Friday, June 20, 2008

Layer 55. Summer In The City III; City Boys, Handcuffs and the Targets Culture.

More news reports.

Hurrah for the USA!

Delightful TV footage this morning of Bear Stearns executives in handcuffs, charged with fraud and misleading investors. Charged with not communicating the true risks of the sub-prime market. They moved their own money to safety whilst keeping everybody else in ignorance of the fact that the economic and financial shit was about to hit the fan.

Will the British authorities now follow this excellent example? Don’t hold your breath. Do keep a clothes peg handy for when the stench gets really bad.

* * *

Jerry Springer, a token American on Question Time last night, was supposed to give his views on the Irish rejection of the new EU treaty. He spoke of the international forces at work in the world, and the power of multi-national corporations and international finance, and the need for greater internationalism.

Presumably he’s very aware of what it feels like to be part of a liberal minority in a country that’s constantly bombarded by strident neo-conservative propaganda, and he sees the need for decent people throughout the world to make common cause in resisting the machinations of the fat cats, the war mongers and the crazed power-mad politicians who currently rule the planet.

* * *

“Software is my primary contribution to the world.” - Bill Gates on his retirement from the chairmanship of Microsoft in order to concentrate on running his charitable foundation and giving away his $60 billion fortune to good causes. Hurrah for Bill and Microsoft!

* * *

17 teenage girls in a high school in the States formed ‘a pact’ to get pregnant. Well it’s better than our teenagers forming pacts to commit suicide, though still pretty worrying from the point of view of their levels of emotional and spiritual intelligence.

The Targets Culture #1

Ken Jones of the Association of Police Officers is calling for the abolition of government targets for the police, and for giving the police more independence so that decisions can be made locally, where priorities and operations ought to be managed.

There is said to be resistance to the move from “officials in Whitehall”. Well of course there is.

Fair enough for Ken Jones to say that those police forces that are doing well should be given ‘foundation status’ and allowed to direct their own efforts, subject to local scrutiny. Why can’t he see that it’s the police forces that are in many cases understandably unable to reach centrally imposed targets - and are having their efforts to fight crime hampered by remote civil servants and politicians and their unreasonable demands - that most need to be free of the targets culture and encouraged to demonstrate their competence to manage themselves and take decisions at the local level?

The Targets Culture #2

“The government has been warned that many of the schools it is threatening to close in England and Wales are actually doing well.” - Lead story on BBC1 and Radio 4 today.

More than a quarter of the schools that are missing their targets and are therefore being threatened with closure by a government that sees them as failing, actually have Ofsted reports that say they are good or outstanding.

What these schools, and teachers’ union officials, are apparently failing to notice is that whilst their last Ofsted report may have been very positive, their next Ofsted inspection team will arrive there and pay little or no attention to what goes on in the school, even if the quality of the teaching has been monitored and assessed as 60% good or better, and will concentrate more or less exclusively on the recent test and exam data and how it matches against the government targets and ‘expectations’.

Christine Blower is the NUT’s acting general secretary. This morning she pointed out that two thirds of the schools on the government’s list of schools facing closure have been graded as satisfactory, and a third of them were actually described by Ofsted as good or outstanding in their last inspection.

She made the point that public humiliation and destabilisation is not the way to improve schools. So the interviewer raised the issue of exam success, and how crucial that is in our society. I was crying out for Christine to point out that the key issues are pupil progress, sometimes from very depressed starting points, and the unreasonableness of arbitrary targets for children aged 11 and 16. These are what really matter.

Ms Blower said that publishing a list of threatened schools is unhelpful and demoralising. Jim Knight (for it was he) said the government had not published a list! “We are determined to tackle failure - we’ve set a benchmark”. What a fuckwit.

The twat blames local newspapers for publishing lists and for branding schools as failures if they get less than 30%! And who is it, Jim, that’s been banging the drum about schools failing if they score less than 30% A -Cs? Not you, by any chance? How fucking dim can you get?

“There’s a whole range of things we can do to help those schools that are persistently stuck”, says Jim. So why haven’t they been doing them these past 10 years?

Jim’s threatening to turn ‘failing’ secondary schools into Academies. 27 of the schools on the list are already ‘Academies’!


Why don’t people feel happy, and more content? So asks Tom Harris MP, in his blog, according to Radio 4. Duh!


And finally . . .

A police helicopter has been ‘attacked’ by aliens in a UFO, which was described as ‘flying- saucer shaped’. I’d love to be around if and when the arrests are made. How to caution an alien? Finding a translator could be a problem. Oxzen says: Bust These Aliens.

Personally I’m keen to see more police helicopters up there spotting the local crims, running them to ground and bringing them to book. For scratching my car, for starters.

Presumably the Bush response would be to launch a War On Aliens, instead of just setting out to arrest the perpetrators.

Could these aliens be irresponsible teenage joyriding aliens, out of their parents’ control, buzzing helicopters for fun? They probably hot-wired and stole a UFO: I can’t imagine any grown-up adult alien behaving like this. Surely mature aliens who are sophisticated enough to build interplanetary and intergalactic spacecraft can’t have the emotional intelligence of a demented hoodie?

Maybe we need targets for apprehending aliens in unlicensed and uninsured UFOs. For taking and driving UFOs without permission. For the reckless and dangerous driving of UFOs. A target of 1 would be good.


The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, was on Thought For Today again. I love this man. He was talking about the amazing capacity of humans for inventiveness and self-healing, giving the recent example of a man afflicted by cancer whose body had been able to heal itself, thanks to the inventiveness of scientists who had injected him with millions of clones of his own cancer-fighting cells.

He pointed out that being healthy isn’t freedom from being ill - it’s the ability to recover or heal what’s been harmed. A cure often lies within ourselves, if only we know where to look.

An extension of this thought is that it’s the responsibility of parents, teachers, writers and artists to show young people where to look in order to cure themselves of mental, emotional and spiritual sickness. But is this currently on the school curriculum, or done in any meaningful or determined way within our schools, thanks to the target-setting and academic testing culture?

Another interesting thought of the Rabbi is that Creole is Pidgin English plus grammar, and is a language invented by young people. I’d never really thought about that, any more than I’d thought about the innate, instinctual human ability to create and to learn languages, and the instinctual ability of animals to communicate in various ways. Time to get back to reading Chomsky.


There was a guy on Radio 4 today talking about his new book which describes the disgusting attitudes and behaviour of City Boys - the scumbags who work in the City of London and manage its citadels. What’s interesting about his book’s ‘revelations’ regarding the total lack of morals and ethics of people like hedge fund managers and their lackeys is that we know this stuff already.

We know very well that the bonus culture, and the greed that drives it, is responsible for the materialism, the casino mentality and the willingness to take massive risks with other people’s money. We know that these people are corrupt and corrupting. We know that these people are drugged up little shits and predatory and drunken hard-faced old bastards.

The only interesting thing here is why we think this is revelatory news, and what might now happen as a result of our awareness of the way our national life is being fucked up by these bastards, by the ‘credit crunch’, the bonus culture, bank runs, insolvency, bankruptcy, government bail-outs and the mountain of debt that so many poor suckers have been conned and nudged into taking on. Answer - nothing at all.


Peter Carey on Desert Island Discs this morning was talking about Bob Dylan, and what a genius he is. Yes indeed. It’s been a privilege to have lived a lifetime in parallel with His Bobness, and to have experienced his incredible musical output as the years rolled by. Rolling Thunder indeed.

Peter chose Thunder On The Mountain from Modern Times, and Idiot Wind from Blood On The Tracks as two of his discs: the first time I’ve heard anyone on DID choose more than one Dylan track.

Coincidentally this week I made myself a CD of Bob tracks from 1990 onwards. There are many compilations of early and middle period Dylan, but none that I know of that are just tracks from the most recent 20 years.

Bob is an artist par excellence. He reflects the world and the human condition as it really is, and doesn’t tell you what to think or to feel. It’s the enlightenment, the insights, the wisdom, the provocation, the iconoclasm and the humour that matter, that can make a difference to millions of people that the man will never even meet.


Whilst the majority of this blog, and indeed most of my blogs, might seem to suggest that this government needs to fuck off and die, I have to say I was impressed with David Miliband on the Today programme, speaking about Europe and foreign affairs - just as I was impressed with him when I heard him speak to a conference a few days after he was rushed into the post of Secretary of State for education. I just hope he never gets to be the party leader, and has to stop being something of a real person, and stop being something of a real thinker.

I’m worried about this man, who, for all his inexperience is clearly very bright and able, and seems to have some measure of understanding of the world and its affairs, and some perspective. So far he’s resisted pressure from people to throw his hat into the leadership ring, but he might still come to feel that to do so at some stage would be a noble pursuit. Don’t do it, David. Stay grounded and stay real.

You’re not a Blair psychopath/android. Carry on enjoying life - you’re still very young. Yes, you’re a lot more able than your half-wit colleagues in the cabinet, but so what? Have a bash at Chancellor and Home Secretary, or shadow those posts, and a decade or so down the road will be time enough to become party leader. Just learn to put up with whoever does it in the meantime.

Your time will surely come, and if you still have your wits and your sense of the absurd, and your energy and commitment, then that will be the right time. And if a twat like Blair can do it, and a man with height issues like Sarkozy, then so can you.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Layer 54 Summer In The City Part II; Bankers, Financiers and Politics.

It’s been another week of having to focus on the practical and the financial, sorting out all sorts of mundane and boring affairs, from tax returns to shopping, and an MoT and repairs on the car. Thank God life’s not always this dull.

Here’s an interesting fact I picked up this week. Following the closure of the swimming pool in Hythe, there is no longer a single solitary public swimming pool anywhere in the vast county of Kent. Kent is also a county that has somehow retained its split system of secondary schools, and still has the 11+, lots of grammar schools and lots of schools where the rejects have to go.

Is it just a coincidence that Kent is one of the lowest achieving counties in terms of academic success overall? According to a friend who lives in Kent, and who should therefore know, Kent is also a complete cultural desert. Though Kent is by no means the only county that has no public swimming pools that poor people and their kids might like to use.

I found myself back on the trains in midweek, on another excursion to the land south of the river, to delightful Greenwich, for a dinner with old friends, in honour of a very dear friend who was celebrating retirement from a long and very successful career in education.

This was my first ever journey on the Docklands Light Railway, and very pleasant it was too. Apart from having to access the platform at Stratford through a solid cordon of railway police, a human barrier that was forcing passengers leaving the trains to show tickets, or Oyster cards, or travel passes, or whatever. Birth certificates and passports too for all I know.

And all I know is that I wasn’t the only one there who had never seen anything like it. Whatever happened to ticket inspectors moving quietly and unobtrusively through trains? Why do we need to mount quasi-military operations these days to deal with ticket dodgers? Feels to me more and more like a police state.

This was the week the government forced through the Commons its bill to allow 42 days detention without having to make charges. The week Magna Carta ceased to have any meaning. The week the government needed the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, the solitary UKIP MP and dear Ann Widdecombe in order to push through its legislation. This is a government without shame.

My friend K had taken ages to drive up from Kent owing to having to queue for ages for petrol, thanks to tanker drivers being on strike. The oil companies are currently making billions (literally) in profits, and do so in part because they keep the wages of their workers pushed as far down as possible. Somehow this doesn’t seem to strike many of us as unacceptable, and all we find generally is bitching about the striking tanker drivers. Though not from K, who is wise and patient and caring and very wonderful.

It doesn’t do now to be poor in this country, which has increased the gap between the wealthy and the poor under New Labour. And no-one seriously imagines this is an issue that will be even considered, let alone acted on, when New Labour, unloved and despised, finally sinks without trace, which is all it deserves.

New Labour virtually promised in its ‘97 manifesto that it intended to do something about the pathetic undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system. Has it done so? No. Not a thing. So now we’re heading for yet another 10 years or so of right wing economics and faith in the workings of the ‘market’. Market my arse.

I think Blair would have made a half-decent (if that’s the appropriate expression) market barrow boy. But not Gordon. The gift of the gab, and the ability to actually sell old rubbish, is not something he has. Nobody’s even buying the old line about “No more boom and bust”. We’re back to bust.

This was the week of the ‘climax’ to this year’s hit TV series, The Apprentice, the British rip-off of Donald Trump’s glorious ‘entertainment’, starring ‘Sir’ Alan Sugar and his hard-faced despotism. How wonderfully popular these programmes have been, with their desperate wannabe young capitalists all eager to join Sugar’s honeypot organization and get their grubby little salesperson’s hands on some of that lovely moola. There’s no humiliation they’re unwilling to risk or endure in the pursuit of that holy grail.

10 years we’ve had of New Labour doing nothing about the disgusting racket that’s the housing market. 10 more years of building nothing like the amount of social housing (or other housing) that we actually need. 10 more years of converting what used to be council-owned housing into assets for private landlords and property developers/speculators. How many flats did the Blairs end up buying?

10 years of letting the banking and financial lords of the universe do whatever they fucking well liked, making billions out of conning the suckers that we all are into buying overpriced financial ‘products’.

The driverless DLR from Stratford wends its way at high levels through the towers of Canary Wharf, and offers superb views of these incredible glass and steel symbols of corporate and financial power. Here we have the bastards who miss-sell mortgages, charge high interest rates on loans and offer pitiful interest rates on savings, and who come and go in their limousines and taxis.

Here they all are - the brilliant boys and girls with their fat profits-related bonuses, who are now laughing at having to be baled out of their busted and bankrupt practices by the rest of us, we who can only look on in bewilderment as the government promises never ever to let them suffer the actual consequences of their dealing and gambling - because a general collapse of the house of cards that is the private banking sector is just too horrible and too serious to contemplate. I bet they hate the tanker drivers for making them queue up to fill their Porsches, Ferraris and Bentleys.

These people are fucking criminals and scumbags in my opinion. Irresponsible bastards of the first order who were allowed to rampage unchecked all over the land, conning and betting and mis-selling total fraudulent rubbish. Persuading clueless innocent schmucks who were desperate to get on the housing ‘ladder’ that the good times were here to stay and that they could afford a massive 100% loan on some crap piece of real estate.

Thank you Wall Street. Thank you City of London, thank you Free Market, thank you Canary Wharf, thank you Gordon Brown. Thank you, and goodnight.


This week I’ve forced myself to catch up with reading the newspapers, and have been spending time, therefore, on taking in other people’s thoughts to a large degree, leaving too little time to consider my own, let alone having time to blog them.

The one original thought I’ve had this week concerns setting out a series of demands which must be met in return for continuing to support the Labour Party. So here they are, and I hope I’ll think of some more in due course.

1. Sack Hazel Blears immediately and apologise for ever considering her for government. Admit that she’s a poisonous dwarf and a disgrace to the Labour movement.
2. Gordon Brown to admit that he’s a rubbish party leader, but agree that he’s prepared to finally embrace progressive politics and causes, and start to tackle inequality, poverty and the negative aspects of the free market.
3. Legislate immediately for the single transferable vote, and promise proper proportional voting asap.
4. Implement a proper system of progressive taxation, with severe penalties for rich bastards who try to avoid paying a proper and fair share towards ridding our society of public squalor alongside private affluence.
5. Apologise for supporting the invasions of various countries under the banner of War on Terror, and wasting billions of pounds and hundreds of lives, instead of supporting the United Nations in united international action to pursue and bring to justice criminals who use violence and terror to achieve political, ideological and religious ends.
6. Put up posters in every town centre declaring in large print that Hazel Blears is a nasty little piece of self-satisfied rubbish; posters to be paid for from Gordon’s own pocket.
7. Make education non party-political. Replace Ed Balls immediately with a committee of professional elders, chaired by Robin Alexander in the first instance, but with responsibility for ensuring that from now on only people with actual experience of managing tough schools and demonstrable understanding of child development and child-centred educational practice will be considered as committee members.
8. Scrap any intention to replace or renew nuclear weapons. Pledge the Labour Party to lead a worldwide campaign to scrap all nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
9. Immediate imposition of a windfall tax on oil companies.
10. Immediate programme of new housing, to be controlled and allocated by local councils.
11. Apologise for rebranding the Labour Party, for hijacking the party for neo-conservatism, for supporting Bush, and for appeasing Murdoch and his ilk in the press.
12. Take back into public ownership and control, and without compensation, everything that’s been privatized since 1997. Shares can go down as well as up.
13. Take immediate steps to legislate for a democratically approved constitution with an elected second chamber.
14. Reinstate student grants that are fairly and adequately means tested, allowing people who want to further their academic careers to do so. Send any people who fiddle the books to get a full grant, with the trusted accountant, to prison for the duration of the time their child would have spent at University.
15. Invest a similar amount of money in a national apprentice scheme that provides key skills for the aforementioned house building to be fully state run – no need for big conglomerates.
16. Place Hazel Blears in the Big Brother house long after the duration of the current series, when the other weirdos have left the premises.
17. Means test child benefit. It is criminal in its existing form.
18. Immediate abolition of all SATs testing.
19. Immediate 10% rise in minimum wage, with promise of another 10% next year.
20. Immediate 10% rise in state pensions, with promise of another 10% next year.

These demands must be met in full in order to secure our full and unstinting support. Otherwise - bye bye Brown, and goodnight New Labour.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Layer 53 Summer in the City

Today there was blue sky, sunshine and a warm breeze blowing through the city.

I’ve recently read some very complimentary pieces on how civilized it is to travel in London, compared with other places, and I’m sure this is largely true. There are days like yesterday, though, that make we wonder.

All I had to do was travel 5 miles to a meeting - from north-east London to south-east London. On a quiet evening it can be done by car in about 20 minutes whilst listening to four or five tracks on a CD. Here’s how it went yesterday afternoon by bus and train.

Ten minutes wait for bus. As it came to a halt at the bus stop the driver called out to a couple of Turkish women sitting at the back of the bus, to let them know that the bus had reached the terminus.

They seemed reluctant to halt their conversation, and then decided to come down and try to understand what the driver was saying. Finally he got through to them that the bus wasn’t going any further.

They got off, and then got back on again, saying something like, "??£lkshshsh **66&rtrd%$$$mnbnbm Clapton, Clapton! kgkghfhfgjg ffgtrgftrg dfdrtrgrtdf Rommanrod."

So the driver said, “OK, stay on the bus - we’ll be passing Roman Road”.

After 10 minutes one of them attempted to communicate with me, and noticing the puzzled look on my face, her friend interjected, “Want Clapton! Rommanrod.” So I said, “Which would you like, Clapton or Roman Road?”

She said, “Clapton/Rommanrod!”, so I said, “They’re two different places. Which one do you want? Clapton is back there. Roman Road is ahead.”

At which point she gave up on our non-conversation. Five more minutes and she approached the driver, calling to him through the plastic screen “CLAPA-TON/ROMMANROD!!” I could just about hear the driver saying, “Clapton is back there . . . ”

So now she explodes in a frenzy of anger and frustration. “FUCK YOU! I fucking say Clapton. You say yes. Fuck you! Want Rommanrod - where is? Fuck you pig. Stupid pig! You fucking pig!!”

Meanwhile her friend has been moving towards the centre exit, and when the bus stops they both get off, gesturing at the driver, who is by now leaning round, trying to see what they’re doing, and looking a little bewildered - as well he might.

“Fuck you!” they chorus as the bus pulls away, leaving these two lost souls in the middle of Hackney Wick, which is possibly not the best place in the world to be when you have no idea where you are, or where you’re trying to get to. Clapton? Rommanrod?


Two stops later a woman gets on and decides she wants to sit next to me. No sooner has she sat down than she starts talking, and talking, and she talks NON STOP for the next 30 minutes, all the way to Stratford.

She’s 73, hates London as it is nowadays, feels sorry for her grandson because he can never get a job and they never even contact him after an interview, she’s having to lend him money again, he lives with her and has done for most of his life because his mother is an unfit mother, she can’t afford a holiday, the council still won’t offer her a little house, she hates her flat and her estate, and so on.

She pauses for breath and asks me if I’m not working today. I explain I’m going to a work meeting, but essentially I’m retired. “Ooh you don’t look old enough to retire dear - I wish I could get a little job - I wish I could have a win on the lottery - and on and on and on. Lovely lady. Salt of the earth.

She concerned about me living in Hackney. “It’s rough there innit? My grand daughter can’t go there - she’d get beaten up ‘cos she’s not from there, though once she went there and pretended she was from there, etc, etc, etc.”


Stratford station is manic. Walking past the Big Issue seller and an ancient-looking guy busking with a violin I notice the long queue slowly snaking towards the ticket office and thank goodness I have an Oyster card and can speed through to the platform.

The first carriage of the stationary train I get into (this is also a terminus) is pretty full, but silent apart from one big burly guy who’s speaking non-stop rubbish to someone across the carriage, in a voice that’s just short of a bellow. It’s a stream of virtual nonsense.

First to bolt is a small guy sitting a couple of seats away from the loony, who gets up and swiftly departs from the carriage, heading further down towards the front of the train.

Second is me. Sod that. I can’t cope with loonies at the best of times, and certainly can’t hack it in the confines of a train with someone so noisy and nutty.

Two carriages down I sit on the only available seat next to a guy who’s sitting slumped back with his legs stretched out in front of him at right angles to one another. A perfect 90 degrees. So his left leg is somewhat across my seat, which means that I either have to ask him to sit in a more regular fashion, or I need to swivel my legs slightly to the side. I decide to swivel. This clearly isn’t my day.


My last blog mentioned the government’s new policy of sacking headteachers and the governing bodies of those schools that are failing to reach their arbitrary targets. Today on Radio 4 we had Ed Balls, pal of the prime minister and secretary of state for education, confirming the government’s intention to do precisely this. The way he says it is so macho, so commanding, so tough and decisive. Stupid little prick.

I need to say this again. I fucking hate this government. I hate their arrogance, I hate their weakness, I hate their dogmatism, I hate their stupidity, I hate their pomposity, I hate their lack of imagination and understanding, I hate their fucking 10p tax fuck-up, I hate their failure to empathise with good people who have given their lives to public service and deserve some respect, not dismissal.

What really gets me is that the heads of the schools they’re talking about won’t have a fair trial, with a chance to present their case to a jury of their peers, who know what real life is like. They won’t have any entitlement to advice and support in order to improve their work performance, before getting the boot because they then fail to show evidence of good progress, or evidence as to solid reasons why progress hasn’t been in line with external demands.

The government will simply look at the data, see that targets aren’t being reached and BANG - you’re fired, the governing body is fired, the school’s closed down, and re-opened the following week as the Snottykid Academy or the Smartarse Academy, in all probability run by a newly appointed vastly overpaid so-called superhead recruited through some profiteering agency, and managed by a private sector company like Harris Carpets or Atkins Civil Engineering. I’m not making this up.

Fuck you! Stupid pigs! Rommanrod!


I guess most of us feel like the filling in a sandwich between the mental and emotional inadequates at the bottom and the mental and emotional inadequates at the so-called top. In between those that have no status, no resources and no money, and those who have them, undeservedly, in super-abundance.


The government has missed its child poverty targets by miles. Channel 4 has just done a 20 minute feature on the issue as the first item on its programme. Consistency and logic demand that the government sacks itself.

Pensioner poverty is another subject featured on BBC news this evening. More of that soon!


Privatising Warfare

Panorama, on BBC1 today - watch it on the internet if you missed it. Watch it and weep. As someone on the programme said, the only people who have benefited from the illegal invasion of Iraq are Al Qaeda, the leadership in Iran, Halliburton, and a shitload of other American companies who have made megaprofits from the outsourcing of the aftermath of the invasion. The scale of the corruption and extortion is incredible. And we're all guilty by association, thanks to Blair and New Labour, as well as all the other parliamentary idiots, the media, and the gullible fools who believed the nonsense that was peddled to get us involved.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Layer 52 Liberals, Leaders and Learning.

For everyone who's either entering retirement, or looking ahead to that wondrous time, perhaps with some trepidation, there was a very encouraging feature article on ex-Pres Jimmy Carter in yesterday’s Guardian magazine.

During the past three decades, since leaving office, 83 year old Jimmy, who's still going strong, has written 25 books and has refused to sell out by grovelling for pots of money from the ‘lecture’ circuit on the back of the Carter ‘brand’, such as it is or was.

The man has integrity. He’s been busy pursuing a liberal agenda, seeing himself as a spiritual leader rather than a political one, championing unpopular causes. At 83 he still finds life exciting, challenging, gratifying, adventurous. His Carter Centre employs 150 people - “Waging Peace; Fighting Disease; Building Hope”, Advancing Human Rights and Alleviating Suffering. Way to go, Jim.

I always liked Carter. He can be proud of the fact that under his presidency the USA took some ‘revolutionary’ steps: establishing human rights as the basis of foreign policy, discontinuing support for fascist dictators who happened to support America’s ‘economic framework’, and never dropping a bomb or launching a missile. The man had principles. He refused to let the USA go on abusing its power and its weaponry. How things have changed.

America is clearly back to seeing itself as having the God-given right to run the world, and a Boss mentality. Consultation? Fuck off. Collaboration? What for?

What an incredible arrogance for any country to think that it can manage the whole world, and force the rest of the world bend to its will. So might is right . . . And right-wing Americans can’t understand why so many millions around the world despise them. Those foreigners - they’re ungrateful assholes, right?

Thank God for Obama. He understands this stuff, and is a brilliant advocate for liberal Americans who really do get it. He may not get elected this time around, though he surely must (please!), but he’s got the ear of the nation, come what may. And he won’t stop bending that ear, or cease from bashing enlightenment into the darkness.

His eloquence matches his passion and his clear sight. The only question now is whether the majority of Americans are ready for ‘change’, just as we Brits were in ‘97 after the Thatcher project finally hit the buffers in a train wreck of mangled ideology and sleaze.

In ‘97 all but the hard core of conservative Brits were finally convinced that social justice and decency were the way to go. Pity we didn’t quite manage to go there, thanks to Blair and Bush and their ilk. So Cameron’s now our next best hope? Ha! But a parliament with no overall majority could be interesting for a while.


The blessed Jeremy Hardy, on the News Quiz last week, was right about people generally being rubbish at managing things, which is as true of the private sector as the public sector. Things stay crap because the majority of those in charge haven’t a clue how to create permanent, sustainable improvement. Even if they see the need for improvement.

But Labour’s closet neo-con administration, clueless and panicking, are increasingly attentive to officials and advisers of a right-wing bent who continue to beat the drum for privatisation and the out-sourcing (and the shedding of direct responsibility) of everything in sight.

Today's Observer, meanwhile, on its front page, trumpets "Schools Get Ultimatum: Improve Or Face Closure. Team Of 'Superheads' To Tackle Crisis".

Crisis? What crisis? "The major announcements by Ed Balls are part of an attempt to to claw back political ground from the Conservative party, which is pulling ahead in the polls."

The BBC’s sports editor, on Radio 4, did a piece on why British national teams more often than not fail to reach the finals of major competitions. Management! Oh dear, what a pathetic roll-call of duffers we’ve had. I’m convinced that our teams would have done a lot better if they’d been left to work out tactics themselves as an anarcho-syndicalist collective.

Management claim the credit when things go well, so they should take the blame when things fall apart, as they surely have, time after time. The Boss mentality has infected sport as surely as it’s infected the rest of our national life. The Boss says jump, and everybody has to jump, regardless of whether the Boss is an idiot or not.

It’s the same with the teaching profession - where attitudes are moulded and where young people are exposed to models day after day of teachers managing the learning of young people for better or for worse. And if teachers model ways of reaching learning objectives that require the involvement, commitment and understanding of those who are meant to benefit from the system and from the organization, then that sends out powerful messages about how to reach objectives.

Our traditions demand the opposite - children are expected just to passively do whatever teacher says they should do. Active engagement with their own learning, and agreeing their learning objectives - even just sharing what those objectives are supposed to be - usually isn’t on the agenda.

This has to change.


Another news item today said that we’re eating fewer and fewer oranges. Children can’t even manage to peel oranges. Parents aren’t passing on the skills. As Jeremy Hardy said, it doesn’t matter - kids have all got knives anyway.


Another news item last week. Imperial College, London University, one of our most prestigious technological and scientific establishments, has announced it’s no longer going to use ‘A’ level results - the so-called ‘Gold Standard’ - as the basis for deciding admissions.


So what are they going to do? Easy. They’re going to assess applicants through their own tests and interviews. Wow!

They’re going to assess their thinking skills, their problem-solving ability, their creativity, their general knowledge, subject specific knowledge, etc. Revolutionary stuff.

Credit will given to those who would be the first in their family to attend university; credit will be given to those from schools which do not achieve good A-level grades.

Looks like the earth may be beginning to move a little.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Layer 51 Child of our Time; A Revolution in Childhood, and Blue Remembered Hills.

Hats off to our blessed BBC again. Last night’s schedule on BBC4 was a brilliant piece of programming. Thank goodness the state of childhood in contemporary Britain is coming under more and more scrutiny.

I was too late getting back from the funeral gathering in Ruislip to watch the 8.00pm programme, Child of our Time, but will catch up with it on BBCi later this evening, or tomorrow. And how great is that? - being able to catch up with great programmes on the Internet, any time you like. (Virgin TV also has it on Catch Up)

A Revolution in Childhood was 90 minutes of discussion by a panel of experts about the preceding programme, and about whether childhood in Britain really is ‘in crisis’.

The most memorable contribution was about the ‘commodification’ of childhood by parents, teachers, and society as a whole. And we all know this is true: many children are deprived of experiences that adults regard as merely ‘play’ or a ‘waste of time’, and only allowed experiences that adults regard as ‘investments’ with a clear ‘pay off’ in terms of their contribution to measureable achievement or attainment.

The most memorable statistic concerned the numbers of children who are allowed to play outside the home or the garden these days. Hardly any. And virtually none are allowed to venture beyond their own street. In other words, children have no freedom. They’re deprived of a human right. All in the name of their own safety and well-being. And who’s to say this is wrong?

Does it matter? Of course it bloody matters.

I recall the freedom and fun of my own childhood. I went to school on foot, on my own. I went to the shops on my own. I walked to and from the shops through a corner of the local woods that adjoined the estate, that were full of bluebells in the Spring.

We roamed freely throughout the estate, and sometimes beyond, especially when we reached the stage of having bikes. There were various parks, playgrounds and open spaces, and we used them all, from breakfast to tea time. We played cowboys and Indians with guns and bows and arrows, in and out of the shrubberies, across the open plains, and all around the great lakes - or ponds, as our parents called them. It was brilliant.

We didn’t go to music tuition, or have music tutors come to our homes. We didn’t have tutors coming to our homes for extra maths and English. We didn’t go to swimming classes, judo, dance, drama, or after-school playgroups.

We didn’t have computers or multi-channel colour TVs in our bedrooms (or our homes).

Yes folks, we were deprived. Except . . .

We had freedom, and fun, and we were allowed to play, just play, unsupervised. We had our human rights. We had our imaginations, and our freedom to create - dens, hideouts, go-carts, tents, ‘track’ bikes.

The unsupervised bit was important, as the programme highlighted. These days adults - parents and teachers alike - assume they need to be more or less constantly in attendance on children, ready to butt in and intervene at the first sign of disharmony, and at great cost to the emerging social and emotional intelligence of the children.


A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad. 1896

Into my heart on air that kills

Into my heart on air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Blue Remembered Hills is a unique TV drama written by Dennis Potter, the blessed Dennis Potter, in 1979. Adult actors dress up in shorts, knee length socks, tank tops, snake buckle belts and braces and play the roles of children, playing and freely roaming in the fields and woods of rural Shropshire. I remember well watching it when it was first broadcast - the sheer audacity of this innovative drama, and its incredible insight into the world of children with all its cruelty, naivety, hilarity and pathos.

Well done BBC for thinking to broadcast it again near the end of this evening about childhood.


The final programme of the evening was a rendition of Shostakovich’s Symphony #10 featuring Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. (Shostakovich - crazy name, crazy guy.)

It seems a quarter of a million children are currently learning to play a musical instrument in Venezuela, thanks to The System.

Young children are given a musical instrument of their choice, and allowed to play around with it, get to know it, and experiment with getting sounds out of it. If they like the instrument and want to keep it, and if they’re keen to learn how to play it, then they’re given free tuition.

As soon as a child attains some level of proficiency then they’re encouraged to share what they can do with absolute beginners. Skills are cascaded from peer to peer.

If they don’t like their instrument and can’t make progress with it then they can chop it in for a different one. And so on. Brilliant.


There’s a guy who works with inner-city kids in a part of South London where there’s an epidemic of gangs and stabbings, who teaches them to play brass instruments from about the age of 8. Lets call him Fred. As soon as the kids can play a few notes they become part of a brass band. The band is funded by a charity, and the lessons are free.

Fred says that his life was changed forever the day someone gave him a trumpet and he discovered he could play notes on it as well as all the kids who were academically successful. In fact he could play better then the ‘bright’ kids.

Hugh Massakela tells the same story, only his was set in South Africa, and the guy who gave him the trumpet was Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, of anti-apartheid fame.

We’re still working towards equal opportunities in our country. We’re still feeling the effects of the abolition of free music lessons in most State schools. We no longer consider there’s time for learning to play instruments during the school day in most of our test-oriented, target-chasing State schools. Learning to play an instrument is either an optional extra, or just not an option at all.


Recently a good friend of mine told me about an encounter she’d had with a very large, very tall young man in a school playground where she was collecting her child at the end of the day.

The young man politely introduced himself as someone she had had the misfortune to try to teach at a time in his young life when he was pretty much unteachable. Many’s the day she was almost reduced to tears of despair.

This guy was desperate to be a footballer, but unfortunately he was not very good at it. He went through secondary school making himself and other people very unhappy, because he couldn’t take what the school was offering, and the school couldn’t give him what he needed.

But there came a day when someone invited him on to a basketball court, put a ball in his hands, and he suddenly discovered he could dribble, pass and shoot better then anyone else. Bingo.

He got better and better, keener and keener, and grew and grew in confidence and self esteem. He soon applied for and was given a scholarship to learn how to be a basketball player in an American university. He’s now studying for a degree, and doing well with a whole range of subjects.

He apologised to my friend for the hard times he’d given her. She apologised to him for the way in which the education system had let him down for so many years, and very nearly condemned him to a lifetime of failure.


Not all of the BBC’s brilliant output is serious, educational and informative.

The News Quiz on Radio 4 this evening was back to its very best, like it was in the Linda Smith day. The blessed Linda Smith, dearly departed, far too young.

Have I Got News For You this evening was also superb - incredibly funny. Some of it trenchant satire, lots of it lightning-fast wit and word-play. Fabulous.


Bo Diddley died this week. The blessed Bo Diddley, instigator of chugging, hollering rhythm and blues, inspiration to hundreds of singers and guitarists, including the Animals, who did a whole song about him on a mid-sixties album, a track called The Story of Bo Diddley. RIP, dear Bo.,0,5485671.story

The blessed John Peel was back on BBC TV this evening as presenter of Rock Family Trees, just his voice - his unique voice, his dry wit and his deadpan delivery. I miss him so much. Someone else who made a major contribution to the culture of the nation and the enjoyment of millions. Someone who was loved by those millions, who died far too young.

A wonderful late-night BBC4 programme to end the day - an hour of the blessed Mark Lawson talking to Alexei Sayle - enfant terrible and pioneer of ‘alternative’ comedy. I love his new relaxed intellectual “Marxist Father Christmas with a foul mouth” looks and persona - “I just think we should make the world a better place”. Amen to that.

He’s someone else who says, “God bless the BBC”.
And he still maintains that it’s all about “Satisfaction with yer werk”, and not popularity as such.


And finally . . .

More synchronicity. Yesterday I cleared a batch of old tax discs out of the holder in my car. About seven years’ worth. This evening’s ‘guest publication’ on Have I Got News was Velologist Magazine. Velology is the collection and categorisation of expired tax discs. People pay money to have them in their collection. Weird.

Having recently mentioned Parade magazine in a blog I then discovered that people pay up to £40 a pop for old copies of this terrible little mag. Weird. Wonder what a tax disc is worth.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Layer 50 Funerals, Fascists, Ties, Drips and Plumbers.

I don’t know anyone who gives a damn about international motorsport, or its governing body (the FIA), or the FIA’s president, a certain Max Mosely, 68 years old son of former British fascist leader and prominent Hitler supporter Oswald Mosely. Nor does anyone I know care about Bernie Ecclestone, billionaire dwarf and egomaniacal dictator of the Formula 1 Grand Prix circus.

So why bother writing about them? I find the politics of these very wealthy individuals and organisations very interesting. This Max Mosely must be some guy. As indeed must tough guy Bernie. It’s always hilarious to see Bernie, who must be 5ft 3 and in his seventies, still with his seventies haircut, strolling around a Grand Prix grid, linked arms with some fit young amazon. Go Bernie! The Hugh Hefner of racing drivers.

To paraphrase Mrs Merton, “Tell me Miss, what is it you find so attractive about billionaire Bernie?”

Ever since he was exposed in the tabloids for his enjoyment of sado-masochistic sex with groups of prostitutes dressed as Nazis, Mosely’s sanity and suitability to be the head of an international organization has been somewhat open to question. So much so that the FIA was forced to hold a vote this week as to whether he should continue as its president.

Now I can see that it may not have been easy growing up with, and living with, the thought that your dad is, or was, a prominent Hitler-loving fascist. Especially in a country that sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives and most of its national wealth in defeating Hitler and the Nazis.

And the idea that some old boy should use some of his wealth to purchase some harmless private fun/therapy in an SM dungeon isn’t so bad when you consider there’s no actual crime taking place and apparently no victims. Seems like some perfectly legitimate wealth redistribution. He may even have been very generous with his girls.

But it’s interesting that there were several F1 teams who have said very loudly that he should be put out to pasture, or be forced to resign, to spend more time with his Nazi whores, if that’s what he enjoys. The more vociferous and anti-Max of those F1 teams appear to be Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ferrari, Honda and Yamaha. So that’s the entire set of the former Axis countries, Germany, Italy and Japan - lined up against fascist nutters and dictators being in prominent posts and positions of power and authority.

I don’t see this as something ironic, and I don’t suspect there’s anything hypocritical or anti-British going on here. I do think that Germany, Italy and Japan have had to go through decades of shame and self-flagellation as a result of their fascist, militaristic and brutal past. They’ve needed to think deeply about their politics, and about political systems that transgress human rights and decent human values. And they recognise that for ethical and moral reasons no-one should associate himself with even the trappings of Nazism and fascism if they wish to retain any credibility and integrity, and be considered suitable for responsible and representative roles in society.

Even a thicko like the party-loving squaddie and ‘war on terror’ enthusiast Prince Harry now gets this particular point. But not our Max, apparently. He’s decided to brazen it out, and he’s apparently got the support of the overwhelming majority of FIA members, who voted for him to remain in post. Well - better a fascist you know, whom you like and trust, than one you don’t.

What do these people require of their leader? Probity? No. Integrity? No. Though he may well have lots of these qualities, in many ways, for all I know.

People in power, for the most part right-wing rich people, mostly require their leaders and representatives to be hard-faced, stony-hearted tough guys who know how to play hard-ball in their interests. I guess Max fits the job description, and they can’t bear to let him go.

Or maybe I’m being very unfair. Maybe he’s just a very clubbable and hospitable old boy who has lots of like-minded friends with fascist leanings, friends and associates whom he’s cultivated over the years, who are standing by him in his hour of need. Sieg Heil!


Back to synchronicity. I was listening to a news report just now about the number of men wearing ties in the US dropping to 6%. Sales of ties have apparently fallen by 50%. Those tie-wearers must be buying them by the hundred to maintain even 50% of sales, by my reckoning.

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I needed to think about ties, in order to find my black tie, to wear for a funeral. I’d forgotten where my tie collection is currently located. Literally forgotten, ever since I carried out my last domestic re-organization, all those months ago. And I’d also forgotten how many of the damned things I still have hanging around the place. I’m sure I’ll never wear more than 3 or 4 of them ever again, if that.

Time to think of 101 uses for an old tie. I reckon Max Moseley could think of a few. Or maybe I should just throw them away? But hold on. I bet there’s a new generation of youngsters coming along who will think wearing antique ties is really funky, once there have been a couple of generations who have stopped wearing them.

Maybe I’ll have a grandson one day who will appreciate grandad’s silk ties. I remember a time in the 1960’s when I was happily tie-dying and recycling my grandad’s old button-up vests! I was wearing them with pride, as shirts, thinking I looked really cool. And thinking about funerals, I must sort out my will, and put the ties into the care of a Trust.

I feel a song coming on. The Ties They Are A’Changin’. Tie Waits For No Man.


The funeral gathering was blessed with beautiful sunny, warm weather. Everyone was able to sit out in the garden and enjoy the return of the sun. It would have been very different if we’d had the previous day’s cold, dull, wet weather.

My friend’s family are all delightful people; incredibly warm, humorous, thoughtful and civilized. It’s so interesting how the actual funeral in the morning can be so full of mourning, grief and the pain of loss, but in the afternoon, when good people who rarely see one another are gathered together en masse and able to chat and enjoy one another’s company, it becomes a completely different, a completely opposite sort of gathering, full of laughter, positive energy and high spirits. Which is how a funeral ‘wake’ ought to be.

When my three cousins lost both their mother and father within months of each other a couple of years ago I made up my mind that we should try to meet up as a group as often as possible. We’ve done it a couple of times, but not often enough. I need to get back to instigating those gatherings. I really like my extended family - my many cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles. We’re all far too ‘busy’, and we live too far apart these days, but I really don’t just want to see my family together at funerals.


In the middle of the funeral gathering, in the middle of the afternoon, someone noticed there was water dripping through the kitchen ceiling. Immediately the cry went up, “Who’s in the bathroom? Who’s left the tap running?”

As it turned out, no-one was, and no-one had. There was no evidence at all of any water leaking or overflowing in the bathroom above the kitchen. Panic. What the hell was going on? Meanwhile the drip had turned into something much more sinister - a great sagging blister of water, threatening to burst and to collapse the kitchen ceiling. The kitchen had been the hub and the nerve centre of this food- and drink-focused afternoon.

The family carried out a quick audit of those present to see whether anyone was qualified to take charge of the situation. Nobody was. There was an electrician, but he didn’t exactly inspire confidence. “Call an emergency plumber!” “No - call the insurance company!” “Take all the food and drink out of the kitchen!” What to do?

In the event an elderly neighbour somehow appeared on the scene, an uninvited guest, armed with spanners, a stepladder, a sharp knife, bits of timber, etc. Everyone stood back deferentially. Thank God - someone with some practical skills and know-how.

We had journalists, educationalists, hairdressers, musicians, students, cabinet makers, professional fund-raisers, and lots of retired people representing other professions - all useless. I tried to make myself useful by emptying out a dustbin in the garden and positioning it under the leak.

Eventually the ceiling came down, of course, and the dustbin was at least useful for carrying away the debris, bit by bit. Maybe it was better that it happened when there were lots of family and friends around to share in the disaster, caused, as it turned out, by a badly-soldered pipe in the ceiling whose leakage had chosen this particular day to announce its long-term insidious effects.

As someone said, we’ll all look back in the future and say, “Remember the day of the funeral, when the ceiling fell down?” And laugh.


And finally, the boy who cried wolf . . .

It turned out that one of my friend’s nephews, who’s known to be a bit of a joker and a piss-taker, a lad with lots of wild, frizzy hair, had seen some drips coming from the ceiling the previous day, and had mentioned it to his mother . . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Layer 49 Zen Cat, the Ox and the Chartered Accountant

Summer reappeared today, with blue skies and warm sunshine. It was there, casually hanging around, as I emerged from an hour’s meeting with a certain chartered accountant. By which time I was in dire need of therapy, or therapies. I hit the nearest café with tables out in the sun, and helped myself to a large dose of sunshine and a double shot of espresso. Mmmm. They felt good. I also needed a strong cigarette, of which I must say I heartily disapprove, dear reader, but needs must.

The fourth element in my self-medication was to take out the Zen player and fill my head with the masterful sounds of His Bobness. Ah yes,

People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed.

I have a friend who never, ever, heard music through headphones till she was well past 40, and this is someone who’d been in her twenties in the 1960s. How could the delights of the finest quality hi-fidelity stereo sound delivered direct to your ear drums have passed someone by, throughout the entire heyday of rock and soul? Music as it’s meant to be heard. It beats me.

Lot of water under the bridge,
Lot of other stuff too

Don't get up gentlemen,
I'm only passing through.

How well I remember her lying on a Spanish beach, inserting the earphones for the first time, and ‘turning on’. Freaking out, more like. I’m not sure what she was expecting, but when Ry Cooder’s ‘Get Rhythm’ sprang like a noisy tiger into her head she reacted like the proverbial startled rabbit, and jerked bolt upright, convinced that the entire beach was being blasted with Ry’s most rocking sounds. Oh, how we laughed!

Some things are too hot to touch,
The human mind can only stand so much,
You can't win, with a losing hand.

Of course she was hooked instantly, once she’d calmed down and realized that the music was inaudible to anyone but her. In the same way that I became hooked after donning headphones for the very first time, circa 1968 - at home, in my student flat. There were no mobile music players of any description in those pioneering days.

"There must be some way out of here,"
Said the joker to the thief,

"There's too much confusion,
I can't get no relief."

And yet way back then the masters of rock, Dylan and Hendrix, were already producing masterpieces that have proved unsurpassable over the intervening 40 years or so. I like to keep both their versions of All Along The Watchtower on the Zen, and play them virtually every day, for reasons of pure pleasure, as well as therapy.

I have to say that Jimi’s version has the benefit of some brilliant sound engineering, albeit using prehistoric analogue equipment, so that the various guitar and percussion layers swirl and swerve around the inside of your head when you hear them through headphones. Still amazing after all these years.

"No reason to get excited,"
The thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.

But you and I, we've been through that,
and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late."

The surrounding sounds of the city are annoying and harsh. They make a walk in the city far less agreeable than it could be, without the aural irritation. I much prefer silence, and if I can’t have silence then I’m damn sure I want a soundtrack of my own choosing, rather than the racket that someone else is making. I want the very best, the most beautiful and the most pleasing sounds ever created. With those sounds in your head, the city seems transformed. It rocks.


Meanwhile, back home, White Cat is on the roof, curled up in the sun. She may be stupid, but she’s not an idiot. I think we can learn a lot about living a Zen life from observing animals. Their unalloyed instinctual intelligence, undiluted and uncorrupted by alien thoughts and misconceptions, guides them through a life of just being what they ought to be.
Whilst we poor humans, confused and corrupted, baffled and bewildered, used and abused by other people’s weasel words and ideas, often don’t have a clue. We’re the dumb ones, thanks to our ‘intellect’.

We run around doing crazy and unnecessary things every day, when we ought to be lying in the sun, pleasurably absorbing its life-enhancing power.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said, 'Explanations come to an end somewhere', and "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life!", which I discovered through the music of minimalist and philosopher Steve Reich. And it also takes only one or two idiotic and self-defeating thoughts, either deliberately implanted or self-absorbed, to guide vulnerable lives towards disaster. Like ‘an eye for an eye’, for instance. Like ‘don’t let anyone give you no disrespect’. Teenagers are dying on the streets thanks to those evil seeds having been absorbed and having taken root.

White Cat, on the other hand, goes with the flow, and does what comes naturally. These days she couldn’t chase another cat out of the garden even if she wanted to, she’s become so old and feeble. On the other hand she’s left alone by the other cats, who come and go, see that she’s no threat, and mark the territory as their own.

White Cat doesn’t care. She eats and she sleeps, either inside in the winter or outside in the summer. She goes with the flow. She’s slowing down and getting herself ready for the Big Sleep. Why should she worry about anything? Why should she care?

Why do any of us care? Lots of us care about things that we shouldn’t pay any attention to. We waste time on ridiculous things that should be of no consequence. And we fail to care about things that we maybe should.

The bodhisattva understands that in many ways “life is but a joke”, but cares very much that many of those around us are suffering, and need help in order to live well and to avoid needless suffering. Much suffering can be avoided if we can only become our true instinctual zen-like selves, and if we can only transform the ways in which we order our societies and re-order the ways in which we and other people live.

These days White Cat can’t even be bothered to take a dump in another garden, let alone cover it over with earth. She’s turned my garden into a turd minefield: you go out there at your peril. I go out there from time to clear her unlovely stink bombs, her minefield of muck. We humans crap all over our planet, and stink the place out. And we don’t even have the excuse of senility and feebleness. We just don’t care.

I’ve also been observing my daughter’s dog, and its doggie ways. It’s part of a Staffordshire terrier’s nature to want lots of affection from time to time. It also needs to be active and to go out for long explores regularly, just like Pooh. It needs to walk, and run, and find whatever stimulation it can in the surrounding territory. If it doesn’t have that opportunity it will tear around in hyper-active circles, chasing its own tail; bored, frustrated and somewhat crazed. And then, of course, there’s sex . . .

We humans often don’t allow animals to be themselves and to do what nature intends them to do. And we damned sure have plenty of difficulty in figuring out what nature intends for ourselves. Too often we live by the mores, expectations and exigencies of others who have our well-being and our happiness very far from the centre of their concerns. Or else they have a very fucked-up idea of what well-being consists of.

Each of us has to transform ourselves, and then assist others who are looking for help in transforming themselves, looking to find their own Way, their own Tao. It’s hard work, and very often impossible without a helping hand or two. Ox-herding is far from easy. Even just finding the Ox or the Tao can be next to impossible. Realizing the impossibility of possessing the Ox, or completely determining your own life, can be an impossible task in itself. Understanding that life, the Ox, will of its own accord offer you the benefit of its limitless power and its unstinting support if it so chooses - ah yes . . . that’s another matter entirely. We all need to meditate on that and to remind ourselves of that on a regular basis.

It’s like Kahlil Gibran’s ‘Prophet’ says,
“Think not that you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”

Maybe he could as well have said, “Think not that you can direct the course of life, for life . . .”

The issue is all about being worthy. And that’s all about being true to your true nature: finding your true nature, and being true to yourself. I'm pretty sure this is the Way of Zen.



History was made in the early hours of this morning, London time, when Barack Obama made a stirring speech and claimed victory in the race to become the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America. It was a thrill to see the speech in real time, in full. Wonderful!

Read the full text and see a video of part of the speech here: