Monday, 31 January 2011

Dagnabbit, Babbitt!

Milton Babbitt's dead. He may not mean much to you, but to me he was a hero - a serialist composer of infinite depth, an early electronic pioneer, and one of the first modernists I ever discovered. He's a cerebral kind of composer, though there's plenty for the emotions here, even a kind of beauty sometimes.



The Queen Is Dead, Long Live The King

White smoke has appeared from the stately chimneys of The Hegemon. Habemus Vice-Cancellariam cheer the loyal drones as we throng the central quadrangle.

Yes, we've appointed a new Vice-Chancellor. Here he is.

A half-holiday is hereby announced for all.

The middle-east's only democracy?

One of the claims Israel makes for itself is that it's the area's only functioning democracy. It's a dubious claim: military leaders habitually become politicians, large numbers of indigenous Palestinians can't vote, unlimited immigration (Jews only) makes sure that Zionist parties are always assured of the numbers, and parties fracture and merge like a kaleidoscope. But still - they have elections and the results are observed.

It turns out now, that the Israeli government and commentariat are far less keen on democracy than on their continued unchallenged and illegal annexation of Palestine. The government has ordered its ministers to keep silent about Egypt for fear of enraging the Egyptian people even further. Into the void steps the newspaper columnist. They don't like democracy, not one bit, because they know that Egyptians - for good or ill - don't like Israel. They'd much rather the Americans Imperium upheld the dictatorship:

One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled "A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam". It accused Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks.

Who is advising them, he asked, "to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president ... an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?"
"The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations ... is painfully naive."
I doubt the average inhabitant of an Egyptian torture chamber would describe Mubarak as the voice of sanity. 

Writing in Haaretz, Ari Shavit said Obama had betrayed "a moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States, promoted stability and encouraged moderation".
To win popular Arab opinion, Obama was risking America's status as a superpower and reliable ally.
"Throughout Asia, Africa and South America, leaders are now looking at what is going on between Washington and Cairo. Everyone grasps the message: "America's word is worthless ... America has lost it." 

Astonishing. Why on earth should the head of an independent state be 'loyal' to another state? Shouldn't, in fact, a government intend to win 'popular opinion'? 

Don't worry, I'm only being deliberately naive. In the real world, the US must continue as the Empire, never question Israel and never allow the desires of mere citizens interfere with realpolitik. Democracy is just something to drop on your enemies, not your puppets. 


Meanwhile, meet the new Vice-President of Egypt. What a nice man:

Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks.
That treatment wasn't enough for Suleiman, so:
To loosen Habib's tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib – and he did, with a vicious karate kick.

Keep on rocking

After the excitement of almost starting the revolution in Manchester, I found myself crammed into the back of a car with four nerdy pensioners, off to see Richard Thompson at Warwick Arts Centre.

If you don't know his work, he sounds like a nostalgia act: Thompson started out in folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention in the 60s. Then he became a solo folkie, then a double-act with his wife Linda. Then he went rock in the 80s and indie in the 90s. He holds the record for the least copies sold on a major label (Henry the Human Fly, Warner, 1972)

What marks him out from all the other heritage acts is that you don't go to see Thompson hoping he'll reel out all the Fairport tracks or whatever (though it didn't stop my friends high-fiving each other when he played their favourites, sadly). Thompson's still writing fantastic, full-on rock and pop songs which are every bit as good as his back catalogue. Saturday's show was a loud electric affair, in which the new material really stood up. Highly recommended.

More pictures here or click on these ones to enlarge.



This is Richard Thompson





Look into my eye…


Just a few more demonstration pictures

The rest are here. Click on these ones to enlarge

Definitely not a capitalist running dog

I took several shots of this magnificently bequiffed man

Mean, but I couldn't resist.


How cute! Even primary school kids hate Nick Clegg

They followed the cops around all day with this sign

Moody, huh?

I ain't marching any more

(Actually, I just wanted to quote Phil Ochs, one of my heroes).

Good old Karl. He was a fencer too. 

Fast work! If a little tasteless. None of the cops shot at us, or turned up in tanks. 

Gets straight to the point.

I really liked this one. 

I've played with this one quite a lot. I really like it.

What would his mother say?

Nothing that happened warranted masks, but it's a good look. The hair and eye colours really work in this shot.

Rally for Youth

I went on a rally on Saturday, organised by my union (UCU), the National Union of Students, and the TUC.

It wasn't brilliant. It started a mile outside Manchester city centre, in the university quarter, which seemed fair enough. Unfortunately, it then headed another mile or so out of the city to a nondescript park miles from anywhere. My colleagues were disapproving of the attempted breakaway march which headed for the city centre, but I was rather jealous of them.

The initial gathering seemed less like a rally and more like an opportunity for rival newspaper sellers to flog copies of their sectarian rags to each other: the Morning Star looked like the paper of record next to Socialist Worker, The Socialist, Worker's Hammer, The Spartacist (in several languages) and a range of even more exotic publications seemingly more concerned with attacking the historical theoretical errors of their rivals. The hot news in one paper was that POUM were traitors… in the Spanish Civil War. (Wrong, and hardly a pressing issue today).

There were some good placards and costumes, and plenty of underage kids dressed like 1970s German anarchists, which is a good thing. There were far too many police officers (glad to see some workers are still getting overtime), but they were pretty good-humoured. I listened to an officer briefing his grunts, and he made it clear to them that the focus was on safety and letting the march happen.

It was all very good-natured and fun, though people were slightly jittery about photographers, and I wondered how many of the marchers were undercover cops. I did ask my colleagues to promise they weren't spies sleeping their way through the movement, but their cover stories held. I particularly enjoyed being accosted by some micro-sect young idiot who pressed on me a sheet of closely-typed nonsense about the trades unions being the bureaucratic henchment of fake socialist governments. I did point out to him that I am a trades union bureaucrat, but he didn't seem very interested in the question of how workers can be fought for on a daily basis without trades unions. I've spent the past year doing casework for a very vulnerable colleague: poring over contracts, negotiating with management, seeing specialists, drafting opinions. All very bureaucratic, but without bores like me, my client might well be out of a job.

Anyway, here are some pictures, and the rest are here. Click on these ones to enlarge them.

This just in…

V for Vendetta boy

There was a very simple chant to go with this one: "I say Nick Clegg, you say Dick Head'

What a tragic scenester. I'd double his fees.

All together now, aaaahhhhhh. Isn't he sweet?

Harry Potter and the Adolescent Hormones

Aaron Porter, NUS president, isn't very popular

He shoots, he scores

My friends, I can't express how much fun it was to watch Stoke City play Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup yesterday. Emma and I wandered along, had a beer beforehand, and took our seats next to a man who deserves a big medal for not managing to say anything positive about his team for the entire 89 minutes (he left before full time).

Good things about the Wolves ground: excellent cheese and potato pie. And the toilets. I knew things had moved on from the days when fans would just pee onto the terrace until a pleasing yellow waterfall effect was achieved, but I was stunned by the space, cleanliness and all-round sparkle of the men's loos.

The same could not be said of the first half of the match. Stoke were totally dominant in the set-pieces, while Wolves seemed better in the open play, though they did massively prefer to pass the ball back rather than try to score goals. That said, they did have the majority of the (few) chances in the first half. I politely applauded each competent Wolves move and tried not to openly eat oatcakes and throw pots.

The second half was loads better - both managers had obviously given their players the hairdryer treatment. The quality wasn't entirely apparent, but the effort was. Wolves had several threatening runs, but no finishing quality. Then late on, Stoke's Robert Huth (he's roughly 4 times my height) rose to meet a corner and headed in a great goal, which I was forced to acknowledge with a rueful shake of the head rather than a 'proper mental', which the Stoke fans opposite me did indulge in.

They were in good form - 4000 of them and only 7000 Wolves fans. 'Delilah' rang out many times, whereas the Wolves fans only managed 'We're the boys from the Black Country' once, preferring to sing 'Boring' at Rory Delap's wondrous long throws and 'You Fat Bastard' at Stoke's goalie, Thomas Sorensen. I thought that was a bit cheeky: fans from officially Britain's fattest region singing that to a lean professional athlete. Funny though.

The last few minutes were - in Alex Ferguson's words - 'squeaky-bum time': frenetic attacks from Wolves, one needing a fantastic save from Sorensen. I thought I was going to have  a heart attack when Wolves were awarded a penalty - nobody saves those - but Sorensen did, and the Wolves fans started to stream out of the ground.

Not a classic match, but a decent one, and a brilliant afternoon out. Here's a professional's report.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Here we go, for Fox' sake

Fresh from supporting Sarah Palin's claim that the Founding Fathers abolished slavery (they didn't: they owned slaves), Fox 'News' has just used the magic words to describe Egypt's uprising:

"You probably don't give a lot of time thinking about Egypt," a Fox News presenter suggested about an hour ago, before explaining that "groups linked to al-Qaida" were in danger of taking over the government in Cairo.

I guess Fox never met a dictator it didn't like. For the record, every other media outlet and the eyewitness statements I've had from friends all agree: it's not the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood fuelling the rebellion: they've reluctantly agreed to support it after a day sitting on the sidelines. It's a mass of unemployed, bright, secular young people. But for Fox, all Arabs are terrorists unless they're our Arabs. Fox probably thinks the Three Kings are still in charge.

Dance-off, Soviet Style

From a 1941 propaganda film. I gather the music is more recent. Have a good weekend.

Another dull weekend…

I have a huge amount of work to do this weekend: writing lectures and planning seminars. However, I'm finding time to do a few pleasant things:

Rally for Jobs and Education in Manchester: meet outside the Museum on Oxford Road, 10.30 a.m. It'll be boringly tame, but it's important to remind the government that we've neither forgiven nor forgotten. Come along! There's a big one planned for London as well which might be a little more interesting.

Then it's off to see Richard Thompson play a gig in Warwick: he's the backbone of Britain's folk movement. I've seen him a few times and always enjoyed it. Here's June Tabor singing 'Out of Winter' and then Thompson's 'Waltzing's for Dreamers', one of my favourite songs.



Finally, Sunday lunchtime sees Emma and I off to watch Wolves v. Stoke in a cup match. Unfortunately, we could only get tickets in the Wolves end, so I'm going to have to keep my mouth shut as Tuncay smashes his eighth goal past a static Wolves goalie. Alternatively, they could win. I just don't know.

Socialism and Sex

I thought that would get your attention.

It's a chapter-heading in a book given to my by a colleague: Revolutionary Socialism by Arnold Lunn, published by the Right Book Club. The RBC was a counter-operation to the Left Book Club. It was far less successful, partly because being on the right is just plain evil, and because the texts chosen weren't much good - mostly memoirs by ex-socialists explaining how they were converted. I collect them when I see them, but I'm far more interested in LBC books - if you see them (orange paperbacks, pink hardbacks) get them for me and I'll pay you back.

Lunn himself was quite interesting - obviously very bright, but he devoted his life to mountaineering, skiing and being rightwing: such sports were commonly associated with fascism in the interwar period. His father founded the famous but now disappeared Lunn-Poly holiday company. Like many English rich conservatives, he converted to Catholicism, despite his father being a Methodist preacher.

Part of his objection to socialism is its materialism: he couldn't stand the idea that we are determined by physical processes (chemistry etc.)

So anyway, what did he think about socialism and sex? It's only a short (11 pages) unillustrated chapter. Apparently, the socialist's "creed leads inevitably to promiscuity". I must confess that this has not hitherto been my experience. Rather the opposite. For real promiscuity, I suggest that Lunn should consider the case of Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, who had more sexual partners than voters.

Lunn does admit that the Communist Manifesto looks to the liberation of women and that Lenin was 'ascetic' and opposed to promiscuity. He does, however, claim that 'revolutionary movements have a disastrous effect' on moral standards. Really? Ask the Iranians. More to the point, the 'free love' lot were a tiny minority. The British Communist Party was famously conservative and moralistic - their efforts kept 'licentious' American comics out of Britain in the 1950s, and they lost out to the hippy-influenced New Left because they didn't like rock, long hair, marijuana and sex.

To Lunn, though, revolution and 'immorality' go together because weak-minded people would rather blame repressive society for their sexual incontinence than accept responsibility, while revolutionaries will encourage anybody who rebels.

Then he takes a rather illogical turn. After claiming that communists are promiscuous, and accepting that their leaders reject promiscuity, he claims that people become socialists because they're 'sex-frustrated' or feminists, ready to throw away their honour, give their own surnames to their children before being exploited by the revolutionaries. Added to this, he claims that France's socialist leader, M. Blum, is a promoter of incest. Rather confusingly, he then condemns the Spanish socialists for declaring that 'arousing the sexual feelings of another… amounted to a gross and palpable interference'.

In the end, Lunn's objection to socialist sex is that it implies atheism. Easy marriage and easy divorce stem from a rejection of the eternal rules imposed on us by God, whereas a Christian believes that 'eternal happiness' in heaven 'must not be jeopardized to escape from the discomfort of an unhappy marriage'. So suck up the misery and think of the angels!

Women, of course, are both more important and less noteworthy than men. Or more clearly: women don't matter, but female virginity does: 'when women enjoy the same sex liberties as men, the ancient doctrine of virginity topples down like a heap of snow struck by  rock. There is nothing to hold it together. Chastity… is no longer a badge of honour or glory'.




Men, of course, are exempt. Carry on shagging, chaps!

Thankfully, concludes Mr. Lunn - quoting Joad - these rampant atheists will get what's coming to them: 'they are very unhappy, and the suicide rate is abnormally high'.

So that's all right then.

Mubarak 'not a dictator' says US Vice-President

You and I may think that being 'elected' by banning all other candidates in 4 out of 5 votes (the fifth was rigged and the only opposition candidate was sent to prison), running the country under 'Emergency Law' since 1967 - extended police powers, constitution suspended, censorship imposed, freedom of assembly banned, political parties banned, habeas corpus suspended, 30,000 political prisoners, parliamentary elections banned - might constitute dictatorship.

The Vice-President of the USA begs to differ. He thinks that the man to whom the US gives $1.2bn in military aid is a cuddly chap, mostly because he's friendly to Israel:

 "Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with - with Israel. ... I would not refer to him as a dictator..."
Got it, protestors? Your rights aren't important: it's the US's geopolitical interests which will determine whether you get a new government.

What does the US Ambassador to Egypt say about her hosts? Well, according to a Wikileaked cable, it's not a very cuddly government:

Torture and police brutality in Egypt are endemic and widespread. The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders. One human rights lawyer told us there is evidence of torture in Egypt dating back to the times of the Pharaohs.

Internet secrets of the Pharaohs

The Egyptian government denies censorship and banning internet access.

Here's a lovely graph detailing the number of web addresses with Egyptian prefixes banned yesterday.



Last night they cut off access to the web for the whole country! That's never been done before, although weirdo Lieberman in the US Senate is introducing a law to make it possible in the US, and my own cerebrally-challenged MP, Paul Uppal, has asked the government to 'address the issue of the internet', whatever that means.

Here's the graph for Egyptian internet activity for yesterday (click to enlarge):

Thursday, 27 January 2011

How to be snide

I really like this line from a speech by Denis Healey, 93-years old former Labour Chancellor (far too rightwing for me):

I feel sorry for George Osborne despite his politics (pause), and his personality." 
Now that's a beautiful line, beautifully delivered.

By the way, I'm always hugely amused that Dennis/Denis, one of the most boring names available, is derived from Dionysos, God of Wine and Madness. I gather that Healey is rather fond of rather good claret.

Dennis

Dionysos, God of Wine

Dionysos, God of Madness

How capitalism works

I mentioned the sad demise of the Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway company a couple of days ago.

Coincidentally, the Rail Passenger Satisfaction survey arrived yesterday. At the top, with 96% of passengers satisfied with the service: the unsubsidised Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone.

Capitalist monopolies lead to worse services. They cut choice, they cut corners, they charge more. The W+S is owned by the same company as Chiltern Railways: Deutsche Bahn, the German state operator. So although the Germans made the trains run on time, they couldn't defeat the vested interests of our crony capitalists.

Not quite all of us are in this together

Just been to my union meeting. The institution is targeting individuals for redundancy with blatant disregard for the law.

A few months ago, I had an exchange with the Vice-Chancellor about her pay (in the region of £230,000-240,000, or £100,000 more than the Prime Minister. She told us, in public, that she wouldn't take a pay rise this year.

My pay rise this year is 0.4%, about £5 per month. With inflation at 3.7%, I'm effectively receiving a pay cut of 3.3%.

The Vice-Chancellor's income has gone up by £7000: so even if she's 'only' on £230,000, she's had enough of a raise - 3.5% to keep pace with inflation.

Jolly good. Wouldn't want to price her out of Waitrose and collapse the local economy. At least I know that nothing she says can be believed.

Leave our libraries alone!

One of the most depressing features about the Tory/Lib Dem government is it's kneejerk response to economic problems: attack the poor. Whether it's housing benefit, schools funding, tuition fees, transport or healthcare, they do the same thing: reduce services, and cut taxes for the corporations and the rich. 


Amongst these nastly little attacks on the national fabric is an apparently concerted effort to close down free public libraries across the country: rich people, who are mostly Tories, don't borrow books. They buy them.


Libraries are deeply subversive institutions. Within their walls are the tools for shaping a new world. From SF to philosophy to romance, the books sketch out visions of other - dystopian and utopian - possibilities. Any of you can walk in and come out with Plato, Aristotle, Thoreau, Ken MacLeod, Austen, Dickens or even Catherine bloody Cookson if that's what you want. Compared to them, bookshops and the well-stocked libraries of private schools are bastions of privilege and class warfare: knowledge is there but only if you've got the cash. What a change from the Victorian period, in which the super-rich were endowing free public libraries across the world, rather than closing them. 


We need to resist this Philistine attack. The resistance has already begun. Please, please read this transcript of the great Philip Pullman's speech in defence of libraries and a humane way of life.


It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life.
 The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.
That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for. 
The ultimate source is probably the tendency in some of us, part of our psychological inheritance from our far-distant ancestors, the tendency to look for extreme solutions, absolute truths, abstract answers. All fanatics and fundamentalists share this tendency, which is so alien and unpleasing to the rest of us. The theory says they must do such-and-such, so they do it, never mind the human consequences, never mind the social cost, never mind the terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane.
My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that?
The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?
 I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight. 

The Dog Ate My Homework

I'm loving the last week's politics stories: lying Tories on the run, corrupt scum running Ireland falling, and Murdoch's empire under hostile scrutiny.

Part of the fuss about Murdoch taking over the Sky shares he doesn't control is the fear that he'll use the full spectrum of his media holdings to pursue his own agenda. So it was fascinating to see that the Sun's response to Sky commentators' sexist abuse of a young female referee: they published shock-horror pictures of her, revealing that young women sometimes wear short skirts and go dancing. Disgraceful.

The other big story is the ongoing saga of the News of the World's phone hacking. It turns out they've done it very recently, rather than once or twice in the distant past. The best line in the new story is this one:
However, a senior News International executive has claimed that Dan Evans's defence is that he phoned Kelly Hoppen's number for legitimate reasons and accidentally accessed her voicemail when the keys on his phone got stuck.
Seems perfectly plausible to me.

Meanwhile, here's German Stasi film The Lives of Others resubtitled a là Downfall for the News of the World:

More from the Egyptian Uprising

Another eye-witness account of Egypt's demonstrations, this time from a friend of my friend. Happy Police Day!


I listened to the shouting crowds from my balcony yesterday, as groups of protesters were heading to Tahrir square. I wished I could join but fear held me back. Fear of being harassed or harmed by the forces of the National Security* , fear that going through pain and humiliation would make me more and more hateful of our circumstances, and thus lose my stamina towards carrying on my efforts in making things better on the long term without any political confrontation.
Media manipulation and Twitter blocking changed my stance, it got on my nerves so much that I could not stay in. A one minute phone call from a friend got me out of the house, together we went to Tahrir square.
Yesterday was a firm answer putting an end to all the allegations and brain washing that claimed that the current system is better than all other options in front of us, it was also a good revision to all that I have learned through my Political Science courses. And because I believe in what I’ve learned, I see a ray of light. If change doesn’t happen now, it’s coming none the less. We have changed, and we have proven that we want and deserve to change. And even though all political theories may fail to forecast what will happen, one theory stands true, God is Fair.
First of all, it’s a message to the class of people who claim to be intellectual and civilized, the people who look down at the chaos and express that “this is an ignorant population who don’t deserve democracy”, as if they alone got the exclusive seal of democracy for being from a long gone aristocratic descent or holding passports from democratic countries, without possessing any of the democratic political culture of those countries. Yesterday for the first time in downtown, I was not sexually harassed. For the first time I see youth who are not part of Environmental organizations picking up the garbage, and thousands of people, united despite their differences, sharing food, and water and exchanging opinions, carrying appropriate respectful banners.
Second of all, it’s an answer to all those who think that the Muslim Brotherhood is the only alternative. We did not see them in the demonstrations, and I can claim that the only person I heard chanting religious statements while asking for the downfall of the government, received minimal chanting back compared to others.
Thirdly, it’s a response to all those who don’t value information and freedom of expression. Any contribution adds weight even if it’s through the Internet pages. I admit I was critical of all the Twitter fans in the past since I felt they do nothing but talk and complain. I apologize for that now, if it weren’t for those sites, the information sharing and above all the feeling of unity that was created through people’s comments and pictures, no one would have gone to the streets yesterday.
This has proved that each individual has a role to play considering their abilities. If it weren’t for the people who stayed at home trying to find means of sharing information through the Internet or telephones, and if it weren’t for those who put efforts to transmit and provide coverage of the events, we would have all believed that police officers received flowers and gifts in celebration of the police day and similar ridiculous stories, most interesting of which that some newspapers announced the end of the protests before they actually ended. If it weren’t for those who shared facts on how to deal with the tear gas through the various communication channels, many of us, who are far from experienced in the rituals of protests and demonstrations in countries like ours, would not have lasted these many hours.
Fourth, it’s an answer for all those who accuse the political opposition forces of being traitors. They showed up yesterday and integrated into the crowds without carrying signs or statements of their parties, they joined united for one cause.
Fifth, it’s a response for those who say “we are not like Tunis”, no we are like Tunis, and more. I don’t deny that I initially looked at the issue from a purely theoretical perspective. I believed that we needed to have a large base of educated middle class, rather than a polarized population between a struggling incapable class, and an elite indifferent class. However, yesterday proved that the Egyptian people have had enough. Even those who are not facing the daily struggle of finding food for survival, have vision and have a conscience that pushed them to act.
We are a generation not raised on a culture of confrontation; we have had fear built into us since we were born. We are a generation whose intellectuals have been terrorized by the ruling regime, taught to conform and obey. Now is the time to learn the rules of the game.
* As I left the demonstration, I could sense the hesitation and confusion of the national security guards, as if what is on their minds is “maybe these people are right”

Groan…

Today, I need to write lectures on Book 7 of Malory's La Morte d'Arthur, one on the 'Miller's Tale', and one on Joanna Davies's Ffreshars/Freshers. Instead, I'm off to a casework meeting for the union, and then a branch meeting to receive yet more bad news about this place. God alone knows when I'll get the work done…

I feel like a very old man this morning. I went fencing last night, and really pushed it because loads of good opponents turned up and I didn't want to waste the opportunity. For a change, everything went brilliantly, and every move I tried worked really well. I'm not actually any good, but I am awkward, which works quite well until people start thinking about what I'm doing.

So by the time I got back from fencing it was gone 11, at which point I thought I'd dip into Jo Walton's Among Others (sample): a post-industrial Welsh/English adolescence fairy fantasy novel, amongst other things. It's a book obsessed with the possibilities of reading: the central protagonist is a teenage girl obsessed by science fiction and the potential ways to live, think and dream expressed in the multitude of books she's read (though her addiction to Tolkien is rather off-putting).

Come 3.30 a.m., I'd finished it and was wide awake, hence my grumpy mood this morning…

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Live from Egypt

I have a friend in Egypt. She's been down to the protests with her husband and friends. This is her account.


At first, I was at home yesterday, worrying about sexual harassment (sexual frustration is very high in Egypt and large groups are not always a good place to be). But finally I could stand it no longer and walked through thick lines of police onto the main square (Tahrir) to meet X and his friends, who had marched there to come together with a couple of thousand more demonstrators. I thought: if my children later ask me what I did that day and I say 'I was sitting at home watching it on TV'...that just won't do!
We are all very nervous, because it looks like the police will be more ruthless today. They threaten to break congregations up even before they can develop. They are doing checks all over downtown Cairo. I went for a walk earlier: every rat seems to have turned into a policeman. But I also looked into people's faces last night: their will is stronger than ever and they have seen that they can break through. I don't think they will be deterred easily anymore. This is the first time in modern history that the Egyptian people stand up for their rights, that they said 'NO!'. Their minds have opened to the existence of a possibility of change at THEIR hands. 
The most important thing last night was that people from all backgrounds - social and religious - were in this together. Some went to fetch drink and food and distributed it among the group. People chanted and embraced. Everybody and friendly and supportive and took care of each other. When a group of policemen was surrounded by protesters, they pledged to let them go. And the protesters did - without touching them. The protesters here are really very peaceful, which is something that the media doesn't seem to represent very well. When someone picks up a stone, some others will come and tell him to stop it. 
On the last point, the same thing happened with the student protests here. Endless replays of the idiot dropping a fire extinguisher - very little coverage of the students chanting 'stop dropping shit'.

I really hope her optimism is well-founded. My worry is that there isn't any strong western support. The Americans and the British aren't offering anything stronger than wishy-washy platitudes about listening to the population. If you remember the various Colour Revolutions of the past ten years, they were all funded and supported by the CIA and various front groups - and all staged in countries opposed to US and UK foreign policy interests. The old saying is true: our governments only wish democracy on our enemies. They're more than happy to support dictatorships like Egypt and Tunisia (big fans and supporters of torture, the 'war on terror' and the like, and good sources of slave labour).

New media allows the motivated few over here to offer our good wishes, but that's not much help. We need to remind our governments that they if they claim to believe in democracy, it has to be a universal principle.

Incidentally, I asked my previous MP, Rob Marris, about why the UK support democracy-through-regime-change in Iraq but not Saudi Arabia. He replied that it was 'completely different', though he couldn't elaborate why. Can you? (Without mentioning oil?)

Getting down to business the Uppal way

There's a smaller chamber in Parliament in which non-lawmaking debates are held - they can become occasions for the bores and nutters to sound off.

One of them is a certain Mr. Paul Uppal. In the debate on the housing market, he spoke up for the real victims of the minor fall in property prices: institutional investors, who - restrain your tears - have somehow been prevented from entering the residential market.

I have found that institutional investors often look for avenues through which they can get into the residential market, particularly from a letting perspective, and they have often approached Governments regarding the best way to do that. One area that is particularly talked about is the shared ownership vehicle. I do not know whether my hon. Friend, or the Minister later, will be able to comment on that, but I echo the sentiment of shared ownership as a way of solving the problem-not wholly, but certainly helping.

I know that if you're a young worker looking for a mortgage without joy (like me), you might feel that you're finding it harder than MPs who are multimillionaire commercial property developers, but that merely highlights the poverty of your economic thinking.

Even his own side find it ridiculously easy to bat aside his naked self-interest (though to give him some credit, he did actually admit his background this time):

I do not think that my hon. Friend's point, valid though it is, is relevant to that argument.

Murder on the Wrexham and Shropshire Express

I liked the W+S. It ran cheap services in beautifully-appointed old trains, which made everybody stop and stare as they ran through stations because they reminded us all of the days in which railway travel was elegant, enjoyable, affordable and logical. No more: the Wrexham Shropshire Railway closes down on Friday.

Needless to say, they're victims of monopoly capitalism. The insane idea of railway privatisation was that multiple companies would maintain the tracks, others would run the stations and many others would run trains. A recipe for disaster. The hope was that loads of companies would compete to provide services. The reality was that anyone trying to do something different - like the W+S, which provided a London service for an area deprived of easy access to the capital - gets squeezed out by the big monopolists who make 'profits' by extracting more subsidies from the taxpayer than state-owned British Rail (!) while increasing ticket prices by obscene amounts.. So the W+S was restricted to bad times and stopping only at tiny stations away from large towns and cities, and forced to take the slow routes. Did the big firms try to provide a service to compete with the W+S? No, of course not: they just closed it down by underhand methods.

Yet more proof that capitalism fosters poor, expensive services at the expense of those who try to do a decent job.

Izzy Wizzy, Paul's Been Busy

My chiselling and devious MP, Mr. Paul Uppal, has been asking a lot of questions recently. Not, of course, useful questions. Instead, they're the kind of small-minded and rather unintelligent kind of questions you'd expect from a pompous multimillionaire with an inflated sense of his own importance.

Let's start with the very best one.

Can the Home Secretary do anything to address the issue of the internet, which is having the effect of radicalising young people on both sides of the political spectrum?

Wonderful. As you may know, part of my job is studying the effects and structures of what we rather quaintly call 'new media'. Uppal's question reminded of nobody so much as my father, who used to ask us to show him things on 'The Google'.

Theresa May is Secretary of State at the Home Office: she's paid to know a lot about this.

My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important issue, to which we need to pay close attention. It is much harder these days-precisely because of the internet-to ensure that young people do not find themselves exposed to these radicalising messages, and we have sadly seen some individuals radicalised by access to it. This is a matter that the Government take very seriously; we are talking with partners about it.

Oh dear. What a waffly non-answer which does nothing other than to tell us that she's as much at sea as poor little Uppal. I wonder what 'partners' you have who can stop people thinking about things?

Now Paul (and Theresa), let's slow down a little. The internet isn't an 'issue', it's a network. It's lots and lots of things. Most of them aren't radicalising anything. You may as well argue that the telegram network radicalised the suffragettes: it's just a tool for distribution of ideas (and porn). If anything's radicalising anyone, it's your government's massive crackdown on the poor, the young, the old, the regional, the working and the unemployed. Abroad, I'd have thought you'd be pleased at the citizens of various countries being radicalised. Unless, of course, you're just on the side of whoever is in charge wherever they are. I wouldn't put it past you.

Anyway, nul points for your grasp of the modern world. Come on Tories: sort out 'The Internet'.

(Readers may also like to read my esteemed and rightwing friend Mr. Carter Magna's take on this story and the others I'm about to rant about).

Moving on. Paul's obviously a cricket fan:

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport what progress he has made on making future home Ashes test matches available on free-to-air television.

A little off-message there, matey. Your friends deregulated broadcasting to open it up to highest-bidder, lowest-common denominator corporations, as part of your party's attack on the BBC. Now you want your favourite bits protected? Cheeky little hypocrite.

Following that, this outrageous opportunist clear scents the opportunity to whip up a lynch mob against those grasping evil bastards ruining our communities: the doctors. He's picked up on some cheap newspaper hysteria about doctors earning 'too much' and wants to expose The Dark Place's Plutocrat Physicians.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many GPs in Wolverhampton received over £100,000 from the NHS in the most recent 12 months for which figures are available.

Now, there's clearly a debate to be had about how much we pay our doctors (by the way: Ireland's doctors start on €250,000, roughly what UK ones retire on). But I'm not going to have it led by a man who has made millions of pounds in property speculation. What exactly has he contributed to the nation? Has he saved lives? Does he deal with the depressed, the hurt, the lame and the addicted day in, day out? What makes a man who shuffles rents worth hundreds of times more than a man or woman who spends his or her time up to the elbows in blood, urine, pooh and pain?

Also: I'm quite happy for doctors to earn a bit more. Should they be paid less than lawyers? I don't think so (and let's not forget that they do an awful lot of unpaid overtime). More to the point, the Prime Minister's recently departed spin doctor received a wage bill of £140000, and I didn't hear Uppal complain that he was getting more than the fat-cat actual doctors to whom he so strongly objects, nor to the fact that the tax payer was giving Coulson the salary of the Prime Minister he worked for and more than every other member of the Cabinet. I'm quite angry now. Can you tell?

Finally, what's Uppal's big idea for the year?

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills whether the Royal Mail has made an estimate of the savings which would accrue from reducing the number of postal deliveries to five per week.

To reduce postal deliveries. What a massive plonker. I'm torn between believing that he's just plain evil, and just plain stupid. Perhaps both. And yet he got elected. Those 600 people who form his majority should be ashamed. I argued with Rob Marris, the New Labour predecessor, quite a lot, but he definitely wasn't stupid and he worked his socks off for this place. Yet now we're stuck with a man who demonstrates all the political sophistication of a desiccated whelk and the work ethic of a lazy man on an extended holiday.

Isn't democracy grand?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

We also serve who stand and Tweet?

I've been following Egypt's 'Day of Rage' (live here), designed to reproduce Tunisia's revolutionary situation. Did you know that Egypt's a dictatorship?

nearly half of Egypt's 80 million people live under or just above the poverty line set by the United Nations at $2 (£1.27) a day. "Poor quality education, healthcare and high unemployment have left large numbers of Egyptians deprived of basic needs," 

Far too many people holiday in repressive places, lulled into acquiescence by a pina colada and cheap exchange rates, unaware that their money doesn't help those in need.

There's been a lot of talk about the positive and negative effects of new media on protest. The jury is - of course - still out. But I do worry that our hyperreal condition (read your Baudrillard) weakens the possibility of full-on, successful resistance. Take a look at this photo.



What I see are brave men and women facing down the security forces. But if you look closer, there are at least half a dozen mobile phones and assorted cameras in use. Where once they would have clenched their fists or clutched petrol bombs, they're now engaged in a process of recording, rather than participating. Evidence collection and propaganda are certainly important, but I worry that we no longer feel something's real unless we've captured it: photos, Tweets, status updates and texts.

That said, I'm protesting on Saturday (Manchester: be there) and I'll be taking my camera. Meanwhile, take a look at these witty New Media takes on classic WW2 Information War posters by Brian Moore, who most definitely knows the score. I couldn't reproduce my favourite, 'Somebody Blogged'…

Ignore him: Wikipedia is cultural misinformation on a grand scale

In pictures

The Guardian's magazine has a weekly feature, inviting readers to send in images on a particular theme. Next week, it's 'play'. I've missed the deadline by a couple of hours because I'm working hard, so I thought I'd post what I would have submitted.



This was taken in Poland, where I was team manager for the England 'Tomorrow's Achievers' U17 team. We'd taken the boys outside to cool off a bit - they'd spent the day assisting their female comrades who fenced that day. Very few were left in the competition, so the lads were getting a little bored. The poor victim thought I was taking a standard portrait shot, but I'd seen his friend sneaking up behind…

Readers in high places

I don't just dole out this stuff for you proles, you know. The Quality are avid followers of The Plashing Vole.

Check this out:

193.82.117.# (Historic Royal Palces)

That's right. The Queen hearts me. (She can't spell palaces because English is her second language, after German). What was she looking for?

charlie brooker

Oh yes. She hearts him too.

Plashing Vole. By Royal Appointment.

My new hero

I got chatting to a colleague in the post room today - a world expert on fascism and religious sects. He mentioned that he was selling a large chunk of his library, at which my ears pricked up. However, the reason was even more wonderful:

he has so many books that the joists holding up his house are in danger of collapse. 

Now that, my friends, is a problem to which I can only aspire.

What does £35.11 get you these days?

Well, if you go to the Oxford University Press sale, it gets you all these books, including postage.

Gabriel Egan, Shakespeare and Marx.
Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction.
Jennifer Birkett's Margaret Storm Jameson: A Life.
A Woman Killed With Kindness and Other Domestic Plays by Heywood, Dekker, Rowley and Ford
Jane Potter's Boys in Khaki, Girls in Print: Women's Literary Responses to The Great War 1914-1918.

Sweet.  I also got a second-hand copy of Jonathan Coe's Smiths-obssessed The Dwarves of Death.

Gaveston's Cross

Oh yes he is!

Zoot Horn mentioned visiting the site of Piers Gaveston's beheading, in Warwickshire, and the plaque's rather disapproving memorial. So I thought I'd post a couple of pictures - not by me.


In the Hollow of this Rock, Was beheaded, On the 1st Day of July, 1312, By Barons lawless as himself, PIERS GAVESTON, Earl of Cornwall; The Minion of a hateful King: In Life and Death, A memorable Instance of Misrule.


Gaveston is one of those figures who divides opinion. To some, he's a scheming politician who supported one of England's worst kings (Edward II, supposedly murdered via the introduction of a red-hot poker up the fundament) and got his just desserts. To others, he's an early martyr to homophobia. He was exiled a few times as power shifted between various court factions, until he was killed by a bunch of barons, having been declared an outlaw - only a few years after acting as Regent in Edward's absence.

It's unclear whether Gaveston was Edward II's lover - it was certainly a strong rumour, but the main objection to him seems to have been his access to, and influence over, this rather weak king. Gaveston seemed to have been a typical toff hearty: he once deserted a war against Scotland to attend a jousting tournament, and may have cheated at another. He also murdered a lot of people in Ireland, but then, so did any Englishman in that country. As a political plotter, he seems to have been Edward's Mandelson: 'a marked tendency towards avarice, nepotism, and especially overweening pride' -  sly, rude, devious, but not as clever as he thought he was.

One of the most interesting examinations of Gaveston's story - though highly partial - is Christopher Marlowe's 1590s play, Edward II, in which both king and Gaveston are portrayed as simpering sodomites, picking up on earlier hints and rumours. Jarman's film of the play is (understandably) a bit more sympathetic.

Interesting character. So here are a couple of questions: where else are the bad guys buried/memorialised, and who should be rehabilitated?

Monday, 24 January 2011

Why is your essay late/rubbish? Think carefully

This is a poster at McMaster University:

I Piss On Your Grave?

There's a bit of a fuss about Eduardo Labarca using a photo of himself urinating on Jorge Borge's grave as the cover of one of his books. Actually, it's a concealed water bottle, but it looks quite realistic.



Are you bothered? Is this desecration? Labarca's defence is that Borges visited and spoke in support of General Pinochet, Chile's brutal, murderous fascist dictator, which seems fair enough to me.

I've only seen a few notable graves. Ibsen's. Sylvia Plath's (from which her fans had tried to scratch out her husband's surname, again reasonably, I thought). One of the Brontës. I had a little lie down on that one. 'Reader, I boffed her'. Arf.

Whose graves are OK for desecration? Admittedly, it wouldn't make much difference to the occupant, but it would offend his or her supporters. I am planning to run coach trips to Margaret Thatcher's last resting place. I'll provide a massive music system, and to the strains of 'Ghost Town' by The Specials, Hefner's 'The Day That Thatcher Dies', I'll organise mass grave-dancing.

Chiselling little liars

The government - especially Mr Clegg - has been going round telling everyone who'll listen that the tuition fees system they're introducing will be fairer and 'progressive', and that the protests are generated by people who either haven't understood or won't read the plans.

This is an utter lie. The system isn't progressive or fairer. Christopher Prendergast has looked at the small print and it turns out - OMG! - that you'll be paying from the same starting salary as now, allowing for inflation, that the rich will pay their fees off much faster, that you'll be paying for much longer and the interest will be much higher.

And let's not forget that the higher fees won't cover the withdrawal of the Universities Teaching Grant, so you'll be getting a worse education too.

The Small Room

I started reading May Sarton's The Small Room on Friday. It's a 1961 novel following the fortunes of a passionate young literature teacher as she takes her first job, in a women's university in the US.

After the first page, I thought I'd hate it. It promised to be one of those novels by an author who didn't trust her readers to spot symbolism or imagery: Sarton follows any description with a long explanation of why it's significant, which annoys me hugely.

Like this, the opening paragraph:

Lucy Winter sat in the train, swaying and rocking its way north from New York City, with a sense of achievement; the journey set a seal on the depressing limbo of the last months, the stifling summer in New York with her mother'; already she sensed the change of air, the lift of autumn. There, out the window, she saw a streak of bright red through a maple. It flashed by like a sign or a symbol, the end of mourning, her broken engagement, the actual vivid turn of a leaf toward her first teaching job. 

Infuriating. I only kept reading because I have a weakness for campus novels. However, the style relaxes a little, and the story becomes fascinating. There are a range of impossibly intellectual academics (they don't bitch about the photocopiers, they read Simone Weil essays to each other over decorous sips of martini) and devoted, passionate students. The core of the novel is the search for balance in one's relationship with students, between teaching, caring, leading and listening: becoming a professional in the truest sense of the word.

The terror and joy of being a university lecturer is beautifully sketched, though the institution is rather less bureaucratic, stressed and last-resort than The Hegemon.

"The hell of teaching is that one is never prepared. I often think that before every class I feel the same sort of terror I used to experience before an examination… and always I imagine that next year it will be different… Is there a life more riddle with self-doubt than that of a woman professor, I wonder?"

Spot on. Most of the colleagues I've discussed it with have problems sleeping on Sunday evenings, and we all intend to refresh our lectures every year… I can't speak to the last bit, but I assure you it's pretty stressful being a muscle-bound macho male professor too!

She had imagined that… preparation for these first lectures would be easy, but she soon discovered that knowing something and teaching it are as different as dreaming and waking. Things she had never noticed before sprang up at her out of the text; questions pounced upon her from the class, and the familiar words and ideas startled her as if she had not spent hours already examining them. She met a surprising resistance to Thoreau and it unnerved her; the students were not delighted by his pungent style (style did not touch them yet). 

I'm a fan of Thoreau, though I've never had a chance to teach any. I must confess too that question do not often pounce upon me - that's a real shame - but it's true that the hardest and most important part of teaching is to convey some of the thrill of engaging with texts. We don't always enjoy what we're asked to teach of course, but when we do, it's sometimes difficult to explain to others exactly what it is we're enthusiastic about. There are some wonderful descriptions of classes in which teacher and students become entranced by the texts, but more often, there's disappointment, such as when Lucy marks some dull essays on the Iliad:

"This was the material before you, and this is how you honored it… Here is one of the great mysterious works of man, as great and mysterious as a cathedral. And what did you do? You gave it so little of your real selves that you actually achieved boredom. You stood in Chartres cathedral unmoved. For the ancients this book was very much what a cathedral became for the people of the Middle Ages, a storehouse of myth, legend, and belief, the great structure where faith was nourished and the values of a civilization depicted… and you didn't bother to look at it! … This is not a matter of grades. You'll slide through all right. It's not bad, it is just flat. It's the sheer poverty of your approach that is horrifying".

Perhaps you're a little embarrassed by this outburst. Can you imagine me or one of my colleagues delivering it in a class now? I doubt it: the dynamic has changed. The society in which we live has trained students to think of education as a chore to be undergone as a job-qualification. There are always exceptions of course - plenty on my courses I won't mention and several past students, such as Ed, who sometimes comments here: one of the finest minds I've ever met. Students aren't to blame: the school system has failed, we academics have failed, and society as a whole has abandoned any sense of education as a liberatory good in itself.

However, there's one more huge twist in The Small Room, one which really makes me stand outside the book, trying to work out whether it's hugely exaggerated or we've lost something. One act almost destroys the university, tears holes in marriages and relationships, threatens to cost millions of dollars, shakes the foundations of the institutions and the philosophies of its staff and students.

What could this heinous crime be?

A student plagiarises an essay. 

How I envy that institution. Last week I marked several feet of essays, and uncovered at least 10 plagiarists. This is pretty standard. I didn't fall into an existential crisis. The Chancellor did not intervene. Colleagues didn't split from their partners in shock at their feelings on the subject. The student body did not divide between mercy and a lynch mob. Sadly, plagiarism is simply a strategy, and a very logical one given that the education has been replaced by the certificate as the object of the exercise. Just as capitalism automatically leads to theft, our education system - part of a social and economic structure predicated on competitive gain - has created plagiarism by encouraging students to become fixated on the acquisition of credits by any means necessary. We academic wring our hands and warn about the breach of academic integrity, but we know that the wider world has a sneaking admiration for those who cut corners and pull fast ones.

So: read The Small Room. It's a wonderful novel from a long, long time ago and far, far away.

Oh yes: on another subject, students should click here.

Friday, 21 January 2011

How politics works

It's utter chaos over in Ireland - attempted ruling-party coups, resignations, and a general election in 8 weeks.

This beautiful sentence caught my eye (from the Irish Times):
Killeen also said this was his understanding. Indeed, it was during the meeting that he learned he was going to be resigning.
The Taoiseach (PM) 'resigned' several of his ministers. Then he offered the jobs to several people, who said no. Now he's given serious jobs (like Minister of Foreign Affairs) to other Cabinet members on top of what they're already doing.

Toytown. With added corruption.

Update: and now the prime minister's resigned as head of Fianna Fail. Then the Greens withdrew from the coalition over the weekend to hasten the election. What appalling damage they've done to green politics in Ireland: they'll be out of power for at least a generation, having propped up one of the worst and most corrupt governments in living memory - without having achieved anything Green.

Mmm… can't resist book sale

Huge reductions at the Oxford University Press sale. I bought some medieval, some Renaissance and some modern scholarly works for £33 instead of about £200. Go there now!

Poisoned Apple

As you may know, I've been a fan of Apple's computers for many years now. They don't (often) break, they're secure and they don't need upgrading. They're also very easy to use. And they look good.

However, I'm not a member of the Cult of Mac, though people often assume I am. When I first got one (from a skip), Apple seemed to be on the verge of bankruptcy and closure. Apple users were die-hards, insisting that their machines were better. Back then, the technology was far superior, as was the OS: it wasn't a matter of style, as Macs weren't much better looking than anything else. Gradually though, the Cult grew, ignoring the evidence - underpowered machines with obsolete tech - until St. Steve returned, and transformed everything with his golden touch.

I knew differently. The products got better and better, and I doubt I'll ever stop using a Mac. But I always knew that beneath the punchy, chippy underdog was a grasping corporate capitalist monster dying to get out. So the reports of low pay and mistreatment at their contractors' factories in China didn't surprise me at all. Imagine: an American corporation outsourcing its social and environmental responsibilities along with its manufacturing! Heavens above, whatever next. My take is: find me a computer that isn't made in Chinese slave conditions and I'll buy it. Meanwhile, let's pressure everyone to work greener and fairer.

Apple's latest little trick is a beautiful example of corporate greed and contempt for its customers. Simply by changing the screws on your iPods and computers to a version widely unavailable, they're able to stop you getting into your machine yourself, or taking it to an independent repair shop. Apparently, if you take your existing gadget to them, they replace the old Philips screws with the new ones, guaranteeing that you'll depend on them for ever.

Despicable. But also very cunning.