Monday, 28 February 2011

Wow, what does a footballer have to do to get fired?

If I had an air rifle, I'd bring it to work tomorrow and go on a spree, tracking down the plagiarists and chatterboxes.*

Then I'd get arrested and fired.

Unlike Ashley Cole, the footballer. He brought a .22 air rifle to work and shot a work-experience student with it, from close range (at least he's capable of being on target occasionally). The Guardian's report is using the word 'inadvertently', though I fail to see how you can inadvertently put pellets in a gun, inadvertently point it at someone, then inadvertently pull the trigger. This must be some legally-mandated technical meaning of the word.

He hasn't been fired or arrested. Nor is he suspended - he's playing tomorrow.

His manager says:
"[There was] never any chance [Cole being sacked]. He's our player. He's always put in very good behaviour here. When a player says 'sorry, I made a mistake', it's difficult to do different. We're not out of control. If players step over the line, we take a decision."
Hm. What else 'good behaviour' should we take into account?

  • Fined £75,000 for sneaking behind Arsenal's back to get a lucrative transfer to Chelsea: he later declared he 'forgave' Arsenal for… er… making him very rich and selling him to Chelsea.
  • Repeated disrespect for referees
  • Arrested and fined for being drunk and disorderly.
  • Declared in a text that he 'hates England and all the fucking people in it' after public opinion on his England performance wasn't entirely up to snuff.
  • Wooed his various mistresses with text-pics of his tackle. Not the footballing kind either.
  • Most delightfully of all, one of his conquests claims that he took a moment out of their horizontal athletics to vomit over the side of the bed, before resuming matters. To be fair though, he was gentlemanly enough to swig some mouthwash first. 

What a paragon!

I liked the manager's declaration that:

"No one can say we're out of control… It's not true that there's a lack of discipline here. You can judge the players on the pitch, and they show fair play, respect for the referees, respect for the fans. This is what we have to judge, not other things"
No, things are going swimmingly when your star players are coming to work armed. Firing guns at students is obviously in the unimportant 'other things' category to be ignored.

*This is a joke, by the way.

Slacking off

Seeing as 90s American slacker rock is back (get Yuck's rather pleasant homage/pastiche if you don't believe me), I thought I'd give you a couple of rather excellent tracks by Sebadoh and their spin-off, Folk Implosion: play them loud.

Here's an old indie-night floor-filler:

And finally, here's Dinosaur Jr.'s cover of The Cure's sublime 'Just Like Heaven'.

His Dark Materials?

In my pigeonhole today were a number of interesting objects.

Superman: War of the Worlds, an interesting insertion of the Man of Steel into the H. G. Wells story, bought mostly because Oswald Mosley, the wannabe British Hitler, makes an appearance and I'm thinking of writing a piece on literary representations of this odious individual. It was packaged beautifully: clearly nerds are much more careful with their belongings than ordinary book dealers.

The new (Spring 2011) issue of New Welsh Review - full of good poetry, short fiction and reviews.

John O'Sullivan's A Photographic History of Mining in South Wales. I'm giving a paper on masculinity in mining fiction at a conference on Saturday, so it should provide some good images. Once I've written the damn thing.

Eirene White's very, very short The Ladies of Gregynog, the fascinating story of these Victorian/Edwardian couple, leading arts patrons and cultural icons.

Stead Jones's reprinted Make Room For the Jester, another piece of forgotten Welsh Writing in English reissued by the Library of Wales.

A remote control for my Nikon D7000. Rather pleasing that it cost £6 considering the huge cost of the actual camera.

Gruff Rhys's new solo album, Hotel Shampoo.

Nicholas Daly's Modernism, Romance and the fin de siècle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880-1914.

Sally Ledger's The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the fin de siècle.

Finally, and most oddly, this piece of craftwork. I have no idea who made it, so thankyou to whoever put it there. File me under 'bemused but touched'.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Well, the Irish election results are pretty much in, and if you listen to the press, it's a momentous revolution:

With recounts taking place in a number of constituencies, the projected outcome last night was Fine Gael 76 seats, Labour 37, Fianna Fáil 20, Sinn Féin 14, United Left Alliance 5 and Others 14.
The share of first-preference votes was: Fine Gael 36.1 per cent, Labour 19.4 per cent, Fianna Fáil 17.4 per cent, Sinn Féin 9.9 per cent, Independents 15.2 per cent and Green Party 1.8 per cent.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. Yes, Fianna Fáil has been handed a thorough beating, after being the party of government for most of the past 80 years. Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin have done better this time than in any election since the state was founded.

But: this is a social revolution, not a political one. Fianna Fáil is out not because most of the voters wanted a different ideological and economic model, but because they wanted a less corrupt one. The political, legal and financial élite consisted of a couple of hundred men, all told - sitting on each others' boards, handing each other donations, lifting regulations to help each other out. It came - naturally - to a crashing stop and bankrupted the whole country.

So what did the voters do? They elected a party in Fine Gael which believes in the same things as Fianna Fáil: that the route to Irish prosperity is to maintain its status as a European tax haven for any dubious corporation with a brass plate to screw up on a rented front door. Other than the Labour voters and those angry enough to vote Sinn Féin, the Irish have voted for a new set of faces on the old policies. Enda Kenny and his friends haven't been hobnobbing to the same degree with the disgraced financiers who destroyed the entire country, but they're fully paid-up members of the permanent political class all the same: the neo-liberal consensus remains fully intact.

The difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - and this isn't a joke - isn't ideological: it goes back to the civil war. People vote between two rightwing parties on the basis of what happened in 1922, and to a shameful extent on the hereditary principle: too many people inherit their seats as part of family dynasties.

Perhaps the biggest change in dynastic terms is the fact that the new Dáil includes no member of the Haughey or Lemass families. A junior minister at the Department of Education and the Department of Enterprise, Seán Haughey was first elected a TD in 1992 but has now lost his seat in Dublin North Central. Both his father and grandfather held the office of taoiseach: he is a son of the late Charles Haughey, and his mother, Maureen, is a daughter of Seán Lemass. His uncle, Noel Lemass Jnr, and aunt, Eileen Lemass, were also members of the Dáil.
The Lenihans had three representatives in the outgoing Dáil but this has been reduced to one. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan made it on the fifth count in Dublin West but he will no longer be accompanied by his brother Conor, who lost out in Dublin South West. Their aunt, Mary O’Rourke (née Lenihan) was eliminated on the second count in Longford-Westmeath. Brian Lenihan Snr, (1930-1995) father of Brian Jnr and Conor and brother of Mary, held the office of tánaiste and a variety of cabinet posts; he was first elected a TD in 1961 and, unusually, his father, Patrick Lenihan (1902-1970), joined him in the Dáil after the general election of 1965, and they served together for five years.

And on, and on: the Hanafins, the Coughlans, the Andrews, the Healy-Raes, the Tom McEllistrims, the Cowens, Springs, de Valeras, Kennys, Barrys and Uptons all point to a rotten, and permanent, political class.

FF have been handed their hats in a big way today, and a few proper lefties have got in, but we really shouldn't mistake a change of guard for a change of policy, which I think is a real shame. Some cogs have fallen out, but the machine carries on.

The other tragedies in the election are the annihilation of all FF female candidates, and the total destruction of the Green Party. They propped up the Fianna Fáil government in a coalition, enabling the total destruction of the island's economy, while making virtually no gains for environmentalism. The result was rejection, and I can't see Ireland electing another Green to parliament for a generation, just when we need serious environmental politics desperately. John Gormley traded credibility for a ministerial limo and a higher profile, and betrayed his beliefs in the process: we'll all suffer for this.

Hello, Dole Scum

On Radio 4's Today programme this morning, a reporter shadowed Iain Duncan Smith, the Employment Minister, as he visited a Job Centre trying to help the long-term unemployed. He talked to several very highly-skilled and articulate unemployed people.

IDS: 'if you've grown up and become conditioned - say in a workless household - to people not being in work, the whole concept of work becomes alien…'

Right, it's their fault they don't have jobs. Just as a reminder, here are some statistics for the minister:

Job vacancies: 500,000 (as IDS acknowledges)
Unemployed: 2,500,000

At the Job Centre he visited, there are 6000 unemployed people and 250 vacancies, so he can't pretend this disparity exists.

But according to Duncan-Smith, unemployment is a state of mind. This is exactly what's wrong with Tory politics: even in the face of solid evidence, they'd rather tell the voters that there's a massive pool of workshy loafers out there, sucking away your taxes. Certainly there are a few, and there's a group of unemployable people out there - but the idea that anyone out of work is simply lazy or 'conditioned' to sit on the dole is laughable - but it fits an ideological agenda.

Friday, 25 February 2011

A big day for Ireland

No, not the Ireland v Bangladesh match in the Cricket World Cup: it's general election day too, in which the Irish people are going to express their disgust at crony capitalism by voting for the crony capitalist party which was on the other side in the Civil War.

That'll show the bankers…

(By the way, Ireland's quite amused by Cameron telling you all that the Alternative Vote system is rubbish and complicated: Ireland uses the STV method of proportional representation, and everybody seems to understand it quite well).

Separated at Birth?

They're both eccentric tyrants with an insane world view. They're both physically declining in the full glare of the media. They both love ridiculous military uniforms.

Has anyone seen Muammar Gadaffi and Michael Jackson in the same room? I think not.

Students: this might help

You really need to check this out. Unfortunately, the Hegemon doesn't stock it. Nor do we have any difficult teachers. Cough.

We do carry Coping Successfully With Your Irritable Bowel and Coping With Aggressive Behaviour, which might contain similar advice, and Coping With France, which sounds borderline racist). Sadly for incompetent DIY fans, there's no Coping With Coping, which looks like a glaring opening in the market.

Coping With Difficult Teachers is just one of the gems unearthed by one of my favourite librarian sites, Awful Library Books

Yam-Yam Young Team

Can I draw your attention to some talented young men who are embarking on a documentary film-making career? You can watch one of their excellent short films here, vote for it to win the First Light award here (vote 'Birmingham') and catch up on their myriad exciting activities here.

How I hate the youth. Their sheer energy makes me feel tired, old and bitter.

How cute. What's he called? Mogwai…

I was always predisposed to like a band called Mogwai, because I think the Gremlins films are fine works of satire disguised as teen comedy-horror.

It was an excellent night. The gig was at the Institute in Digbeth - a wonderful Victorian building now sadly reduced to commercial ownership, but at least the owners (a well-known and near-bankrupt chain of music shops) have done a decent job. Lots of gilt-painted carving and pillars - a real miniature old theatre space.

The music was magnificent. Mogwai specialise in long periods of very quiet delicate bits, followed by a massive assault of complex noise. It reminds me of two things: the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster

"The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the effect of which is like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick." 

and falling into a wormhole (sorry about the quality - I thought the internet would be full of Star Trek clips, but apparently not. How disappointed am I?).

So the music was at times beautiful and at others utterly pummelling. Just what I wanted. I must say though that the band are a right miserable bunch. Apart from Stuart, who has a happy (and quite high) voice and at least spoke occasionally, the band spent their time grimacing at their fretboards or angrily gesticulating at the sound guy: at no point did they look like they were enjoying it, which was a shame. Partially understandable - they did have some technical problems.

As for the crowd - well, it was a classic post-rock one, in that it was mostly balding mathematicians. I'm pretty sure there were enough maths PhD's in the room to have a pretty good stab at solving the Poincaré Conjecture between the support act and Mogwai. Still, there were also more young and female people than I'd have expected, so they've clearly got an audience.

So if you like music which goes melodic-quiet LOUD LOUDER LOUDEST they're the band for you (and me).

When law fails, there's always blackmail

The government has really badly screwed up their ridiculous plans to impose massive tuition fees on everybody. They decided to artificially create a 'market' by encouraging universities to compete on fees (except for science and medical degrees), without realising that every university will have to go for the maximum £9000 just to stay afloat.

So they came up with a cunning wheeze: a quango to force universities to set varying fees (thus subverting their free market claims, by the way). But now it turns out that they don't have the legal authority to do that. Back to the drawing board.

The government mistakenly believed that the Office for Fair Access had legal powers to "impose" different tuition fee levels on universities and is now struggling to deal with the financial consequences of its error, it has emerged.
In a candid assessment of the fraught policy position, Sir Martin Harris, the director of fair access, said that although he was unclear about how the government had come to such a view, he was sure that a solution would be found because "in the end, the Treasury always wins".

They're going to blackmail institutions into variable fees, by cutting research funding or student numbers.

Not only is this unethical, it's unworkable. Research money is being cut massively anyway (who needs cutting-edge knowledge in a recession?), so many institutions won't be getting much or any. Certainly we won't. The other tool is to cap home student numbers. This won't work either: an institution can fill up on high-paying overseas students. Selfish, yes, but economically sound.

One of the threats is that universities which don't let in enough economically-deprived students won't be able to charge £9000. It's a stupid idea: The Hegemon is in the top 3 or 4 institutions for these students - but they won't be letting us charge £9000. Meanwhile the Oxfords and Cambridges will fix their entry requirements so that the same proportion (close to zero) of poor kids get in while making it look like they're doing enough. There's absolutely no chance of such institutions being made to charge less than the maximum. In any case, they're so rich that they can easily cover the gap with donations and investment income. Places like mine don't have rich benefactors, nor do we own large swathes of the country.

The problem for the government is that it's fronting up the tuition fees: they pay the universities and students (theoretically) pay it back over their entire working lives. If every course at every institution charges £9000, the state's coffers are rapidly drained, especially if repayment rates are low. It's a disaster not just educationally and politically, but on their own terms. They wanted a free market and independently sustainable education sector, and they're imposing a rigged, state-dependent and loss-making system. Students lose out, universities lose out and the taxpayer loses out. Trebles all round!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Plagiarists take heed

You may think that you've got away with it. If you've graduated without being caught, you're probably feeling pretty smug.

Think again. The forces of justice move slowly, but they keep moving. Just look to Germany, where the aristocratic Minister of Defence has just been stripped of his Ph.D for plagiarism. Public humiliation awaits!

This could be you! Personally, I spend my leisure hours going through essays from past cohorts, hunting for cheats.

The revolutions continue

Reports are trickling in suggesting that the Middle East's tide of coups and topplings is spreading to the West. In a move reminiscent of the 1970s, shadowy forces have taken control of the UK in the absence of its leader, David Cameron, who took control following an inconclusive election in 2010. He is currently on an arms sales tour of the Gulf and seemed shocked but determined to hold on to power:

Asked who was running the country, Nick Clegg, believed to be leader of an opportunist clique formerly subservient to the 'Tories' (directly translated as 'Servants of Mammon') known only as the Liberal Democrats, replied:

"Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that. I'm holding the fort but I'm hoping to take the end of the week off with my kids. Someone else will have to do it then. It sounds more haphazard than it probably is."
Taken aback, an embattled and deluded Cameron insisted from a secure location that he could maintain his grip on power:

The prime minister dismissed Clegg's comments as a "throwaway line" as he made clear that he remained in charge, regardless of where he was.
Speaking from Oman on the final leg of his tour, Cameron told Sky News: "I'm not absent, that is the way government works. In the age of the BlackBerry, the telephone, the internet, just because I leave the country doesn't mean I am not in charge." 
 Journalists report that the situation is fluid, and the outcome depends on the loyalty or otherwise of a paramilitary force calling itself The Big Society, about whom little is known.

Equal opportunity

There's an excellent book you should read called The Spirit Level, which proves that in more equal societies (rich or poor), people are happier, healthier, longer-lived and safer.

If you're in The Hegemon on March 22nd, you can attend a lecture by one of its authors, Richard Wilkinson. Hot on the heels of Paul Mason: what brilliant opportunities there are for enlightenment round here.

Why Equality is Better for Everyone
A talk by Richard Wilkinson author of ‘The Spirit Level’ and co-founder of The Equality Trust
Tuesday 22nd March 2011, 11:30am, MX004

Don't feed them after midnight…

I'm off to see the mighty Mogwai tonight: monstrous Scottish instrumental post-rockers. I saw once before, at least a decade ago, supporting the Manic Street Preachers at Stoke's Trentham Gardens. The Manics fans were less than impressed by the choice of support act: I was beaming widely and soaking up the massive noise while everybody else clapped their hands over their ears.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Missed anniversaries

I was so overcome with work that I missed a significant date.

The 10th February marked exactly one year since Paul Uppal's first and only Tweet.
He follows, if you're interested, 4 feeds: Tory HQ and Sky News to tell him what to think, some other local Tory who hasn't tweeted anything at all, and Iain Dale, Tory blogger (perhaps ironically, given Paul's reluctant and dishonest approach to blogging, e.g. start one because HQ told him to, delete negative comments, slag off anyone who doesn't like racism and hope nobody notices, close it down).

At least Uppal's Twittering work-rate matches his parliamentary effort.

Here's a little bit from his self-promoting website (conspicuous by its absence is any interest in what his constituents think):

Paul is an avid sports fan and follows football and cricket, but feels that the most important thing in his life is spending time with his family.

Er… fair enough, but why run for Parliament and spend a lot of time down there. Surely there should be something about representing and fighting for one's constituents? And isn't there something seriously patronising about going on about how normal he is because he likes sport and his family? Who, amongst his constituents, actually gives a flying one about whether he likes sport? Quite frankly, he could spend his leisure hours smearing himself in marmalade and punching bees as long as he put the effort in at work, but he doesn't. Instead, he tries to appeal to what he thinks is the man in the street by mentioning sport, as though we'll all go 'never mind him voting to enrich himself, slash education, healthcare, benefits and the arts: at least he likes footy. He's got my foot'.

(By the way, the single article on the site seems to accept comments, but you can't actually post anything - try it. Seems quite symbolic of his general approach). He seems reluctant to publicise his work on behalf of property developers - perhaps he thinks his constituents might not like him working for himself and his mates when he's meant to be representing us.

What does he do when he's not trying to get property taxes reduced? He lobbied Parliament to stop regulation of bullshit woo fake evil homeopathic/complementary medicines - their pressure group ( even thank him for his efforts to help them escape proper scrutiny. Apparently the right to lie and cheat the sick is a 'human right'.

Anything else? Well, he's got an unpaid intern - probably illegal of course. Hope he's started paying him or her. I wonder…

Voluntary workers’ employment status is defined by the condition of work, not how the employer wishes to describe it. For example, if a company wished to advertise a 45 hour a week job as an unpaid internship, under employment law they would still need to pay. In 2009 an Employment Tribunal ruled that a formerly unpaid intern was entitled to lost wages as a worker. For more information on interns and employment law, please contact or see the TUC’s website on interns’ rights:
I feel much better now. Good night!

Masonic Secrets

As promised, quality economics journalist Paul Mason came to give a presentation today, on the subject of Is There An End to the Crisis?. He was excellent - a good speaker but also a good listener. His thesis is that we aren't living in a moment of crisis: crisis is the normal state of capitalism (though he did point out that it's a lot worse because we invented some insane financial securities in the late 90s).

The key challenges are: rebalancing an economy so it's not just finance but real things like manufacturing; moving to an investment-based growth strategy rather than a credit (i.e. debt) funded economy; reducing the deficits without causing revolutions. On this last, I disagreed: what's wrong with a revolution if it's the only way to change things?

Along the way we discussed house prices, the decline of the US and its passionate hatred of state spending (I asked why the US government couldn't trick the Tea Party by spending loads of money on weaponry as usual, but he thought they're too angry even for that to work), the Roman model, house prices, the long-term decline in real wages (American salaries have remained flat or slightly lower since 1973), the rise of China and the prospects for the Euro.

It was fascinating stuff. Mason's very interested in China. He says that they're moving towards a slightly freer system but that they're not (as yet) interested in the kind of global hegemony America's operated. They want to be regional bosses, and they're not yet sure about whether to move to a social welfare/infrastructure-building state, or a consumer capitalist one (let's hope it's the former).

With the Euro, Mason's pretty pessimistic. He thinks the Greeks will leave: they don't want to stay in and the Germans, whose economy underpins the Eurozone but also creates the imbalances between rich Germany and poor Ireland/Spain/Portugal, doesn't want to carry them any more. He thinks Ireland will be bailed out massively though, because it's a 'conduit' between Germany and Co., and the offshore tax havens. What a revolting role for a nation to pursue: lice-picker to the productive bigger fish.

He uses an interesting analogy for the role of the banks (no time for the disgraceful behaviour of regulators, credit-rating agencies and the accountants). They are, he said, like the Alien in the film of that name. They've attached themselves to our economies, and if you cut them off, their acidic blood - the debt which has fuelled the economy for twenty years - will eat through the ship's decks - the real economy - one by one. The saviour this time, he says, was the state (at massive cost to us, hence the austerity we're facing), but no states are strong enough to do it a second time.

So what are our options:
1. Devalue the currency so we can export a lot and not afford to import much. That exports unemployment and suffering to the third world.
2. Do nothing and face revolution.
3. Radically restructure the global economy and work together. He thinks China's toying with some interesting ideas, such as a non-dollar global reserve currency to end currency wars.

For a man who clearly admires the US, he's pretty pessimistic about it: the politics, the poverty, its whole-hearted endorsement of naked capitalism. For instance, he points out that Nissan has moved away from the unionised East Coast high-wage areas to the Deep South. It pays less and its supplier factories have moved too. These subcontractors pay much lower wages, so that only undocumented immigrants work there. Then the locals get all racist and a spiral of social decline sets in. The population doesn't want the government to spend any money and even the stimulus isn't working because local authorities provide so few services that they can't effectively spend any of the money Washington is giving it to restart the economy.

Mason's solution is to copy Germany - his version of that country is one of high public investment. They spend a lot on schools, training and infrastructure. You therefore get a workforce with very high skills (hence BMW, Porsche, Siemens etc) who earn a lot because their jobs can't easily be outsourced. German companies grow through investment rather than debt (state-owned industrial banks help) and they're always technologically advanced. Think back to the 1960s: Britain's car industry died because it carried on producing outdated rubbish on outdated machines - investment was never a possibility. The UK would become like Germany: more boring, less extreme, but stable.

I found all this very interesting. I did have a few questions though. Such as: how are we going to move to an investment economy? Our entire financial system is based on allowing bankers and speculators to make massive profits overnight - short-selling is a clear example. There's nothing to make these people invest for the long-term. So if there's a profit to be made from halving your company's share price overnight, they'll do it, even if it means you can't raise money for new machinery. Also, how do we get the accountancy firms to stop authorising wheezes, and credit-ratings' firms from behaving irresponsibly? We've spent 30 years claiming that regulation destroys dynamism and innovation: just because the state has saved capitalism doesn't mean that capitalism will submit to the state. They're out there trying the same old stuff… they never learn.

Anyway, it was a fascinating session, and I'm really pleased that Mason is coming back for more.

Now that's what I call personal service!

Most of the time, when you order a CD, you don't get a handwritten note from the musician thanking you for your purchase and telling you to 'play it loud'.

That's what happened when I bought Euros Childs's new CD, Face Dripping. If you don't know who he is, he was a leading member of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Welsh teen indie psychedelic sensations. Since then, Euros has been producing wonderful, odd, melancholic stuff. (Bandmates John Lawrence has been recording electronica as Infinity Chimps and Richard James has recorded some ethereal wonderfulness under his own name too). Euros also has an album out with Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, under the name Jonny. It's very good.

So anyway, is this personal touch a sign of things to come as record labels fall apart and musicians make their livings from touring and a cottage industry? Or does Euros have so few fans that we're now on first name terms? How I hope it's the former. You all need some of his magic in your homes.

You can download the album for free here, but do leave a donation: musicians need to eat you know.

The Secret Life of Books

Coming soon after our discussion of how we organise our libraries, I thought this would amuse you. I'll be able to spend my time making films like this when I'm unemployed again…

Another Scoop for the Express and Star

My local paper managed to scoop all the international media organisations with its front page yesterday: HUNDREDS DIE AS EARTHQUAKE HITS NEW ZEALAND.

Very impressive for a paper which struggles to accurately report events in The Dark Place's suburbs, let alone several thousand miles away.

Still, a scoop's a scoop. With one small wrinkle. The NZ government last night confirmed 39 deaths and warned that the number will go up (this morning it's 55). Not hundreds. As even the E+S reports, 200 people are believed to be trapped, which makes it almost impossible for 'hundreds' to be killed. If they all die, then it will be 2 hundreds. Awful, but not quite the apocalypse the headline writer wanted. 

This horrible little rag is only in line with the other media: each white death is worth about 10 of other races, and each English-speaking death is worth 5 of any other white people.

The rarefied air of political debate

Over in America, that titan of political philosophy Rush Limbaugh has once more made some pertinent and trenchant criticisms of Barack Obama's policies.

No he didn't. He suggested that Michelle Obama - the doctorate-holding academic, lawyer, community organiser and first lady - is getting fat - as if it's a) relevant, b) any of his business and c) accurate.

For reference, here's Michelle Obama

and here's Limbaugh: clearly this is what the master-race should aspire to look like.

Oh happy day

What a day I have ahead of me. 2 hours of Milton (great for me, slightly bemuses the students), then going to the Paul Mason appearance - he's one of the best economics journalists around: you may have seen him on Newsnight - then 3 hours on Beauty: the book with which I'm getting more and more uncomfortable, not maquillage tips. Though I reckon I could do that too.

Here's a little piece which rather dignifies labour: I'm a huge fan of Cannonball Adderley and this is 'Work Song'.

Let's have my other Cannonball favourites while we're at it: 'Why Am I Treated So Bad?' and 'Space Spiritual', both Axelrod productions.

Oh happy day

What a day I have ahead of me. 2 hours of Milton (great for me, slightly bemuses the students), then going to the Paul Mason appearance - he's one of the best economics journalists around: you may have seen him on Newsnight - then 3 hours on Beauty: the book with which I'm getting more and more uncomfortable, not maquillage tips. Though I reckon I could do that too.

Here's a little piece which rather dignifies labour: I'm a huge fan of Cannonball Adderley and this is 'Work Song'.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Roll Up, Roll Up for the Tyranny Tombola

Ewar's just been in for a discussion of his very interesting final-year dissertation, and we finished by chatting about the Libyan situation.

So: who's next? Who do you think needs overthrowing, and who do you think actually will be? I'm disqualifying Simon Cowell, Bruce Forsyth, Murdoch and Berlusconi: this is just executive tyrants.

Choose from any of these and I'll provide a small and relevant prize to the winner.

Saudi Arabia (please, please, please)
North Korea
The Pope
Abu Dhabi
Burma (yes please)
Ivory Coast
Rwanda (both very dubiously democratic)
Israel (OK, vaguely democratic but all the parties seem to agree that the Palestinians need to be crushed)
Palestine (an object lesson in how your leaders will let you down)
Monaco (raising the delicious possibility of F1 drivers and Philip Green swinging from the gold-plated lamp-posts
Sri Lanka

Looking at that list, it's hard to feel particularly proud of democracy's advance…

Ch-ch-ch-ch-change management

Exciting, isn't it. At my place, there's always something being fiddled with, usually by an incompetent executive on an £100,000+ salary intent on putting 'change management expertise' on their VCs so they can inflict more of the same Year Zero nonsense on any institution stupid enough to hire them.

For instance: we now have two timetables: year long modules and single semester modules. They start at different times of the year and finish at different times of the year. Assessments differ too. The idea is that students (already reduced) workload is spread out more. The result is that they're always writing assignments and we're marking all the time we're teaching. The two systems have different teaching patterns, so it's hard to know from one week to the next what you're doing, where and when.

The real reasons are to cut down on contact time, staff and rooms. And it works: attendance is massively down.

Needless to say, the genius who thought this up departed shortly afterwards to spread the magic. So I read this article by Jonathan Wolff with a considerable degree of recognition.

 Ignore everything. If it actually needs to be done you'll be reminded, and then do it immediately. But mostly, someone wants you to fill in a form because they have a form to fill in themselves, and by the time they have processed all the responses the person who ordered the whole thing has moved on, passed on, or forgotten.
Change is so important that a few years ago my university brought in a change management strategy. The main message was that before you change you must consult. Very good. And so, I asked, why wasn't I consulted on this policy? That held it up for a day or two. Not sure, though, that anyone has remembered to use it since. 
We have achieved – in one way at least – something like Trotsky's vision of world communism: permanent revolution.
Why do we have to keep changing? Obviously because we are not teaching properly. Or researching the right things. Or bringing in enough cash from business or alumni. Or embedding ourselves deeply enough into the community. Or exchanging knowledge with the right partners. Or having sufficient impact. Or widening participation. Or ensuring that every student has the right visa. By way of penance we need to run round and round with bits of paper in our hands, and then fire off lots of emails. 
Here's a cautionary tale.Last year, Middlesex University, in the face of an international outcry, decided to close its philosophy department. Why? One of the arguments was that philosophy was funded in band D – getting the lowest government subsidy – and so it made more sense for the university to switch to taking more social science students who were funded at a higher rate in band C.
As a bit of proactive management, it seems to make financial sense. Except, as I noted at the time, this reasoning depends on the future resembling the past. Rather a rash assumption. It appears the coalition government has decided to withdraw all funding from most band C and D courses. Now, if the reason why band C received higher funding was that the courses are more expensive to teach, Middlesex made a spectacular miscalculation. 
If the background environment keeps changing, you cannot predict the consequences of your actions. What looks like a smart move one year may leave you smarting the next. What do you do? Masterful inactivity, of course. It has two advantages. First, it doesn't waste your time. Second, if you cannot sensibly plan on other grounds, you should at least make sure that what you do is sound in intellectual, scholarly and pedagogical terms. 
I really need to send this to all my managers.

You've got to admire Cameron's sheer chutzpah

Watching TV today, you'll see the Prime Minister in various North African and Near Eastern countries (Egypt yesterday, dictatorship Kuwait today) expounding his firm belief in democracy, peaceful protest and freedom.

Wonderful. Until you look at the people on the plane with him.

Ian King, chief executive of BAE Systems, will be the most senior figure on the trade delegation that also includes Victor Chavez of Thales UK and Alastair Bisset of Qinetiq. The 36-strong business delegation, nearly a quarter of whom come from the defence and aerospace sectors, will attend some, but not all, of the prime minister's three-day visit to the Gulf.
Other defence and aerospace manufacturers accompanying Cameron include Rob Watson, regional director of Rolls Royce; Charles Hughes, vice president marketing of the Cobham Group; Douglas Caster, the chief executive of Ultra Electronics; Andy Pearson, managing director of Babcock International Group; and Richard Barrett, regional director of Atkins.

Following on from his government's recent statements about not being 'ashamed' but 'proud' of the arms trade, and having ordered Britain's embassies to privilege trade above every other activity, Cameron's tour is actually a weapons sales roadshow, flogging anti-citizen devices as much as defence machinery. The UK sells huge amounts of weaponry to tiny Kuwait (not sure why: their armed forces ran away when the Iraqis visited in 1990) and is currently selling Eurofighters around the Gulf: there are several going spare as they're a bit rubbish and the UK can't afford its full order. The defence minister, Gerald Howarth, is manning a stall at a weapons fair featuring 93 British arms dealers flogging (no pun intended) everything an insecure despot might need, from tasers to riot control vans. 15 civil servants are there too, 'supporting' ADS, the British death-merchants' promotional body ('free cattle prod with every dungeon'). (If that site sickens you, take the antidote with CAAT).

So don't swallow Cameron's hastily arranged speeches whole: this is a sales trip with a lot of shadowy men who sniff opportunity.

Art and Politics meet

Here's Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets singing 'Who'll Pay Reparations?', from 1970: perhaps the most beautiful political song I know - even taking Strange Fruit into account.

Finding poetry in unlikely places

There's a branch of poetry known as 'found' poetry (like found art), in which texts crop up in unexpected places and are recognised as poetry rather than written with poetic intent. One such example is The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld: some bright spark realised that the way America's Darth Vader spoke - gnomic, highly metaphorical, rhythmically structured - is poetic, and published his speeches divided into verse, and also set some of them to music. That link includes some clips of the songs.

I found some poetry yesterday, while searching BBC's Ceefax for a fix of hot Stoke City news. I think it works:

To me, it reads like Ezra Pound or H. D. had developed an interest in football. 

Here we are, all the lads

Obviously political leaders have to meet people they don't like or even despise, but one of the shared characteristics of Europe's current crop of political leaders is that they seem to admire and like some of the most vicious dictators around. Certainly Blair never met a dictator or rich man he didn't like. It's as those these rather strange men felt embarrassed and trapped by the democratic constitutions of Europe, and had a sneaking regard for the absolute power wielded by Gadaffi and others.

Let's play Gadaffi Top Trumps:




Monday, 21 February 2011

When pop stars get old

This is Dappy. He's an engaging young man in a popular beat combo called N-Dubz.

And this is what he's going to look like when the fame wears off:

Look out for this one

If you get an e-mail like this, it's probably genuine.

Dear Western benefactor,
my name is Muammar Ghadaffi/Hosni Mubarak/the King of Bahrain and I am sitting on a major pile of bullion thanks to some wise investments in British defence exports, Swiss Banks and London property. I have now decided to have a short holiday in Europe/Saudi Arabia and would like to offer the opportunity to share in my good fortune. If you would like to look after my pension fund for a short period, send me your account details and may Allah (peace be upon him) bless you for your kindness. I will deposit several billions of my oil money in your account for safekeeping.

h/t Mark

Let's do lunch

I've just spent the afternoon with one of my favourite classes, doing plays about bankers and other con-men, from almost 300 years apart: Philip Massinger's very conservative comedy A New Way to Pay Old Debts (revolting city wide-boy loses his cash and daughter as punishment for being a flash social climber - the aristocratic values endure) and Caryl Churchill's Serious Money, an astonishing satire set in the 1980s world of investment banking and financial engineering - in verse.

In this one, the wide-boys win, though the toff bankers they replace are equally corrupt and revolting. They use the crudest sexualised language to discuss their work, though they're all too worn-out to actually have sex with anyone. They're amoral, cruel, greedy and selfish. Unfortunately, the City Boys didn't see it as a critique: legend has it that City firms block booked the theatre when it was first released, encouraging their workers to worship their fictional counterparts.

I hope my students enjoyed today's session: it's hard to analyse comedy without killing it stone dead. Some hadn't read them of course, but I like to think I've done my bit for the cause while simultaneously introducing them to literature they might not otherwise have come across. It's Gerrard Winstanley next: some of his pamphlets and Churchill's play about him, A Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.

(For your amusement: David Cameron Pretending To Be Common).

Tilt, shift

I've been playing with a nifty Aperture plug-in which transforms photos into miniature landscapes. It's not right for many photos, but it's a beautiful effect when it works. I've put some online here. Click on these (from Staffordshire, Vilnius, Newcastle and the West of Ireland) for larger versions.

It's an ill wind…

Certainly Britain's doing very well out of the Middle East's revolutions.

The most unequivocal message since the election was made by Peter Luff, the defence equipment minister, who told a defence show in June: "There will be a very, very, very heavy ministerial commitment to arms sales. There is a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this government."

It's not embarrassing selling crowd control missiles to Bahrain and Libya at all.

As the Campaign Against the Arms Trade notes on Bahrain: in 2010, equipment approved for export included teargas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and submachine guns. No requests for licences were refused.
In the third quarter of 2010, equipment approved for export to Libya included wall-and-door breaching projectile launchers, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition and teargas/irritant ammunition. No requests for licences were refused.
On the other hand, if the Arabian oiks win, they might start looking at the receipts and lose their warm fuzzy feelings towards Britain. But for now, I suspect Britain's arms factories can't churn out the anti-civilian ammunition fast enough for their favourite clients. No wonder the recovery is export-led.

Grandma's birthday joy

I think my gran enjoyed the bits of her 98th birthday she was conscious for. OK, she didn't know me or my mother (who cares for her 24 hours per day), but she seemed happy.

I'm sure she's really looking forward to her present from me: a Manchester United football training day. She was trying out her bicycle kicks only last night - success rate hovering around the 70% mark, I reckon. She'd certainly give Owen Hargreaves competition for his coveted 2nd reserve team spot, and she's only slightly older than Giggs.

Talking of football - not a bad weekend for the Potters. Man U weren't too convincing in their 1-0 victory over non-league Crawley!

Well, that's the love life sorted

Someone called Eve Desmond from Ougadougou wants to marry me.

My name is Eve Desmond, I saw your profile today through the help of chamber of commerce in ouagadougou the capital of Burkina Faso) and became intrested in you, I will also like to know you the more,and I want you to send an email to my email address so I can give you my picture for you to know whom I am..Here is my email address ( believe we can move from here!I am waiting for your mail to my email address above.
Remeber the distance or colour does not matter but love matters alot in life
Best regards
Eve Desmond

What a very strange name. Must have some tribal significance.

Love may matter 'alot' but so does literacy.

Anyway, greetings to my brothers and sisters in the Chamber of Commerce: sorry my subscription lapsed. I'll send Eve my account details and she can take my subs from that.

O Brave New World…

(… that has such people in't, as Prospero says).

The Prime Minister wants to privatise public services

"We will create a new presumption – backed up by new rights for public service users and a new system of independent adjudication – that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service. 

Right. Because corporations are so competent, compete freely on quality and price, and always have the consumers' best interests at heart.

Do they ever operate cartels to fix prices? Oh yes.
Do private healthcare firms cheat their customers? Why yes, they do.
Is privatised rail travel cheaper and better? Well, no. And taxpayers are funding the 'privatised' companies more than we funded British Rail.
Surely something's worked better in the private sector? How about Directory Enquiries (the 118 numbers). Sorry: the prominent firms cost about £1.40 to dial and then take many more pounds off you if you let them 'complete' your call.

Well, look, surely the corporations, because they're driven by a need to make profits, are rational and clever?

I don't even need links for this one. Just a list.

Royal Bank of Scotland
Northern Rock
Bradford and Bingley
Goldman Sachs
Lehman Brothers
JP Morgan
(and for the historians)
Guinness / Distillers / Mirror Group and many, many more.

What about the privatised industries? Haven't they thrived, once freed from the dead hand of the state? To name but a few:

British Steel
British Coal
British Nuclear Fuels

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Second-raters win with AV?

The Prime Minister came out strongly against Alternative Vote, the weak reform of Britain's electoral system. His main argument was that

It could mean a Parliament of second choices. 

Which is weird. Because if we look at his own party's rules, it's a slow-motion form of Alternative Vote: MPs vote in rounds, with the candidate lagging behind being eliminated each time, until only two are left. At this stage the remaining candidates are put before the wider Conservative Party membership.
In the first ballot of Conservative MPs, held on 18 October 2005, Cameron came second with 56 votes to David Davis' 62 (though Cameron gained more votes than expected and Davis fewer). Liam Fox came third with 42 votes, Ken Clarke last with 38 votes and was eliminated. 
In the second ballot (20 October 2005), Cameron came first with 90 votes to David Davis' 57, and Liam Fox was eliminated with 51 [4]. All 198 Conservative MPs voted in both ballots. The next stage was for the Conservative party membership across the country to be polled on whether Cameron or Davis should be Conservative leader.
And what happens if the Tories abandon AV? Why, Mr David Davis would have won the first round and become party leader because he got most votes. Cameron initially came second, then picked up the votes of the losers' supporters. In his own words:

It's not so much that the winner has half the electorate behind that by virtue of a weird counting system, they have crawled over the finishing line.

So is Cameron accepting that he's a second-rater? After all, the system does tend to select the candidate who appeals to the losers' supporters (an 'anybody but X' system). Or as Cameron puts it:
Supporters of unpopular parties end up having their votes counted a number of times…
Leading to a situation in which

…someone who's not really wanted by anyone winning an election because they were the least unliked… those who are boring and the least controversial limping to victory.

Like Cameron, who has used his narrow victory in his party and his non-victory in the general election to apply Pinochet economics to a country which voted for moderate reform.

He also claims that AV leads to marginal and unstable government, despite Australia having two coalitions in 90 years of AV and the UK having many, many more under the current system.

Finally, he argues that - despite his party using this system, you're too stupid.

It's not my job to tell you exactly how the system works - that's for the 'yes' campaign to explain. But even if it was my job, I'll be honest with you, I don't think I could.

So: he's clever enough to win a campaign using it (and a man with an Oxford First Class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics probably is bright enough to understand it really, but oiky voters are too dumb to list preferences 1 2 3). Makes you proud, doesn't it?

(Read the whole slippery and dishonest speech here). Though I doubt you'll have the intellectual resources to cope with his prose, you morons.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Will students desert £9000 per year universities?

That's what the Oxbridge-educated Minister for Universities thinks - as though there will be a market, and that 18-year-olds are rational consumers in this ideal market.

Wrong. Firstly, every university will have to charge very near the maximum just to replace the 80% cut in the teaching grant (so students will pay triple what their older siblings paid for a slightly worse education). Secondly, if there's a range of fees, hard-nosed consumers will ask what's wrong with the discounted ones. Who wants to be the Aldi of Education?

(Willetts wrote The Pinch: How The Baby Boomers Stole Their Children's Future, a book about how his generation snaffled the good housing, free education, top pensions, healthcare, benefits etc. and denied the same to the current generation. Then he voted for benefit cuts, pension cuts, pay cuts, mass redundancies, tuition fees, EMA abolition, NHS cuts and on and on and on. Who says the Tories have no sense of irony?).

Cracks in Tory Paradise?

Idling through my visitor logs, I discover that someone's been looking at the George Osborne: Artful Dodger poster, detailing his dubious tax-evading multimillion pound trust fund.

Nothing out of the ordinary about that, you may think. Until you see where this reader is.

State/Region : Oxfordshire
City : Witney

Yes. It's David Cameron's constituency home. You'd think that the Prime Minister would already know the tax avoiding tricks. Osborne lives next door - just call round and ask him about it Dave!

My sins 1: picnicking

I found a good bit in the Bible which explains why this world is in such a terrible state.

No, it's not the gays, fornicators and bestiality fans.

It's the Map Twats. We've repeatedly broken one of God's cardinal rules, according to Leviticus.

Lev 19:26 Eat not on the mountains

I have pictures of us sinning, which I'll post when I'm back on my own computer. They're online here, here, and here: pages and pages of us sinning over and over again. Often on a dead sheep. But that's a different story.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Friday, 18 February 2011

Time to go

I'm off to see my mother and to wish my grandmother a happy 98th birthday. I know it's time to go because I've done sod-all work for the last hour. Instead, I've been playing with my new TiltShift plug-in. I'll post some results when the registration comes through and the demo stamp no longer disfigures my pictures, but meanwhile, here are other peoples' attempts (click to enlarge):

As you can see, it's a perspective trick which blurs much of the photo and leaves the rest looking like it's a model or miniature. I haven't got £2000 spare for a lens to do it, so I'll settle for a post-production bit of software. It'll be great for my sister's wedding. You need a good wide space, decent light, plenty of action grouped close together, and high contrast, plus a high perspective.

Have a good weekend.

The triumphant return of Cornershop

OK, they never really went away, but they're back and the first track sounds wonderful. If you don't know Cornershop: British Asians with lovely, laid-back tunes, instrumentation and arrangements from indie to hip-hop to Punjab, and lyrics which do their very best to annoy everyone from racists to Sikh essentialists.

My Big Fat Gypsy Silent Film Star

Was Charlie Chaplin born in the caravan of a Birmingham Gypsy Queen instead of a London workhouse? It appears so, according to this article. That'll give the local racists something to think about.

I love the smell of Stella and sweat in the morning

There's an interview with The Levellers in today's Guardian. If you don't know them, they were (are) a punk-folk band who were hugely popular in the early-to-mid nineties, following in the paths of bands like Mega City 4, New Model Army and the Dogs D'Amour, adding a heady dose of genuinely counter-cultural traveller anarchism. I always distrusted them politically - lyrics like 'there's only one way of life, and that's your own' could easily slip into intolerance - but they did represent a period in which music was tribal and hugely politicised.

The Tory government spent years trying to smash up the travellers (legally by banning festivals with 'repetitive beats' and literally on occasions such as the Battle of the Beanfield police riot). The Levellers (named after some of my favourite lefties from the Civil War period) were the guitars and violins side of the free rave culture that was massive then, before music became even more corporate.

I was always more into the Welsh indie-psych bands like Gorky's and Super Furries, and pre-Britpop bands like Boo Radleys, Ride and the Stone Roses, pioneers like Stereolab and romantic oddities like Tindersticks, but the fierceness of the crusties was admirable. Despite my utter, utter hatred of didgeridoos played by public-school kids called Tarquin, there was a pride in a genuinely alternative way of life. I saw the Levellers because I was made to escort one of my sisters to a gig - I was much more impressed by Credit to the Nation, tiny teenage rapper from the Black Country. In my first year at university I saw hippy psychedelic electronic pioneers Ozric Tentacles (top ten album in 1993!), anarchists Chumbawamba before they signed to a major label and lost it massively, and Crusty/Fraggle band Back to the Planet. On all occasions, I was drunk and gullible enough to buy their cassette tapes (!). A sober morning's playback taught me the error of my ways, and they've remained unplayed.

I do still admire their stances. Shame about the music though…

Lots of names are flooding back. Galliano. Senser. Senseless Things. Urge Overkill. Gallon Drunk. Carter USM, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, The Mock Turtles, The Soup Dragons, The Bridewell Taxis, Catchers (swoon), Dubh Chapter, The Chameleons, … the unfashionable, loveable wing of indie. I hardly ever listen to them, but love the fact they existed at all. Right now I've got Sebadoh playing.

Here's a taste of the crusty/fraggle lot. I'll save the others for another day.

No fat lady singing

So, last night I headed off to Birmingham's Town Hall for Purcell's The Fairy Queen - one of the very earliest English operas. It's from 1692 - I seem to be spending a lot of time in that period at the moment: I've just read Poly-Olbion, am teaching Paradise Lost and now I'm on Massinger's 1620s A New Way to Pay Old Debts - though of course the Civil War came between the two texts.

The orchestra was the New London Consort, who play period instruments (like viols instead of cellos, and tuned in the old pitch). They were magnificent: supple and fluid, though I still have doubts about the obsession with authenticity that often comes with the period orchestras. Nice to see occasionally, but I hope it doesn't take over.

However, what really surprised me was the performance. I expected some singers to run through it pretty straight, but the production featured modern dress and a group of circus acrobats. The set comprised a collection of suitcases rearranged to indicate activity and settings, so pretty minimalist, but it really worked. The soloists were stunningly good, and could actually act, which is always a plus. They brought out the humour in the songs and action, which is quite an achievement given that it's based on Spenser's The Faerie Queene, which is rather short on laughs and long on imperialism and racism: the Purcell cuts straight to the romance.

Here are a couple of samples, from the romantic side of the piece.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Solidarity with the Cheeseheads

Over in Wisconsin, the Tea Party extremists have taken over the Governership. Their first major action: to withdraw virtually all fundamental workers' rights: collective bargaining has gone, salaries have been slashed, redundancy no longer has a due process, and the governor threatened his victims with military force if they dared to demonstrate against these plans.

Symbolically, the march meant that Scott Walker (the governor, not the singer) had to deliver his budget from the fortified offices of a corporation - the real source of this attack on the workers.

I don't know if any of you give a flying one about this, but you should. Wisconsin is also the home of our current government's mean-minded, petty attack on the welfare state. Globalisation proved to us how interconnected the banks and business are: it's time that workers started to globalise too. If Wisconsin's public servants can be discarded without a care, we can be too. They aren't being oppressed like the Egyptians or Saudis, but they have a righteous cause. Where they lead, we will follow.

This, by the way, is why I'm a lefty.

Welsh wizards

A quick round-up of my favourite and much-missed Welsh bands from the mid-90s:

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci:

Melys (I loved them - shame they've faded away):

Weird uncles of Welsh rock Ectogram:

The Serpents: much-loved Welsh supergroup:

Rheinallt H Rowlands (can't embed his majestic Welsh-language cover of New Dawn Fades unfortunately).

Bahrain's Brutality: Made in Britain

In case it's not common knowledge, Bahrain - which has just seen peaceful protesters shot dead -  is an awful, repressive place. The Sunni rulers have long remained in place through the use of secret service repression and a policy of importing Sunni Muslims from other countries to rebalance the native population, which is 75% Shia.

Saudi Arabia is providing tactical support and large amounts of cash as Bahrain's oil money disappears (the last thing the Saudis want is a democracy on its borders), but the muscle comes from the British. They gave Bahrain a savage secret policeman - Colonel Ian Henderson - and provide all the weaponry and training required to keep a dictatorship in good running order. Why? Because Bahrain's an ex-British possession and democracy comes a bad second to oil and an obsessive desire to control dark-skinned foreigners. Henderson learned his torture skills in Kenya at the fag-end of empire, before being transferred to the Bahrainis.

Documentary about torturer Henderson.
BBC news article about his involvement in torture.

I wonder what the UK government has to say about what's going on today.

Thursday conundrum

My grandmother is 98 at the weekend, and I'm stuck for a present. Last year's was, frankly, a disaster. Who knew that a skateboard was considered 'inappropriate'? She never got the hang of grinds though her lip tricks were coming on nicely until, well, let's not go into the 'until'.

So - your suggestions please?

Meanwhile, treat yourself to the sounds of Zoot Horn's guitar licks as part of Cruel Brother - now with Myspace and a producer.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Everyone has his price: politicians are cheap

Here's the shocking story of how the alcohol merchants got together with untrustworthy researchers and lobbyists to stop the Scottish government putting a minimum price and alcohol, despite the research showing that higher prices = lower consumption.

In case the politicians weren't sure they'd been bought and sold, SAB Miller rubbed it in by sending every opposition MP a gift:

When unit pricing was taken out of the bill, all the opposition MPs received a free crate of beer from SAB Miller.
I hope - but doubt - that they had the grace to feel insulted. But I bet they cracked open every can without a qualm.


If you didn't have a great Valentine's Day - or if you did - you need to watch the inimitable Charlie Brooker's How TV Ruined Your Life, episode 4: Love.

Without doubt, this is one of the bitterest, funniest shows I've ever seen. Clearly filmed before he married an ex-children's TV presenter. Wonder what she thought of it. Settle down and be glad you're not him.

Page 43, Liars…

OK, the awards ceremony wasn't like the Golden Clerics (watch it here). For all my teasing, the prize-winners were the magnificent intellectuals I really miss - Selina, Dorota, Katrina and Ed (of this parish) who took the English prizes and have gone on to great things at prestigious institutions while others are similarly forging their own paths and it was lovely to see them all again.

However - management almost succeeded in turning the event into a something with all the charm and fire of a lost luggage queue: no inspiring speeches on the value of education or the students' achievements until the very end, when Andy (associate dean) did pointedly add a much-needed injection of politics and emotion to the proceedings, in stark contrast to his colleagues.

Highlight of the evening was Rachel Whittaker, winner of the History prize. In a very few minutes she managed to accept the prize, attack the notion of prizes in general, defend the principle of free education and proselytise very convincingly on the virtues of anarchism with astonishing intellectual acuity (we discovered later that she thinks syndicalism is anarchism while I think one wing of anarchism is syndicalism). In a couple of minutes she inspired those of us who might be feeling defeated or weary, and certainly reminded me why I'm an educator.

Anyway, tomorrow's a big day. Firstly, I'm off to Purcell's proto-opera The Fairy Queen in Birmingham, and secondly my boycott of The Archers is over. Normally I don't listen to it because it's smug and dull, but I've been not listening to it deliberately rather than accidentally for the past few weeks because I object to Radio 4 being used for monarchist propaganda: Camilla Windsor - Old Jug-Ears's Comfort Woman -  made a guest appearance today. Typically, the BBC ignored the cries of the peasantry.

A most distinguished man

Congratulations to Neal, Map Twat Monkey, for gaining a Distinction in his MSc. If you need help with your hemp-lime walls and energy-efficient building quandaries, he's the man. (Job/PhD offers passed on to him with thanks). You can read the whole thesis and an abstract here. It's gripping.