Friday, 29 October 2010

And so, farewell

I'm fed up struggling with a lecture, so I'm going home to do washing, ironing and other relaxing things. Tomorrow will be spent working, then a major Samhain party courtesy of my uber-Yankee chum Howard. More work on Sunday, plus a showing of the classic 1922 Nosferatu at the local arts cinema.

Monster monster monster.

(College) Rock and Roll

College rock is what we call indie, or thereabouts - usually earnest young men who have some connection to REM, the Dream Syndicate or the Long Ryders.

So here's something by The Posies and their allies - the kind of limp but jolly stuff I like and Cynical Ben doesn't (though he might like the Dream Syndicate track).

Improbable research…

I used to like and admire Lucy Mangan's work in the Guardian. What a shame she's fallen for this:

Why sisters are good for you
A new report adds to the evidence that having sisters benefits your mental health.
No matter whether the sister is younger or older, or the age difference between you, they increase wellbeing and even your penchant for doing good deeds in the world – above and beyond that which even loving parents manage to promote.
Most of the reports suggest that it is girls' greater capacity for emotional expression that provides most of the benefits to the family that has them. 
Nonsense. I say this as the brother of four sisters (I have a brother too). Four sisters with very, very quick tempers. Family legend has it that one sister shoved another through a sheet of plate glass for wearing her socks. They didn't speak after that, despite sharing a room for several more years. 'Emotional expression' is all very well when it's soppy lovey-dovey stuff - when it's raging, grudge-holding hatred, perhaps a degree of repression is a positive thing.

Good for my mental health? Not really. I could never keep up with who wasn't speaking to whom in any particular hour. I spent my childhood looking for somewhere quiet to read. Or prematurely ending fractious games by hoiking the ball as far as possible and sloping off. 

I'm the oldest: I got the blame for anything they did, and bore the brunt of classic hardline old-fashioned violent parenting. As each sibling appeared, the parents either wearily gave up or worked out where they'd gone wrong, and relaxed considerably, until the youngest had a life of ease and luxury. Bah! 

Of course, we love each other dearly now. Now, that is, we don't see each other too often!

So today's Friday conundrum: what are the worst, and best, things your siblings ever did for you, and you for them? Do wish you had more or fewer (or any) siblings?

Mo money, mo problems

Paul Uppal's on his hind legs again.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether his Department provides support for small business owners dealing with customers who fail to pay for services that have been provided.

Given his track record in only asking questions which relate to his own business, I think we can assume that some of his tenants aren't paying their bills, and Paul wants Osborne to send round the lads.

The Minister's reply is essentially 'stop whinging'.

It is open for any business to recover debts owed to it via the courts.

Paul believes in small government, so why should what little there is left be devoted to multimillionaires gouging their customers.

Paul, you truly are Tory Scum.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

And so to bed…

Well, home, anyway, before I get locked in the building for the second time this week.

I'm dragging home my latest book purchase: a massive volume called 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, containing 13% of Doonesbury strips going back to 1970. An acquired taste, admittedly, but one I acquired a long time ago.

It's been a bit of an excessive week for books - I put together a couple of reading lists, and couldn't stop myself buying copies of everything. Then there's the Geoffrey Hill Selected Poems (I couldn't justify spending £100 on a copy of Mercian Hymns) and his new one, Oracles/Oraclau. And the two new Anne of Green Gables books: the restored edition of Rilla of Ingleside and the lost The Blythes Are Quoted. Plus Ackroyd's The Death of King Arthur, some Shakespeare criticism, a book on typefaces (I recently took to using Palatino for presentations), a lovely illustrated Pullman compendium, a history of moral panics involving comic books and, well, you get the picture.

It's a damn good job I've lost my bank card. I won't be able to buy anything for a week. Hurrah! Boo! New Posies album out too…

Cry, my beloved country

You may know that I am simultaneously sentimental about, and cruel to, Stoke-on-Trent, that poor abused carbuncle, a classic post-industrial city used and abused by government, developers, businesses and politicians, yet still - just - alive and distinctive. 

Dylan Thomas called Swansea and 'ugly, lovely town' (in Reminiscences of Childhood). Going for a walk in the 'un-defiled' country a few miles from that benighted cosmopolis, I was reminded of The Road to Wigan Pier. Here's what George Orwell had to say about Stoke in 1936. The only difference now is the absence of potbanks, more's the pity. 

It is only when you get a little further north, to the pottery towns and beyond, that you begin to encounter the real ugliness of industrialism-- an ugliness so frightful and so arresting that you are obliged, as it were, to come to terms with it… It would probably be quite easy to extract a sort of beauty, as Arnold Bennett did, from the blackness of the industrial towns; one can easily imagine Baudelaire, for instance, writing a poem about a slag-heap.
The best thing one can say for the pottery towns is that they are fairly small and stop abruptly. Less than ten miles away you can stand in un-defiled country, on the almost naked hills, and the pottery towns are only a smudge in the distance.

Charity starts at home

Michael Gove's big plan for schools is to take them away from elected authorities so they can be run at a profit by management companies, letting them filter out unwanted students, while teachers, teaching assistants and cleaning staff etc. have their salaries cut. Oh, and the schools are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and parents won't have any oversight rights.

Obviously, this hasn't gone down very well amongst parents, teachers, cleaners, local authorities etc. So he needs some help to make it look like a good idea.

Who has he asked to help out? Well, he's given the £500,000 contract to the New Schools Network. Without, rather naughtily, advertising the job to anyone or putting it out to tender. Who are they, you might ask?

Oddly enough, it's run by Rachel Wolf. Eh? Who? Conveniently, this 25-year old (wow, she must be highly experienced) is… Michael Gove's 'special adviser', i.e. convivial party hack (and mummy's been given a little job too). She also worked for Boris Johnson, attended private school, and went to Cambridge. She's got a BA (Hons) in Natural Sciences, before you ask. Educational qualifications? No. Postgraduate expertise? 'Fraid not. Pedagogical theory? Second-hand, at best.

So obviously she's got the perfect background to understand the needs and challenges of state schools. She won't be edging them all towards privatisation at all. Perish the thought.

A 'classic swing voter', apparently. 

Nobody knows where the rest of her 'independent organisation's' money comes from because she's keeping it secret. What's the betting it's from Tory donors and private education firms?

she abandoned thoughts of postgraduate study and went back-packing with friends to Mexico. While there, she received a job alert from the university careers service for a research post with Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, wrote the required two essays – one on higher education, one on the Taj Mahal – danced all night in a Cancun club, caught an overnight flight home, was interviewed two hours after she landed and got the job. "From then on, I got sucked in," she says.
That job led to working on Johnson's mayoral campaign, and to helping Michael Gove shape the Tories' education policy. However, she insists she is not at all political, and would never take money from any political party for her New Schools Network."I am your classic centrist swing voter," she says. "Although the Tory Party is now something I could support – not surprising, really, since I wrote lots of the policies."
How very convincing. So she's had a year abroad and then 'advised' a couple of Tories about a school system she's never experienced. As for being a swing voter: she may have been 18 and eligible to vote by May 2005, so at most she's voted in 2 General Elections, so it seems unlikely that she's swung very hard or far. What an intellectual she is…

Drag Acts For A Fairer Britain

I thought Lily Savage was one of the funniest and sharpest acts on the circuit: a battered-looking bloke with a scabrous Scouse accent and an excellent line in arch put-downs let loose on the television.

I lost track of Paul O'Grady after that as he moved into lighter and lighter shows and lost the frocks. But while you can take the man out of Merseyside, you can't take the Merseyside out of the man.

So all hail Paul O'Grady, Scourge of the Tory Scum.

What a stupid start to the day

Trying to pay my water bill, I realise I left my card in a cash machine, two days ago. What an utter moron I can be…

Ho hum. Back to work. At least I can't buy any books for another week.

Update. Not in a cash machine. In a supermarket yesterday evening. I'm still a moron.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

From the vaults

I have to confess to a love of Welsh hip-hop: the language suits the alternately loping and staccato demands of the genre.

Here's a great video from Ty Gwydr from the days when Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg weren't tamed and besuited by state subsidies, and some Tystion.

Farewell the Walkman

So production of Sony Walkmans is ending. Oh well. I've still got the AIWA forerunner. It weighs but it records too. Not sure why I still have it other than I don't like chucking out perfectly serviceable equipment. On that note, I still have a Sony portable TV available for free to anyone who wants it.

I don't care one way or another about Walkmans, except for this: what's going to happen to a great band, the Walkmen?

Someone's hinting something

One of these was leaning against my desk when I got in this morning.

I think they're suggesting my next career move may be into environmental health.

It's always worse for someone else

My poor friend, who shall remain anonymous, just sent me this text:

Worst Morning Ever. I was walking to the bus stop when I slipped and fell on my arse. Soon realised that floor was slippy due to SOMEONE ELSE'S VOMIT, and even worse, I was sat in it with MY BARE HAND in it. This made me gag and actually shed some tears. I had to go home to shower and change but still feel unclean. Now on bus gagging periodically. 

Well, I feel better about myself already.

Quote of the week

The Mirror is a bit late to this story about the healing powers of drinking bleach, but they've got a great quote from evil quack Jim Humble and it's a decent write-up:

Humble hasn't replied to our questions, but in a barking online interview with the skeptical website Righteous Indignation he insisted that doctors who warn against drinking bleach are wrong and guilty of being narrow-minded.
"I've just been talking to several scientists and they just say 'we know bleach is bad for you' and I say 'will you please check it out' but they just know better."

Crying wolf once more

Yes, Paul Uppal MP just can't let it go: despite the Electoral Commission telling him there's nothing to investigate, despite the police finding no case to examine, my useless and narcissistic elected representative is on about electoral fraud yet again - and getting slapped down by his own side once more:
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps the Government are taking to reduce the level of electoral fraud by personation.

Mark Harper (Parliamentary Secretary (Political and Constitutional Reform), Cabinet Office; Forest of Dean, Conservative)
The available evidence suggests that current instances of personation are relatively low.
But don't worry: he hasn't forgotten the interests of that other important social group: poor, weeping landlords. Housing benefit is being cut massively to make the poor suffer. Uppal clearly doesn't give a damn for them, but he is worried about the profits of the rackrent landlords (did I mention that he's a property speculator?) who might find the indigent pay up late…
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether his Department provides support for landlords dealing with tenants in receipt of rent allowance who fail to pay their rent.
I see. The government should be subsidising or helping landlords. That's very fair. The Big Society in action. After all, the landowners and their rentier associates are the real victims here.

Hello Paul: started Googling yourself, I see: 
194.60.38.# (Houses of Parliament) 
Search Wordspaul uppal)

Coalitions: a lesson from history

We've been here before, as this poster from the early 1930s shows. I took it at the excellent People's History Museum in Manchester, on my phone. They should be selling copies.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

So you've started fancying boys…

No, I haven't. But I'm teaching a Shakespeare comedy tomorrow, and as you know, classics of English literature aren't complete without a bit of cross-dressing (the same applies to stag nights).

And so this episode of Blackadder springs to mind:

If you want to read my mail, get a warrant

Any government that read my e-mail would soon be bored to tears by the horrifying tedium that is my correspondence. If you think Plashing Vole's dull, you've seen nothing compared to the stuff that goes in and out of my Mail folders every day.

But. I don't think that the state should have unfettered precautionary access to my communications. If I've been charged with an offence, or I'm a reasonable suspect, fine. But the Intercept Modernisation Plan proposes to give the state automatic access to every single electronic communication within or through the country: phones, e-mail, websites, the lot.

Yes, they probably already do this. Additionally, most of you put all sorts of things on your Facebook pages which older generations might consider private, but there's a principle at stake here. Giving the state unfettered access to our communications as a matter of right means that every conversation, every status update acquires the aura of evidence. Some humourless people, with humourless computers, are reading your texts and assuming that you're up to no good.

Paul Chambers was arrested and convicted for 'sending a menacing communication' after tweeting that

 "Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"
His appeal is being heard now. OK, he's an unfunny guy - but his case is just the start. Once the Intercept proposal becomes law, you'll be one of many getting a knock on the door following a clumsy joke, a mocking phrase, a tasteless comment.

Sign the petition. It won't help, but you'll feel better. Thanks to Ewar for pointing it out.

All's Well That Ends Well

I had a disastrous day at work yesterday - everything that could go wrong did, mostly my fault. I for the first time understood the phrase 'cold sweat' from my reading: on realising just how badly I'd arsed things up, I was sweating profusely and a ripe aroma filled my (shared) office, not to be dispelled.

Today's better. I'm immersed in Shakespeare comedies and - for the first time - appreciating them rather than being disappointed by the lack of hilarious punchlines, which weren't the point then.

Will was, as you hopefully know, quite bright. He had this to say about failure:

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
Lucio, Measure for Measure 1.4.

Uppal to his old tricks

Our reclusive multimillionaire MP Paul Uppal is using Parliament - again - as a means to fatten his bank account once more.

You can pretty much predict, as soon as his name turns up on a 'written question' (which costs the taxpayer several hundred pounds to research) that it's going to be related to his private business interests, however thinly disguised.

So what is it this week?

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if he will reinstate business rate relief for empty properties by 2015.

Right. Well done Paul. In the midst of the deepest recession since the 1930s, one your Tory Scum party is dealing with by giving the banks £19bn and taking it directly from the poor, your primary interest is in letting commercial property owners off some of their taxes. Why, Paul, why?

Oh. I know this one. It's because you own several million pounds worth of empty commercial property, isn't it Paul? It is. Would the public benefit? No. Not in any way at all.

Thankfully, even the Tory minister recognises this as a greedy bit of self-interest, and points out that property developers and landlords would benefit to the tune of £950 million: not to be sneezed at. Why, it's only £550 million less than government adviser Philip Green paid his Monaco-dwelling wife, thus avoiding tax.

Still, Paul's nothing if not persistent. He disguises his innate selfishness with a reference to The Dark Place, but we know where his heart is. Next to his wallet.

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what effect on levels of revenue the removal of business rate relief on (a) industrial property, (b) retail property, (c) commercial property and (d) office accommodation has had in respect of Wolverhampton.
What's he getting at? He's trying to suggest that property owners (did you know he's one of them?) are suffering terribly because they have to pay a little bit of tax. I'm sure that, like me, you immediately think of this afflicted, much misunderstood group of people when you ponder the terrible effects of the recession on this country.

As usual, Uppal's questions are pointless: the information he seeks is available publicly at no cost, or doesn't relate to parliamentary constituencies (and the minister brushes him off with considerable contempt). He knows this: but he also knows that he has to look busy to stand any chance of re-election.

In that vein, he poses another question:

(1) what assistance his Department has provided to residents of Wolverhampton South West constituency who have been made redundant in the last 12 months;
(2) what steps his Department is taking to assist residents in Wolverhampton South West constituency who are in receipt of jobseeker's allowance to secure employment.

Er… couldn't he just visit or phone a Jobcentre to ask how it works? Obviously that would be free and wouldn't get his name in print…

Monday, 25 October 2010

What is wrong with people?

The answer appears to be that we are selfish Tory Scum:

A majority of voters are convinced that the consequences of spending cuts will be unfair, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

OK so far. But:

The Conservatives have turned a two-point deficit in the Guardian's last ICM poll into a three-point lead, 39% to 36%. 

Shameful. We know we're hitting the poor hard, and we appear to like it!

By popular demand

As several of you have been requesting this post, I'll succumb.

Yes, Stoke City played Manchester United yesterday. They also played a referee and a couple of linesmen. As a result, Stoke City lost 2-1. Great goals from both sides, but Manchester's Gary Neville should have been sent off for two disgraceful tackles of the kind which so annoy Mr. Wenger when Stoke employ them.

I know this is entirely predictable whinging, but we never get the breaks: referees never see tackles against us, or never act on them.

I am, officially, miffed.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

More here. Click on these to enlarge

Walking in an autumn (?) wonderland

More here.

Cheddleton gorged…

More here.

Wetley Rocks!

I went for a walk tomorrow. It was one of those beautiful cold, sunny English autumn days, and the Churnet Valley, on the edge of the Peak District, was the perfect place for wide horizons, autumn leaves, and more buzzards than I've ever seen before.

The whole set of pictures are here, and here are some to whet your appetite. Click to enlarge them.

Hard times call for desperate remedies

I took this picture yesterday. Sublime!

Is this the coolest job ever?

I wonder what the actual research activity would be. Quantum physics and nanoscience, fine. Reading, experiments, observation. 'Ultimate reality'? That would call for many small drinks.

Postdoctoral Research Assistant
Quantum Nanoscience: Fundamental Physics, Emerging Structures and Implications for our Ultimate Reality
Faculty Of Philosophy
University of Oxford

My plan for ultimate reality is to become post-human, then Sublimed into the Singularity. Bye, meat-puppets! (Actually - no thanks. It sounds ghastly). I've just been reading Iain M. Banks' latest.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Friday conundrum: eyes look your last.

Simple. Given a choice, what would like to see as your eyes close for the last time?

For me, it's Stoke lifting the Champions League trophy. OK, too flippant. Perhaps rolling Shropshire hills, a William de Morgan tile, a medieval painting, the sea smashing against rocks. Loved ones frantically moving my lifeless hand over a legal document. The scratched interior face of the coffin lid.

I don't know - so many options. Over to you.

Exemplary news management

What do you tell the press when your prestigious figurehead is suspended from the House of Lords and forced to pay back £40,000 of expenses he wrongly claimed?

Do you say 'we take this very seriously and will discuss what to do next'? Or perhaps 'we're fully behind Lord Paul and have every confidence in him'. Or 'We're very disappointed in Lord Paul's behaviour and have sacked him'?

Er, no. You tell the journalists to sod off:

The university today refused to comment on Lord Paul’s future after the ruling was approved by peers.
A fine strategy that will no doubt pay off in the fullness of time. May I offer this visual aid for the next time journalists come calling?

All's Well That Ends Well?

What a surprise. The British media have been utterly hysterical about spud-faced nipper Wayne Rooney's supposed departure from the Manchester United team. Indeed, my Man U-supporting chum Emma came out with an appalling stream of invective aimed at out-of-form whore-buying Rooney yesterday.

Now it turns out that Rooney's petulance and the manager's heart-broken press conference were all just performances designed to extract the maximum cash from the heavily-indebted corporation that masquerades as a football club.

Wayne Rooney has made a shock u-turn and agreed a new five-year contract at Manchester United just days after announcing his intention to leave.
Congratulations to both sides: they realised that the British media are so desperate for material to fill the acres/hours of space that they could be played like a finely-tuned organ. As an example of how to negotiate in public, both sides played a blinder, though I'd give the nod to Rooney as the winner on points for demonstrating his importance to the team and making Alex Ferguson look like a broken old man. Never before has a player managed to beat him in the mind games: Ferguson usually tosses them aside without a backward glance.

I look forward to Emma's claim of amnesia…

To study, or not to study

This paper is a bit involved (because it's a proper academic study) but it's worth reading. It explores whether getting a degree is economically worthwhile, especially when fees rise massively.

Ordinary Least Squares estimates show high average returns for women that does not differ by subject. For men, we find very large returns for Law, Economics and Management but not for other subjects – we even find small negative returns in Arts, Humanities and other Social Sciences. Quantile Regression estimates suggest negative returns for some subjects at the bottom of the distribution, or even at the median. Degree class has large effects in all subjects suggesting the possibility of large returns to effort. Postgraduate study has large effects, independently of first degree class. A large rise in tuition fees across all subjects has only a modest impact on relative rates of return suggesting that little substitution across subjects would occur. The strong message that comes out of this research is that even a large rise in tuition fees makes little difference to the quality of the investment – those subjects that offer high returns (LEM for men, and all subjects for women) continue to do so. And those subjects that do not (especially OSSAH for men) will continue to offer poor returns.

There's good news and bad news.

For men, it's increasingly less economically viable: definitely not for humanities, and probably not even if you choose a science subject. If you want to study English, History, Politics or anything like it, you should view it as a luxury purchase, rather than as an investment. Which implies that only rich kids will do humanities, and they won't be choosing The Hegemon…

For women it's still worthwhile taking a degree, for a bad reason: women without degrees are paid even more badly in comparison to men than women with degrees.

Isn't life grand?

This is the newsssss… God I wish it wasn't

Over at Blossom's place, she's bemoaning ITV News' apparent assumption that their viewers are utter morons. Coincidentally, I gave a lecture this week on genre, mostly contrasting Miss Marple with The Wire to discuss generic conventions, but I did start with a quick discussion of news conventions, starting with the music and credits. I showed the punters these clips:

This is ITV's News at Ten: a classic piece of work which packs authority, hegemony inconsequentiality and pomposity into a few seconds.

Now this is Chris Morris's spoof, The Day Today. When it was made many years ago, it seemed to be an achingly funny spoof of the desperate rubbish masquerading as TV news. Now it looks like the source of modern broadcasters' ideas. Does that make it even funnier or depressing?

Pointless Paul's at it again

Again with the stupid and menacing questions.

Written Answers - Home Department: Asylum: Deportation (21 Oct 2010)
Paul Uppal: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how
many failed asylum seekers were evicted from domestic properties in
Wolverhampton South West constituency before deportation from the UK in
the last 12 months.

Written Answers - Cabinet Office: Unemployment: Wolverhampton (21 Oct 2010)
Paul Uppal: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office how many children
were living in workless households in Wolverhampton South West
constituency in  (a) 2005,  (b) 2007 and  (c) 2010.

He knows, from the answers given a few days ago, that statistics aren't generally collected by constituency. Clearly Uppal has two objectives here: to prove to the racists in the Tory Party that he's just as unpleasant and selfish as them, despite being an immigrant, and to achieve an increased profile.

Jews have a phrase for people like this, the 'self-hating' Jew. Converts, too, are often far more hardline than people who grew up with a set of beliefs, as though they have something to prove. Uppal seems to be applying for the job of Judas Goat: the animal kept at abattoirs to persuade those destined for the chop that everything's fine. Labour had a couple of those -  every time they wanted to bring in some deeply racist legislation, they'd get an Asian MP like Khalid Mahmood to do the publicity, some creepy, ambitious, selfish scumbag ready to betray his people for personal preferment. I always hoped they slept very badly, but I suspect it's not true.

Uppal seems completely immune to shame or intellectual argument - he's determined to waste our money in pursuit of his own interests and there's nothing we can do about it.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Here's to you, Mr Robinson

I'm sure that having your broadcast used by protestors to make political points is a little bit annoying, but only if you think that your selection of what counts as information is paramount. I'm inclined to feel that if you go for an outside broadcast, you should accept what's going on. Otherwise, you may as well stay in the studio. Few things are more patronising than insisting on showing you the door to No. 10 to demonstrate you're talking about politics, or standing outside Buckingham Palace to remind you that that's where the Queen lives.

This is Nick Robinson, the BBC's political correspondent. In case you wondered about his political views, he was President (sounds dangerously Republican) of the Oxford University Conservative Association, and therefore isn't in any way biased.

I wonder why he didn't politely complain to the sign holder, or simply walk away.

The government's 'progressive' changes: the judgement

The Institute for Fiscal Studies are the experts' experts. Everyone respects their abilities. Is the new regime 'fair' or 'progressive'? They think not:

The cuts to welfare spending mean that benefits will be focussed more on pensioners and less on families with children. The radical reform to council tax benefit is probably the one that raises the most concerns ... The Treasury's modelling shows that the benefit measures announced yesterday will hit those in the bottom half of the income distribution more as a share of their income than those in the top half. We agree with this assessment. The Treasury also claimed that overall the tax and benefit measures yet to be implemented are progressive ... But this analysis excludes some measures that we think it is possible to make a rough estimate for.

Our analysis – published in August – shows that by including a wider set of benefit reforms announced by this government leads to the conclusion that the impact of all tax and benefit measures yet to come in reduces the incomes of lower income households by more than that of higher income households, with the notable exception of the richest 2% of the population who are the hardest hit. Therefore the tax and benefit changes are regressive rather than progressive across most of the income distribution. And when we add in the new measures announced yesterday this finding is, unsurprisingly, reinforced.

Who votes Tory? Not the poor, but an awful lot of pensioners who hanker for the days of school  flogging, hanging, fighting the Germans, spitting at black people and that nice Mr Macmillan.

OK, I'm being mean - but pensioners are the Tories' core vote. So bollocks to the rest of us.

But there is light relief

How's this for a wonderful headline?

MP's wife accused of stealing kitten

It's a lovely detail from the long and eventful history of millionaire financier and News of the World 'Love Rat' Award winner, John Hemming MP, one of the more, shall we say, colourful Liberal Democrats. His wife apparently stole said feline from her husband's lover (who had his child a few years ago).

What first attracted his wife, his lover and the 'about 26 other' women to millionaire John Hemming?

Hemming: looking for pussy.

You can't trust the Tories - in blogs or with the economy

Over at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the very serious men in grey suits are ripping the government's claims about the spending review to shreds. Faisal Islam, the Guardian's economics correspondent, describes it thus:

already the most devastating critique of flaky claims, policy inconsistencies, dodgy maths, i've ever seen by IFS
Laughter at the IFS briefing as it shows the most regressive looking graph in history vs the puny looking treasury version 
in response to Cameron and Clegg saying things like this.

People do not only think of themselves as recipients of benefits. There is also: "How much does it cost to get childcare? What kind of education is my child getting at school? What am I getting back if I am doing some low-paid, part-time work?" That is how people live in the real world, and in the real world it is the richest that are paying the most – about that there is not doubt at all.

Meanwhile, it's time to look to Nadine Dorries, one of the most appallingly unpleasant of the Tory Scum back benches. She fiddled her expenses but fell ever so slightly short of being charged, but the Parliamentary Commissioner's report takes her to task over her non-co-operative approach and generally relaxed attitude towards the truth. She responds with this astonishing confession about her blog, which the authorities used as evidence:

My blog is 70% fiction and 30% fact. It is written as a tool to enable my constituents to know me better and to reassure them of my commitment to Mid Bedfordshire. I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another.
Right. I see. Or rather, I don't see. But here are a couple of extracts which might help us understand this menace to society:

Did you know that if every GP referred one less patient per year and requested one less diagnostic test, the NHS would save half a billion pounds in that one year?
Would you like to be that one patient? How does the doctor decide who shouldn't be treated because it's too expensive? Why doesn't Dorries know the difference between 'less' and 'fewer'? (And where's the source for this statistic?).

Try this:

The BBC will only receive the equivalent of a 16% cut over five years. That just isn’t good enough.
The BBC has done a very good job over the last thirteen years to support the Labour Government. They have facilitated the very process which has resulted in the cuts every family in the nation has to bear. The blood which will flow from the cuts is all over BBC hands too.
That's right. You heard it here first. The BBC caused the banking crash and made Labour rescue the banks and needs to be punished. 

It's like reading Ewar's Shropshire Star letters over and over again, before remembering that this woman is a Member of Parliament on the government side. 

The stupid, how it burns.

It's official

The Maximum Leader of The Hegemon, the man who is meant to epitomise the values of the institution, and put our case to those in power - Lord Paul - has been suspended from the House of Lords for expenses fraud

Management must be so proud. 

The multimillionaire businessman (88th richest in the UK) with a Master's from MIT and member of its Mechanical Engineering Advisory Council, Olympics Delivery Committee member and Chancellor of the University of Westminster, member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Council, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, claimed that he's the victim because all Indians are naturally stupid (is there any other way to interpret this?): Meanwhile

"Lord Paul explained his interpretation of the term 'main residence' by reference to his cultural background.
"He insisted that 'anyone coming out of India would not understand what main residence means'. He accepted that he had 'not once' looked at the guidance on the back of the claim forms."
 Meanwhile, another friend of ours has been busy, presumably solely to get his face on TV. Yes, Paul Uppal's been costing the state money asking questions (and here) which he should have known couldn't be answered; attempting to curry favour with local reactionary newspaper the Express and Star by harping on about asylum seekers (and here) despite being an immigrant himself (and not receiving a very sensational reply); and finally, by inserting his tongue as far up Mr Osborne's posterior as it is possible to go:

It is often said of the last Labour Government that although talk is cheap, the consequences of their actions were very expensive. Does the Chancellor agree that the sentiment of the spending review is not about cuts but about responsibility and the financial responsibility that we bequeath to our children and our grandchildren?

George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer, HM Treasury; Tatton, Conservative)
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have talked a lot about fairness and about fairness across the income distribution, but there is also a fairness between generations. If we do not deal with these debts and do not have a credible plan, it will be our children and grandchildren who are saddled with the debts that we were not prepared to pay. I think that is very unfair.
Is it 'often said'? I've never heard it, and I spend most of my time obsessing about politics.  

Wear your heart on your sleeve

As those of you who know me personally will attest, I'm a little limited in the sartorial style stakes. Whether I'm teaching or playing, I wear basically the same clothes.

Not any more. I've found a very cool t-shirt vendor, Out of Print: taking beautiful book designs, and donating a book to African children for every purchase via this charity. So I've kitted myself out with some class, and bought books for somebody else! If we must have capitalism, this is the way to do it.

Do the same.

I bought these: Walden because it's the book that changed my life, and the Henry Miller because the design is, to me, a perfect summary of the joys of modernism.

Before the killing spree, they looked so innocent

I've just been sent this shocking photograph of a Map Twat. I'm not sure whether one's gun is worse than the other's barnet.

The morning after the night before

Good morning. I assume that, if you're in the UK, you're suffering from a massive politics hangover, having listened to the Chancellor explain that, while we're all in this together, the poor are going to have to pay for the deficit. Not the rich, not the banks, not corporations (their tax is actually going down), but the poor and the young.

Oddly, I was teaching King Lear yesterday. The story of an arrogant, deluded ruler with no grasp of reality who destroyed his country out of selfishness, greed and narcisssism chimed with the day's events, though I doubt that Osborne will ever come to a soul-destroying moment of realisation - he'll always be rich and he's never wanted friends.

How revolting it was to see Liberal Democrats, who campaigned as the 'nice' party, patting the Tory Scum on the back, clapping and laughing as Osborne reduced the state to a shell company for the rich and put the poor and disabled out of their homes. When the election comes, they deserve oblivion.

I couldn't stand it anymore and headed over to Shrewsbury for my regular fencing session. Weirdly, given I was in a terrible mood, it was one of those nights on which everything went brilliantly - I fenced lots of seriously good (and nice) people and beat them all. For the first time in ages, I chose my shots and they all worked. Perhaps cold fury is the key to effective fencing.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Stunning dishonesty

Sorry to go on about politics so much today, but the Chancellor's presentation of the Comprehensive Spending Review is the most important event of the next five years (even Thatcher's death, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later, is less important).

The government has announced that their plans are 'progressive', i.e. that the poor will fare better than the rich.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, which is the go-to thinktank for judging this stuff, agrees. But not in a way that the Tory Scum will like.

Why is it overall progressive? It's progressive because of the tax measures Labour set out that the new government chose to keep ... The stuff we heard about today, the new stuff today, clearly is not progressive on the Treasury's analysis. It's only once you add it in to the things we heard about in June and the things Mr [Alistair] Darling had already put in the pipeline for next year that it becomes progressive.

Why will the budget be progressive? Because of the Labour plans the Tories are leaving in place: all their own ideas are nasty, reactionary, anti-poor ideas.

So the Tories and Lib Dems are blaming Labour (partially wrongly) for the deficit, then silently and dishonestly claiming credit for the few good things in this review. That's politics…

This is the kind of thing that Tories like doing: snatching food from paraplegics:

• £2bn by time-limiting the contributory element of employment support allowance to one year. ESA is the benefit brought in to replace incapacity benefit. So these are cuts that will hit the disabled.
no one will be hit harder than disabled people with a husband or wife that works. After just one year, they will now find themselves stripped of any independent income. 
£385m by cutting the childcare element of working tax credit. It will only cover 70% of costs, not 80% of costs.

So if you're poor but want to get out to work, you'll have to do more hours to pay to for childcare, see less of your kids, and so on in an interminable cycle of social decay. If you're disabled, you'll have to hope your partner feels like doling out the pocket money. And if you can't afford toilet handrails or a wheelchair, you can sit where you are and wear nappies. And like it. After all, you're reducing the deficit.

• £215m by extending "shared room", a housing benefit rule. This says people can only claim for the cost of a single room in a shared house. Originally it applied to claimants under the age of 25. Now it will apply to claimants under the age of 35. In other words, single people aged 25 to 35 won't be able to claim housing benefit for a flat.

Nice. Rising Damp institutionalised. Even though the majority of trendy flats don't meet the minimum requirements for decent living in public housing (the Parker Morris rules of 1961), the poor are going to be denied even that. Let's not forget that this includes a large number of people doing paid work in expensive cities. It'll be harder to have a private life, which gets more and more important as you get older. Because I studied for many more years than most, I lived in shared houses between 1993-2009. I liked the majority of my housemates, but it got harder and harder to cram my (cheap) possessions into one space, to share nasty kitchen equipment, cope with messiness and queue for bathroom space. Single beds and cold water are fine for a while, before life really starts, but quickly lose their appeal.

This nasty little rule removes dignity without a care. Imagine having a decent job in your thirties - perhaps as a university lecturer. You've lost your job because the Tories think literature and media criticism are subversive doss subjects. You sign on for your £40 per week and apply for housing benefit to cover your 1-bedroom flat, only to find that you have to move into a single bedroom to get any support. So you move to an even nastier area of town (perhaps where you started). Goodbye to most of your books and music, perhaps a bike, sports equipment, stereo, some of your clothes, most of your kitchen things, the sticks of third-hand furniture you've acquired, your TV. Hello to dirty bathrooms, poor heating, filthy kitchens, your housemates' choice of entertainment, the screams and bangs of several playstations booming through the walls. Your partner feels less inclined to come round and you stop inviting friends for dinner.

Before long, you're depressed, lonely and isolated. Jobs seem harder to get. Life becomes unutterably worse. Then the best to be hoped is that you go on an anti-Tory killing spree, but you probably don't have the energy.

• £135m by cutting the mobility component in disability living allowance for people in residential care.

Nice. You old people can just sit in those wee-sodden plastic chairs arranged round the edges of the room. What do you want to go out for? Eh? Shut up and swallow your tranquillisers.

the Warm Front programme, which helps the poorest makes their homes warmer, is going... 
the climate change department's budget is being cut 5% a year (about 20% over four years?)

Another delightful touch. We provide rubbish state housing or drive the poor into slums owned, then cost them more money and help damage the environment by cutting a scheme which a) provided jobs b) protected the environment and c) saved everyone (residents and taxpayers) money. Who needs to prevent climate change anyway? It'll help unemployed teens grow more dope, and the armies of the homeless won't need so many newspapers and clothes to keep warm.

 30% cuts to the budgets of both Sport England and UK Sport. These are massive and mean dismantling much of sport in local communities. These organisations are vital in plugging the gap in provision of proper sport in state schools and are fantastic examples of the kind of "big society" initiatives the coalition is supposed to want. 

Another fine touch. It's very clear: sport for the poor is meant to be something you pay Murdoch to watch, not something you do. If you're fat, it's your individual fault and you should eat less (which is going to be easy given the hardship people face). Now clear orff paupers, the polo team needs your playing field.

I was talking to my students today about the morality of sex work. Soon I'll be exploring the practicalities. As Adam said to me once, 'don't sit on your arse, rent it'. (Adam Smith would no doubt agree).

Sailing into choppy waters

It's the Comprehensive Spending Review today, in which the Tory and Liberal Democrat government institute nakedly reactionary social and economic measures under the guise of dealing with the deficit. The poor, the weak and the hardworking will suffer. The rich and their businesses will not. Organisations like the BBC are being punished for their (relative) independence and for offering an alternative to the world of Fox News, while Murdoch and his friends will be rewarded for their loyalty.

Are massive cuts in welfare, environmental protection, education, housing, transport, the arts etc. justified? Not if you ask Nobel Prizewinner for Economics, Joseph Stiglitz. He, like virtually all expert economists and most government, thinks we should be boosting the economy, not sacking millions of people.

Still, what does he know? Abolishing the state worked brilliantly for Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship (as long as you don't look too closely). Until it didn't.

There's no such thing as charity

Not in this government's eyes, anyway. The aid budget is being 'refocussed', meaning spent on places the UK has bombed the shit out of in recent years. Partly, I suppose, to make good the damage, and partly to bribe the locals into gratitude rather than righteous anger.

As to empathy, altruism and plain need - don't be silly.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Express and Star: round 2

You may recall that I objected to our despicable local newspaper using the medical term 'plagued' to refer to a group of travellers in a news report.

I asked our local police to look at it: he said it didn't constitute incitement to hatred, but he was sufficiently concerned to advise the rag to moderate its language.

I also complained to the Press Complaints Commission, under the discrimination and accuracy clauses, as the piece seemed to ascribe criminality to membership of a particular group. It turns out, however that you can say what you like about groups (all West Bromwich natives are paedophiles, for instance, is perfectly acceptable; you can't say X is a paedophile because he's from West Bromwich). It also occurs to me that the Express and Star has made an appalling error due to lazy journalism: it hasn't proved that the many reports about traveller 'criminality' refer to the same people. In this sense, it has therefore fostered the belief that all travellers are antisocial criminals, which is disgraceful and deeply inaccurate.

Anyway, Faber - the editor - has come out fighting, mostly through distorting my argument, either by design or because he's not very bright. Click on it to enlarge.

I particularly enjoyed the suggestion that I'm against press freedom because I want the Express and Star to 'self-censor'. Actually matey, I'm calling for some 'editing'. And the idea that a publication as biased and reactionary as the Express and Swastika doesn't already self-censor by choosing to publish only articles which suit its rightwing agenda is ludicrous.

This is my response to the Press Complaints Commission:

Dear William, 
thanks for your e-mail, and for forwarding Mr. Faber's letter, which seems to consist of distortions of my complaint, which is essentially that the use of 'plagued' in a news piece is editorialising and inciting. I don't recall stating that the travellers definitely were an ethnic group, I enquired about the possibility (though Irish Travellers and Roma are distinct recognised ethnic groups). I was also struck by the collective abuse applied to these people, as though any criminal events were the responsibility of the entire traveller community: collective guilt is not known to the law. I am quite disturbed by the ad hominem and aggressive tone he uses in your letter.
I am fully aware of the PCC's remit: I drew the attention of the local police to the article. While they didn't feel it constituted incitement, they were sufficiently concerned to promise to have a word with the newspaper about its use of language. 
Nobody is asking the Express and Star to self-censor when it comes to reporting news (although given the poor quality and naked political bias of the publication in question, it seems that objectivity is in short supply there). All I would like is some editorial recognition that groups such as travellers are more than plagues: the medical terminology dehumanises them in ways familiar from twentieth-century history. Mr. Faber's list of articles about them doesn't demonstrate newsworthiness alone: it might easily be diagnosed as an obsession. 
I note that Mr. Faber's list of articles about travellers doesn't include any indication of whether the antisocial behaviour has been committed by exactly the same group of travellers or not. If not, then he is apparently claiming that all travellers are criminals, and therefore the pieces are inaccurate because they are unsubstantiated. Certainly the article about which I complained made no effort to discriminate between individuals or particular groups of travellers. How is Mr. Faber quantifying 'huge', by the way?
I would be happy to have a substantial letter or piece in the newspaper as right of reply: I note however that a letter I did write to the newspaper on this subject was ignored. I am prepared to settle the matter amicably: from Mr. Faber's letter, it appears that he is not. 
I am happy for you to forward this response to Mr. Faber. 

I also enjoyed his defence of 'we've published loads of articles about travellers which proves it's a plague'. Er, no. It proves that you've got some obsession with travellers.

The PCC have suggested I have a letter printed - I'll accept that if it comes off. Isn't this exciting?