Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Layer 187 Persuading, Whining, Remuneration, Education, the Shock Doctrine, C4 and the BBC.

The Guardian today carries a report on what General Stanley McChrystal has been saying about the war in Afghanistan. In it they actually use the phrase 'winning hearts and minds', but for some reason fail to point out the exact parallels with what happened in Vietnam. It then goes on to say,

The basis of McChrystal's assessment is contained in guidelines he sent to troops last week in which he said: "The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy."
Does this mean he's guiding his troops towards less shooting and killing and rather more engagement with the Afghans in Socratic dialogue? Less blowing to smithereens and more dialectical debate over a cup of tea or coffee?

It's really incredible that serious people can still speak as though they're dealing with a bunch of stupid people who simply need to be 'persuaded'. In any case, how on earth can he say they need to be persuaded without saying what they need to be persuaded towards – presumably the American Way, a neo-conservative world view, an anti-Taliban ideology, etc. Good luck with all of that, McC. Though it's hardly the job of a mere soldier to do what politicians obviously cannot do, for all their efforts, and all the billions spent on propaganda.



The new Yahoo front page has a news panel that enables readers to click on the headline stories for The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Mail, as well as Yahoo. I'm now tempted to just click and find out what the Mail is publishing. Here's what my first click brings up:

'I've been treated like the Bulger murderers': Baby P social worker whines about her sacking
What do we make of this? Well, it's a bit rich to describe Sharon Shoesmith, ex-director of Haringey's Children's Services department, as a social worker, especially when it was her lack of experience and expertise in social services and child protection that caused a lot of her difficulties in the first place. A social worker was what she was NOT. Not ever. Sloppy journalism there.

Secondly, is this what we'd call objective reporting - to say that she's “whining”? It sounds very much like she probably is, whether or not she has cause to. But this is supposed to be objective reporting, in a 'serious' newspaper?

What her solicitors are saying is that she's been unfairly dismissed, and that Ed Balls had no more right to 'interfere' in her employment situation following the death of Baby P than Michael Howard (remember him?) had to 'interfere' in the sentences given to the murderers of James Bulger.

Excuse me? Is this supposed to be helpful to Shoesmith, I wonder – to liken her position to that of proven baby killers? The Mail then goes on to say -

Ronnie Fox, an employment law specialist with City firm Fox, said she could expect a payout of more than £1million if the unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination claims claim are successful.
He said: 'The starting point is what she would have expected to earn during the balance of her career.'

As Mrs Shoesmith earned £133,000 a year when she was sacked, she could have earned another £1.3million before retiring at 65. Her pension entitlements could potentially add another £1.5million.

She is claiming £133,000 - a year's notice - in the breach of contract High Court case.
Presumably we can expect Ms Shoesmith, if she wins her case, to then begin campaigning on behalf of the hundreds of headteachers that bureaucrats like her have squeezed out of their jobs and careers, following harsh judgements made by Ofsted inspections in which various data and statistics have been used which purported to show that what had seemed to be good or at least satisfactory schools were somehow failing to reach government and LA targets.

She's surely had lots of time these past months to reflect on how governments policies, a draconian inspection regime and unjustifiable knee-jerk reactions by senior officers like herself  have ruined the careers and sometimes the lives of many lifelong dedicated public servants whose only 'crime' was to try their best to run schools for the benefit of their pupils.

At the very least she might campaign for proper compensation for headteachers and teachers that have been crushed by the current regime, even if such compensation might seem like peanuts relative to her claim for millions.



Bankers' Bonuses

Meanwhile, back at the Guardian:

UK to seek global action on bankers' bonuses, says Gordon Brown 

He does make you smile, does Gord.

“Gordon Brown declares today that Britain will push for tough global action to crack down on excessive bonuses for bankers. 
In an interview to mark the start of the political season, the prime minister calls for a "clawback system" to confiscate bonuses based on failed speculative deals. "Remuneration has got to be based on long-term success, not short-term speculative deals," Brown tells today's Financial Times. "There's got to be a clawback system in remuneration itself … if things are not working in year two." 
So - if there's a case to be made for clawing back unjustifiable bonuses, why isn't he going to legislate to tax and claw back all the loot that's been filched from our financial system these past several years – the years that led up to the massive financial meltdown, which could only be addressed by our government by handing over untold billions of OUR money to the banks?

Secondly, this “if things are not working in year two” - Gordo thinks that TWO years is long term!! This is a man who's supposed to be some kind of financial and political genius. I know that a week is considered a long time in politics, but this is insane.

It's a fact that many bankers job-hop and don't ever stay in one place for longer than a year or two – and why would they, after all, stick around to face the long-term consequences of their short-term actions? Any fool can parachute into a top job, do all kinds of cost-cutting, job restructuring, deckchair rearranging and policy changing and then piss off smartly before the actual shit hits the fan. Why hang about and deal with long-term consequences of short-term business-school inspired 'solutions' to hitting targets? Targets, incidentally, that have been agreed with people on remuneration committees who are long-term friends of friends and friends of families, if not actual friends.

Many of these people who've been getting the millions in bonuses didn't even . . . . fuck it – why bother. Nobody's listening anyway, as Len would say.

But . . . but . . . thirdly – and finally – what's implicit in Gordo's acceptance that bonuses are justifiable if awarded for performance over the LONG TERM (of two years) is the idea that fucking huge bonuses are actually morally acceptable - on the grounds that the people getting them would otherwise fuck off elsewhere.

Whereas most of us just want these people to fuck off anyway. Yes- we'd prefer their junior colleagues to step up and show us what they can do in the top jobs on sensible salaries. And if they're massively successful and are offered huge bonuses to go and work abroad, well they can fuck off as well. And so on. Until all those other countries have all the greedy bastards they can possibly use.

Maybe we could just start seeing this country as a kind of incubation facility for the world's financial system. That might be good. And if it meant that our financial system made less money than it otherwise might – well maybe that might just be a price worth paying for a more egalitarian, more harmonious and more contented society in which social and economic justice prevails.

And I'll say this again – a fucking trained monkey could make millions working in an industry where money is the 'product' that's being made, in a casino where the casino owners make their own rules, simply by taking risks and getting lucky, at the expense of rival operators or punters who are slightly less smart and/or slightly less lucky. And in any event the casino owners get rich, regardless of who's placing the bets.




I'm somewhat sorry to bang on about the purposes of education but I can't NOT say something in response to the discussions on the Today programme today.

“The government is working with the former Conservative education secretary Lord Baker to set up a new generation of technical schools to train teenagers to become builders, technicians and engineers. Lord Baker discusses the change in education policy which will revive dedicated training schools not seen since the 1950s.” -  Radio 4, Today website.
In Germany their Technical Schools are more popular than their 'grammar schools'. Baker talked on the programme about lifting the status of 'skills', and continuing to teach literacy skills, maths and science alongside technical and practical skills. He emphasised that the new technical colleges he's proposing will be self-selecting – they should be there for kids to opt into, just as they do in Germany. He also believes, apparently, that Britain's failure to offer proper technical education to young people, as an alternative to the 'academic', is our biggest educational failure since the second world war.

It's incredible that such schemes and courses, and indeed colleges, haven't been available to kids all these years – when all that's been happening is more and more emphasis has been put on getting the fucking magical '5 A – C's' and 'academic' attainment. Of course our 'non-academic' kids would have opted into them, given a chance, instead of being forced into classes where nothing meaningful to them has been on offer.


"The number of vocational Diploma courses available to students in England has doubled from five to 10. The government wants the Diploma to become a core qualification in the education system, viewed to be as valid as A-levels and GCSEs. Sir Alan Jones, chairman emeritus of Toyota in the UK and Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, debate the need for the proposed Diplomas."  - Radio 4, Today website.
“Bringing Learning To Life, is the slogan”. Indeed it should be. “Five new subjects are on offer from today, to add to the five launched last year, from hair & beauty to hospitality.”

Diplomas are meant to be a vocational alternative to exiting GCSEs and A Levels.

Prof Alan Smithers, of the 'University of Buckingham' – privately owned of course - is of course anti-Diplomas. Prior to their introduction he apparently said they were 'a disaster waiting to happen'. He said there didn't seem to be any pent-up demand for this qualification. (!!!) No doubt he'd feel concerned that technical colleges might divert potential punters away from his university, and reduce the demand for 'higher' education as we know it, as well as his uni's income stream.

The professor asked Sir Alan Jones how many 'diplomats' will be recruited by TIE-YOOTA. He can't even pronounce the bloody word. It's TOY - O – TA, you moron.

S'Rallan emphasised that young people need a good balance between theory and practical skills. He rejects the distinction between and the separation of academic and vocational. He stressed that the world is fast-changing and that young people need to be flexible, innovative, entrepreneurial, creative, imaginative, self-managing, good communicators and good at teamwork. He also pointed out that currently young people are not coming into business and industry with this kind of skillset and with these attitudes – from wherever they're currently educated. Er, no. You can't easily test that stuff.

S'Rallan pointed out, in response to the interviewer saying that we surely still need to provide an academic type of education for many of our young people, that the needs of employers and businesses should be prioritised over the needs of universities, since without profitable businesses the country can't afford to run universities anyway. He insisted we need 'well-rounded' young people if the country is to prosper and thereby generate the funds we need for public services, including universities.

He also mentioned that we need those 'well-rounded' young people to 'challenge the way the world is'. Blimey. Whatever next? Schools for revolutionaries?

As for the needs of young people themselves – who gives a fuck. Nowhere in this discussion were young people's actual developmental needs even mentioned. Though it's implicit in what Alan Jones was saying that they need social skills and emotional literacy, as well as spiritual intelligence. They need thinking skills, vocational skills, teamwork skills and communication skills.

But let's be honest, this is all just fucking COMMON SENSE! So how come we're still arguing about the need for common sense in this stupid country?



True Stories: The Shock Doctrine

 Naomi Klein

Tonight on More Four 10.00pm – 11.45pm – watch it, record it, share it.

The Guardian's 'Pick of the Day' says:

“Cinematic rendering of Naomi Klein's typically thoughtful and provocative book. The Shock Doctrine chronicles the rise of what Klein terms Disaster Capitalism – the rampant and rapacious profiteering from catastrophe, whether natural (the New Orleans flood) or deliberately orchestrated (Iraq). This is the sort of reasoned, coherent argument that the left should have spent more of the 21st Century making.”
Elsewhere in the Guardian it says,

Digital channel More4 will give Michael Winterbottom's polemical documentary The Shock Doctrine, based on Naomi Klein's book of the same name, its UK TV premiere.

The Shock Doctrine is to be the first programme broadcast as part of a new series of More4's international documentary strand, True Stories, on 1 September at 10pm.

Like Canadian activist and author Klein's book, the film is a critique of America's free market policies, and argues that the US, along with other western countries, has exploited natural and man-made disasters in developing countries to push through free market reforms from which they stand to benefit. In her book, Klein has branded this "disaster capitalism".

Co-directed by Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, the film also analyses the global financial crisis, which took place after the book was published, and seeks to explain its origins.
The Shock Doctrine argues that big corporations in search of new markets benefit when governments import the neo-liberal economic system, often as a result of pressure from the US, but that this often has catastrophic consequences for "ordinary people". Political leaders have turned to "brutality and repression" it contends, to crush protests against their ideologically inspired programmes of privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts.

The Shock Doctrine was commissioned by More4 from Revolution Films/Renegade Pictures. Winterbottom's previous work includes 24 Hour Party People and Welcome to Sarajevo.

Winterbottom and Whitecross also made The Road to Guantanamo, the award-winning docudrama about British prisoners held at the US detention centre, which was co-financed by Channel 4.
Three hundred cheers for Channel 4, say I.






And three hundred more for the BBC.

The BBC was attacked at the weekend by that son of a bitch James Murdoch. He was speaking – lecturing if you like – in Edinburgh, at a media festival. He's clearly just a mouthpiece for not only his father but the whole of the Chicago School and business school neo-liberal right wing Shock Doctrine nut house that thinks it rules the planet, or has a right to.

Everything he had to say was summed up in his weedy little closing sentence – a Gordon Gekko-like spiel about profits being the sole criterion for what is good and valid in this world. It's market fundamentalism that's in his genes and in his blood, and no amount of argument about the virtues of public-service broadcasting a la BBC could ever shift his perspective from the Lear Jet global capitalist one he's blinkered by.

Have a look at these sweet words, his closing sentence, his paean to capitalism:
"There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society. The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit."
Here endeth the sermon. What is this independence? Who, within the Murdoch empire, is 'independent'? Of what? Or whom?

The doctrine of deregulation is what crashed the world financial system, and it's also what's turned the American media into such a shit house. But that's what he wants us to have – a deregulated media and a pruned-down, castrated and emaciated BBC. Bastard.

Not that the BBC is perfect, or tremendously well managed. It's just that it happens to be the best model for our public service/public subscription broadcasting system, however well or poorly managed it happens to be. So WE have to stand up and defend it, and not leave an open field for the Murdoch empire to take over and thereby get even richer, fatter and stronger.



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