Sunday, November 30, 2008

Layer 92 Enemies Of The State

The good old BBC seems to excel in showing movies that synchronise with issues currently in the media spotlight. Last night and tonight they’ve been showing Tony Scott’s “Enemy Of The State”.

I saw this film at the cinema when it went on general release, and liked it a lot. Will Smith and Gene Hackman are superb in portraying individuals whose lives are at risk from ‘rogue’ operators in one of the security services. Of course it’s over the top and melodramatic, but the point is well made about the power of the state to spy on and harm individuals who may be considered enemies of the state. Consider that it was made in 1998, and then consider the massive increase in both the powers of the security services the sophistication of the technology available to them post 2001.

The BBC, of course, commissioned and are showing “Spooks” on BBC1, which also demonstrates in a chilling way how much technology and know-how is available to the security services.

Next consider the arrest last week of the Tory shadow minister for immigration, Damian Green, and the way in which his home and his offices were invaded and scrutinized.

This whole affair seems unbelievable. If this sort of thing can happen to such a high-profile parliamentarian, then clearly it can happen to anyone. I never thought I’d feel sympathy for a Tory.

It must have been pure coincidence that BBC Radio 4 throughout last week serialized a new biography of Arthur Miller as their book of the week.

Henry Goodman reads from Christopher Bigsby's biography of Arthur Miller, the great American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American literature and cinema for over 61 years, writing a wide variety of plays, including celebrated plays such asThe Crucible, A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman.

Miller, of course, was at one time sentenced to a month in prison by Congress for refusing to name individuals he’d associated with or been with at political meetings. And that was after he’d written about political witch-hunts in The Crucible!

This was the first time I’ve made a point of listening to every single episode of ‘Book of the Week’. Miller has long been a hero, and this was riveting stuff.

Up to Pearl Harbour Miller saw himself as a revolutionary. After that he presumed the whole country would unite in an anti-fascist project with ideals geared towards greater compassion for the poor and needy, and greater egalitarianism. He assumed his political beliefs would now be ‘respectable’. He dropped his pacifism and wanted to contribute to the war effort against the fascists.

He also wanted to write plays ‘that would transform America’. He wanted to write ‘with a clear eye and a cold understanding, an idealism and a sense of need for a changed world’.

Well, a ‘changed world’ isn’t what the conservatives, the neo-conservatives, the good old Republicans, and the Far Right in general, have in mind. Shit - even New so-called Labour STILL isn’t talking any radical talk, in spite of all that’s happened and all that’s been done by greedy fat cats and would-be fat cats to wreck the economy and destabilise the entire planet. So who’s the enemy of the fucking planet?

The FBI thought that ‘Death of a Salesman’ was a “shrewd blow against the American way of life”. Imagine - they were terrified that anyone seeing the play might start to consider that capitalism as a system was inhumane, exploitative and wicked.

“When does one cease to work and start to live?” asked Miller. When indeed.

He also said, “Powerful people had me in their sights and were only awaiting a clear shot”. Those who resist the prevailing political orthodoxies are always in the sights of those who wish to propagate and preserve them. No question of turn-taking when it comes to real change in political and economic cultures.


Last week Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ dealt with the Reform Act of 1832, and whether it either brought about genuine democracy, or merely ensured that radical political change was finessed and moved off the national agenda through the introduction of democracy-lite.

“We must get the suffrage, we must get votes, that we may send the men to Parliament who will do our work for us”.

So declares a working class reformist in George Eliot’s novel Felix Holt: the Radical. It is set in 1832, the year of the so-called “Great Reform Act” which extended the vote and gave industrial cities such as Manchester and Birmingham political representation for the first time. The Act is often described as a landmark moment in British political history.

But to what extent was Britain’s political system transformed by the Great Reform Act? What were the causes of reform in the first place and was the Act designed to encourage democracy in Britain or to head it off?

- BBC website.

Chartism was the first great proletarian movement for Parliamentary reform. New Labour is as far as we’ve come with it. And here we are with Mandleson mischievously chattering about the need to bring back his old gang of Blairites into the cabinet. Which Gordie will no doubt do.


And talking of Blair, the wonderful Daily Show on More Four last week repeated the edition in which they had Blair on for the whole of the show.

Jesus - the guy is even more excruciatingly appalling and vile since he’s moved on and converted to Catholicism - not that that’s the reason for it. He’s another Thatcher - insofar as age and experience will utterly fail to bring him the gift of enlightenment and wisdom. He, like her, will just go on becoming more and more of a grotesque caricature of himself - Iron Man to her Iron Maiden. A hideous, embarrassing twat.

I thought initially that Jon Stewart was pretty soft on him, but actually he didn’t need to satirise or take the piss. Blair, just by opening his stupid big grinning mouth does the job perfectly well, revealing himself as the self-obsessed and utterly misguided lying psychopathic mental case he always was and always will be. A true enemy of the people, and indeed of the planet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Layer 91 Living With Jazz, and the Bigger Picture.

It’s the end of Week 2 of the dog’s residence chez moi, and it’s been interesting to be around a dog for long periods of time, for the first time in my life.

Not that I ever wanted the dog, my son’s dog, at my house. That wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal when he moved back in. My daughter, the dog’s original owner, seemed happy to have her back again and to look after her for a while when the Prodigal returned. But a short while has dragged out into a very long while, and she’s become desperate to say goodbye again to an energetic and active animal that needs plenty of exercise or else goes semi-loopy when confined to a small house.

When said daughter offered to swap said dog for the one-eared Cancer Cat that’s lived in and around my place for the past 17 years - I jumped at the suggestion. My calculation is that both son and dog will be moving out to a flat of their own before very long. Her calculation is that a) the cat will be a lot easier to look after, and b) it will soon be stone dead.

Unfortunately for daughter, Cancer Cat has already shown her propensity to piss at random on kitchen floor, and indeed on worktops, when she forgets that she’s supposed to piss in the litter tray. Cancer Cat has only three brain cells left - one that says Eat, one that says Sleep, and one that says defecate & micturate.

Unfortunately for me, my son had to go off to Holland in the middle of last week for several days, leaving me to take care of dog. Which meant that when I headed down to Devon for a few days last Sunday I had to choose between offloading dog back on to daughter or taking dog with me. I decided to take her. I’m still feeling grateful to daughter for taking one-eared Cancer Cat away from me, and feeling guilty that she’s been sold a pup in this deal. Although, to be fair to me, I hadn’t foreseen that the pissing situation would turn out to be so bad. Or that she’d still scratch quite so many blackened cancer lumps off her once-pretty pink ear, and splattering so much blood around the place.

In fact the dog has been amazing, confirming all the positive things my son said about her. She’s loving, companionable, calm, undemanding, protective, attentive and obedient. If only more humans could be so endearing.

For the most part she’s been easy to look after, though I’m not happy about having to scoop up her smelly poop. And she had me fooled on Day 2, when I took her out for a toilet walk and she decided to do a Double Drop. No sooner had I deposited the first plastic bag full of shit in a bin than she decided to do a second poop. Which meant that I needed to go back home to collect a second shitbag.

Fortunately I have a massive stash of supermarket plastic bags, which I had a feeling would come in handy one day.

So since then I’ve been going out on toilet walks carrying two plastic bags. But this morning, down by the river, she decided to do a Triple. Damn the dawg! From now on I’m going to carry four shitbags at all times.


The Bigger Picture

There’s lots of talk these days about the relevance of traditional printed newspapers, and how much longer they’ll last. As far as I’m concerned they can mostly disappear and good riddance, but I’ll always be a Guardian addict, as long as its current editorial policies persist.

Yesterday the paper published a special section, consisting of three long articles from the New York Review of Books. The scope of these articles is amazing. This is real Big Picture stuff.

The first, written by George Soros, was headed “The Crisis and What to Do About It”, and it provided exactly what it said on the label - a succinct overview of what caused the financial crisis and a set of proposals for dealing with it. Soros is clearly a man who knows what he’s talking about. There’s no point in quoting from it. Just read it.

The thing that amazes me is that back in the late sixties when I was at college and spent some time studying economics it was clear that the work of John Maynard Keynes made the utmost sense, and defeated hands down the right-wing ‘monetarist’ views of the so-called Chicago school of economics, most notably a certain Milton Friedman. But from around 1980 Thatcher and Reagan and their pals in government started to put into practice the theories of monetarism, with appalling consequences for industry and employment. Then came the ‘Big Bang’ and the deregulation of finance in 1986, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In other words, anyone with any sense has known for about the last 40 years that allowing financiers to do whatever they like has terrible consequences for industry, it wreaks havoc with employment, and promotes the growth of unsustainable bubbles, which then causes companies and individuals to go bust when the bubble bursts. And yet successive right-wing governments have been allowed to get away with their ‘monetarist’ ideologies, running economies for the benefit of fat cats, in the vague hope that some crumbs will trickle down to the mass of people, whose standard of living and quality of life over the long term in actual fact declines.

Now that we can all see that the emperor and his acolytes have no clothes, we must make sure that lessons have been properly learnt and that fat cat economics will endure no more. Tomorrow’s financial statement in Parliament will be the first big test of what the government now intends to do.


The Co-President at Work by Professor David Bromwich

This is a brilliant account of how Dick Cheney came to have such massive influence on American politics over the past couple of decades, and has literally been Co-President rather than Vice-President.

The whole Project for the New American Century is the craziest, nastiest and scariest thing ever, and has been highly effective in promoting laissez-faire economics, militarizing foreign policy and dismantling the welfare state.

Professor Bromwich describes what’s been happening at great length in this brilliant article, and concludes,

“About none of [his] actions has Cheney ever been called, by a subpoena from Congress or an urgent demand from the press, to answer questions regarding the extent and legality of his innovations. It is as if people do not think of asking him. Why not? The reluctance shows a tremendous failure of nerve, from the point of view of democracy and public life. But there is a logic to the sense of futility that inhibits so many citizens who have been turned into spectators. It comes from the dynamic of the co-presidency itself, to which the press has grown acclimatized. Bush is the front man, and is known as such. He takes questions. If he answers them badly, still he is there for us to see. To address Cheney separately would be to challenge the supremacy of the President—a breach of etiquette that itself supposes a lack of the evidence that would justify the challenge.

The fact that Bush's answers are so inadequate, from a defect of mental sharpness and retentiveness as well as dissimulation, kills the appetite for further questions. But the fact that the questions have, in a formal sense, been asked and answered lets the vice- president off the hook. Thus the completeness of his silence and seclusion, for long intervals ever since September 11, 2001, is an aberration that has never been rebuked and has often gone unnoticed. "There is a cloud over the vice-president," said the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in his summation at the trial of Lewis Libby. "That cloud is something you just can't pretend isn't there."

But for much of the second term of the Bush-Cheney administration, we have been pretending. The man who held decisive authority in the White House during the Bush years has so far remained unaccountable for the aggrandizement and abuse of executive power; for the imposition of repressive laws whose contents were barely known by the legislature that passed them; for the instigation of domestic spying without disclosure or oversight; for the dissemination of false evidence to take the country into war; for the design and conduct of what the constitutional framers would have called an imperium in imperio, a government within the government."


The third article, by Professor Mark Danner, is from an essay written by him for the programme for David Hare's new play, Gethsemane. It's called Frozen Scandal, and begins,

I thought, "My God, she's not going to get away with this." But you have got away with it....

Scandal is our growth industry. Revelation of wrongdoing leads not to definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation but to more scandal. Permanent scandal. Frozen scandal. The weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. The torture of detainees who remain forever detained. The firing of prosecutors which is forever investigated. These and other frozen scandals metastasize, ramify, self-replicate, clogging the cable news shows and the blogosphere and the bookstores. The titillating story that never ends, the pundit gabfest that never ceases, the gift that never stops giving: what is indestructible, irresolvable, unexpiatable is too valuable not to be made into a source of profit. Scandal, unpurged and unresolved . . .

Looking back on all that governments and individuals in this country and in the USA have got away with over several decades is enough to make anyone despair, because it is scandalous. How did Bush manage to do the things he's done? Ditto Cheney. Ditto Blair.

Obama is truly the world's best hope for ensuring that lessons have been learnt and things will be done differently according to different values from now on.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Layer 90 Political Bloggers, Blears and the Backlash.

Perhaps wee Hazel Blears has a use, after all, in that her very unattractiveness - physically, and in speech and manner - helps to crystallise, as it were, in human form, the repulsiveness of New Labour’s conduct, ideas and messages.

Her recent pronouncements on political bloggers are not only unattractive going on repulsive, they’re positively sinister. Check out what Blairwatch has to say on the subject at - Meanwhile in Lilliput.

I found the Guardian’s article on Blear’s speech very unsatisfactory, especially its assumption (by listing them) that she was concerned mainly by right-wing blogs:

From my own experience it’s clear that the New Labour political creeps and arseholes that are running this country at national and, here and there, at local level, are indifferent to where the criticism of them comes from. They listen to nobody. All they care about is having and retaining power.

They’re quite happy to shift allegiance from Bush’s neo-conservatism to Obama’s centre/libralism at the drop of a hat. They were always very clear that they have no ideology, no guiding philosophy - they only care about “whatever works” - meaning, whatever makes us popular, whatever keeps us in power, whatever we can get people to go along with. What they absolutely hate, and can hardly bring themselves to engage with, is criticism - wherever it comes from.

Also on the subject of Blears and her unhappiness with ‘political bloggers’ -
( )

Alix, at The People’s Republic of Mortimer says,

We in the People’s Republic now realise that we have spent a totally deficient amount of time over the last year’s blogging activity on fostering a culture of cynical corrosive nihilism. We are obviously hopelessly out of step with the zeitgeist, what with our all-too-frequent postings on such subjects as the teaching of history, Herbert Spencer, Anglo-Norman linguistics, urban planning, psychological profiling and our interminable difficulties with British Gas. We are a damn sight too constructive, optimistic, reflective and cautious, among the many other inconvenient qualities associated with liberalism.

We are ready to make amends.

So what’s the single most depressing, cynicism-inducing, hair-tearingly awful, weepingly ruinous assault on the nation’s political psyche we can recall?

Alix then has this quote from the Blear’s speech:

“ …and in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers.”

Views as valid as cabinet ministers. Views as valid as cabinet ministers? You see? I’m gibbering with fear already. This woman thinks that no-one else’s views are entitled to be seen as being as valid as those of cabinet ministers. She is suggesting that it is wrong for people to have views which are taken as seriously by the electorate as those of cabinet ministers. She thinks that cabinet ministers have a special claim to have their views prevail. She has genuinely, totally forgotten that cabinet ministers are supposed to serve the people, represent their views. She has genuinely, totally forgotten that this is a democracy.

There’s no point quoting any more of this. Just read it.

Please pay particular attention to the bits about Mandleson, government control of the registry, internet regulation, and New Labour putting together a “rapid rebuttal unit” blogger team.

Maybe one day we’ll have cause to thank wee Hazel for raising the hackles of so many good writers and bloggers.


All that most of us want the Labour party to do is drop the ridiculous ‘New’, admit that they colluded for 11 long years with Bush and the financiers who run the world, used deception to drag us into an illegal war, created a housing shortage and an unsustainable house price bubble, ruining many poor souls along the way, fucked up most people’s savings and pensions, failed to supervise the banking sector properly, created despair and disillusionment among public sector workers, caused millions of children to suffer higher levels of stress and boredom, . . . and so on, and so on . . . and start governing in the interests of the majority of the population - and maybe, just maybe, we’ll say, “OK, we’ll still vote for you, providing you get rid of Blears, Mandleson, Balls, about three thousand little toe-rag apparatchiks who squat within the party hierarchy and get paid as ‘advisors’ and ‘consultants’. Then again, maybe we won’t. Not that there’s any chance of them doing even five percent of what’s on that list.


It’s interesting though, the extent to which those within government have pretty much stayed ‘on message’, stuck together, hardly ever ‘gone rogue’. It’s obvious why, of course.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Layer 89 “Excellence is a useful reference point.”

Watching Obama’s first press conference since the election, live on CNN yesterday, was an experience. Instead of just walking on like the big cheese and standing alone at the lectern, he first of all sent out his new team, who arranged themselves across the back of the stage like some dark-suited choir. How clever is that? Firstly - here’s the whole group of people who are going to be running this country quite soon, and secondly, here am I, their spokesperson and leader, certainly, but also a team player.

He invited questions from the gathering by calling out the names of the journalists, first names only. (I KNOW who these people are. I’m on first-name terms with them.)

He was low key, serious, kept to the point, didn’t over-elaborate, didn’t waffle, didn’t sloganise or patronise. He kept it short, and he left swiftly and without ceremony, pausing only to say, “Bonjour” to a French journo who threw a parting question at him. Or was that a French/Canadian pranker?

Was he looking tired, finally, or was he feeling unwell? Both, maybe.

There’s some excellent writing in the Guardian today:

By Marina Hyde (A bad week for the cause of banality and witless snidery -
Obama's extraordinary oratory made us feel less jaded, and less willing to humour those who made us jaded in the first place

By Jonathan Raban ( 'He tried his best to veil it, but Obama is an intellectual'

And by Polly Toynbee ( ‘Barack could teach Brown to say boo to the goose -
Obama has broken the spell that says centre-left parties threatening to tax the rich are inevitably dead in the water )

Each of these articles also generated a huge amount of responses in Comment Is Free, which are worth taking the time to read, even when they’re written by saddos, cynics and frustrated rightists. What it is to have this huge, virtual meeting going on with the possibility of re-reading what each individual is trying to get across.

Marina Hyde said,

As they watched Barack Obama's inspiring acceptance speech this week, one wonders how many politicians, and even ex-politicians, experienced a . . . sobering, gut-sinking sense if not of their own inadequacy in the face of the gold standard, then at least of the manner in which the public discourse has been allowed to bump along at the level of the banal and unedifying for what suddenly seems so long.

Obama's extraordinary oratory this week made people feel less jaded, but simultaneously less willing to humour those who had made them feel so jaded in the first place. Many will have smarted anew at the terrible squandering of New Labour's mandate in 1997, sensing that the president-elect realises there are rather more pressing things to do than organise cocktail parties for pop stars; or, to use a more up to date example, that there are nobler ways to spend one's time than messing about on oligarchs' boats.

This week people were reminded of what an inspiring politician sounds like, and how he carries himself. Excellence is a useful reference point. While that memory remains fresh in the public mind, people will be measuring their own leaders against it - the very leaders now seeking to be Obama's best friend.

Jonathan Raban said,

Inevitably, Wednesday's headlines were all about Obama's skin colour and the historic milestone of the first black presidency. For the United States and the rest of the world, that is a fact of huge symbolic importance, but it is the least of Obama's true credentials. What America has succeeded in doing, against all the odds, and why we cried when it happened, is to elect the most intelligent, canny and imaginative candidate to the presidential office in modern times - someone who'll bring to the White House an extraordinary clarity of thought and temperate judgment.

Much of the nightmare of the last eight years has arisen from the fact that one of the least intellectually curious or gifted presidents in history was in thrall to a group of passionate, but second-rate, neoconservative intellectuals, all associated with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose imperial agenda for the US was lost on the man they guided and advised.

The 43rd president . . . prided himself in reading no newspapers and being in bed by nine. While Bush was bicycling and cutting brush at his Crawford ranch in Texas, the intellectuals in his administration were staying up late in DC, busy about the task of reshaping the United States into the Roman Empire of the 21st century.

Heaven knows, (Obama) will need all the intelligence and range of viewpoints he can muster to cope with the toxic legacy he inherits from the 43rd president: the mounting turmoil in Afghanistan, the dangerous, simmering cauldron in Iraq; an America cordially loathed by at least half the world; an impending global economic catastrophe, triggered by the lunatic improvidence of deregulated Wall Street. Not since Lincoln and Roosevelt has an incoming president been landed with an America in such desperate need of rehabilitation and repair, and it was no surprise that, in his Chicago victory speech on Tuesday, Obama conjured the ghosts of those two presidents.

On Tuesday, there was a strong echo of Roosevelt's first inaugural speech when Obama said, "I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree."

After eight years of an administration whose hallmarks have been secrecy, dishonesty, and a refusal to listen to any voice outside its own inner circle, this promise of candour and conversation was probably the most important policy statement that he could make as president-elect.

The best thing about living in the United States since Tuesday has been the gilt-edged assurance that, somewhere out there, very smart people are thinking and talking in a serious conversation from which narrow ideologues have been rigorously excluded.

Polly Toynbee said,

To the centre-left Obama sets a remarkable challenge, especially to the Labour government. He has changed everything: triangulation is dead; saying what you mean and meaning what you say has won the day for progressive values, with no feinting to the right. Can Gordon Brown grasp how many of the old rules Obama has broken?

Here is an American president - repeat, an American president - elected on a platform well to the left of Labour's. Obama is pledged to take 10 million of the lowest paid out of taxation, paid for by higher taxes on earners of above $250,000. Brown has never permitted even the whisper of a suggestion of taxing the rich more fairly. He never castigated the greedy in the years of plenty when they needed to hear it

Obama won the day when he said: "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." However often John McCain and Sarah Palin replayed the phrase, calling it socialism, the spirit of fairness resonated with voters.

Obama talked openly about obscene pay at the top: "You can turn the page on policies that have put the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street before the hard work and sacrifice of folks on Main Street." He said: "The last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired old theory that says we should give more to billionaires and big corporations and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else." Can you imagine Brown ever saying this? "Our free market was never meant to be a free licence to take whatever you can get, however you can get it." Obama promises a windfall on energy companies too.

Beyond that, he lays into tax avoiders. "There's a building in the Cayman Islands that houses supposedly 12,000 US-based corporations. That's either the biggest building in the world or the biggest tax scam in the world." He promises to close the loopholes and "restore fairness to our tax code". So who rules the Caymans? We do. Who controls more tax havens than any other nation in the world? We do. Let's hope Obama now forces us to shut them all down. Much of the £28bn missing in uncollected UK taxes leaks out here - and 11 years into a Labour government, our tax havens remain untouched.

So will Gordon Brown get the deep message of the Obama win? Stop being afraid of your own shadow. Say what you think. On gross greed and excess, the people are far ahead of the politicians, as they are on the behaviour of banks. Yesterday, prodded by the public outrage (or maybe by the Mail's "Shame of the banks" front page), Alistair Darling summoned the bankers in and made each of them round the table say, one by one, what they would do to cut their lending rates - and they did. Labour is learning to say boo to the goose.

Now it's time to abolish bonuses, ending the phoney "performance related" culture that brought the world economy to its knees. There is no research evidence for its effectiveness: it simply inflates excess. Clean up corporate culture; stop fleecing shareholders with outrageous pay and executive expense account extravagance with money stolen from our pension funds. A time of austerity, where millions suffer greatly and permanently in lost jobs, homes and businesses, demands political leadership that echoes the indignation on the streets. Obama did just that.

America always amazes, and we usually follow on - sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Blair made the terrible mistake of following the lead of the very worst of all US presidents. The question now is whether Brown can breathe in the message from one who may prove to be among the very best.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Layer 88 Obama, Change, and Going Forward

It’s been an exciting week, and it’s been good to have the time to watch BBC 24 and CNN non-stop, both during and after the election. Momentous times.

The Guardian yesterday not only had a special Obama supplement but also filled most of the first half of the paper with Obama news and celebrations. There were also several pages of it in G2.

Obama speaks of change, and various commentators have been giving their views on the sorts of change that's needed. I’m interested in the very few that talk about changes to people’s emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and how they might be achieved.

Rebecca Walker in her column raises the issue of tackling what I guess Oliver James would call Affluenza:

"I predict we will instruct our children to strive for mental and spiritual health, in addition to physical health. We will expect them to do more with less, and to understand the finite nature of the world's resources."

It’s interesting that she sees the new Obama period as one for ushering in changes that are beyond the material, the economic, the legal, the political and the social. Mental and spiritual health issues ought to be high on everyone’s agenda, but rarely come into the news pages, as such.

She also makes a good point about Obama being a writer:

"America is at the end of one story, and the beginning of another. We are fortunate Obama is a writer. We need his heart and his pen and his intuitive understanding of narrative to bring us to the other side of the current crisis, having learned to turn tragedy - of which we are sure to see more - into insight, and the decline of a superpower into an educational epic of redemption".

Meanwhile, in the special Obama supplement, another Walker, Alice, Rebecca’s mum, writes,

"I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters.

A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker

The Guardian seems to have reprinted this from, where it was published on November 5th as an open letter to Obama, but curiously the Guardian has changed the opening, Dear Brother Obama, to Dear Barack Obama, and has also omitted the final sentence, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Perhaps the sub-editor didn’t understand it.

There’s another of Alice Walker’s recent articles that’s well worth reading at:
Check out some of the pig ignorant comments that follow it, too.


The key thing about Obama does seem to be that, unlike all his middle and upper class predecessors, he understands the lives, the aspirations and the needs of the vast majority of so-called ordinary people, and he seems determined to run the country for the benefit of ‘ordinary’ people, and not for the better-off, or for the sake of making the USA ever-more powerful and dominant. He sees clearly the correlation between squandering vast amounts of money on global domination and keeping the majority of the population in relative poverty with no access to proper health services and no decent schools for most kids.


Have just caught up with the Rachel From North London blog, which had an excellent piece on Obama on Monday, 3rd November: “More than a righteous wind”


Going Forward

Damian Grammaticus (crazy name, crazy guy) reporting for the BBC from Beijing said something about what relations between America and China will be like, going forward.

I love this phrase. It instantly marks out its user as a prat. Going forward? How can relations go forward? When was it that people started talking about going forward when they mean in the future?

It’s one thing for dickheads and the general public to use whatever stupid so-called hip expressions they like, but how can professional journalists get away with using dumb expressions like going forward?

“He needs to prove he means what he says, going forward.” So says Emily Prat, reporting from the US. Not going backward, then? Or going sideways? AAAGGGHHH!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Layer 87 Obama is President. Rejoice!

As one very tired commentator nearly said on TV this morning, “The new president will have the backing of the House of Resentatives”.

I’d like to be a member of a House of Resentatives, full of grumpy old men and women. I think I’d be good at it.

“No way! I’m not voting for that! You never voted for the things I wanted. You’ve never cared about my feelings. You’re just self, self, self. Why do we always have to do things your way? Oh, oh - you’re the president are you? I’m not bothered. I didn’t vote for you. Sod off!”

Every country should have a House of Resentatives.


Meanwhile we’ve been treated to more of our own Prime Minister’s magnificent rhetoric:

“This is a moment that will live in history as long as history books are written.”

He’s going to look back and feel proud of those inspirational words of wisdom. How wonderfully apposite and memorable they are. How fortunate we are to have him as our P.M.


Another fabulously talented Brit, Georgina Baillie, is in the news today and has called for Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross to be reinstated. According to Yahoo,

“The 23-year-old said that Radio 2 DJ Brand's resignation and Ross's three month suspension without pay was "out of proportion".

Baillie, who performs with her dance troupe the Satanic Sluts, has also told how she wants to pursue a career as an actress and model.

She told broadcaster Five in her first TV interview: "I was really angry when I said I wanted them both to be fired, but I think the suspension was good enough. So I'm feeling a bit gutted really about the whole thing.

"I think it's way out of proportion what's happened, and I don't hate either of them, I don't at all. I think they're really talented comedians and I think a world without Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand would be a very sad, dull place.”

“She added: "I want to keep performing with my dance troupe. And all these modelling offers have come through which is quite interesting. I thought about doing modelling a few years ago but was told I was a bit too chunky for that, but now all of a sudden I'm not, so that's great.”

Well, that’s really, really great. I always thought something good would come from this recent sad episode in our nation’s history, one that the Prime Minister himself needed to attend to, let us not forget.

How very wonderful that she’s not too chunky after all, and we’re all going to see a lot more of her, and no doubt more of the Satanic Sluts too, assuming we can obtain copies of Filthy Chunky Whores magazine and its sister publications, and also have a local stockist of the Chunky Slags Who Fuck series of DVDs.
Curiously the reinstated Sky page seems to have deleted most of the stuff about gorgeous Georgina’s chunkiness and modeling ambitions.


Now, what else has been happening in the world? Oh yes, the election. I went to sleep around 2.00am, with no results yet in from the swing states, and so no certainty of an Obama victory. Somehow I managed to wake up at 5.00, just as he was starting his victory speech, which was fantastic, brilliant. So glad I watched it at the moment it was happening.

Political commentator Bob Schrum said on the radio this morning that Obama has a steadiness of purpose and a huge depth of knowledge. And this is the really exciting thing - that he’s highly intelligent and he does have a real purpose that goes way beyond wanting to be president. He has a very clear vision of what needs to be done in a country that has totally lost its bearings, thanks to eight years of Bush and the neo-cons.

Obama recognises that the country is in deep shit, and the people who are suffering the most, and will suffer even more, are the poorest. He seems to see that he’s become president-elect not on account of him being Mr Wonderful but on account of the promises he’s made to do the right things to sort out the mess the country is in, both at home and abroad. He’s there to carry out the wishes of the masses, and to do the right thing. He’s promised to redistribute wealth, and he’s bound to do that.

Whereas Clinton seemed to believe that it was ‘job done’ to get himself elected, Obama sees that the job won’t be done unless and until he can correct the things that are wrong and do the things that need doing.

It’s true that by running a highly effective campaign he’s already achieved something momentous and historic, but these have been means to an end, and the end is still way over the horizon.

Meanwhile, the whole world, with the exception of McCain supporters, rejoices.

The BBC website has a page of good stuff, including Obama’s acceptance speech, all 17 minutes of it:


Banks and Banking.

I meant to post this yesterday, but here it is anyway, since the whole issue of the ‘bank bail-out’ is so important. From yesterday’s Guardian editorial:

Wriggling out of the deal.

What was the point of Gordon Brown's bank bail-out plan? Not to rescue bankers, nor simply to prop up ailing banks: fecklessness and failure are not usually rewarded with state handouts
This was no giveaway, Alistair Darling stressed; banks would have to comply with strict curbs on their behaviour.

Almost from the moment that agreement was struck, financiers have tried to wriggle out of it. They were at it again yesterday, as the boss of Lloyds TSB laid out plans to pay dividends to shareholders from next year - something that had been on the chancellor's list of no-nos - while a senior executive at HSBC snubbed calls to revive lending by suggesting that the bank would not pass on cuts in interest rates to customers.

Without taxpayer support, many British banks (not just those taking government funds) would struggle to do business in these traumatised markets. Either financiers should comply with taxpayer interests or the government must force them to do so.

Just what the public expected from the banks in return for all those hundreds of billions was spelled out on October 13 by Mr Darling, the day he unveiled his bail-out plan.

There would be "guarantees" on lending to businesses and to would-be homebuyers, which was the point of supporting the banks in the first place. Because taxpayers' cash could not be wasted, there had to be "restrictions" on boardroom pay. The same went for dividends. The chancellor was not about to "put billions into banks only to see it disappear out of the door [to shareholders] again". This was a tough deal, but Mr Darling noted: "They [banks] knew the terms and conditions and they signed up to them."

Yet ministers' pleas to bank bosses at least to go easy on small businesses have yielded not one concrete pledge from the industry. What about bankers' bonuses? Both Lloyds and RBS have assured staff that they will keep paying out, even if it means using (government-supported) shares. And when it comes to paying dividends, Lloyds' Eric Daniels was adamant yesterday that by next year it would be business as usual.

This is a gross display of collective arrogance. The banking industry has just been through a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, and the bosses who helped to bring it about show no contrition or wish to reform - just a desire to get back into the fray.

Taxpayers, who will have to pay for this rescue (probably in higher taxes), are entitled to ask what exactly they are getting in return. And the government must strive to make sure the bankers stick to their end of the bargain. Arms-length management is not good enough; Mr Darling has to be hands-on. On behalf of the public, the chancellor has taken a big stake in the banks; now he has to show voters the reason why.

There are some interesting readers’ comments on the Guardian’s site:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Layer 86 Decision Day, More Neil Young, and Opening Minds.

So the day has finally arrived. It’s either hello to a new liberal America, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, since the Democrat president will be backed by a Democratic majority in both the Senate and the House, in an America where the ideology of conservatism has now been fully tested to destruction and is totally discredited. Or we’ll have the appalling prospect of a McCain/Palin leadership for the next four years, which doesn’t even bear thinking about.

I’ve been catching up with last Friday’s Guardian G2, whose cover article was, ‘What’s Bush done for our cultural life?’ ‘Twelve prominent Americans’ were asked to give their verdict.

Naomi Wolf wrote,

“It's not just that [Bush] didn't fund the arts or invite artists to the White House; it's not just that he doesn't read poetry, doesn't read books: there's something about the brute force of this administration, and the fetishisation of brute force by this administration, which literally stands in opposition to civilisation and the arts.

I've done a lot of work on Germany from the Weimar period to the late 30s. There was a similar hostility then to the cosmopolitan, the urbanite, the avant garde, to any originality in art.

[Why are people so reluctant to call the USA of the past (x) years a neo-fascist regime?]

I think artists in America are scared. Respected journalists are being arrested. Film documenting the Republican national congress has been destroyed. And artists are next on the list after journalists. So if, God forbid, there's a McCain/Palin presidency we'll see a crackdown of the police state, there's no doubt.

I'm really quite ashamed of the American people - and of course I include myself in this. We have seen what was happening, and we kept right on internet shopping. All these writers and artists, good people, have just looked around and quietly aligned themselves.

Novelists have been really silent. Usually writers are at the forefront of denouncing a regime: look at Václav Havel. Here, people have complained a lot, but in terms of organising a vanguard of resistance, of people getting out there and saying this is not the American way ... Where is the Arthur Miller of this generation? Who is out front, somewhere visible and tricky and scary?”


Well, Neil Young and his mates, for a start. The Dixie Chicks? Also Naomi Klein. And Gore Vidal. It’s an interesting challenge for us Brits - to think of any prominent Americans who have put themselves out front, protesting and denouncing in a place that’s very scary, given the appalling ignorance and potential savagery of the American Right.

I had an interesting conversation with a close friend yesterday, a long-time Neil Young fan, about Neil Young getting the band back on the road to protest about what was happening in the country, to protest against the Iraq war. Having seen the first part of Friday evening’s BBC4 documentary of the 2006 'Freedom of Speech' tour, my friend was of the opinion that it was rather sad and embarrassing to see those old geezers still trying to crank out rock music, ‘protest’ music if you will, in large stadiums.

I had to disagree. On the grounds that in the first place the music and the performance were OK, but also because it’s entirely admirable for any musician or artist to speak out visibly and publicly against the Bush regime, or indeed any injustice. To hell with what they look like. At least my friend admits he’s an ageist and a sizeist.

You still have a few days to see all 60 minutes of the documentary about Neil, 'Don’t Be Denied', (or download it) at:

Or you might need to go first to:

where you can also see some clips featuring Steve Stills, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, etc, talking about Neil and his music. Stills says some interesting things about how scarily polemical, provocative and combative Neil is. Emmylou talks about him putting something back into the world, and being a good father.


Other contributors to the Guardian feature on the 'Bush legacy' said,

Daniel Libeskind

How can you even begin to speak of a cultural legacy? It's been wholly negative. Culture's a dirty word to these people, like "liberal" or "literate". We've experienced a complete bankruptcy of the culture of ideas over the past eight years. The intellect has been denigrated. Deep cuts have been made in education and in investment in cultural institutions.

It's hard to believe Bush, a man who's proud not to read books and who makes fun of words longer than one syllable, has been the inheritor of the mantle of the Founding Fathers, or of Woodrow Wilson, FDR or even Bill Clinton. These people believed in the value of American culture being seen as an inspiring and civilising force around the world. Jefferson was a fine architect. All Bush has offered the world is military force. This is still a great country, but Bush and Cheney have ensured that only the negative side of US culture has spread around the world.

David Simon

Enron, Afghanistan, Iraq, New Orleans, Wall Street. An untenable drug war. A non-existent energy policy. An obliviousness to climate change. An unwillingness to recognise our problems, much less begin the hard work of solving them. Incompetence - rank incompetence - has become the American standard. We are no longer a competent, responsible nation-state. America. The can't-do superpower. Quite a legacy. Mr Bush is a remarkable man.

Alex Gibney

I think the Bush administration did its best to create a vast wasteland. At the same time, because of the perfidy and corruption and utter lawlessness it created a very interesting backlash of politically oriented materials that were inspiring. Unintentionally, the administration provoked a lot of political art that I think was very valuable.

Edward Albee

What cultural legacy? There is no cultural legacy. We have an administration of criminality, complicity and incompetence but no cultural legacy whatever from those eight years. It doesn't seem to have produced the kind of rage that I would have expected it to. It shows me that we have a far more passive and ignorant society than I thought we had.

I'm something of an optimist. I hope that we're capable of getting back on the right track and continuing our peaceful social revolution.

Elizabeth LeCompte

He has fostered the rise of political satire as an art form again. It hasn't been very strong for the last 30 years or so and I think television programmes such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and South Park are all political works of art. Without the Bush administration I don't think satire would have been as strong. It revived irony.

With satire there's an incredibly powerful challenging of the powers that are, which I think is very healthy. There's also a trivialising effect at the same time. But it is a change, because young people are going to be involved in politics in a way that they haven't been before.

When Obama had trouble, before he beat Hillary, they began to make fun of him as a pompous teacher, so let's see. I think it'll be interesting. I just know that for me, under the Bush administration, things like The Daily Show and South Park will be remembered as real satire, not just parody and caricature."

This is an interesting point - the difference between satire, parody and caricature. The Daily Show has produced some brilliant satire, absolutely slaughtering McCain and Palin. Jon Stewart in particular is a genius.

Wouldn’t it be good if the general populace could read all the above comments before they go out to vote today. McCain says, “I’m not George Bush!” - but how different is his mindset and his ideology in reality? Palin, in many ways, is even worse than Bush.

Read the transcript of her being pranked by a Sarkozy impersonator:


Education News

The RSA Academy, Tipton, was featured on BBC TV news today. It’s an interesting place.
“Radical, controversial - should this school become a blueprint for others?”

“We actually want students to be motivated in their learning. Traditional homework has been scrapped,” says the headteacher, Michael Gernan.

The changes are fundamental. The focus is now on life skills or competences, managing information and relating to people.

The RSA’s “Opening Minds Framework” is excellent:

“The Opening Minds curriculum features five categories of competences: learning, citizenship, relating to people, managing situations and managing information. Focusing on competences means that Opening Minds teaching is emphasising the ability to understand and to do, rather than just the transmission of knowledge.”

Read the rest of it here:

It is radical, and it should be a blueprint for other schools.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Layer 85 The Class Divide, The State We’re In, and the Democratic Crunch

Radio 4 - Today

"New research published by Downing Street suggests that Labour policies may be narrowing Britain's class divide. The study, from academics at Bristol University and the London School of Economics, finds that family background appears to have less influence on educational attainment than it once did. Shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling discusses the report with Cabinet Office Minister Liam Byrne. "

So how, exactly, are these ‘policies’ narrowing the ‘class divide’? Here we go again - educational attainment - GCSEs and SATs. The conflation of academic attainment and social mobility? That must be it. Such a pity the Beeb puts such rubbish on its website.

Messrs Grayling and Byrne, aided and abetted by the man from Today, waffled on about whether there’s now a less well-defined correlation between family background and doing well in tests and exams, all of them unquestioningly going along with the ‘common sense’ assumption that academic success is the key determiner of success in life - meaning material success, of course.

So who really believes that child poverty (and its related afflictions - stress, ill-health, etc,) isn’t the key issue when it comes to doing well in school, by whatever measures we might use, and also doing well in life?

Well then, enough of this nonsense and let us focus on something more worthy of attention. Which is - why do these discussions NEVER consider the real factors that determine whether someone will live an authentic, creative and worthwhile life - these factors being the extent to which young people:

1) Become life-long learners who enjoy learning for its own sake
2) Are creative and imaginative
3) Are high in social, emotional and spiritual intelligence.
4) Have high self-confidence and self-esteem.

Assuming that they move on from school possessing high levels of the above then they will always have the option of doing further studies, either part-time or full-time, and moving up the academic ladder towards whatever qualifications they need to pursue their ambitions.
Without these qualities and achievements then it won’t matter that they have 5 A-C grades, or whatever - they will never achieve self-actualisation or achieve fulfillment, or indeed reach their full potential.

So why don’t these pundits address the real issues in education and the development of human potential? Who bothers to track how well schools and pupils are progressing in these four key areas?


Failure to address the real issues in the economy and world-wide financial systems have put us in the current crisis, and as I’ve been saying, Will Hutton’s masterwork, The State We’re In, set out all the real issues back in the mid-90’s. It’s pathetic and shameful that New Labour has failed to address any of them, being totally sucked into the neo-conservative ideology and mindset.

In last weekend’s Observer Mr Hutton posted his usual excellent column, focusing on the need to pursue ‘real’ Keynesian policies in order to deal with the crisis and the recession.

“The great economist is back in fashion, but it will be a disaster if his brilliant theories are now misapplied.

For Keynes, the interaction of the financial system with the real economy is capitalism's existential problem.

The job of finance is to recycle savings back into investment and so sustain overall levels of demand, production and employment at a balanced rate.

Intervention in the financial markets - regulatory, institutional, via monetary policy and in collaboration with other governments - is vital. The socialisation of the financial system may, paradoxically, be an imperative to save capitalism. Contra-cyclical government borrowing in recessions may be helpful. But the big game is to do everything you can to stimulate private sector credit flows.

Keynes would be completely unsurprised by today's events; he would have spent the previous decade warning of the existential danger posed by the mania for financial deregulation.
Keynes was the economist who put it all together, the liberal who understood why free [deregulated] finance is capitalism's greatest enemy.

The State We're In was my attempt to devise a Keynesianism for our own times. I will stand by the heart of the book - deregulate financial markets and create a financial system that dominates business at your peril - to my last. But there was no constituency for reform 10 years ago. Keynesians of my ilk were seen as irrelevant and wrong.

But now, with Keynes back in fashion, if we don't do Keynesianism right, we risk a very nasty recession indeed.

There are only weeks left before the downward vortex becomes irretrievably deep.

These are very scary times. Let’s hope someone in government is finally paying attention to Mr Hutton.

More quotes from The State We’re In to follow.


Tomorrow’s D-Day for Barak Obama. The latest news bulletin says he has a lead of between 8 and 11 points. Let’s hope all goes well.

His grandmother died today.

“This is not just an economic crisis, it is a crisis of democracy”, say Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford in last Saturday’s Guardian.

“New Labour thrived on good times and bull markets. The culture of easy credit and consumerism disguised its evasions of class and power. Now the markets are in freefall, and its ideological failings are brutally exposed. In the manors and town houses of the super-rich those who have brought about the calamity harbour their wealth. They are untouchable and unaccountable. Their tax havens are sacrosanct. Corfu reveals how our political elites, seduced by their opulence and power, do business with them. This is not just an economic crisis, it is a crisis of democracy.

Collective political action and the power of citizenship have been traded in for the ownership society.

The stakes are high. Who will pay for this recession - capital or labour? The Labour party must reinvent itself for this battle.

There are no easy solutions, but the goal is simple: a fundamental transfer of wealth and power back to the people. This will help stop the deflationary spiral and lay the foundations for a more just, sustainable and equal society in the future.

We need urgent action to address the housing crisis, which is replicating that in banking.
This is market failure on a grand scale.

The state must step in with an emergency public-sector housebuilding strategy, and if necessary, take a stake in some housebuilders to revive the sector. Local government must be re-empowered to fill the space vacated by the private sector.

The relationship between market and state is being redrawn. Nowhere is this more needed than in housing. This is where the battle lines are being drawn up. The left must create a democratic and accountable state capable of strategic intervention in the domestic economy and creating global alliances. A new settlement means a progressive tax system, a restructured financial economy and a Green New Deal. Ahead lie the perils of global warming and peak oil. But now let us give homes to people, and with them the hope of a better life.

On a lighter note, I had another look at last week’s episode of Brand’s Ponderland. You must try to catch it on the C4 website before Thursday. Hilarious.

Also good for a chuckle - Martin Kelner’s column on the back of the Guardian’s sport section: “Even wrestling honeys can't stir my libido”

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Layer 84 Music, Politics, Neil Young and Laughter.

In the mornin' when you rise . . .

Are you thinkin' of telephones, and managers,
And where you got to be at noon?
You are living a reality I left years ago
It quite nearly killed me.
In the long run it will make you cry.
Make you crazy and old before your time.

So said Stephen Stills in ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’, in 1970, giving an impression of someone who’s well sorted, tuned in, turned on, dropped out and living a different reality. No more Affluenza for Mr Laid Back L.A. - Christ, he even had time to cry:

And the difference between me and you
I won't argue right or wrong,
But I have time to cry, my baby
You don't have to cry,
I said cry my baby, you don't have to cry
I said cry my baby, you don't have to cry

In reality this new wave of migrant songsters and sophisticates who moved into L.A., mostly in and around Laurel Canyon, were as obsessed with fame, recognition, happiness, ego gratification, status, money, power and acclaim as anyone else - which isn’t to say that CSNY and the other bands and singer/songwriters didn’t turn out some excellent music from time to time, because they certainly did.

They just weren’t as good as they thought they were, in most cases, and many of them certainly lost their muse, their focus and their inspiration (the counterculture!) in a haze of excess, idleness, hedonism, angst, petty squabbling, and, of course, the heavy use of narcotics, especially coke.

The collective values of the Haight-Ashbury and Woodstock generation had initially generated a sense of unbridled optimism, but the shooting of students at Ohio State and the murder that took place at the Stones’ Altamont concert created a sense of deep foreboding. Concerts were supposed to be fun. College campuses were supposed to be places of peace, love and protest.

The Manson murders in L.A. pretty much shook the rock fraternity to its core, and if such horrors were what drugs and madness could do to people who considered themselves part of an enlightened movement to change the world for the better, what hope was there after all?

Besides which, the brilliant Joni Mitchell was writing songs for her wonderful Blue album that spoke of her own jealousy and greed - so if even the gifted and somewhat saintly Joni could acknowledge these destructive emotions, then where did that leave the rest of them?

Pretty much with the Eagles, ‘country rock’, cowboy fantasies and songs of escapism that demonstrated a complete disengagement from politics. At that point The Eagles were the ultimate corporate rock band, and the L.A. scene had gone from hippie utopianism to the corporatisation of rock in the name of massive profits for all concerned, including legions of smart managers and lawyers.

The increasing use of heroin and speed, as well as shitloads of coke, coincided with increases in greed, anger and cynicism - a far cry from the days of Californian love and peace in low-rent communes. Increasingly there were security guards amongst the hangers-on, and even the clubs where the bands hung out became exclusive to the celebrities and high rollers.

Those who were there at the time recall the rise in self-centred craziness, and the darkness of mounting despair and alienation. The ‘emotional landscape’ had turned very bleak indeed.

Friday night’s repeated BBC4 documentary, HOTEL CALIFORNIA: LA FROM THE BYRDS TO THE EAGLES (Chris Wilson, 2007) offered a decent enough run through the history of the music business in LA, but made some strange omissions in its erratic little journey, such as no mention of The Doors or Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, who were LA-based megastars and surely impossible to ignore. Maybe Mr Wilson couldn’t get hold of any decent archive film of them.

BBC4’s mammoth evening of music on Friday was pretty engrossing, and a pure joy for not having your head invaded by a single bloody irritating advertisement. BBC4 itself is a pretty interesting phenomenon.

"There are lots of different ways of being intelligent or serious. There are things that are easily recognisable as television with a serious purpose, such as The Proms or world cinema. But other things are just as valuable. Last week we ran a fantastic programme called Hotel California which featured music from The Byrds to The Eagles. It was about music but it was also about culture, social history, politics, the feeling of the time. Our audience adored that."

So said the channel’s controller, Janice Hadlow, in an interview in the Indy last year: Welcome To The Sanctuary.


“There’s a big difference between knowing what’s going on and physically doing something to change it.” - Graham Nash

The main focus of Friday evening on BBC4 was, of course, Neil Young, and what emerged from the hour-long documentary, ‘Don’t Be Denied’, was that NY was always a serious and committed musician, who didn’t give a shit about his image, or cashing in on fame by relentlessly recycling his back catalogue. He was even prepared to alienate audiences by following his muse and performing the music that was currently filling him with passion, even if they were turned off by it and clamored for the ‘hits’. He insisted on speaking of meaningful things. In order to sing something he always needed to feel it. He didn’t give a damn whether his records were commercial or not.

It was Neil Young, of course, who wrote ‘Ohio’ for CSNY in response to the National Guard killing the students - magnificently accusatory and polemical, and how many other artists can claim they made any kind of effort to “speak out against the madness”?

His sense of engagement (and enragement) with what’s happening in the real world burns as brightly today as it did back in the days of the Vietnam protests, as has resulted in him setting up a website, a sort of anti-CNN, anti-Fox news/magazine site, called Living With War Today - LWW.

On the site read the following article and prepare to be scared, very scared:

As you read it Mr Young will serenade you with ‘Let’s Impeach The President’.
Alternatively you can enjoy the video version:

The Restless Consumer has been around for some time and is a fantastic song, and is set to a brilliant video at:
where you can also download it for free.

You can also catch it on U-Tube:

Includes great images of a silent, smiling Dick Cheney. Pure evil.

Sample lyric:

Don't need no ad machine
Telling me what I need
Don't need no Madison Avenue War
Don't need no more boxes I can see
Covered in flags but I can't see them on TV

Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies

The restless consumer flies
Around the world each day
With such an appetite for taste and grace

People from around the world
Need someone to listen
We're starving and dying from our disease
We need your medicine
How do you pay for war
And leave us dyin' ?
When you could do so much more
You're not even tryin'.

Read the rest here:

It’s hard to imagine anyone feeling more passionate or trying to do more than NY has been doing to combat what the White House has been up to these many years.

Here’s a short video of Neil and the band laying down the track in the studio:


To try to raise some anti-war feeling in the USA in 2006 Neil decided to reform CSNY and take the band out on the road, literally in buses, to perform across the nation. The documentary of the tour, CSNY Déjà Vu, was also screened on Friday, and was pretty arresting stuff.

Was is naivety on the part of the band or was it deliberately provocative to sell tickets to their concerts without advertising the fact that the evening would effectively be an anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-Republican rally? Maybe the Republican-voting punters were just too stupid to realise that the whole point of the tour was to rally people against the ‘war on terror’.

There were some stunning shots of Bushites going into a state of total melt-down when the band launched into songs like Let’s Impeach The President. Those good old boys, and their good ladies, wanted to inflict some terrible violence on the band members, but were mostly reduced to yelling, raising the finger, and walking out, ranting and raving. Said one young woman to the camera, following a volley of expletives from her partner, “It was a little political”. Y’all.

But as someone else wrote in a review, “What a rarity - a concert that sent you home thinking, feeling and rocking.”

Here’s the trailer:


There’s one of the best-ever covers on Private Eye this week - a real classic:


Joy and laughter seem to me to be the vital ingredients for a life well lived, and of spiritual intelligence, and though they’re not always on tap, they ought to be accessible at frequent intervals. The question is, what gives joy, what raises our spirits, what produces laughter?

This has been quite a week for Russell Brand, and true to form his column in the sport section of The Guardian yesterday was brilliant. On the surface, not a word about what’s been happening to him personally, even though he begins with this paragraph,

“What a palaver! In a season that I'd already judged to be utterly barmy we have seen another week so hysterical and incomprehensible that I'm beginning to wonder if our country is in the grips of a cosmic fever.”

He then writes about crazy things happening in the world of football, and he concludes,

“In these rare displays, these athletic requiems, the player and the game issue an elation that I've struggled to find in a cathedral or a Caravaggio, so we endure the drab, rain-spattered Sundays, the financial indiscretions, the scandals and the heartbreak because instinctively we know that within this sport there is the potential for grace and redemption and incredible beauty. No matter how insane things become or how far from the truth we are led by histrionics and lies, the truly, objectively beautiful remains untainted.”

By some wonderful coincidence the second series of “Russell Brand’s Ponderland” began on Channel 4 last Thursday, and predictably there were critics who sneered at it and pronounced it unfunny. Like the Guardian’s, for example,

(check out the variety of readers’ comments at the end of the article, including a pathetic response to these responses by the author of the piece.)

This first episode had him pondering the subject of pets, and he showed a series of clips of total nutters who did things like keep a lion in a garage, dye doves in primary colours, put up with regular assaults from their ‘pet’ dogs and ponies, and at the other extreme have sex with their pets.

This kind of thing is priceless, and had me in tears of laughter. Try to catch it on the C4 website.
Other subjects coming up in series 2 are families, education and class.

If you could do with a quick chuckle or two then try these clips from series 1:

And on Google Video, the whole of the programme on science: This week’s column.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Layer 83 Looting The Public Wealth.

There’s a brilliant cartoon by the wonderful Martin Rowson in yesterday’s Guardian , a perfect Halloween summary of the state of our society. It sums up more graphically and powerfully the insanity that’s all around us than any amount of well-argued column inches.

In the background, silhouetted against the light and smoke of flaming torches, are the unmistakable figures of Russell Brand, who’s dangling from a gallows, and J Ross who’s still fighting off a mob that’s armed with pitchforks and rakes.

In the foreground are two hideously fat, grinning, pinstripe-suited fat cats with a case bulging with bank notes, unconcerned about the mob which is clearly not interested in them. One of them says, looking towards us, the readers, “Hey! HE fucked your economy!! Ha Ha Ha!”

And his companion responds, “An’ I ain’t going to APOLOGISE or RESIGN or NUFFINK!”


Meanwhile, alongside the cartoon, there’s a column by Reihan Salam, an editor at Atlantic magazine, who begins, “Despite running one of the worst presidential campaigns I’ve ever seen, John McCain would, I’m convinced, make an excellent president”.

So in other words, he’s convinced that a man who can’t even run a half-decent political campaign is capable of running the most powerful, complex and significant country on earth. Brilliant.

His rationale, naturally, goes like this: “Only Nixon could go to China, and only McCain can reconcile conservatives to some of the hard steps that the US will have to take”.

Reconcile? Interesting word. They have to be reconciled do they? And those hard steps can’t be taken if they’re not? Hmmmm. We shall see.


The wonderful Naomi Klein, who’s been sadly missing from the Guardian of late, though it’s possible to read her columns at , is back with a brilliant piece called, “The Bush gang’s parting gift - a final, frantic looting of public wealth.”

“There has been no nationalisation, partial or otherwise. American taxpayers have gained no meaningful control over the banks, which is why the banks are free to spend the new money as they wish. At Morgan Stanley, it looks as if much of the windfall will cover this year's bonuses. Citigroup has been hinting it will use its $25bn buying other banks, while John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told analysts: "At least for the next quarter, it's just going to be a cushion." The US government, meanwhile, is reduced to pleading with the banks that they at least spend a portion of the taxpayer windfall for loans - officially, the reason for the entire programme.

What, then, is the real purpose of the bail-out? My fear is this rush of dealmaking is something much more ambitious than a one-off gift to big business: that the Bush version of "partial nationalisation" is rigged to turn the US treasury into a bottomless cash machine for the banks for years to come. Remember, the main concern among the big market players, particularly banks, is not the lack of credit but their battered share prices. Investors have lost confidence in the honesty of the big financial players, and with good reason.

This is where the treasury's equity pays off big time. By purchasing stakes in these financial institutions, the treasury is sending a signal to the market that they are a safe bet. Why safe? Not because their level of risk has been accurately assessed at last. Not because they have renounced the kind of exotic instruments and outrageous leverage rates that created the crisis. But because the market will now be banking on the fact that the US government won't let these particular companies fail. If they get themselves into trouble, investors will now assume that the government will keep finding more cash to bail them out, since allowing them to go down would mean losing the initial equity investments, many of them in the billions.

This tethering of the public interest to private companies is the real purpose of the bail-out plan: Paulson is handing all the companies admitted to the programme - a number potentially in the thousands - an implicit treasury department guarantee. To skittish investors looking for safe places to park their money, these equity deals will be even more comforting than a triple-A from Moody's rating agency.

Insurance like that is priceless. But for the banks, the best part is that the government is paying them to accept its seal of approval. For taxpayers, on the other hand, this entire plan is extremely risky, and may well cost significantly more than Paulson's original idea of buying up $700bn in toxic debts. Now taxpayers aren't just on the hook for the debts but, arguably, for the fate of every corporation that sells them equity.

Not only were profits privatised while risks were socialised, but the implicit government backing created powerful incentives for reckless business practices.

With the new equity purchase programme Paulson has taken the discredited Fannie and Freddie model and applied it to a huge swath of the private banking industry. Again, there is no reason to shy away from risky bets, especially since the treasury has made no such demands of the banks (apparently it doesn't want to "micromanage".)

This may be Bush's most creative innovation: no-risk capitalism.

Meanwhile, every day it becomes clearer that the bail-out was sold to the public on false pretences. Clearly, it was never really about getting loans flowing. It was always about doing what it is doing: turning the state into a giant insurance agency for Wall Street, a safety net for the people who need it least, subsidised by the people who will most need state protections in the economic storms ahead.

This duplicity is a political opportunity. Whoever wins on November 4 will have enormous moral authority. It should be used to call for a freeze on the dispersal of bail-out funds, not after the inauguration but right away. All deals should be renegotiated, this time with the public getting the guarantees.”


It’s all happening just as George Orwell forecast it would in 1949, in “1984”.

Wikipedia says,

The book has major significance for its vision of an all-knowing government which uses pervasive and constant surveillance of the populace, insidious and blatant propaganda, and brutal control over its citizens.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in Oceania, one of three intercontinental totalitarian super-states. The story occurs in London, the "chief city of Airstrip One", itself a province of Oceania that "had once been called England or Britain"

Winston Smith has in his possession a book called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein.

When the aforementioned Reihan Salam talks about reconciling “conservatives” to the steps the country needs to take he is, of course, referring to the oligarchs whose collective views and decisions determine what goes on in the country, with “conservatives” like McCain (or Mandleson, or Osborne, or Cameron, or Brown) acting as their mouthpiece.

Arguably there are four, and not three, “intercontinental totalitarian super-states” - the US and its satellites (including the UK and Japan), the EU, Russia and its remaining satellites, and China. Things are a little blurred, however, by the existence of NATO, which acts as a unifier for the US and the EU.

What’s clear, however, is that in the USA, at least, there’s now no separation whatsoever between the government and business (the oligarchs), and the government is now clearly and blatantly revealed in its role as first and foremost supporting US finance and US business (think Halliburton and Blackwater as well as the banks and Wall Street), which in turn determine the policies of the government.

This is in contrast to a social democratic system of government which sets out to make we, the people, the governors of the country’s business and financial sectors - laying down strict regulations to ensure that their activities benefit the nation as a whole, rather than enrich those who already possess most of its wealth and are greedy to possess even more.

Control of the planet, as such, is now less of an issue than control of its remaining oil and gas reserves, as they now begin to go into serious decline, at a time when consumers in China and India are beginning to compete very seriously for these resources with consumers in the so-called First World.

Control of the planet’s finances also seems to be a key issue, and China holds several trump cards. The US, as the world’s biggest debtor, would appear to be in considerable difficulties. They borrowed low in order to lend high, but will the creditors want to continue to make credit available?

We’re now entering a very interesting period of history in which the power of the US is being seriously challenged and there are several possible scenarios ahead of us.

1) The US becomes even more of a neo-fascist militaristic superstate, which is less likely to happen if Obama wins. In this scenario the US presses ahead with military expansion and a quest for world domination, with disastrous consequences for world peace, justice and enlightened cooperation between nations.

2) The “intercontinental totalitarian super-states” compete ever more vigorously, but peacefully, for power, influence and resources, with dire consequences for the masses, the proles.

3) The superstates realise that the only possible way of achieving a stable, sustainable, peaceful and viable planet is for governments to work together with an agreed set of principles based on human values. Perhaps set up an umbrella organization called something like the United Nations. George Orwell’s preferred option.

Place your bets.