shit” for saying no to a repeat of Iraq, it would appear the French – who did say no to Iraq all those years ago – have known that Syria has had chemical weapons for at least thirty years:

The announcement comes after Sunday’s French paper, Journal du Dimanche, said French intelligence agents had compiled information showing that some of the weapons had been stockpiled for nearly 30 years.

And if the French have known it, surely the NSAs and GCHQs of the world have known it just as much.

Which brings us to the matter of a request by a UK company to export precursors of chemical weapons to the Syrian government last year.  Here we have the British government’s reaction, via the Lib Dem member of the Coalition, Vince Cable.  A little disingenuous to say the least:

The licences for the two chemicals were granted on 17 and 18 January last year for “use in industrial processes” after being assessed by Department for Business officials to judge if “there was a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or be diverted for such an end”, according to the letter sent by Mr Cable to the arms controls committee.

Mr Cable said: “The licences were granted because at the time there were no grounds for refusal.”

No grounds for refusal – except thirty years of stockpiling, Mr Cable.

Right?

So what do we have then?  A UK Coalition government, which commits austerity violence on its own population, gaily spending our taxpayer dosh on coming to decisions to export potentially dangerous chemicals to war-torn regions – war-torn regions where their government is one of the few which hasn’t signed international treaties on not using the WMDs that can be made from such chemicals … and this UK Coalition I talk of finds itself able to congratulate itself that it has complied with the law, even as it foul-mouths the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition for saying no to any resulting Western “intervention”.

Which by the way would, as a Facebook photo that just whizzed through my feed pointed out, involve members of our Armed Forces “fighting [in a way] alongside Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war”.

This, I feel most strongly, is the result of what we might term the psychodrama of austerity unspooling.  What I’m not quite sure of is whether we were brutal and incoherent abroad first – and then learnt how to be so at home.  Or, perhaps more likely, vice versa – in a (sociopolitical) vice of totally immoral proportions.

When you learn how to treat your own people as scroungers, wasters, chavs and layabouts, how much easier it must be to think that on the foreign stage you can prance your incongruences – brightly flailing their idiocy and unkindness without anyone caring.

He (or she) who can call the Leader of the Opposition a “shit” and a “cunt” is able to see all voters, all opponents, all anti-war activists, all thinking people who are unsure of this matter … everyone who does not instinctively agree with what only starts out as yet another drone- and cruise-missile-led adventure … well, anyone who does not automatically say yes is also going to be seen as a “shit”.  No wonder austerity is so easy for them.  We are simply bits and pieces of political (sometimes literal) cannon fodder in a cruel and global conflict.

The problem here, of course, and I leave it without resolution on my part, is that whilst Iraq was the war we should’ve said no to – a war, in fact, the French did say no to – perhaps this Syria biz is quite something else.

What’s more, if the French are prepared to declassify intelligence which shows Western governments knew that Syria had stockpiled chemical weapons for nigh on thirty years, and then did absolutely nothing about it, it surely does beg the following question:

“How can our own political institutions and structures choose to make money out of such evil political trajectories – and then expect us to vote in favour of anything the former propose?”

From chemical weapons to Saddam’s unspeakable WMDs to austerity politics where the poor are savaged by the consequences of the acts of the rich, even as the rich are able to emerge unscathed, we have a politics which is broken quite as badly as it ever could be.

No wonder we feel like being shits to the profession.  They’ve been cunts to us all along.


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Jul 142013
 
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Iraq, if nothing else a misjudged war of choice in terms of its failure to democratically execute a post-war settlement, has left behind it fatalities galore.  There are the bloodied ones of course: Wikipedia gives us a list of many estimations here.  But there are other ones too.

I tweeted the following just now:

Current paucity of political leadership in our body politic is, in part, ‘cos Iraq wiped out the moral weight of too many clever people.

It bears further exploration and explanation.  So many politicians, both of Labour and of other parties, have been morally tainted by the decisions then taken.  A whole body politic, the United Kingdom body politic, putting its collective name to such decisions as it manifestly did, has had the meadow of its moral high ground scythed by the following years.

The figurative heads of brilliant brainy political wonks have been violently lopped off, as all kinds of moral gymnastics have taken to their declamatory stages.

I’m thinking in particular of people like David Miliband, a bright button of eloquent communication if there ever was one.  But there are, of course, many others.

What this has led to as a result is something quite tragic: the progressive side of this body being in power at the time, Labour’s ability – years later – to fight a rearguard action against Coalition evils has been mortally wounded by what it – in power and government at the time of Iraq – had unavoidably to take ownership for.

Yes.  It’s true that many notable Conservatives supported these decisions so many years ago now.  But they didn’t take the final decisions – they haven’t been wounded in quite the same way.  It’s almost as if we feel Labour should have known better.  Wars of choice fit badly with socialist principles, after all.  We don’t have quite the same perception for those who occupy Tory-land.

So why is this generation of politicos so rubbish?  Partly because the Labour ones cannot full-throatedly act in a principled way.  (Or at least in a way so many of its natural voters would judge to be principled.)  Yes.  They took ownership for their deeds, but continue – in the main – to fight a quite different rearguard action: that of justifying their positions when the history of implementation has clearly shown them to be wanting.

But this is not the only consequence of a conflict like Iraq destroying the ability of a generation of bright sparks to continue sparking as brightly as we need them to.  Assuming that pyramidal politics – that politics which insists on situating CEO-types fragilely atop heavy hierarchies – is the only politics we can expect, it’s clear that apart from the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, Iraq has also taken its toll – a decade later – on the people and politics of the United Kingdom.

What has the Coalition government learnt from Labour’s experience?  That in times of awful misjudgement – in this case, the econopocalypse of austerity-driven policy-making (a kind of Iraq-like impulse, if there ever was one, to redefine and redraw the landscape of a society from scratch) – what you must never ever do is take ownership.

So we have a government like Cameron’s which blames everyone and their bedroom-taxed abodes for the miseries that result from one-percent economics.  Stiglitz is right: the one percent are playing everyone else off everyone else.  And our current crop of politicians, now stuck in the mire of historical moral inefficiency, does exactly the same thing.

This generation of politicos is so rubbish not because it needed to be so.  Rather, because Labour on the one hand, hobbled by its lack of a historical high ground, and the Tories on the other, now having learned the lesson and importance of cowardice in political discourse, have lost their societal compass: they see the voters, you and me, as the corporate CEOs see their customers.  People unworthy of straight-talking; unworthy of sincerity; unworthy of open and honest communication.  To be messaged, massaged, nudged and finally cheated.

Meanwhile, we have the Lib Dems.  Supposedly dedicated to a better and freer way of doing things.  Vigorous defenders of our liberties as the Snoopers’ Charter was kept at bay.

And all the time both GCHQ and the NSA were spending the decade taping our every electronic emission.

Under what would appear to be deliberately engineered loopholes.

Sink holes more like.

Black holes even better.

No wonder this generation of politicos is so rubbish.  They’ve been trawling, living in, inhabiting the London backstreets of an elitist perception of the masses.

It’s the first time that’s tricky.  The first time you savagely misjudge something – criminally, one might even say.  But after that, it’s easy sailing.

Our society doesn’t believe in the redeeming qualities of real redemption, either.

If you do something bad, you are to be classed as forever bad.

So it is that this generation of politicos is so rubbish because they are weak – and have chosen to be so.  But they are also so very rubbish because we are lazy – and prefer to define them in terms of a damning black and white.

We’re not all to blame exactly.

But neither are we free of culpability.

We don’t have the politicians we deserve.  We do have the politicians we have made.  Rubbish in, rubbish out – RIRO, if you prefer – is a law of the universe we seem to be subscribing too.

Not sure why.  Not sure it’s a free choice.  (Not sure if we even knew we were making it when we made it.)

Anyhow.  RIP, the UK body politic.  And maybe, shortly, invisibly so, rather a large number of its subjects too.


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Mar 162013
 
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Peter has just kindly pointed me in the direction of a film I should’ve stumbled across much sooner in my life.  It’s called “Odd Man Out”.  It’s directed by Carol Reed.  You can find out more about it here.

Now watch this clip below – and focus in particular on this saddening reflection.


http://youtu.be/SqctI12CBzo

“I am nothing.”  Not even charity.

Feel lonely?  It’s hardly surprising.  Making us feel lonely has become the weapon of choice of politicians in crisis.  And as the BBC reports on the awful implications of the Cyprus crisis:

The deal also involves a levy on bank deposits intended to ensure investors contribute to the bailout, the BBC’s Andrew Walker in Brussels reports.

People with less than 100,000 euros in Cypriot bank accounts will have to pay a one-time tax of 6.75%, while those with more will have to pay 9.9%. It is expected to raise 5.8bn euros in additional revenue.

A European Central Bank (ECB) official said the Cypriot authorities had already started to take action to ensure that the levy can be collected. Otherwise, there would be a likelihood of massive withdrawals to avoid it, our correspondent adds.

All of a sudden, people with savings become investors.  Amazing, isn’t it?  From bank deposit levies to bedroom taxes, our rapacious and single-minded political overlords are struggling – as we write, speak and exchange our saddest of thoughts – to hold things together with even a smidgen of coherence.  Whilst millions of children are thrust back into British poverty, billions of pounds in bonuses are distributed by failing British banks to their employees.

No wonder we all feel lonely.  “This cannot be right or just – or even efficient,” we think.  “There must be some other way forward.”

In 2003, when the Iraq War approached, I definitely felt I was the Odd Man Out.  It drove me spare; kind of drove me mad.  It took me a long time to recover.

But what I most fear today is that this same process, to a lesser degree, will now affect millions of thinking citizens.  When powerful owners of communication processes tell us over and over again that what we see and feel is wrong and misplaced, how else can it be?  How else can we react?  How else but to go into some kind of shell and begin to hide away from the reality they deny us?

The tactics they now use are to make us all feel we are odd men and women.  And although we perceive in our calmer moments of understanding that you cannot have a whole nation made of square pegs, they have managed to debilitate our comprehension of what’s going on to such an extent that nothing at all surprises us any more.

Nor do we protest very much – or, at least, that’s the way it seems to be going.  From initial despair to an overwhelmingly resigned misery, there are so many people out there who will begin to give up even on their lives.

They will, you must accept by now, be thinking about giving up on anything more than simple survival.

And so we take it slyly onboard.  And so we seamlessly absorb the implications.

Disabled people thrown out of their homes?  Unemployed people blamed for the consequences of government austerity?  The sick and elderly seen as a drain on our economy?  Privilege defined as the solution to a dysfunctional economy?  “Meh!  Meh!  Meh!  Meh!”

My advice?  Understand loneliness as a litmus test of injustice.  Externalise your fears; don’t blame yourself.  Remember your child and comprehend the unkindness of others.  And above all, face up to this undeniable fact: this Coalition government of ours is psychologically ruthless and without qualms of any sort.

Democracy provides us with no tools or processes to get rid of a government which – more than anything – uses psychological abuse to control, organise and impose its political impulses.  Physical violence would provoke a response from the courts.  But psychological violence at a state-engendered level is still not to be found in the rule books.

So then.  A revolution we need – the question is which.  You cannot abuse an abuser if you want to remain at all emotionally whole.  You cannot fight violence with violence and hope to remain aloof.  Where are we now?  What next for those finite perishable goods we call human beings?  Creatures whose lives are simply drifting down that 21st century gadget-ridden creek without a single bloody empowering paddle to their names.

And all this while, these politicians and business leaders whose crises I mention flailingly attack the entirely blameless citizens they still rule over.

In order to make such citizens feel entirely blameworthy.

In order to make them feel entirely odd.


http://youtu.be/KrkwgTBrW78


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Jan 282013
 
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Kevin describes Michael Gove’s dogmatic approach to politics thus:

Last week’s announcement by Michael Gove that AS Levels would no longer count towards an A Level grade was a classic example of making policy based on dogma not evidence.

The rest of his post bears careful reading as a historical account of hysterical behaviours.

Meanwhile, I am reminded of the recent campaigns by the UK Coalition government to undermine the prestige of professionals such as lawyers, doctors, nurses and teachers (more here) as the former proceeded with what I believe is its manifest intention to destroy the impact of evidence-based approaches on decision-making and replace them with the prejudice-driven irrationalities of CEO-types everywhere.

As the nexus and revolving doors between poor private-industry practice and lazy public-sector behaviours grow evermore significant, so it would seem that a new generation and class of witch doctors is filling the space a broader religion once occupied.  It must be a little like what happens when mainstream parties decide to rid themselves of the triangulation surrounding the ill-conceived subject of immigration.  All of a sudden, in unpleasant response, right-wing splinter groups set themselves up and begin to cream off the disaffected voters from both sides of the political spectrum.  It seems there is no true or persistent way of ridding ourselves of prejudice these days.  Instead, we must make it our own – deflect it and rewrite its horrible discourse so that what we say and do and see at least sounds nicer than it did.

And so it is thus: whilst New Labour, in many cases, brought a terrible rationalism to its policy-making (the number-crunching of people multiplied a millionfold it would seem), and even as it was brought down by the foolish faith of Blair, doing God precisely when it said it didn’t as it launched the world on its crusade against evil, even so it would appear that it was for most of its winning streak a generally evidence-based beast.  Yet at the same time it is clear there were all these Conservative politicians in the twin wildernesses of opposition and their own prejudices.

No outlet on the battlefields of power; no opportunity to express and impose for more than a terribly impotent decade.

No surprise, then, that the politicians who now rule prefer to rule out of knee-jerk instinct and impulse than sensible debate and rational conclusion.

In the absence of widespread religion, a kind of superstition many would argue, it is the witch doctors of 21st century decision-making who rule: those who are made in the image of pyramidal attitudes everywhere; those who hanker after their undemocratic powers to do and undo; those we call politicians and whom we love to call names; those who rule our lives without particular qualification except – that is – the ability to sway the directions of history through ridiculous force of personality.

And we are now at the mercy of a complex society which is being run on the high-octane fuel of miserable misleadingness.

“What to do!  What to do!” is all I can exclaim.

When those in power refuse to believe in science is when religion and superstition have won the game.

And, right now, I really do think that’s where we’re heading.

Not at the hand of priests, churches or faith-leaders.

Rather, at the hand of the least qualified and least productive decision-makers in history.

The UK Coalition government and its hangers-on.

Witch doctors to a century.


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Oct 182012
 
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I’ve had serious disagreements with Paul Evans over copyright.  It even led me to stop writing for a while on this blog.  Partly because I contract the means of production – server, hosting and so forth – with a company of his.  When I took exception to one of his tweets – I shouldn’t have done, it was no big thing – is when I felt I was located in the wrong place.

And I’d only just moved from my previous location on Google’s Blogger.  It was hardly a question of upping sticks and moving on again.  Better to shut up shop and quietly close down.

Nevertheless, writing is what I do – whether paid or not.  I found it difficult – impossible – not to continue with 21st Century Fix.

So here we are, quite a few months on.

Yet family discussions have led me to re-evaluate Paul’s most recent piece on copyright, copyleft and the Knowledge Society.  My own opinion on the latter can be found on many posts here – one in particular argues that the Knowledge Society of remunerated brainwork and imagination has been hijacked by the social web.  Meanwhile, Paul takes a rather more measured and evidenced approach in a post from last July.  You can read what he thinks here.

And the family discussion which has led me to re-evaluate this matter?  My middle son wants to go into the world of cinema.  He’s been studying Media Studies for three years at school now; he’s an accomplished editor; he has a grand ability to conceptualise and criticise narrative; and I think – in the round – he could do very well.  My wife is worried, however, that he doesn’t want to go to university here in Britain.  His objective is to go to a vocational film school abroad.  The issue is, of course, the funding.  She doesn’t want to see him ending washed-up in dead-end jobs at the age of twenty-five without a penny or qualification to his name.  And I understand this – mainly because in a way that’s where, as a writer, I’m headed.

Only I’m fifty.

Thus it is that I wonder if there isn’t a curiously subconscious political process of social engineering taking place at the moment.  The argument would run as follows: this Coalition government has consistently attacked, undermined and deconstructed professionals.  From doctors, GPs and nursing staff to lawyers, educators and scientists, every single process of opposition to current institutions from government circles has been aimed at prioritising businesspeople and politicians over what we have traditionally seen to be our society’s experts.

Hunch, prejudiced opinion and even testosterone have been slyly introduced into our public discourse as substitutes for rational thought.  And I wonder why this might be the case.

Why should politicians and their moneyed sponsors – businesspeople – find it so necessary to destroy the hold professionals had on society?  I think it is perhaps for two conflicting reasons: first, the vast majority of politicians and businesspeople must feel – when acting as politicians and entrepreneurs – that they are, in a traditional sense, under-qualified.  There is no university for hunch, opinion and testosterone.  Whether subconsciously or not, this surely has an impact on how these people feel about other highly qualified types.  They will, of course, feel threatened. They will, of course, look to neutralise this threat.

Second, universal education in itself has slowly begun to undermine the dark arts of professionals everywhere.  This may, indeed, be the century where professionals become – essentially – irrelevant.  Right now, I suspect my son has a better chance at editing films and eking out a living from it than any budding writer of his age.  Blogging – and social media more generally – mean everyone has the opportunity to learn how to write half-decently.  And many who earn their living in newspapers, those which still manage to make a living themselves, don’t necessarily write half as decently as the amateurs out there.

Film editors, meanwhile, still work within an industry where copyright sanctions have their fierce and terrible consequences.

So it is that professionals everywhere are scrabbling to justify their right to be paid.  Just think how the less qualified then feel: those charismatic leaders who studied hardly appropriate MBAs or law and thus must look to parent nations with little more than the Dr Spocks of political advice to help them out in their labours.  Of course you’re going to want to undermine any vestiges of certain control such highly qualified specialisations may continue to exert over society.

Because if an educator, doctor, scientist or lawyer can begin to lose their white-coated command of what happens in our civilisations, just think what an unleashed universally-educated populace – eager to create an utterly participative democracy – could do to the “profession” of politician.

Seven years of study and the government can still choose to ignore your opinion?

How many years of validated study – in the field of politicking – has any politician actually got under their populist belts and braces?

*

This may, after all, be the century professionals become irrelevant.  Writing may, in the end, as much other brainwork, as Paul suggests and as I am now inclined to agree, become the preserve of those amateurs with time to burn.

But whilst the people will be highly educated amateurs able to do lots of stuff for free (that is to say, paying with their leisure time for the right to exercise a trade), the professionals who really might have stretched the envelopes of knowledge and truth will, more than likely, end up suffering the ignominy of a terrifying wage slavery.  And possibly not even in the sector they used to practise.

In such a way, our risibly unqualified politicos will continue to dominate the face of this terrible planet for an all-too-foreseeable future.

Let us be clear: whether conscious or not, this is, after all, the re-establishment of serfdom in 21st century terms.


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Sep 102012
 
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In many ways, the virtual reflects the real world.  Identity online, who you are really communicating with and even with what degree of privacy, is an issue electronically just as much as it can be offline.  In the early days of the printing press, meanwhile, uncontrolled copying of content meant authors and publishers were left with little compensation for their efforts.  And so we could argue that the Internet – or more exactly the worldwide web – is at such a stage in its development.

The law, however, is in many respects another case altogether.  Traditional ways of making constitutions which rule and structure how people behave have either been conscious and overt – as exemplified by written constitutions the world over – or unwritten but just as binding through sentences handed down by courts.  In both cases, however, to a certain degree anyhow, representative democracy has acted over the process.

Latterday 21st century constitutions are utterly different from the above.  Here, software code itself defines how we behave and interact.  Code, in fact, is the law of our times.  But democracy has not been involved in the game.

Which is why I would argue that people who become specialists in their technical fields need to acquire and learn how to follow strict moral codes.  For the following reasons.

Firstly, let me explain that I don’t mean the already regulated areas of teaching, the legal profession and doctoring here.  Instead, such areas of knowledge which help to define, without an appropriate democratic oversight, our current and ever-growing extra-democratic rights and responsibilities: software engineering, entrepreneurial activity, risk-taking of all kinds … the stuff, that is, that we’ve allowed to slip out of democratic control and essentially subvert any chances of an a priori debate.

We could, of course, decide we needed to democratise our specialists far more than they are.  Or, alternatively, we could decide to dispense with them altogether.  But the former would hardly work in an environment where representative democracy is manifestly failing us – whilst the latter, if we care to continue with technology as our civilisation’s driver and saviour, is really no option at all.

No.  Democracy can’t mean we all take part.  Not because democracy doesn’t call for it.  Rather, because our technological prowesses mean it is impossible to contemplate without radically changing how we look as a society.

So we will continue to need specialists as before – to interface between the complex and the ordinary.  But a different kind of specialist: a specialist who doesn’t greedily make huge wealth out of their ability to know something someone else can’t; a specialist who knows how to communicate peer-to-peer.  Peer-to-peer in the sense of human-to-human and not in the sense of competencies.

For there is an alternative: we may choose as I am implying above to introduce a sense of professional vocation into all acts of business, politicking and cultural activity.  If we educate our societies – in a perhaps predistributive way, and as applied to a wider culture – to want different things from the things they currently aspire to, maybe then we can change the results we are currently getting.

It’s no accident that you and I should hanker after new versions of gadgets we already have.  It’s no accident that we should want to eat more than our bodies naturally call for.  It’s no accident that life involves substituting the desire for wealth over the desire for health.  All these instincts are not natural to the human being.  They require nurturing on a grand scale: a grand scale which amoral advertising campaigns have spent the last century delivering.

The only thing we have to do is decide, then, at a grand societal level, that we want our people to want other things which don’t break them – and our societies – down.

We need specialists as we’ve never needed them before, that is true.  But we don’t need specialists who believe in using their knowledge to pull the wool over our eyes over and over again.

The lesson?  Don’t hoard as William Gibson is alleged to have said.

Share.

And share before our necessity leads us to take.


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Aug 262012
 
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I wonder if this Coalition government of Cameron’s isn’t living proof of and a definitive answer to the question I pose in the title to this post.  It was Paul’s article on the English GCSE smoking gun which got me thinking along these lines.  Especially where he says (the bold is mine):

Broadly, I think James is right to point the finger at Gove for deliberate political interference, but I think that interference may have been (deliberately) more indirect, and therefore deniable, than first supposed.

It seems to me that one of the prime dangers for the left right now – and more widely the buffeted people of this nation – is in overestimating the importance of being good at government for modern political parties to stay in power.

It seems to me, quite anecdotally I have to admit, that politics as a process and tool for the betterment of civilisation has morphed into a quite separate survival kit for those who belong to those self-contained shock-and-awe guerilla units which to date we have learnt to call political parties; which used to be sourced in and served to represent the interests of particular and well-defined sections of society; and which now – in their lily-livered triangulations – only manage to side with what they judge, well beforehand, to be the de facto winners in any and every political outcome.

And whilst New Labour for a while managed to attend stealthily to the needs of the less well-off, even as it preached liberty and freedom for the unnecessarily ostentatious, it’s this sub-Blair Coalition government of eagerly PR-focussed and cleverly Machiavellian types which has come to the final and destructive conclusion that it’s not the legacy you leave behind you, nor even what history says you do – but, rather, in each and every moment, when and who you do it to.

This is, after all, supposedly the grand age of all individualisms.  How fitting, then, that politics should have become a guerilla warfare against its own voters.  The ultimate individualisation of all: that which turns those who cede all power to precious representatives into mere weapons of mass and mutual destruction.

We, as voters, are no longer the point of modern politics.  Neither is good government the aim any longer of all this politicking.  Rather, it’s simply become a battlefield for socially acceptable benefit claimants: scroungers off the state galore who use ourselves, the voters, as their more or less permanent means (lobbing us as they do back and forth) to a more or less permanent set of positions of employment.

Professional politicos – don’t you just love ‘em?  So obsessed with their calling are they that they’ve finally managed to split off the external objective – society’s progress – from their own internal needs.

A mighty purification of interests going on there.

A mighty purification indeed.

And is that sorry sound which I now hear actually yours truly falling into yet another clever trap laid by moneyed white Anglo-Saxon middle-aged men?

Middle-aged men, with their inevitable hands on the levers of power, who want to see the socialising and supportive – which is to say, overtly politicised – state fall into:

  1. a lazy unexamined disrespect; and
  2. a rigorously controlled disuse.

I do hope not.

But I rather suspect so.  Don’t you?


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Jul 302012
 
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This happens to me every time I go on holiday.  I remember what it was like for me and my wife between 1999 and 2003.  We lived in Spain at the time.  Unemployed but working hard to become self-employed.  Bringing up our children in a beautiful city.  More or less, fairly enjoying every minute.

Every time I come back to this city, I remember how good life can be.  Is it selfish of me, then, to give in to the temptations of good food and sangria and proper coffee and sobaos and all those details of a life correctly lived?  Is it so very wrong for me to leave behind the horrors of Coalition Britain as I escape to a health-engendering climate?  Must I carry around with me wherever I go the terrors of injustice and miserable politics?

And if the answer is no to all these questions, at least whilst I find myself on holiday, what about when I return to my country of work?

What then?

How, in truth, and in the face of such horrible leaders, can I safely maintain my societal anger without forgetting how to fully live my life?

Yes.  There are many battles to be fought and I want to be involved in some of them.  But choosing which to fight and which to retire from seems almost impossible these days.  Our society is becoming evermore paranoid – everything is part of everything else.

Is that what defines a successful latterday politician?  He or she who is most capable of generating paranoia in their voters?

I don’t want to live a life where I must look over my shoulder.  Most people I meet aren’t like that either.  Why – then – can’t our public spaces mimic better our private experiences?  Why – in fact – can’t we learn to start living before we get angry?

Aren’t we simply giving in to the demands of these terrible politicos – as they define the tragedies that are our modern miserable perceptions?  For it is they who turn us into unhappy over-the-shoulder-glancing people.  It is they who turn us into the cattle which can be controlled with a simple whack of a stick.

We need to remain in touch with our anger and learn how to channel it assertively, that is true.  But not at the expense of loving our own right to be happy.

If all I need in order to feel at peace with my world is a week in Spain with real coffee and magdalenas, what right does society have to take this peace of mind away from me for the rest of a debilitating year?

What is this society we have constructed for ourselves?

What have we done to our right – to our ability – to simply be a human being?


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Jul 292012
 
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Michael Gove and bathwater often go together.  He’s the baby – we should throw him out with it.  Or should we?

Once again, he understandably chooses to bury supposedly bad news on Olympic Friday by announcing teachers no longer need teacher-training qualifications to impart their wisdoms.  The implication being that many citizens out there have wisdoms to impart.  In this he is right.  But dequalifying a profession in order to reach those wisdoms is a very bad move.  In politics, in medicine and in teaching too.

There is a massive difference between knowing something and knowing how to transmit that knowledge to someone else.  I suspect our current millionaire government believes it is in possession of significant gobbets of knowhow the rest of us are somehow missing.  And in my current charitable state, on holiday as I am, I’m quite prepared to admit that they may to an extent be right.  Private-sector business, when run well and intelligently, has much to add to our lives.  But dequalifying that business would not help one little bit – just as doing the same to the public sector is going to bring us sadnesses galore.

What’s also clear is that in their desire to dequalify that public sector, this government and Mr Gove in particular demonstrate clearly exactly why we need trained teachers: whilst he may be right in saying we need to allow everyone to be a teacher in some way or other, he himself is showing how difficult such a role is – especially when training is not a part of the mix.  The lesson he’s trying to transmit to us, interesting as I’ve already admitted it might be, is getting lost in his very personal inability to communicate effectively, openly and honestly with his “pupils”.

Gove is using the 21st century equivalent of the cane to move a society brought up in democracy.  What’s more, he’s caning his victims behind the closed doors of Olympic Friday.  That’s not a good example of teaching but a bad example of bullying.

And whilst we do need more plurality and inclusiveness in teaching – in such a profession we will never have enough – we certainly don’t need more incompetence.  If the government accurately represents a majority in society, and there is a feeling out there as yet unbidden that the current system of qualifications makes it impossible for more interesting people to be able to share their experiences with pupils, students and learners, surely what we need to re-examine is the system of qualifications itself – not ditch it entirely as something of little use any more.

As a final thought, I would even be inclined to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a good idea – as already mentioned on these pages – to properly qualify and professionalise the job and role of politicians.

In fact, perhaps the desire to dequalify existing professions has something to do with the rough, tumble and stupidity of latterday politicking.  If I am right in my thesis, those who practise without proper certification in our 21st century democracies are bound to fear any wider movement in society to maintain and expand such systems of training (systems we might argue they are manifestly dismantling to facilitate in part their corporate sponsors). If an inability to properly carry out a political role in modern government is the current qualification, no wonder this crop of politicos wishes to do away with any move towards tests, training and exams for adult practitioners of the “dark arts” of any profession.

For one day, you never know, such an expansion of democratic knowhow could even lead to our leaders being fit for their responsibilities.

And that, surely, at least for people like Mr Gove, would never do.

Now would it?


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May 082012
 
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Today, allegedly, the Coalition has been relaunched in a tractor factory.

Coincidentally, here’s a video which came my way this morning via a dear Spanish friend, on the subject of the quite unprofessional nature of, at the very least, some modern politicos.  It’s sung in Russian – but the message I think, unfortunately, is universal.

http://youtu.be/4CYqw4s6XF8

And, in case you didn’t capture my manifest lack of enthusiasm for politics this afternoon, here’s a sequence of images which more fully express my distress.

No.  You’re right.  The story it tells is far too complex for a poster – but my feelings, right now, after the miserable performance of Cameron and Clegg earlier on, are also far too complex for me to know how to express them any more succinctly.

This relaunch has been about as thought-through as recent government policy: symptomatic and representative of everything that the casually rich in easy power get up to.  If only the icebergs we can see on the political horizon were as inconsequential as the cursory presentations our alleged leaders gave a few hours ago.

We really are in trouble, aren’t we?


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May 072012
 
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I just tweeted the following thought:

“Austerity” is a neat euphemism – just like “collateral damage”: those who use it refuse to take ownership for the pain they cause.

A definition of “collateral damage” then?  This is what Wikipedia currently says on the matter:

Collateral damage occurs when something incidental to the intended target is damaged during an attack. When used in conjunction with military operations it can refer to the incidental destruction of civilian property and non-combatant casualties.[1][2]

Whilst some time back we might have thought the intended target of austerity strategies everywhere was supposedly lazy and complacent economic processes – foolish lending by lenders on the one hand, excessive borrowing by borrowers on the other – it would now appear that the real object of austerity measures has become the people themselves.  Essentially because those in power now care to shift the blame for their manifest stupidities onto those who occupy the lower levels of societal hierarchy:

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said that banks were not solely responsible for the financial crisis as “they had to lend to someone”.

The minister, who played a key role in drawing up David Cameron’s economic strategy in opposition, also claimed that people who took out loans were “consenting adults” who, in some cases, were now be seeking to blame others for their actions.

And this:

“Households were spending more than they earned. That’s why household debt rose.”

It’s clear, then, that up there in the stratosphere of decision-makers, there must be a more widely shared perception that voters and their families and friends – not systemic failure of complex financial instruments – are now in the cross-hairs of those who make policy.

Mr Hammond is hardly going to have invented the idea in a vacuum, after all.

It is my thesis, therefore, that austerity measures as engineered and devised of late do not aim to sort out a dysfunctional economy first and foremost – only collaterally damaging and hurting the people who depend on its workings.  No.  In reality, these people in charge are looking precisely to damage and hurt the people first and foremost, for it is they who are to blame for not having operated as economies most need.

Whilst before we wondered if the people had become a necessary, even if sad, collateral damage to an attempt to rescue an economy, it seems clear to me now – and perhaps to you too – that the economy has become a necessary, even if sad, collateral damage to a pontificating and patronising attempt from top-flight politicos to allegedly rescue the people from themselves.

We the people are being punished because we do not act as these politicos and economists various believe economies need us to act: sensibly, rationally, intelligently and measuredly.

Because we cannot manage that, they – even they – are prepared to sacrifice their own love of that beast which is the economy (their whole reason for being, acting and researching) on the altar of societal suicide.

Rather than contemplate making economic theory in the image of the people’s needs, they prefer to prejudice the perishable goods that are people’s finite lives.

In this, both politicians and economists are the trench-warfare generals of our time.

Where, if not at the beginning of the 20th century, are we to find such an example of stubborn idiocy and casual cruelty as we now bear witness to in economic theory and practice – and throughout the world that serves to destroy us?

People in charge who refuse to take ownership for the pain and destruction they administer.

A passive-aggressive state if there ever was one.


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May 052012
 
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One of our biggest battles, as we try and think our way out of the mess that New Labour left behind it, is understand and accept exactly that it was pyramid politics itself which became the cause of our problems rather than their solution.

As Adam Bienkov, writing for New Statesman, says of Ken Livingstone today (the bold is mine):

The problem was not Ken’s agenda, but the fact that it was Ken calling for that agenda. The sad truth is that after 41 years in London politics, too many Londoners have simply stopped listening to him. Every politician has a shelf life, a point where voters look at them and coldly decide to give another product a go. For Ken that happened in 2008 and he has spent the past four years failing to come to terms with it.

Now, whilst I’m inclined to agree Bienkov is right in what he says, I’m also inclined to believe he doesn’t have to be right in what he says.

Let me explain.

In the light of the economic crises which have destroyed the standards of living of the vast majority of citizens, we thrash and flail around as we attempt to invent and fashion the idea of a sustainable economics: the sort of thing which doesn’t Big Bang its way onto our horizons, only to contract when we least expect it just as suddenly from our grasps.  No.  Something less dramatic seems to be the tenor of our latterday discourses: something which grows sensibly, sustainably, in accordance with and respectful of the environments we are obliged to operate inside.

A sustainable economics, then, where top people aren’t so top and bottom people aren’t so bottom; where creativity and leadership are allowed to flower at every level; where, indeed, the levels flatten and become as close to a single hierarchy as is practically and sensibly possible.

In times of crisis, we look for such solutions.  Only in times of relative success do we ignore the consistent need for sustainability.

So if we translate this desire to political science, could we contemplate the possibility of a sustainable politics?

Not one based on that Darwinian slant of dog eat dog in unending conflict.  Rather, where modern commercial virtues such as collaboration and teamwork came to the fore of all political activity.

A while ago, I suggested Ed Miliband might be looking for this – even as he tried to negotiate our way out of the bind New Labour had dropped us in; and even as most of us managed to misunderstand those instincts.

In reality, I think, if I interpret them rightly, his instincts are pretty true for a 21st century context.  Both big business and current political practice are still unhappily engineered – at least in part – on the basis of an age-old history of kings, queens, serfs and servants.

What we need now, on the other quite different hand, is a new and sustainable politicking based on the far more democratic ideals of a republic of the voters.


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Mar 262012
 
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I wrote yesterday on the Open Rights Group’s 2012 Conference, held in London on Saturday at the University of Westminster.

Here, now, you can find the keynote speech given by Lawrence Lessig.  Lessig is best known for his work on copyright, but of late his accumulated wisdoms have led him to investigate the real reasons behind the destruction of our democratic discourse.  In the speech you can find below, you will see examples taken from the fields of technology and copyright which – whilst entertaining in themselves and of vast interest to the geekier ones amongst us – have a much greater relevance to the much wider context of general political activity.

Mr Lessig is an obsessive seer of connecting strands.  He understands how our society works by taking many different-angled bites at the apple of our behaviours.  I would beg you, therefore, whether you consider yourself a geek or a politician, to take the time out to see and listen to what he has to say.

His is no longer a discourse limited to the rarefied concepts and theory of copyright law.  He speaks universally – and deserves universal attention.

Many thanks, by the by, for Open Rights Group’s herculean efforts which brought him to British shores this weekend.

Recognizing the Fight We’re In from lessig on Vimeo.


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Mar 152012
 
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In itself, to call Reading, Writing and Arithmetic the Three Rs says it all.  But I shan’t go there.

On and off, I’ve trained people in foreign languages for about twenty years now.  Learning to communicate using the code we call language is a highly emotional activity.  Many, if not most, teachers and trainers are aware of this.  You have to perform when you learn a language, every minute of your learning path.  You can’t hide at the back of the class and then go away to the library and mug up on what you’ve not done.

Doing in languages means precisely that.

And whilst teachers and trainers are fully aware of this reality, many politicians it would seem are not.

One example.  The best language course I ever taught was together with a young American woman called Laurie.  We invented the course framework and content ourselves – well, mainly she did.  She was – still is – the product of the very best of American educational culture as well as being a highly intelligent woman.

The course in question taught Spanish-speaking students at a car components factory to make oral presentations in English.  We grouped them according to their interests – that is to say, the internal motivation which made them want to do presentations – rather than in terms of their levels.  Thus it was we had students ranging from pre-intermediate level to advanced all in one class.  The basic thesis and thrust of the course was that your ability to perform in a language depended just as much, if not more, on how you had prepared the activity beforehand as on the theoretical, grammatical and content-based definition of your current state of knowledge.

Which is to say, your apparent ability to perform in a foreign language could be just as easily affected by how well you used what you already knew.  It wasn’t just a question of acquiring more information but – also, perhaps more importantly – being given the tools to communicate better with what you already had.

The result of this course?  The pre-intermediate student gave a far superior oral presentation to the advanced student – and to such an extent that the advanced student was happy to recognise he’d been out-gunned on all sides by his “less able” colleague.

What did Laurie and her American background serve to teach us all so valuably then?  That knowing how to think and brainstorm in a foreign-language context – and therefore organise and structure one’s thoughts – was key for those students who’d reached a glass ceiling beyond which any amount of further learning seemed incapable of reaching.

The experience of the course showed us – very simply – that it’s not what you know but how you use it.  After all, when you make a phonecall in your own language, don’t you prepare the call first?  Name, number, what you want to achieve, possible questions from the client/supplier, when you’d like to call again/when you can be called?  So if you choose to do it in your own language, why not in the language of others?

Dear professional politicos and Ofsted junkies: before you get on your hobby horses of broken and braking literacy, consider very carefully the extralinguistic skills which both leisure and business might require of us all – and which could liberate us some way towards using and enjoying far better what we already know and command.

Try and trust our students a little better – they’re far more knowledgeable about many things than we sometimes believe.  They don’t need to know more – they need to think and brainstorm better.

Teach them the latter – and everything they are already aware of will fit into place.


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Mar 132012
 
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We’re all getting fat, cardiac attack-ridden  and cancerous, I see.  The latest news from the US this morning indicates those who eat red meat and sausages have an increased chance of suffering from the aforementioned ailments.

Yet the obesity I really fear is the one that Louis highlights:

Just as with food: too much made for too few, too much consumed. Information obesity is about the glut of stuff that passes as information, that masquerades as good-for-you info, and that isn’t; that ends up bloating your day with distended periods of nothing doing but consuming the Tweets by twits, the blogs by bores, the stuff not that dreams are made of but killed by.

And I wonder if the destruction of that ideal of representative democracy Paul so seems to miss has not a little to do with Louis’s information obesity:

At a recent public meeting I watched the Council leader, beetroot-faced, being forced to stand in front of a room full of angry local traders with only one line of response: that there was no way the council were going to change any significant part of their parking policy unless a judge forced them to. The budget was set, and that’s that.

Similarly, the Coalition announced some obligation on Parliament to make time for a debate if 100,000 signatures told them to do so. Or, more accurately, this is what the media reported them as doing. The truth is more fuzzy and equally boring and irrelevant, because Parliament can ignore this obligation if it chooses to, as it did recently with 38 Degrees’ petition.

It’s all such a load of rubbish, isn’t it? [...]

I wrote about it recently.  In the end, we may become so absolutely fed up of how unrepresentative our democracy really is that we will simply decide to go elsewhere for our democratic fixes.  Politics is rapidly making itself entirely irrelevant to our needs, precisely because it’s so transparently ineffectual.  It so often says what it really doesn’t mean that even when it means what it says, we cannot believe.  Paul once again:

[...] It’s a downward spiral:

  1. You sense that the public have a lack of faith in Representative Democracy
  2. You introduce a process that allows people to have more of a say in Representative Democracy
  3. The public use it to demand something that elected representatives are not prepared or able to deliver on
  4. The petition is spiked, or paid lip-service to (i.e. perfunctory debate, status quo-ante retained)
  5. Quick assessment to see if this has improved or damaged the reputation of Representative Democracy

The offer of a petition is a typical politicians answer. It should be treated with contempt.

Maybe, in order to resolve the matter, we need to examine not the nuts and bolts of the political machine, processes and procedures but – rather – how the voting public is awash with that information which makes it absolutely impossible for ordinary people to filter and therefore properly understand our reality.

Time for a real movement to accessible open data for everyone.

Not just that hierarchy of power which prioritises the right of our politicos to know before anyone else manages to find out.

We stop insider trading – or at least attempt to – on the stock market: why should our politicians, who currently live and breathe the thrills of political gossip and insider knowledge, be allowed to demand to be treated any differently?


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Mar 092012
 
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First off, I despise that lazy term “disabled people” – or, even worse, “the disabled” – which we in Britain bandy about.  My reasoning, in response to this Hopi Sen post on the subject of the Remploy closures can be found at the foot of the article in question.  I reproduce it below:

Again, slightly at a tangent, but … whilst living in Spain I translated texts from the Spanish into English for a university department which acted in favour of the disabled.  The first thing they did, before they even started the debate off, was change the phrase “disabled people” (“personas con discapacidad”) to “people with support needs” (personas con necesidades de apoyo”).  Spanish legislation has throughout the 20th century used very unpleasant terms to describe such people (even if I remember rightly using the legal figure of “inútiles” – the useless).  It may seem to most of you an irrelevance in the broader scheme of things but only until, if and when we realise disabled people are people first and foremost shall we be able to resolve the discrimination which takes place.  By redefining them as people with support needs (one syllable more than the current term), we even include those of us who later in life will also have support needs.  Which means most of us, one day – even the stinking rich who believe in Darwinian capitalism …

The sooner we change a language which reflects a deep-seated prejudice, the sooner we can focus on attacking the deep-seated prejudice itself.

But the main focus of today’s post is whether subsidies empower “the disabled” – those persons I would far rather we called “people with support needs”?   All I’d like to draw your attention to in response to this issue, for the moment, is how – on the subject of subsidies – we’re quite happy to support, allow and sustain them for large businesses which, whilst simultaneously managing to reduce their tax liabilities to as close to zero as really makes no difference, absolutely refuse to pay for the full costs to a wider planet of their manufacturing and sales processes.  So whilst modern economics contemplates the state picking up the environmental consequences of  building roads, railways, airports, hospitals and schools for the benefit of a bigger society, the tax burden begins to fall proportionately, more and more, on the poorer in that society who have few means, little nous and less knowhow to work out how to pay the minimum.

It’s the big organisations which take most advantage of what essentially become, for them, free services provided by the state to entities which progressively reduce the amount of tax they pay year on year.

Of course, in the case of “the disabled” this is quite unreasonable.  “The disabled” must learn how to stand on their own two feet, mustn’t they?  No socialism for the rich for the poorer ones amongst us.

Which brings me, quite naturally, to my final question: if subsidies do not empower “the disabled” but simply bloat inefficiently and foolishly, why oh why do our politicians believe quite the opposite when it comes to funding the incessant greed of the wealthy?  That is to say, why do politicians believe it is good and right to provide massive subsidies to the perfectly able-bodied?  And especially, I have to say, those transnational corporations which generate the kind of wealth many small- and medium-sized countries would currently envy?

Surely not because these political makers and shakers feel they have a half-decent chance of joining the ranks of the super-rich – if, that is, they do choose to perpetuate the lie?


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