Thursday, 31 January 2013

A modest proposal

If you're environmentally minded, you'll know that the emissions trading scheme, particularly in regard to travel, has been a massive failure. Worse than that, the airlines have made a fortune while increasing the CO2 they pump into the atmosphere. Far too many 'carbon credits' were made available, so the price has slumped and there's no incentive to increase it or reduce the supply.

Various international bodies are meeting, supposedly to fix the problem, but as usual the lobbyists and industry have subverted them. In the meantime, we can help. Individuals can buy carbon permits but more importantly, we should pressure our companies and institutions to do so automatically. For instance, academics quite often travel long distances to speak at conferences. It's not free: the atmosphere and anyone who breathes pays an environmental price. So let's include carbon permit retirement into every grant and travel application. There'll be a box on the form for explaining how far you're going and how you're getting there. The university will calculate the damage and destroy a number of its carbon credits to make up for it, making them unavailable for the market. Crucially, the institution should double the carbon credits retired, so that your own pollution is not just admitted but mitigated.

It will add to the cost of what we do, but it means taking responsibility for the damage we wreak. It will drive up the cost of the credits so we'll have to think carefully about what we do, and it will cost the serious polluters more to do business.

If an institution is capitalistically minded (and they pretty much are), it will buy a large pile of carbon credits and use some of them as investments for the institution, though my preference is to 'retire' them so that pollution is actually reduced rather than just acknowledged.

All this should be a legal requirement for corporate bodies and individuals. I look forward to the day when your tank of petrol costs you £s and deducts carbon credits from your account so that if you run out in November, you take the bus. Or walk.

But for the meantime, universities should take the lead. While solo efforts don't make a meaningful contribution to political or environmental causes, setting an example does. We're far from being the worst offenders, but we have assumed that jetting off to agreeable places is a perk of the job. With me?

It's not all work, work, work

Well, actually it is. But the very best thing about being (or appearing to be) an academic is that sometimes you get paid for having the very same conversations with people that I would have for free, at length, in any situation.

Take today. I came in and did some incredibly tedious administration, the details of which I'll save for the day I contract writers' block and/or want to get rid of large numbers of you, dear reader. But as a reward, I had a tutorial lined up for one of my MA students. Not the one whose thesis is 'all popular culture is contemptible', another one. She's doing a dissertation on the Country House in 1930s literature. She's looking at Nancy Mitford's Highland Fling and perhaps one or two more or her novellas, Henry Green's Living, Loving, Party-Going trilogy, Waugh's Vile Bodies, Wodehouse's Summer Lightning and Agatha Christie's Seven Dials, and perhaps Michael Arlen's work.

Now that might at first glance sound like Downton Abbey Studies, but it's really, really interesting, especially for someone like me who thinks that the interwar period is the most interesting one in centuries. Once you've picked the country house as a setting – for comic capers, murders, political discussion, love affairs, dancing or whatever – you've got a focus for social, cultural and literary change. Why, for instance, is the country house a great place for a murder mystery? Partly because non-aristocratic readers would never have got in the doors of these places, and like to imagine toffs either bashed on the noggin or dragged down to the cells. They're on the front-line of economic and social change too: servants eyeballing their feudal masters while spitting in the soup. You've got the landed gentry gradually getting poorer as capitalism takes over, leading to the race for American heiresses, the generational slaughter of WW1, the battle to preserve 'heritage' and older modes of life while the kids indulge in suspicious 'cosmopolitan' pleasures (jazz, cocktails, motor-cars), and the ambiguous love-hate relationship between city and country. Politics rears its ugly head as bone-headed patriotism meets the harder-edge of Nazism (the British aristocracy was very open to ideas about blood and soil, and to the weirder mystical fringes of European fascism). And of course the end of Empire and the causes/effects of two world wars are played out over the snooker and bridge tables of the country house.

So there's a lot to say and I'm really looking forward to reading my student's take on it… and to getting back the books I've loaned her. I always feel nervous watching them leave the office. I've been burned too many times! But it's great to just talk about books and ideas, wandering round the office picking up 'just one more' to add to the pile, realising not only that someone else shares your particular enthusiasms, but that they'll have a different, interesting take on it. Though it's slightly embarrassing to realise that I actually own every single book that might be useful, like some kind of bookish magpie.

For all my moaning, this kind of thing happens much more than you might imagine. OK, it's true that one high-achieving student didn't know who the prime minister is and what party he's from, and that she thought Russell Whateverhisnameis's Good News and the bloody Mail Online is sufficient to keep her informed. And it's true that another good student from this city had never heard of Wales (which can just about be seen from the top floor of Vole Towers), but neither of them are stupid… just er highly-specialised. There are plenty of students around who are much brighter than I am, whether they know it or not. I've read more than they have because I've been using up precious oxygen for longer, but before long they'll be streets ahead.

That's why I like teaching. You can't relax or fake it. It's also why I like teaching here, where snobs wouldn't expect to find intellectual ferment. I'm really looking forward to teaching Ben Masters' Noughties in a couple of weeks. It's a campus novel which isn't nearly as clever as the author thinks, nor as progressive. In particular, I'm looking forward to my students reacting to these bits:
She doesn't go here – Oxford, that is – not being academic … Lucy had been accepted into the University of Northampton… to study Travel and Tourism.
In our epoch… curiosity and aptitude are irrelevant (not at Oxford, mind…). [Academic work outside Oxford is] one colouring-in exercise per semester supplemented by extracurricular binge-drinking and blowjobs
Anne, now studying Socio-Bio-Dance Studies with History at some uni up north.
John (a blond pretty boy studying applied Agriculture with Media Studies at some university down south)
Natalie (huge girl studying Golf Course Management and Experimental PE at some university out east).
Holly (tiny girl studying Fuck Knows at some university near Wales)
Rob (I've no idea what Rob studies: perhaps a BA in Throwing Up, or a short course on The Reception of STIs…)

And so, endlessly on: a narrator who professes not to be a snob while obsessively dividing the world into sensitive, troubled Oxonians and animalistic Others who spend their time having meaningless sex and studying for meaningless degrees in laughable places without (unlike our hero) dramatising their experiences with set-reading references, analogies, quotations and obsessive alliteration. The kids are going to love getting their teeth into this one.

I wonder if Masters would like to visit us for a talk…

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Daily Paedophile

I know that right-thinking people spend far much time thinking about the Daily Mail and its pernicious behaviour: the racism, the hatred of science, the cynicism, the misogyny, the hypocrisy, the obsession with celebrity and the small-minded suspicion of anything new, foreign or inconvenient to the lives of the selfish, Tory-voting, SUV-driving, golfing bourgeoisie. 

But some things it does require more than a resigned shrug. Like yesterday's illustrated article on a 'leggy beauty' snapped leaving a gymnasium strutting around like 'a model'. 

The 'leggy beauty' was in fact 8 years old. Despite the PCC rules about not featuring children going about their lives simply because their parents are famous (put in place by the PCC Executive, including the Mail's Editor in Chief Paul Dacre) and despite the Mail's long-broken pledge never to use paparazzi photos after the death of Diana, the Mail chose to buy pictures from a man who hid in some bushes outside a gym to snap pictures of an eight-year old girl solely because she has a famous mother. 

Just a quick reminder:

i) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii) A child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
iii) Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities.
iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children’s welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.
v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

Then a Mail sub-editor dreamed up some words to go along with these unwarranted pictures. 
"It looks like Heidi Klum's daughter might be hoping to become a model just like her mother... Heidi's eldest Leni clearly stole the show with her workout attire..."
"All eyes on me: The eight-year-old showed off her best model walk through the parking lot..." 
There is no 'show'. Just a photographer certain he'll make a sale by going to the Mail. The only 'eyes' are his. What's a 'model walk'? It seems unlikely that this child was strutting along any imaginary catwalk.  

So far, so Mail: while the comment pages constantly decry moral decline and sexual deviance, its celebrity coverage encourages readers to sexualise and eight year old girl. There's a name for this, and it's paedophilia. 

But let's turn to Mr Dacre, and more especially, to his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. Is he proud of the Mail, and everything that runs under its banner?

any editor who edits a paper, his values, his world view will obviously be relevant
OK, so he's cool with printing drooling copy about a little girl's legs. 

We employ the best writers, the best leader writers, the best reporters, the best executives, the best sub-editors et cetera to produce quality papers to appeal to our market

Yeah. Pics of a kid. 'Leggy beauty'. Top work. Pulitzer stuff. And if it appeals to Mail readers, then they're paedophiles too.   

But perhaps there's a public-interest defence to the 'leggy beauty' story. Has she, in fact, been a naughty girl who deserves public humiliation as a lesson to others?

a lot of celebrities, celebrity chefs, sportspeople make a lot of money by revealing their lives to the public. I believe newspapers should be given some latitude to look into their lives when they err.
A taste for titillation must explain some people's interest in Ryan Giggs' alleged extramarital activities, but for many others, cheap thrills were the last thing in their mind when they rebelled against private injunctions and remote judges. This (inaudible) majority resent public figures who think they can turn publicity on and off. We reserve the right to scrutinise and censure the conduct of people who have grown rich on our wages, or claim authority over our lives. In asserting democratic accountability, we are proclaiming our loyalty to a virtuous principle. Philosophers have developed a concept called the sanction of public opinion. They concluded that popular materiality should not ban infidelity or imprison men for betraying their wives but it could create an incentive to behave responsibly. 
People tempted to stray might be persuaded to think again by the certainty that their friends and neighbours would think less of them. Perversion in society has been with us for a long time 
Let Miss Klum stand as an example of the evils which can befall 8-yr old 'leggy beauties'. 

No. Try as I might, I still can't force this girl into the category of 'people who've made a lot of money by revealing their lives to the public' who deserve exposure 'when they err'. As far as I can she, Klum Jr simply went to the gym while in the possession of a well-known mother (though actually I'd never heard of her). I don't particularly think that Ryan Giggs's private life is a matter for moral majoritarianism, and I certainly don't think Miss Klum needs to have her picture in the paper, associated with lascivious text, to hold her accountable for being, er, related to someone famous in the vicinity of exercise machines. Mr Dacre would like you to believe that his paper is a virtual and virtuous witch-hunt against hypocrites and evil-doers, but in practice it's more usual to find pictures of the famous in their undercrackers, while the reader is invited to ogle their bodies – of legal age or not.

Perhaps there's another principle at work here. Mr Dacre is a doughty defender of Free Speech:
I was clearly trying to express the growing concern by newspapers in this country that certain areas of the jurisprudence were going in an anti-newspaper, anti-democratic direction. All right, yes, and I accused Judge Eady's judgment -- not the man -- of being amoral and arrogant. Arrogant in the sense that I felt it was worrying that one man, one judge, seemed to be handling some of the more contentious privacy cases. One man seemed to be attaching much more weight to the right to privacy in the Human Rights Act rather than the right to freedom of expression…
That's the ticket. If you don't let the Mail publish sexualised pictures of little girls, then before you know it, Freedom of Speech will be murdered and we'll all be locked up in some European Concentration Camp by Marxist Environmentalist Terrorists. Or something.  

But Dacre isn't completely hypocritical. He's a worried man:

There are broader issues that the industry needs to look at. You know, the problem of paparazzi. That worries me. I think we need to try and lookat that.

Oh OK, he is completely hypocritical. He doesn't want us to look at the 'problem' of paparazzi. He wants you to look at the material they provide. 

But perhaps little Miss Klum has attracted the attention of the Mail because she's a shameless publicity hound. After all, that's Dacre's explanation for harassing the mother of Hugh Grant's child to the point an injunction was awarded against his paper:

Mr Grant has spent his life invading his own privacy, exposing every intimate detail of his life
it's legitimate for the press to ask for a photograph or to make enquiries about when someone has a baby by a major international film star, and it worries me that you can't understand this. 

Somehow, I don't think this works with a young child leaving a gym. Her birth might be noted if that kind of thing matters to you, but 'phwoar look at the body of this kid doing something normal' isn't quite the same thing.

Perhaps Mr Dacre would like to distance himself from the Mail Online, which is the world's most popular repository of celebrity nonsense, vicious smears and judgements, and of course pictures of interest only to paedophiles:

I'm very proud of the Mail Online… we employed legitimate and correct journalistic procedures
So let's turn to the testimony of one Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online. Did he run these paedophilic pictures as some kind of rogue operator?
Editorially I report to Paul Dacre, the editor-in-chief. I speak to Mr Dacre most times -- most days of the week
So it seems unlikely that he'd run stuff like this knowing it would offend the powerful Editor-in-Chief. But it seems that he does think very carefully about how to present stories. 

if there's a story that I as a journalist and an editor think is really important that people should be reading but aren't reading, then it gives me the opportunity to recraft the headline orthe intro or the picture to make sure that people do read it.

Imagine you've paid for pictures of a young girl leaving a gym. It's not a great story really. So you add the detail that her mother is famous. Still no joy: the linkbait isn't working. So you add a classic Mail phrase. Perhaps 'all grown up' (which means 'underage but acquiring secondary sexual characteristics like breasts - it's never applied to males) or 'flaunting her curves' ('look at her breasts') or in this instance, 'leggy beauty'. Bingo. All the paedophile have hit your webpage and might even click on the ads you're running. 

Maybe Miss Klum deserves what she gets for being American and common. After all, Mr Clarke says Mail Online wouldn't run pictures of other people in similar circumstances:
If I can give you a specific example, Pippa Middleton, for instance, British newspapers have a voluntary embargo on pictures of her taken going about her daily business on the basis that she's a private individual, so we don't use pictures of her going to the shops or going to work. 
Everyone's entitled -- everyone is entitled to a degree of privacy, no question. 

If (at the time) the adult partner of a royal is a 'private individual', then surely the 8 year old daughter of a model, 'going about her daily business' is one too? No?

But the real reason for publishing lewd commentary with pictures of a child is simply commercial.

I have to produce a website which makes a profit because profit is the only real way of having any freedom in journalism. The only journalism that's truly free is profitable journalism

The Mail isn't run and written by paedophiles. It just wants to attract paedophiles and their money:

I've worked for the Mail, as you pointed out, on and off for 20 years. It's an ethical decent newspaper run by decent people 
The point I was making is that would be very difficult, a very difficult position to sustain if the highest standard was significantly higher, is what I'm saying. We're already at a competitive disadvantage.

If we stopped the Mail from publishing paedopholic articles about private individuals aged 8, someone else would and we'd lose the Daily Mail for ever. 

if you asked people, "Would you rather have a free Internet and  accept that every now and again somebody's going to behave badly on it, or would you rather live in North Korea where they don't have any Internet?", they would rather live in a free society and I think we have to balance the restrictions that regulation places on individual freedom

And we couldn't have that. 

Opportunism, thy name is Uppal

You may have heard yesterday that the Conservative Party's effort to reduce the number of parliamentary seats and equalise constituency sizes was defeated yesterday, thanks to four Conservative MPs and every other party opposing it, including the Liberal Democrats.

On the face of it, equal constituencies and fewer MPs sounds reasonable. In practice, it's a Tory plot to gain themselves and inbuilt majority. It rides roughshod over local loyalties and identities too.

Needless to say, ultra-loyalist government today Mr Paul Uppal, my local MP, was ensconced in his usual position, half-way up the Prime Minister's colon. Needlessly, I should add: despite this apparently being the PM's most passionate point of principle, he didn't bother to turn up and vote. I'm quite certain Mr Uppal voted on a point of principle and not at all because the new boundaries would dump a lot of those nasty poor slum voters and replace them with rich rural Tories from the outlying villages. Mr Uppal's majority is, of course, 691.
On that point of principle about the democratic deficit, is there not an irony in the fact that Labour and Liberal Democrat Members are often inspired by the Chartists, who voted for equal-sized constituencies? There is a perverse relationship today, in that those Members are going to go through the Lobby and vote to retain the disconnect and the democratic deficit.
This is a little rich from Mr Uppal. A number of measures to reduce the 'democratic deficit' have been proposed by the Liberal Democrats and assorted Labourites in the recent past. Indeed Mr Uppal has gone through the Lobby voted against the Alternative Vote, which would have gone a long way to reducing the 'democratic deficit' by making sure that any elected MP had the positive support of 50% + 1 vote of the turnout. (Mr Uppal received 40.7% of the vote, while his Labour opponent managed 39%.  Only 68% of the electorate bothered turning out).

Other 'democratic deficits' Mr Uppal appears not to mind include the House of Lords: not only is he opposed to a democratically-elected Upper House (surely not because he thinks he may one day be awarded the ermine?), he supports the Prime Minister's efforts to boost its numbers to almost 1000 peers. That's right: Mr Uppal wants 600 MPs elected by you and me, and 1000 unelected legislators – the descendants of robber barons, rackrent landlords, the upper management of a tiny religious sect known as the Church of England, party donors and other assorted hacks – who get a say in law until the day they die without ever having to face the judgement of the people.

And he lectures us about a political 'disconnect and the democratic deficit'. The man's an embarrassment.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Tuesday afternoon book news

Afternoon everybody. Hope you're enjoying the new improved Plashing Vole schedule (i.e. once a day rather than four times). I am. It's keeping my blood pressure down.

The book drought seems to be over: I've been buying a lot of second-hand stuff recently. The plan is to read them one day and then bequeath them to whichever resentful and unwilling relations answer the door to the courier the day after I die. What they do then with several lorry-loads of Marxist literary criticism, science fiction, experimental Welsh poetry and several generations' worth of children's fiction is entirely up to them. Mind you, given the rate of environmental destruction, my library will provide useful sustenance and shelter for our amphibian descendants.

In this week's pile is Robin Llywelyn's Seren Wen ar Gefndir Gwyn (White Star on a White Background) and From Empty Harbour to White Ocean, first released as O'r Harbwr Gwag i'r Cefnfor Gwyn. I've read White Star in English, and thought it was about time to get to grips with the original. Llywelyn is one of those authors massively disadvantaged by the English publishing industry's indifference to literature in other languages. Llywelyn is a massively talented experimental author whose work crosses generic and stylistic boundaries. He is, as far as any literary author goes, 'important'. (And if you get a taste for the hip young gunslingers of Welsh literature, go for Wiliam Owen Roberts too: mindblowingly good. His Y Pla is available in English as Pestilence though nothing else has been translated, damn it.

I've been catching up on Llywelyn because it's in the back of my mind to write something on Welsh literature (in both languages) and science fiction. Or more accurately, the lack of it. Llewelyn touches on fantasy themes and techniques occasionally, but there's not much SF by Welsh authors, in Welsh, or set in Wales. It's quite different in Scotland: there are lots of authors, my favourites being Iain M Banks and Ken MacLeod. They aren't just Scottish SF writers: Scotland has a future in their work. I'm only just starting to think about why Scotland and Wales differ. Both have small bourgeois classes and large working classes. Both are post-industrial economies and landscapes. Both have experience of being colonised and being colonialists. So you'd think there was space for Welsh authors to consider common SF tropes like imperialism, conquest, post-oil life, the end of Big Industry, environmentalism and so on. But it doesn't seem to have happened. One line of thought I'm playing with is that language is at the heart of it. Scots Gaelic is virtually dead and may as well be dead in the daily lives of its population outside a few small islands. So its authors don't have the lovely ghost of Gaelic culture seductively haunting them: one thing Scottish SF largely doesn't do is engage with Scottish mythology. Instead, Scotland starts either with the Union or with industrialism. In Wales, even non-Welsh speakers have learned it in school, see it on signs everywhere they go and hear Welsh spoken every day (in the North and West) and fairly frequently elsewhere. Welsh mythology is more available, and therefore perhaps fantasy is more attractive as a genre: the Mabinogion is always there to be plundered.

Language has another effect. Scottish SF writers have the world's English-language markets available to them. Dare I say it? Scottish culture isn't so different from post-industrial life around the Western World. Throw in an accent, a deep-friend Mars Bar, Walter Scott, respect for education and a tinge of nationalism and you've got a story replete with local colour without frightening the mass readership. For a Welsh-language author, you've got a very small readership. That leads to subsidy from various state bodies, most of whom don't like genre fiction. So you have to be a bit more self-consciously 'literary' and pay more attention to things an English readership largely doesn't care about, such as the fate of minority languages. There should be room for SF here (what are Cymdeithas yr Iaith if not a local affiliate of the Rebel Alliance fighting Eric Pickles' Evil Empire?), but it largely hasn't happened, with the exception of Islwyn Ffowc Elis. And of course hard SF depends on hard science, which is conducted and discussed in English. Translation from Welsh is expensive and English publishers don't give a damn, so the odds are stacked against Welsh SF. Anyway, this is all very random preliminary rambling: your thoughts welcome.

What else? Well, I've been buying more histories of the Communist Party of Great Britain. I don't really know why other than a homegrown version of Ostalgie. Many of them were rigid, authoritarian and humourless apologists for mass murder… and yet before it became a self-perpetuating and irrelevant cult more concerned with its own bureaucracy than fomenting a much-needed revolution, the Party represented a political idealism largely dissipated in our own age. Certainly other leftwing parties are an unpleasant stew of Stalinism and sexism: the SWP has recently attacked its own members as 'creeping feminists', which doesn't sound very progressive to me.

I've also launched into John Niven's scabrous, offensive and enormously funny satire The Second Coming, in which Jesus returns with the message 'be nice', only to discover that the only way to propagate it is to appear on a TV talent show. The only problem is, Jesus likes Slint, Mogwai, Pavement and Nirvana (and keeps telling people that 'God loves fags', to their enormous annoyance), while the show wants Billy Joel covers. Niven's targets are perhaps too wide: I'm not sure raging against Christian, Muslims and a thinly-disguised Simon Cowell isn't too scattergun, but it's an entertaining read. After that, it's time for Jakob Arjouni's near-future post-September 11th novel Chez Max, and George Saunders' short story collection Civilwarland in Bad Decline, which sounds like Ballard played for laughs.

So far this week I've taught Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now and introduced Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. Only two of the students had finished the Trollope (it is around 850 pages long) but we had a good introductory session on it. I don't usually teach such canonical texts but I have to admit that I'm enjoying reading and teaching them very much. Perhaps they're so unfashionable that they're no longer canonical and I'm on the radical, transgressive cutting edge by bringing them back in to the classroom! Paradise Lost tomorrow. The poem, not the dodgy 90s goth band. Though now I've mentioned them, I may as well play you a bit:

Monday, 28 January 2013

Justice for the Halesowen 4

Hello everybody. Very busy day today, so no time to chat. But here are some pictures from Saturday's demonstration outside Halesowen College, deep in the Black Country. The college management decided that they wanted to get rid of the mathematics teachers, most of whom are solid union activists and supporters. So they dreamed up imaginary achievement targets for the students, then sacked the staff for not achieving them. The management won't talk to the union, or to ACAS, or anybody else.

So we held a demonstration outside the college, which has hosting an Open Day. All very peaceful, though determined. We got lots of support from passers-by, colleagues and students. People came from Chesterfield, Bristol, London and all sorts of places across the country to support Dave Muritu and his colleagues. The BBC claimed a turnout of 30: judge for yourself from my pictures.

The speeches were good (and short), the samosas were spicy. The only disappointment was the socialist newspaper sellers. They're a constant feature of union demonstrations and I'm a bit of a connoisseur. At last year's UCU Congress, I counted 27 different socialist newspapers, all calling for Socialist Unity (which always means 'read my paper, join my party: the rest are all splitters). This time, all we got was Socialist Worker (the SWP took the morning off from attacking its own members as 'creeping feminists' to support the action), Socialist Appeal and The Socialist. Everyone knows the way to achieve power is to sell each other hectoring newspapers…

Click to enlarge, see the rest here.

A notorious Red caught planning an act of Revolutionary violence

Beards have been mandatory on the left since Karl Marx. 

Bow ties and deerstalkers are very now on the left. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

A spot of TV criticism

Because my brain hurt last night and I lacked the mental energy to change channel, I found myself watching The Big Bang Theory. Now, I've already rehearsed my objections to the show: basically, it's 1950s mother-in-law and ' 'er indoors' jokes disguised by super-hero t-shirts and equations.

But last night's episode hit rock-bottom in writing terms. A young couple are at the dinner table with her parents. An unappealing social event is proposed, and the young man says to his partner 'But what about that thing we're doing?'. She replies, 'The thing? I cancelled it', and he's trapped.

A small thing (literally) you might think. But it isn't. It's the sound of barrels being scraped. How many times have you heard the phrase being used in poor quality TV and film dialogue? I'm very surprised to learn that there's no TV Trope devoted to it. Time to start one - your submissions welcome. Seriously, if your script leaves you with no other option than to reach for one of the most familiar clichés in popular culture, throw it away. Start again. Ask someone else to start again, in fact.

At least Family Guy tries to add some energy to it with minor transgression:
Brian Griffin: Uhh, I don't think that's going to be a possibility, uhhh, I have plans, with Chris! Chris and I have plans this afternoon!
Chris Griffin: [Chris walks by] We do?
Brian Griffin: Yeah, yeah! We're doing that thing, we're doing what you usually do on a Thursday afternoon!
Chris Griffin: Masturbate?
Brian Griffin: That's it, that's what we're going to do together.

Here's a tip, scriptwriters. If you find yourself typing 'you know, the thing' or anything similar, consider buying a ticket to Switzerland and a Dignitas voucher. Because artistically, you're already there.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

From the office window

Good sunset tonight, and some pleasing light patterns on the emergency stairwell that I definitely don't use ever. The rest are at the end of this set. Click to enlarge.

Catching an STB

I'm rather inspired by the announcement that DNA storage has reached an advanced stage: the European Bioinformatics Institute has stored audio files of Shakespeare's sonnets and Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech and the Crick/Watson double helix paper on strands of DNA. It's incredibly efficient and amazingly durable.

So it's great science, and a neat idea. The inventors reassure us that
 "The DNA we've created can't be incorporated accidentally into a genome, it uses a completely different code to that used by the cells of living bodies. If you did end up with any of this DNA inside you it would just be degraded and disposed of."
Cowards! Why stop there? We're already moving away from physical storage of data: from books to the cloud to, apparently, DNA. If we loaded up our cells we wouldn't need Kindles, just a pin-prick and a magnifying glass, or feed the text through our vocal chords and ocular nerves. We could all volunteer to be the physical embodiment of one text, sharing them with others through a handshake… or for romantic poetry, a kiss. The S/M community could look after The Story of O and find a way to beat it into people, while Defoe's Diary of a Plague Year could be rubbed into a buboe by means of dissemination. Fat people like me could store more books than most – I'd be the walking embodiment of the Library of Congress. If you wanted to get rid of a book you could 'download' it via your intestines. Some books, of course, are already shit. And then there's Winnie the Pooh… literally.

Criminals could be loaded down with either improving literature, appropriate works (Kafka? A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch?) or just really, really bad stuff. 'I sentence you to the Complete Works of Ayn Rand and Jeffrey Archer. May God have mercy on your soul'.

We'd need new identities. I could be Plashing Vole (Volumes 1-35 of the Collected Works of Karl Marx). Nick Griffin would become Nick Mein Kampf Griffin with very little adjustment required, while  Colin Firth would be a popular Pride and Prejudice. Actually, we could all carry around the British Library without noticing. And forget microdots and Twitter: for passing around secrets and subversion, this is the ultimate tool. Computer viruses hidden in viruses.

But books and people have one thing in common: they like to screw around. Every book is an amalgam of what the author and the audience have read before. So rather than insisting on accurate reproduction, make it a feature: STB's. With DNA-encoded literature, Sexually Transmitted Books will have children when their hosts breed (though STBs already exist in the form of books nicked by ex-partners). New genres arise as their host bodies cross social and linguistic borders. So Colin Firth meets the host of World War Z to create Pride and Prejudice With Zombies. We all know that Daily Mail readers are illiterate bores, so they'd produce awful children bearing the DNA of Pippa Middleton's ridiculous books with a dash of Andy McNab or Jeremy Clarkson. If the child started sounding suspiciously intelligent, liberal or cosmopolitan, adultery would be unquestionably proven. Katie Price and Aldous Huxley would have lovely, pneumatic children. Shakespeare and Beckett could combine in a teenage Goth (imagine Hamlet with even more silences). The possibilities are endless! The postmodernists would be in their element.

And 'going to the library' would become a wonderful euphemism…

Alternatively, we could be cautious and turn zoos into living breathing libraries. The pigs could carry 1984. Having mastered the art of gene-splicing, we could encode Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into a Snark (and if it escapes, we'll have to hunt it). Next door we'd have real live Gruffalos. We'd have to be careful around Peter Pan: the crocodiles tend to bite. And within a few days we'd have several thousands copies of Watership Down hopping about. Aesop's Fables would be a prime attraction. Races staged every afternoon.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

How to get re-elected: by Paul Uppal

After our much needed festive break, the egregious and secretive millionaire representative for The Dark Place is on his feet again, and this time he's taking the opportunity to tick off all those whinging constituents:
That point is well worn and made continually, and I am sure that all Members are aware of the top rate of tax being cut, but there is an element of financial amnesia here. As even people who only have a rudimentary understanding of economics will appreciate, the main way that wealthy people accumulate wealth is through wealth creation, rather than income, which is always variable. If we look at capital gains tax, the current rate is 28%, which is in stark contrast to the previous Labour Government, where venture capitalists were paying capital gains tax at a rate of 10%—often much lower than the cleaners who were cleaning their offices.
That's right. If you disagree with Paul, you're a thicky thick thicko. And we should listen to him, because underneath the modesty which compels Paul to keep schtum on the sources of his considerable wealth, he's a man on firm ground. Remember: Paul has never picked up a shovel, employed a large number of people, contributed to the wealth and gaiety of the nation with a new thingamabob, ratchet, widget or idea. He is a propertly speculator.

When he says that 'wealthy people accumulate wealth… through wealth creation, rather than income', what he means is that he avoids paying the same tax rate as me (despite me being very much not a millionaire) by paying himself dividends rather than a salary from Pinehurst Securities. The top rate of income tax is 40% on earnings above £42,000. The top rate for his capital gains, as he points out, is 28% (though of course needy Paul is also kept off the breadline by his £65,000 parliamentary salary).

Uppal's right that Labour's capital gains tax rate was a shameful 10%, but it's time he stopped making petty points like this. He fails to realise that from the outside, we're the farmyard animals and looking from the pigs to the men, it's hard to tell them apart. New Labour was obsessed with financial sharks because it had no industrial policy, nor any interest in one: I don't think this is quite so true of the current Labour Party.

Paul Uppal and his friends are not the solution. They are the problem. Uppal's business has contributed nothing to the British economy: it simply shifts money around. No jobs are created, no innovations generated. And yet he has lobbied for – and won – another tax break for owners of empty properties, who'd rather we subsidised them than accept a lower market rate: he's just another hog at the trough, but this hog spends his time denouncing the poor for their expectations of state aid!

Quite simply, Paul Uppal MP and his party are parasites. It's clear from the legislation they've enacted (top rate of income tax dropped, corporation tax dropped, tax inspectors sacked, food safety protection cut, welfare for disabled children cut…) that they have no intention of acting in the national interest. They are shamelessly pursuing a policy of class warfare and self-interest. They have captured the state and in the Kenyan phrase, it is 'their turn to eat'.

Am I making too much of this anodyne little speech? Well, Mr Uppal made it during a debate about the Living Wage. He's against it, just as the Conservative Party was against the Minimum Wage. The miserable nature of this country is obvious from the fact that the notional living wage is higher than the legal minimum wage. Put simply: you can't live on the minimum wage (and social security benefits are even lower). Under Labour, the scandalous solution was to subsidise low wages with social security – essentially inviting corporations to inflate their profits and share prices at the expense of the taxpayer and the poor. That's why I'd upgrade the minimum wage to the living wage and abolish benefits for those in work. The shareholders (including my own pension provider) need to accept that profits shouldn't come at the expense of cold houses, bad food, thin clothes and poor health.

Under the Tories, it's far, far worse. With the vicious attacks on social security, the state won't even be providing that safety net. So wages will remain at the rock bottom, and the state won't even cover the difference between the minimum and living wages. People are being driven from their homes, while Mr Uppal spends his time speaking up for the already rich.

And they accuse the left of waging class war.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Climate change, hot air and God

I rather enjoyed President Obama's inaugural speech yesterday - a masterpiece of liberal rhetoric designed to tickle the political G-spots of American bourgeois lefties from start to finish. I can confidently predict that it will all be downhill from here, of course. Yes, Barack wants to be nice to women, gays, ethnic minorities etc – and I'm all in favour. But being a proper lefty, I was listening out for what we Marxists call the 'structure'. Culture wars are part of the 'superstructure': the social characteristics that stem from a society's economic structure. Did we hear anything about replacing the failed capitalist system? Absolutely not. The point of all this identity politics stuff is that however welcome it is, it distracts from economic inequality and destruction, and it doesn't challenge capitalism iin the slightest. You only have to look at the Stonewall guide to 'good' employers, or take a walk down Canal Street to realise that capitalism loves liberation: whole new markets are opened up, appropriated, co-opted and tamed.

We also didn't hear anything about the United States's ongoing and illegal war against Afghan wedding parties, Pakistani teenagers and anyone else hit by a drone strike authorised personally by the President and executed by some gum-chewing schmuck operating a PS3 controller in Rat's Ass, Arizona. In case you missed it, the US has decided that any male of combat age in a strike zone can be assumed to be an enemy combatant – which means that you don't have to declare any civilian casualties whenever you drop a drone. If your village is a 'strike zone' (don't expect a postcard letting you know), then you're automatically a militant.  Which strikes me as utterly immoral as well as illegal. But then the US is bombing Pakistan, with which it isn't at war, so we shouldn't expect too much.

Supposed liberal Presidents (and Prime Ministers) like nothing more than to drop high explosives on distant brown people. It reassures wavering voters that they're Tough: Tough on Terror, Tough on National Defence, Tough on Complicated Arguments About Why We Might Want To Think Twice Before Bombing Another Poor Country. They want to belong, surrounded as they are by chaps in uniform and other persuasive chaps from Acronymic Agencies (MI5, CIA etc) who promise them induction into their Hermeneutic Secrets. You're nobody until (as the UK PM has to do on his/her first day) you've sat down and written out fresh instructions to nuclear submarine commanders.

But the bit that caught my attention was Obama's reference to climate change. Obviously he's contradicting a large section of his electorate and an even larger section of the political class by stating that climate change exists. Good for him. But the way he framed it was really interesting. He said this:
"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," "That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared," Obama said.
Interesting. It hints at a US equivalent of the Big Society, except with meaning because so many Americans are practising religious types that it's conceivable that an appeal to them on religious grounds - making an 'end run' around the vested interests of politicians and lobbyists - might work. Certainly here in the UK the mainstream churches accept climate science as accurate and at least don't oppose mitigation action. There are even some modest attempts to promote ecological health on C of E land, like the Caring for God's Acre network.

But I'm not convinced that Obama's call for faith-based environmentalism works. The religious debate about how to see the environment is split between those who think God gave the care of the planet into our hands ('wise stewardship'), and those who say he gave the use of it to us. 'Go forth and multiply', he allegedly said: not a warning against over-enthusiastic multiplying and the consequent draining of resources.

There are plenty of Godly types who see the bit about 'dominion' over the earth and endorsement of whatever foul things we do to the planet. You only have to look at Robinson Crusoe, a seminal book in the development of Protestant Capitalism to see how rape and pillage becomes a religious duty. In it, Robinson is marooned on a desert island (the earth) and carefully records in his diary (Protestants were encouraged to examine their spiritual development in diaries) what he's got and what he does with it. Everything on the island is at his disposal – including Man Friday who lacking the grace of Christianity, is fair game, just another resource. The theory is that if you don't use what's lying around – oil, mercury, coltan, blood diamonds – you're wasting the resources God put there for your use. If you get stressy about the damage done by use or overuse of these resources, you Lack Faith. God won't let us all perish: he'll turn up to save us from ourselves. Again. (This only works if you believe in the New Testament nice God: Old Testament Angry God seemed to quite enjoy a bit of nationwide Smiting).

And if that's not dumb enough, there are the Christians who accept that climate change is destroying the world, and think it's a sin to interfere. You'll find quite a lot of them in the United States's odder denominations. Rapture-ready churches aren't exactly new, there were plenty around in Medieval Europe and later, but they're only a major force in the US. They hold that the End Times are imminent. Destructive climate change is one of the ways in which this world will end, they say. It's God's plan. If you reduce CO2, or plant trees, or drive a Prius, you are Working For Satan by opposing God's plan (apparently Star Trek IV is particularly guilty for promoting 'environmental Pantheism').

Will Obama's sneaky attempt to get the god-botherers onside work? That depends on the strength and effort the God's Acre Christians put in, the opposition of the Rapturists and of course political will. My guess is that it won't. When the Americans stop thinking that the answer to climate change is to turn up the air conditioning, then something will happen. And that means basically never.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Day After The Day After Tomorrow Vole

A few more of my favourite shots from wandering about in the snow this weekend. The whole set is here, and a few more of the best ones are here. Click to enlarge.

Too dark for a high shutter speed, so this is the best I could do - lots of tits' arses. But you can see it holding a nut in its beak
Squirrel with robin in the background

Quite pleased with the beating wing of this coal tit

One stuffs its face, the other keeps watch

This time I focused on the robin rather than the squirrel

Decent abstract effect from this sculpture 
Same sculpture, different focus

Another bird's bum

Tree outside my office

The view from the top floor. I was pleased with the colour

Tree outside the office again

Another view from the office. 

The Day After Tomorrow Vole

Hello, dear readers. I trust you survived Snowmageddon, which round here meant about 5 inches of the  white stuff and widespread panic.

It is like The Day After Tomorrow in my flat: in the film the stragglers end up barricaded in the New York Public Library with no heating. My flat also resembles a book cave and likewise has no heating other than a little fan heater. I didn't burn any books to stay alive, though P D James's Death Comes To Pemberley almost got incinerated on grounds of quality…

I was going to go walking in the western Peak District but my friends chickened out had very good reasons why they had to cancel, so I ended up taking my camera out to a local park and gardens - not at strenuous, but pleasant none the less. The whole set is here, but I'll show you some of my favourites here and in the next post. Click to enlarge.

Abstract - I won't tell you what it is.

Bureaucracy! I was really pleased to spot this office window down a back street

Fire escape in the snow

A crow. 

Sage plant being eaten by a snow monster!

Crow. I wasn't set up for a fast shot, so was lucky to get the wing like this.

Really please with this one - again I had the camera on a slow shutter speed for a different shot,  so got lucky here.

Cormorants roosting in the snow

Another slow-shutter speed shot of a gull

Squirrels: taste as good as they look

Blue tit and nuthatch

Again, slow shutter speed but a bit of luck with these coal tits.

A very wary jay.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Abominable Snowvole

Afternoon everybody. And what a lovely one it is for me too. I love cold weather and snow (as you can tell from the picture above this post. Snow and bopping Wolves on the nose.

Today's thick blanket of snow is having a therapeutic effect on me. Having watched Question Time last night, I'm sorely in need of a Mogadon Cocktail. Grant Shapps was on (just the one of him this time), lying with his half-Blair, half-Delboy smirk. Then Caroline Flint, the Labour's Party's Madame Mao only more rightwing and less charismatic. Roland Rudd, another Tory, Mary Beard (whom I like) and the egregious Nigel Farage.

And if you think that was a panel of gargoyles, the Lincoln audience was living proof that we're only an EU referendum away from pogroms, flaming torches, pitchforks and crosses burning on lawns. If I learned one thing from last night's episode it's this: however lovely the Cathedral may be, never go to Lincoln.

What most enraged me about the show was the panellists' determination – with the honourable exception of Mary Beard, who didn't have a political or financial dog in the fight – to lie, distort and mislead for tactical advantage. Not a shred of idealism or principle between them. Especially Shapps, who while he attacked Labour's (tepid) Europeanism failed to mention that the traitorous Fritz-lover who signed the Single European Act was one Margaret Thatcher. Nor that the Charlemagne Prize for efforts on behalf of European Unity was once awarded to that notorious garlic. Meanwhile, Mr Farage failed to explain why one economic and political superstate encompassing several national and linguistic groups, nations and economies is oppressive (the EU), while opposing Welsh and Scots nationalism.

And while we're on the subject, I find that the more opposed to immigration a British person is, the prouder they are of the British Empire – which as far as my admittedly weak grasp of history gets me, involved lots of heavily armed British people immigrating to lots of other peoples' countries, taking their jobs, land, wives, children, gold etc… Or am I missing something? Perhaps it's just that British people only like repressive superstates when it's them doing the repression. Having to reason things through with foreigners as equals… it's just not cricket!

So here's my point of view on the European Union.

Maybe it's because I'm an Irish citizen with recent ancestors who fought the British on two continents, but I find all this Empire nostalgia plain embarrassing. Give it up! Have some self-respect. Look at Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. They all had a go at being imperialist powers. Some of them behaved even worse than you Brits (looking at you, Belgium). But they moved on. They don't sigh with regret at what they lost. They're all rich, peaceful and (mostly) nice to each other inside and outside their borders. They don't wander round the world tugging at America's sleeve shouting 'me too, me too'. They don't feel the need to wave nuclear weapons in people's faces as though the power to devastate the planet somehow confers the right to moral and political leadership. That's the politics of the playground. I don't think the British realise that far from leading an 'English-speaking world', their white colonies slightly pity them and everybody else hasn't yet forgiven or forgotten. This fantasy of once again standing alone (i.e. just being America's butler) is embarrassing.

Europe's full of interesting, quirky, well-meaning and rich cultures. Why not just try being one of them? Just for a bit. You don't have to eat the horse or drink the local moonshine. You can keep your clothes on at the beach. Nobody's going to force you to replace that can of Carling with a Belgian fruit beer or a German Dunkel. Your kebabs are safe, as are your awful trains, nightclubs and architecture. You don't even have to learn anybody else's language, or stop believing that they all think in English and are just trying to be difficult.

David Cameron debuts a new look for his Europe speech

Just try negotiating rather than shouting at everybody like a country-sized street drinker with a grudge.

I'm for it. This is unfashionable on the hard left of which I count myself a part, but I see it as an extension of the left's internationalist tradition. I wouldn't keep the EU we have – much of it is a capitalist plot – but I'd happily be a member of the United Socialist States of Europe. Even the EU we have is better than living in a UK stuck on its own.

Why? Because the EU has consistently given British workers and citizens better protection than the British Government. Whatever party's in charge, British governments serve their corporate masters. Remember Tony Blair? When he wasn't prosecuting illegal wars, he wandered the world boasting that Britain had the 'most flexible' workforce in the West, by which he meant 'least protection against exploitation, unfair dismissal, unsafe working condition', the worst pay, the worst benefits and the fewest rights of organisation of any European country. In office, he took the UK out of the Social Chapter, ensuring that British workers could be made to work for longer with even fewer protections. The British Establishment's Utopia is one in which the masses work for low pay in the services industry: doing each other's nails, picking orders in an Amazon compound, offering oral pleasure in out-of-the-way lay-bys. No union rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no collective bargaining, no health and safety laws. Result? Massive shareholder gains, workers unimportant.

Then enter the Tories and their Lib Dem puppies. They've spent the past two years stripping away what little was left of these protections, and mounting a sustained attack on the European Court of Human Rights. It's not an EU body, but it still has Johnny Foreigner making rude comments about Britain's nasty little habit of kidnapping suspects, suspending habeas corpus, turning a blind eye to torture, suppressing war crimes yada yada yada. My MP wants us to delete the Human Rights Act because apparently we've all got too many rights. Yes, you heard me. Too many!

And there are a few other things the Europeans gave us apart from decent justice and workers' protection. Clean Air: Boris Johnson is currently lobbying to prevent EU prosecution for decades' of illegal levels of pollution in London's air. Clean water. Some semblance (however insane) of a farming and fishing policy which isn't just 'help yourself lads'. Decent transport and infrastructure: go anywhere outside Central London and you'll find a discreet EU flag next to major improvements because South Wales, Scotland, the North-East and all sorts of other areas have been left to rot by the cosmopolitan financiers and their tame UK political parties. Who dredged and cleaned the Thames? The EU. Who's paying to electrify the North-West train system? Not the train companies: the EU! Who gave the UK £2.282bn for research and development? Those perfidious Europeans! Who keeps those rabidly anti-European farmers in business? Europe! How much does it cost us? Well, if you earn £50,000 a year, you give the EU £70. That's even better value than the licence fee!

There's just one more thing Europe gave us. Peace. I'm really enjoying it. Before the EU there were lots of wars between European states. Since the 1950s when it was founded: none. No more gas chambers, no border squabbles, no military coups in member states. Ireland fought the British for hundreds of years. And now we're partners. The British v the French, the French v the Germans, the French v Spain, Spain v the Netherlands, Germany v Poland… I could go on. But never again.

So apart from workers' rights, justice, a cleaner environment, decent transport, infrastructure investment and peace, what did the Europeans ever give us?

Oh yes: sensible, thoughtful politics without the braying, brachiating willy-waving of cynical, dishonest blowhards of the type we get over here.

EU Super-state? Yes please.

And now I'm off to build a snow Nigel Farage. He'll like it: it'll be blanc de blancs.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Thursday Afternoon Vole

Maybe I'll institute a regime of single daily posts rather than a stream of random Reckons. What do you think? 

Here's a moody, wintery little shot I took on my phone the other day. 

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." (James Joyce, 'The Dead').

I've been quiet today because a) I stayed in bed longer than I should have and b) I've been doing astonishingly boring tasks. Administration Hell is very different from Marking Hell. Marking Hell is at least exciting. There's a fresh torture coming along any second: a bigoted comment, a stolen paragraph, a missed apostrophe or a misplaced preposition, all finely tuned to press my particular buttons. But Marking Hell also has its pleasures: there are – despite my sardonic whinging – informed, passionate and fluent students who turn in elegantly stylish essays. 

Administration Hell lacks both the stimulation of the Diabolical Essay and the snatched moments of relief afforded by a good piece of work. For instance, today I was updating the electronic module guide for a single-semester module (remind me to tell you one day about our four – or is it five? – timetables. We have two electronic systems, because an integrated one would abolish Administration Hell. There's Evision, which holds Module Guides, student details, submission details and the like. Then there's WOLF, which holds Module Guides, student details, submission details and the like. Did you see what they did there? They don't talk to each other very well either. And Evision carries stern warnings like PRESS SAVE BEFORE EXITING OR ALL YOUR HARD WORK WILL BE SACRIFICED TO THE ADMINISTRATION GODS AND THEY ARE VENGEFUL, MOCKING DEITIES WHO SCORN YOUR PUNY SACRIFICE except that on many pages there isn't a Save button. Instead, there's a Store And Exit button. But I don't want to Exit and I don't trust this programme's grasp of synonyms and therefore don't believe that Save and Store are the same thing at all and besides I haven't finished working out what the difference between Assessment Criteria and Assessment Requirements are yet and oh gods what if this is all some kind of horrible test and if I get it right they make me an Associate Dean in one of the Lower Circles of Administration Hell?

But it's OK because we're all going to be moving to Moodle and percentage marking schemes whether we like it or not and once in the sunny uplands everyone will get first class degrees (seriously, that's the justification for changing schemes). 

Anyway, I've just nobly ceded my The Sorrows of Young Werther lectures to my Romanticist colleague for a first-year module. I'm really looking forward to teaching it: it's central to the Romantic notion of individualism and the individual's relation to knowledge and reality. When it first came out, rumours spread that it caused multiple suicides. I've already been ticked off on Twitter for being flippant about this, but obviously I'm rather more thoughtful and sensitive in class than my online persona might indicate. I'll be teaching the legend and reception of the novel, but won't be cracking any more jokes about assignments, student retention etc. But I can't help looking forward to giving the students a novel about a self-dramatising, self-regarding young man…

In other news: good books in the post. David Williams' A World of His Own: The Double Life of George Borrow (just too late to add to my Borrow/Edwards paper, but I was already up to the word limit), and two books on the decline of British Communism: Geoff Andrews' Endgames and New Times: The Final Years of British Communism 1964-1991 (by which he rather presumptuously means the CPGB) and Francis Beckett's Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party. I went to a conference in 2004 called Reds! The Story of the CPGB. It was fascinating. All the major players from the Party's previous decades were there, acrimoniously blaming each other for minor doctrinal deviations which had destroyed the coming Revolution. It didn't seem to have occurred to them that spending 60 years following every twist and turn of the CPSU's policy and never seriously trying to build a mass movement based on the UK population's needs just might have been a strategic error. Still, it was fun while it lasted.