Saturday, March 27, 2010

Layer 274 . . . Philosophy of Education, Warnock, Questa, Morris and Brighouse

Talking of Philosophers . . .

This week we heard that schools are increasingly failing to provide opportunities for children to carry out proper scientific investigations - such is the apparent pressure to cram them with facts and do practices for tests and examinations. There's also a question of large classes, too few resources and poor teaching. So increasingly kids are expected to memorise scientific "knowledge", but have no experience or real understanding of how scientists are supposed to behave, from hypothesis through fair testing to drawing conclusions on the basis of real evidence. Sounds very New Labour. There's never been any proper evidence to support their approaches to education.


Children are being deprived of the chance to conduct experiments in science lessons because teachers say there isn't time, or youngsters are too naughty, poll reveals


Baroness Mary Warnock spoke about her concerns for science teaching, and for teaching in general, on the Today programme, after having written about them in Questa magazine:

Download Issue 1 of the emagazine (published by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain) here:

Questa aims to create a meeting ground or forum in which philosophers and non-philosophers can reflect and engage in conversation. It is a space in which philosophers, practitioners, journalists, parents and policy-makers will hopefully sustain a high quality, carefully reasoned debate with the power to influence future policy in positive ways.

In this issue, we are focusing on the 2010 general election with contributions from writers including Mary Warnock, John White, Richard Pring, Richard Smith and Fiona Millar. The magazine can be downloaded as a whole, or the essays can be downloaded individually.


Lady Warnock says:

Three reasons for hope in a new Age of Austerity

Mary Warnock wants no more platitudes about Education as Investment. Instead she welcomes the recession as a chance to shake off the chains of centralisation.

 It is wrong to think that efficiency economies will be enough. We need radical change to avoid waste, and not only of money, but of the talents of children who all too often find nothing to engage their interest once they have left their primary schools.

In one way we can count ourselves better off than they were in 1945: we have more mistakes to learn from; and centralisation has been one of the biggest mis­takes of all. We must, forthwith, abolish targets, league tables, and compulsory curricula. We must, if necessary by primary legislation, untangle education law from anti-discrimination law, so that local authorities, gover­nors and headteachers can regain control of the variety of schools that they want to be responsible for.

The whole exam system must be changed, if we are to see value for money. There should be one set of exams only, to replace GCSE, taken at the end of Year 9, whose purpose would be to ensure that good standards of reading, writing and comprehension had been achieved over a wide range of subjects, including mathemat­ics, science, history and a foreign language, ancient or modern. This could be examined within the school, by the appropriate subject teachers, and monitored by teachers from other schools (appropriately paid), and sporadically by Ofsted. Thereafter there would be no common exams.

Huge sums of money would be saved by the abandon­ment of externally-examined GCSE and A-levels, graded tests being substituted, over all the courses, to be taken when the student was thought, by himself or his teach­ers to be ready. These tests would be externally admin­istered, modelled on those already existing for music, ballet, drama and languages. Admission to higher educa­tion would be the business of individual institutions which would rely on graded test results and interview.

All these changes would streamline education, and save the money now wasted on the academic bias that still bedevils our educational system. It would motivate children by allowing them to do whatever they do best and enjoy most, and by treating them as grown-up, when they feel that they are so, largely taking charge of their own lives but within a formal structure. These changes, if they could come about, would be grounds for hope.


In the anti-philosophy and pro-faith camp this week we have Estelle Morris and , sad to say, Tim Brighouse. These are both, no doubt, extremely pleasant people who have a genuine understanding of and sympathy with pupils and teachers, but are both politicians to their core, and as such they are mealy-mouthed and lacking in the courage to speak truth to power. They may well speak more plainly to their many politican friends behind closed doors, but their public utterings are rather pathetic. We, the people, are the ultimate source of power, and they ought to have the courage to speak to us in straighforward, plain language about crucial issues of education policy. Instead they write feeble little missives in Guardian Education, carefully avoiding any overt criticism of their New Labour chums.

Morris says this in her column this week:

It is his [Michael Gove's] "return to children sitting in rows and rote learning" that worries me most. It's not just that those teaching methods failed to engage so many young children in the past; it's the assumption that the huge body of evidence built up over recent years on what constitutes good teaching and learning is of no value.

It reveals the shallowness of his party's pledge to trust teachers. If teachers can't be trusted to arrange their own classroom and seat their pupils in the way they think best, they shouldn't hold out much hope for professional autonomy under a Tory government.

Does she really not see that New Labour have done everything they can to promote didactic teaching and passive learning, and to get Primary kids back in rows facing interactive whiteboards? New Labour have failed to trust professionals on ANY issues, and have micromanaged and controlled schools to death.

The huge body of understanding about what constitutes good teaching and learning that had accumulated before New Labour came to power (for example regarding the teaching of reading and writing) was totally disregarded in their rush to implement centrally-directed 'strategies'. Unbelievable!!

As for Tim Brighouse,

this is about as mealy-mouthed and waffly as you can get. I just wonder why he's not had the balls to speak out against the New Labour 'reforms', instead of just running around pretending to be an education 'commissioner'.

Come to think about it, it was Brighouse who started the craze to impose 'challenging targets' when he was Birmingham's director of education.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Layer 273 . . . More Multiple Intelligences; Oblique Approaches and Decision making


Multiple Intelligences

John Kay is a visiting professor at the London School of Economics and a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. On the Today programme this week he was talking about his new book, Obliquity.

"If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity': paradoxical as it sounds, goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain. Pre-eminent economist John Kay applies his provocative, universal theory to everything from international business to town planning and from football to managing forest fires. He shows why the most profitable companies are not always the most profit-oriented; why the richest men and women are not the most materialistic; and why the happiest people are not necessarily those who focus on happiness.

'A very timely and clever book' --Anthony Seldon

'Kay is persuasive, rigorous, creative and wise. Brilliant.'
--Tim Harford, author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life"

`John Kay builds on a great philosophical tradition - stretching back through Charles Darwin and Adam Smith. A great book.'
--Matt Ridley, author Genome and Nature Via Nurture

'An elegant new book...Kay applies his insight to art, politics, sport and family life' --Heather Stewart, Observer

Speaking on the Radio Prof Kay said we need to re-think the way we engage in decision-making, and our capacity to make good judgements.

He reckons we can't rely on 'logic', and neither should we just use intuition.

He also spoke about the most successful companies being the ones that set out to make great products, provide great service, etc. Those that ruthlessly pursue maximum profit as their primary goal tend to come a cropper - Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, etc.


Talk about stating the bleeding obvious. The reason we're equipped with multiple intelligences is because they've been shown over millions of years of evolution to be essential to human wellbeing - taken all together, and used in combination, they enable us to thrive and survive.

Physical intelligence consists of using all our senses and maintaining bodies that are strong and healthy.
Instinctual intelligence enables us to react with lightning speed to situations in which stopping or pausing to think before acting could get us killed or injured - fight, flight and freeze.
Emotional intelligence enables us to keep our instincts under control, and to stop and think instead of panicking in every situation.
Social intelligence enables us to empathise, to collaborate, to cooperate and to create - and to survive through making bonds with others.
Spiritual intelligence offers us the incredible ability to be intuitive - to understand things and find answers to problems through silent contemplation and listening to our 'inner voices'.

Prof Kay is saying don't just rely on logic or intuition. Oxzen's been saying for years we need to develop and use ALL of our intelligences all of the time in order to live well and become the best people we can be.

It's not a question of going at things obliquely. It's a question of approaching things from every angle using each and every one of our intelligences.

As for the happiest people being those who don't actually pursue happiness - Buddhism's been saying for 3,000 years the happiest people are those who pursue the happiness of others and stop worrying about their own wellbeing. We can't just choose happiness. Happiness, like love, chooses us, if it finds us worthy.
. ........................................................

Talking of religion . . .

The Pope's continuing to take a battering this week. Quite right too. There's no denying that in his previous job he was responsible for dealing with, and covering up, cases of child abuse carried out by members of the clergy.

A theist is someone who believes in God. Buddhists don't believe in God. Therefore Buddhists are atheists. I'm glad we're getting this sorted out.

Buddhists are philosophers. Philosophers examine questions of meaning and purpose. They seek the spiritual and the spiritually intelligent. They seek to become spiritually intelligent, unemcumbered by pointless talk about God or gods. They understand that the divine and the awesome and the wonderful are within each of us. It's our job to find these things and to use them in the best ways possible. We also have a responsibility to enable children to find and to walk their pathway towards enlightenment. Whereas politicians want us to raise test and exam scores.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Layer 272 . . . Community, Solidarity, Negativity, Bees, Mirasmus, Powerlessness, Social Justice and Freedom

One of the key lessons that people learn as they become older and wiser is that nothing of real significance or of lasting benefit is achieved by individuals acting alone. Everyone depends on other people for growth, sustenance, support and collaboration. We all have our parts to play, and even those who achieve the most are usually standing on the shoulders of some giants who have gone before them.

Even Barack Obama, an outstanding individual, became as powerful and well known as he is thanks to hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of 'ordinary' people taking part in canvassing, fundraising and voter registration. He owes them all - big time. Very unlike a lot of previous presidents who relied on the big party machines to raise funds from rich individuals and corporations and then to adopt them as their figurehead. Through doing it the hard way Obama is both less endebted to the fat cats and the party machines, and more endebted to we, the people. Even those of us who just stood by and cheered from the sidelines, or from across the pond. It's the cause and the collective that's important - not the leader or the figurehead. Though you'd never convince the likes of Thatcher or Blair that this is the case, it's been well understood by others like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

A really good example of a successful collective of individuals is a hive of honey bees, where the 'queen' is merely an egg layer, and it's clearly the efforts of the workers, the maintenance crew and the nurses that determine whether her egg laying is going to have any consequence.

The latest of Richard Hammond's fascinating series of documentaries on the unseen universe (Invisible Worlds) this week showed us - using x-rays, infra-red and ultra-violet - things that a normal human eye could never see. Such as members of a hive of bees that have body temperatures far higher than other members of the community, and who then use this particular faculty or gift to maintain the eggs and the pupae at the optimum temperature for development into adulthood.

It might be very interesting to use this technology to focus on human beings to see whether we too have members of our communities who are physically able to spread warmth, comfort and wellbeing. It's clearly the case that we have people who psychologically and spiritually either cool things down or spread some warmth. Maybe some people can do both, depending on circumstances. Some people can also freeze or enflame.

One reviewer of a book called 'How Full Is Your Bucket?' by Rath & Clifton said this: "They paint a compelling picture of the good things that happen when people are encouraged, recognised, and praised regularly, as well as the emotional, mental and sometimes even physical devastation that can occur in the absence of such positive encounters."

Which is all very well, but in itself such a positive approach to life is not going create a better world. Big fish like Berlusconi, Bush and Blair - and even minnows like Blears and Byers - have had more than a fair share of encouragement, recognition and praise - and look where that's taken us to.


Negativity Kills

'Negativity Kills' is the title of the first chapter in the Rath & Clifton book, and it's something to think about for all the New Labourites who supported the government's efforts to 'drive up standards' through slagging off the professions, telling them they're not good enough and they can't be trusted, and setting them production targets that could only be achieved through neglecting the real needs of the actual clients of doctors, social workers, teachers, etc.

Rath & Clifton describe a condition they call 'mirasmus' which they say is the end result of constant negativity and lack of positive input. It's a state of complete hopelessness and a feeling of giving up when you see the world as a complete crock of shit, and can't see any way to live a better life or to feel any faith or hope in the future, let alone love. People who have been psychologically deprived and have received only negative inputs eventually come to feel that even survival is pointless, and cannot even raise the energy to get angry about the state of themselves or of the world. Remember what Maya Angelou said about anger? "If you're not angry . . . you're either a stone or you're too sick to be angry."

Britain is now full of people who wander around in a state of mirasmus. They live in a state of isolation and despair. They radiate the negativity they've had inflicted on them. They have no faith in politics, or in the likelihood of being able to get a decent job, build a better life, and stay out of debt. They have no hope for the future. They hate their lives, their work, and the state of the world in general. They neither care about themselves or other people. They can neither love nor hate, nor get angry. They have no passion for anything.


In the Guardian today there's a 'comment' column by Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning economist who teaches philosophy and economics at Harvard.

He's making the point that "freedom" as a concept is meaningless if people don't have any real ability to enjoy a life in which they seem to be politically and socially free - i.e. are not able to live lifestyles that most people see as desireable and ensure at least a basic level of wellbeing.

If people feel hopeless and have no faith in the possibility of a better life then they can't possibly feel they have either justice or freedom in their lives.

Powerlessness in actual lives is the hurdle that justice must clear

The state must ensure that individual freedoms not only exist, but that everyone has the ability to experience them

The question that immediately arises is how to understand the richness and poverty of human lives.

Even if chronically deprived persons – the hopelessly poor, or long-term unemployed – learn to come to terms with and accept cheerfully their deprived lifestyles, that cultivated cheerfulness will not eliminate the real deprivation of freedom from which they will continue to suffer.

When, however, the focus is on issues of economic and social inequality in the lives that different people lead, the relevant aspects of freedom can be captured better by a fuller assessment of what is called, in the new literature, "capabilities", which reflect the actual opportunities of a person. It is easily checked that means such as incomes and other resources, while valuable in the pursuit of capabilities, are not themselves indicators of the capabilities and freedoms that people actually have. The real opportunities that different persons enjoy are very substantially influenced by variations of individual circumstances (eg age, disability, talents, gender, maternity) and also by disparities in the natural and the social environment (eg epidemiological conditions, pollution, prevalence of crime). An exclusive concentration on inequalities in income distribution cannot be adequate for an understanding of economic inequality.

This is routinely missed in poverty relief programmes that concentrate only on the lowness of incomes.

To say that a person is powerless in reversing the kind of neglect that they have been experiencing can also be expressed in the language of capability: they are not capable of reversing the neglect from which they suffer. And yet there is some evocative strength and rhetorical force in the language of power, particularly in dealing with powerlessness, that the word capability, which is really a term of art, cannot really match. Analysing power and powerlessness can help to generate a better understanding of the divided world in which we live. Mary Wollstonecraft's wrath and bitter irony about the subjugation of women complemented her cool reasoning against gender hierarchy in her 1792 classic, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Or take Steve Biko's remarks on "powerlessness" in the apartheid-based South Africa in the 1970s. "Powerlessness breeds," Biko said, "a race of beggars who smile at the enemy and swear at him in the sanctity of his toilet; who shout 'Boss' willingly during the day and call the white man a dog in their buses as they go home." If capability failure of any kind is a matter of concern, those related to people's inability to act freely or speak openly because of the power of others have special urgency. This is an important concern in the advancement of freedom and capability, since societies involve conflicts as well as togetherness and mutual support. The pursuit of justice in enhancing freedoms and capabilities in peoples' lives has to be alive to both.



I first came across this series on Sky Arts last week, in which the programmes are based on a meeting and a dialogue between an older black woman and a younger black person of either gender. Last week (remember? Layer 266) it was Maya Angelou and Dave Chappelle.

Alecia Keys and Ruby Dee both grew up, 60 years apart, in Hell's Kitchen, Harlem.

Both of these amazing women are political and human rights activists, as well as artists, performers, philanthropists, educationalists, and an inspiration to their communities.

Bob Dylan said of Alicia Keys, “There’s nothing about that girl I don’t like” - and when His Bobness says someone's just about perfect then you really need to take note. On the opening track of his album Modern Times he sings “I was thinking ’bout Alicia Keys, I couldn’t keep from crying/ While she was born in Hell’s Kitchen, I was living down the line / I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be / I been looking for her even clean through Tennessee.” How many people does Dylan ever bother to namecheck on his records?

Alicia Keys is a songwriter, musician, actor, poet and author, and she's intelligent, beautiful, creative, thoughtful, generous, idealistic, insightful, and a real role model for all young people. Ditto Ruby Dee, who's still going strong at the age of 86.

For the record - Alicia had a role in a film called The Secret Life of Bees.


Radio Culture

There was an edition of Marcus Brigstocke's "I've Never Seen Star Wars" on R4 last night in which he asked Jenny Eclaire to watch "Apocalypse Now" - since she's always avoided seeing it. Her verdict was that it was very good. She then revealed that she's never seen Star Wars either - the first person they've ever had on the programme who's never actually seen it!

Jenny also had to eat jellied eels!

"He's never asked me to marry him. 28 years of sharing the same bed. He has the bed on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays . . ."


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Layer 271 . . . Cabs for Hire, Prostitution, Parliamentarians, Sleaze, A People's Bank, and Child Protection


Just when you think politics in this country can't get any worse, it gets worse. Politicians show themselves up to be even more incompetent, arrogant, selfish and greedy than most people can possibly imagine. Scumbags with no values, no soul, no spirit, and not much intelligence of any sort. Pretty much what people were thinking anyway, but to have it all exposed on camera in close up and in detail is a gruesome spectacle.

Apart from that, it was quite amusing watching the excellent Channel 4 'Dispatches' documentary last night on the way in which politicians of both the major parties vie with one another for jobs as 'consultants' (ie lobbyists) and 'advisory board' members (ie lobbyists) for whichever companies are prepared to give them £3 - 5,000 to influence serving politicians on their behalf. That's not £3 - 5,000 per year for a few days "work" on their behalf. That's £3 - 5,000 PER DAY.

One after another these people present themselves for a kind of job interview, during which they bend over backwards to sell themselves by lying and boasting about how much clout and influence they have in Parliament and Whitehall, how many 'contacts' they know, and even claim they can get the likes of Tony Blair to go along to little soirees for wealthy businessmen.

Since Blair himself has made over £20 million since leaving office it's not very hard to believe it either. Though it's not exactly clear what Blair would actually do for the said businessmen when he turns up. Perhaps it's enough for them that they can go home afterwards and say they've had a drink and a chat with Tony, or smoked a joint with him, or whatever.

The repulsive greaseball Stephen Byers MP, caught on a concealed video camera, called himself a 'cab for hire' - whereas he's actually a fucking Westminster rent boy who'll put out for anyone who'll offer him the going rate. Sucking the devil's cock comes so very naturally to people like Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon.

Prior to this programme I hadn't realised just how big a 'lump sum' politicians are given when they're either thrown out of parliament or they just jack it in in order to earn some really big bucks elsewhere. £50 - 70,000 seems to be the range for a few years (or a few days per year) on the green benches. (A few years back I hadn't even understood that these 'representatives' of ours even get big pensions as and when they retire from - or get kicked out of -  Parliament. Is being an MP really thought to be a public service? How can ego-tripping, sucking up to the party whips and behaving like lobby fodder be classified as public service, when it's the exact fucking opposite?)

I certainly hadn't realised how much some of these people still 'earn' in addition to their MPs' salaries when they give themselves days off and trot off to do 'consultancies' for big companies - like BT, in Hewitt's case.

There was even a female MP, Margaret Moran, on last night's programme who hasn't been seen in either Parliament or in her constituency for the past few months on account of being on 'sick leave', but turned up looking eager, perky and fit to do business at the offices of the bogus lobbying company who'd asked her along for 'a chat' about future employment. The sting worked perfectly. When the programme makers then phoned her secretary and asked for an appointment for a chat with this lady they were told she couldn't see anybody at all as she was on sick leave!

The fact that Byers, Hewitt and Hoon were, and are, architypical Blairites is quite wonderful. So is the fact that these three are selling themselves on the basis of being thick as thieves with their old mates Blair, Mandelson and Adonis, who have in the past, according to them, and will in the future, it is presumed, be willing to act in the interests of industrialists and financiers.

Jack Straw on the radio this morning was moved to say, "These people are clearly more interested in making money than in properly representing their constituents". Obviously! New Labour has instantly said they're 'taking the whip away' from all three of them. That'll teach them! Jack says it's on account of "bringing the Labour Party into disrepute". HEL-LO JACK! The Labour Party IS already in disrepute - thanks to the likes of you and Blair making Byers, Hewitt and Hoon part of your gang.

Polly Toybee says this in today's paper -

Lucre poisoned New Labour.

A budget for fairness and a living wage can uphold the party's true values – trashed by the greed of Blair and his acolytes

The damage done is well beyond the here and now of this election.

Tony Blair and those followers cashing in on their years in office have vandalised their own history books.

Ministers as well as Labour toilers in the field are incandescent with anger.

If a fish rots from the head, Labour's contamination with money was smelled from those earliest days of being "intensely relaxed about the filthy rich". But Tony Blair's behaviour since 2007 defies the ravings of his worst enemies. No conspiracy theorist guessed he would take money for Iraqi oil from a South Korean company – to add to £1m from the Kuwaiti royal family, an estimated £20m from anyone anywhere, £4m for his book, plus properties fit for a Brunei prince.

That all this mammon is collected in the name of God is worthy of the faith-based business school of L Ron Hubbard: God can make you very rich indeed. Did Blair go to war in Iraq to get rich quick? Almost certainly not, but the cashflow from American adulation ever since will leave the slur on his tombstone. His friends and colleagues shake their heads in disbelief. They warn him, but he inhabits a stratosphere of hyper-wealth, where their words drowned in the purr of Gulfstreams.

Peter Mandelson, twice scorched for flying too near the rich, still holidayed with Tory tax exiles numbering George Osborne and unsuitable oligarchs among their friends. To Labour people the puzzle is, what they talk about, where's the fun? Why spend precious holidays playing court jester to Rothschilds with obnoxious views? Sun, sea and Petrus can't be enough. Enjoying such company suggests that Blair, Mandelson and others who cross the line are not serious about Labour politics, it's all a bit of a game, a job they do well. Only little people let politics get in the way of pleasure. Worldly and blase, this is politics as a pastime, not a way of life.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Blair's and Mandelson's followers lost their bearings, too. Byers will be anyone's cab for £5,000 a day, boasting of helping Tesco wreck a food-labelling scheme. Geoff Hoon gladly trades his contacts for "something that frankly makes money". Patricia Hewitt is only one of the health ministers and special advisers cashing in with private health companies. Alan Milburn, honorary president of Progress, is paid by a string of health companies as well as Pepsico. Never mind the rules, this is about understanding public service. When it's over, and the Prius and the red box are gone, it's over. There is no entitlement to that world of banqueting and dining with plutocrats which belongs to the job, not the person. Ministerial pensions are excellent, with no need to prostitute one's previous office for cash.

The sheer naivety and idiocy is as significant as the gargantuan greed.


23 Mar 2010, 8:10AM

Ministers are incandescent? Would they be the same ones about to flog off the Channel Tunnel Rail Link? The ones complicit in privatising the "services" of Ofsted? The ones who are insisting on PFI as the answer to all problems? The ones who want to flog off the Royal Mail to anyone at all?

The problem here is that the nexus between the Labour Party and the commercial world is so strong that many ministers are annoyed at the bad publicity; but they cannot understand that the cause is the uncontrolled entrance of commerce into the heart of government


Labour is like one of those caterpillars taken over by parasitic wasp grubs (Blair, Mandelson, Byers etc). The grubs have eaten it from inside so it is now only a corpse while they fly off to better places.


In the run-up to the 1997 election, Stephen Byers was portrayed as a towering figure of the future with a sure grasp of high politics. Yesterday he joined the long list of other rubbish we were meant to believe about New Labour. The journalistic sting that snared him was absolutely predictable to almost everyone but his dim self. It was a shoddy end to his political career and an apt memorial to disastrous era of smoke and mirrors ruled over by what turned out to be Berlusconi-Labour.


Thank you, Ms Toynbee, for pointing out what so many of us have been saying for so long now: "Labour" since 97 has become a gang of greedy, dishonest, promise-breaking, self-serving mediocrities of absolutely staggering hypocrisy and incompetence.

The best we can hope for is a wholesale eviction of the worst offenders and a hung parliament, so that the LibDems, as the only party which has sustained even a few scraps of credit, may have enough influence to ensure electoral reform.


The funny thing about all this is that when someone suggests Blair and co have simply sold the nation and its services to the highest bidder in an openly corrupt way they are accused of hysteria and "student politics" etc . . . reading too much Chomsky perhaps. Sadly its the reality. Politics, like everything else, has now been privatised. It doesnt serve the public interest - it serves the interests of its members, it is just another part of the business arena; putting a suitable spin on the pillaging of the nation, a grand PR exercise for budding millionaires.


An excellent Steve Bell cartoon here, plus some good cifs:


Byers is - like Hewitt and Hoon - a crook. They should all be in jail. If indeed they haven't broken any laws or "Parliamentary rules," then the laws/rules need to be changed.

It is outrageous that MPs are allowed to represent any interests other than those of their constituents. Ever. They've fat salaries, perks and gold-plated pensions. They can shove their consultancies and directorships up their arses and retire like the rest of us.


I say, I say, I say;

What's the difference between Stephen Byers and Neil Hamilton?

No, I'm serious. I'd really like to know.

I say, I say, I say;

What's the difference between Stephen Byers and Neil Hamilton?

One is a deceitful, conniving, thieving TORY bastard, and the other is Neil Hamilton.


The Guardian's editorial on this matter said this -

MPs' sleaze: Byers for sale

Mr Byers and his colleagues have only themselves to blame. They should not have been so greedy

He stands exposed today as both stupid and sleazy and, most important of all, as an embarrassment to the progressive politics that he still professes. Stupid because he ought to be sharp and experienced enough to have seen through the cash-for-influence sting that was mounted against him by the Sunday Times and Channel 4's programme Dispatches. Sleazy because he has no business – if that's the word – offering his services as a lobbyist at a daily rate that most people in his North Tyneside constituency do not come near earning in a month, while occupying a seat in parliament.

The things Mr Byers told his undercover interviewer are shameful. Has he learned nothing from the events of the past couple of years? If Mr Byers was not leaving parliament already, there would be a case for deselecting him. His only defence, a threadbare one, is that he did not actually do what he offered and that he realised within 24 hours that he was an idiot. But Mr Byers is not just an idiot. He is a disgraced political figure.

Mr Byers and his colleagues have only themselves to blame . . . They should not have been so greedy. They should not have been so disconnected from the values for which not just their party but the British people stand. Mr Byers let himself down, and that is his problem. But he also let the progressive cause down, and that's our problem too.


Courtesy of Peter Preston's column yesterday, here are "the Seven Principles of Public Life, the bedrock that Lord Nolan first carved . . . selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Openness? Honesty? You had to laugh, watching the Dispatches programme, at the number of times the sleazeballs said to the interviewer, speaking of the lobbying they'd been doing, and were prepared to do in the future for £5,000 a day, things like, "This is for your ears only" . . . "This is highly confidential" . . . "This is completely off the record" . . .


Here's a good article to follow up yesterday's thoughts about Obama's healthcare reforms:

Healthcare: victory for America's soul

A vicious fear offensive backed by establishment Republicans has failed: US healthcare will be reformed

Obama's victory speech here -


Working Class Hero

Last night's Channel 4 news had the good sense to speak with Michael Moore - author, activist and documentary film maker - about Obama and the American political scene.

Moore is a self-described liberal who has criticized globalization, large corporations, assault weapon ownership, the Iraq War, U.S. President George W. Bush and the American health care system in his written and cinematic works. - Wikipedia

MM's dad worked on an assembly line in a General Motors factory. After dropping out of his local university Michael started writing for and editing local political magazines and newspapers.

As the son of a blue-collar father who'd spent his life campaigning on behalf of working class people against the dark side of capitalism I reckon Michael's still entitled to feel he speaks on behalf of the working classes, which is what he does very well indeed. In a very reasonable and eloquent way he demands reforms to the political system, reforms to the banking system and the regulation of Wall Street, and the adoption of a genuine national health service.

Now is the time for all of us to stand up and be counted. If there's anyone who doesn't want capitalism, banking and industry to be better regulated and made to work on behalf of we, the people, and not just the 10% of the population that owns all the serious money, then let them also stand up and be counted. Fence sitters should be forced to get down off the fucking fence.


The Guardian printed this Jackie Ashley piece yesterday about setting up a People's Bank:

Post offices can kickstart Labour's radical agenda

A People's Bank would herald a new version of back-to-basics – valuing the reality of people's lives, and their institutions

Labour now wants to put the future of post offices at, or near, the centre of its election manifesto. As the Guardian revealed on Friday, they would be linked together by a new People's Bank, giving them a key role in communities around Britain. Not only is it a great idea, but it ought to give a pointer to the future of centre-left politics that takes us beyond the grim argument about public spending cuts.

After the years of bubble, hubris and boom, this is a time for reassessment. Too much was thrown out too eagerly. Old centres were demolished. Privatisations were pushed by consultants and financiers who lined their own pockets and left us with private companies that haven't been astonishing success stories (British Airways and Network Rail spring to mind). Glib tear-it-up-and-start-again radicalism is at last out of fashion.

This takes us directly to the post offices. They are a fantastic national asset, which matter most to the people at the bottom of the pile, the ones Labour should be most concerned about. This is about bricks and mortar, real places and real people in real communities.


Labour's response will cause more children to suffer

Madeleine Bunting's latest column deals with the way New Labour's been fucking up social services and child protection - thanks to "the audit culture - a familiar aspect of Labour's reform across all public services: improve accountability through micro-management of procedures, impose targets and performance indicators."

Guidelines have poured out of the departments responsible, probably prompting that haggard look evident on the face of directors of children's services. Last week there was another huge batch of new guidelines. At the same time, Sir Roger Singleton's first report as child protection adviser to parliament offered a quiet howl of anguish, pleading with government to stop generating guidelines and prescriptions.

Social services is perhaps where the audit culture has been most disastrous; in other services, such as the NHS, the absurdities of targets were exposed. But as Professor Harry Ferguson of Nottingham University points out, while the government and successive inquiries have focused on flows of information and how agencies – police, health, social workers – communicate, the crucial central issue is ignored: the complexity of emotional relationships.

What happens when a social worker sits in a room with a child and carer – as they did with Baby Peter – two days before his death and fails to notice anything amiss? What crucial skills does the social worker lack, or not use, to make difficult judgments? These are questions of personal development, experience, confidence: they do not fit neatly into public management tick boxes.

Training has been distorted so that more attention is given to "doing a section 48 inquiry than in understanding people and relationships. We met people who thought social work was filling in assessment forms. Welfare bureaucrats."

Lack of authority is also about the wider context in which social workers are operating: do they feel they have the backing to use their judgment? And the answer is obviously no: management culture distrusts them, wider public culture has turned them into figures of contempt.

Labour's other innovation, energetically and proudly pursued, was full of good intentions. Labelled progressive universalism, it was the Every Child Matters agenda in which children's services and education would be merged as part of joined-up government. It promised more investment in better services for all children: Sure Starts, children's centres – it was stuffed full of wonderful ideas.

But wise heads were immediately worried that the historically under-resourced social services would be lost in the educational agenda. The most vulnerable wouldn't get the targeted intensive help needed to prevent terrible tragedy. Some of these fears are already evident: 80% of local authority directors of children's services now come from an education background. Frontline social workers are left stranded, handling complex caseloads without a boss who understands their work.

The result is a social work profession in turmoil: there is a national recruitment and retention crisis – some local authorities have been struggling with vacancy rates of 30 to 40%. The reliance on agency staff is chronic, and the churn rate in many areas makes continuity of case supervision impossible.

Every child only matters if you put in the money and the people who can make that meaningful. Social workers have been given an impossible job; you have to be mad, desperate or heroic to want to be one. But it is abused children who will end up paying the steepest price.



Here's Professor Costas Lapavitsas writing about the Eurozone crisis, which Larry Elliott wrote about last week. He was the lead author of the SOAS report.

The eurozone's largest economy is also to blame for the crisis, despite its moral posturing

Monday, March 22, 2010

Layer 270 . . . Fully Evolved Humans, Charlie Gillett, Music, Barack Obama and Healthcare Reform

Very few people have even heard of Charlie Gillett, for two very good reasons. Firstly, they're not interested in music. Secondly, Gillett was never interested in becoming rich and famous. Or even well known. He died a few days ago, at the shockingly young age of 68. He was a good man, a spiritual man - the kind of "fully evolved human" described in Layer 20.

  • Self-actualizing people are dedicated to some work, task, duty or vocation which they consider to be important.
  • Self-actualizers have ‘psychological freedom’. They do not need or value unwarranted fame, celebrity or notoriety. 
  • They are spontaneous, they are doing what is natural; they are merely expressing themselves.
  • They have a deep feeling of kinship with the whole human race. They are capable of friendship with people regardless of race, creed, class, education or political beliefs. This acceptance of others cuts across political, economic and national boundaries.
  • They have for human beings in general a deep feeling of identification, sympathy and affection . . . they have a genuine desire to help the human race.

by Richard Williams

Few people can have opened so many ears to such a variety of music over the last four decades as Charlie Gillett, the author and radio disc jockey, who has died aged 68 after a long illness. Charlie wrote the first serious history of rock'n'roll and went on to become a central figure in drawing together the confluence of international sounds that became known, to the benefit of many artists whose work might otherwise have remained in obscurity, as world music.

The radio was Charlie's medium, and from Honky Tonk, his 1970s Radio London show, to his weekly BBC World Service broadcasts in recent years, he nurtured an audience whose loyalty to him and belief in his integrity were unshakeable. He was never polished in his presentation – "I'm not very good at reading scripts," he once said, "and I wouldn't be very convincing introducing a record that I didn't personally like" – but his listeners knew that if Charlie had chosen to play a piece of music, it would be worth hearing.

Charlie studied for his MA at Columbia University. The history of rock'n'roll became the subject of his thesis, long before popular music became an acceptable topic for academic study. Returning to England in 1966, he taught social studies and film-making, another lifelong enthusiasm.

Attempting to find a niche in journalism, he wrote for New Society, Anarchy and the soul music magazine Shout before securing a column in Record Mirror, in which he could express his enthusiasm for rhythm and blues and early rock'n'roll.

Wisely, he turned down an offer to present BBC2's The Old Grey Whistle Test, realising that he would have little to say to musicians for whose work he cared nothing.

It was in the mid-1970s that he and Gordon Nelki formed a partnership which led them to manage Kilburn and the High Roads (whose lead singer was Ian Dury).


Charlie had been present at the famous meeting in a central London pub in 1987, when a group of like-minded music folk decided they'd create something called "world music" to make sure that the nation's record stores would find a place to stock the latest sounds coming out of Africa and elsewhere.

He [became] the patriarch of that whole scene: not just a wonderful radio host, but a tenaciously enthusiastic figure who knew everyone that mattered and who made a point of bringing them together.

Even when the artist under scrutiny was wholly obscure, Charlie's lucid style and attention to the artist's intentions meant you'd be sure to check them out.

It's no great secret that most rock writers develop a hard crust of cynicism as the years grind by; with Charlie, who'd been at it for longer than most, that absolutely never happened.


What sad,sad news.

Charlie was one of the great radio voices and I too have been listening to him for 30 years or so. Mostly on the World Service when living in the Middle East but previously in his Rock and Roll incarnation on UK radio.

As someone said on the World Service this morning,he will had three amazing traits: an enquiring mind,a great ear and true integrity.

Add to that tremendous warmth and humor.


What words are adequate to describe the extraordinary contribution Charlie Gilett made to the world of music and the joy he brought to his devoted listeners?

His voice and delivery ensured the attention of the listener was held firm. His lovely, re-assuring and mellifluous tones just made me feel that all was well, even though it was obvious that all was not well at all with our world . . . but just for that golden time whilst he was broadcasting . . . everything seemed to be put in order.

The music he introduced to us was SO varied and memorable. He would take one on a journey, not just around the World, but through many emotions, at all levels of heightened perception. A real light show, the sense of colour through the music was vivid, somehow tangible.


Such sad news, such a loss. As a student at Sussex University in 1968, discovering socialist politics and that Rolling Stones tunes were not original but covers of original black tunes from the US (yeah, I know) these two tracks were coming together as I became interested in black history and culture, including blues, r n b and soul music.

Charlie came to Sussex to speak to us about music, playing tunes as he went along. His presentation chimed in exactly with the direction of my own growing passion, and left me with an indelible memory which I will always treasure.

"Sound of the City". Changed my life. Thank you, Charlie.


Shall miss him, his voice and his recommendations. There's very little integrity left these days in the music business, which is probably why one of the most important proponents of new, exciting and undiscovered music from around our Earth didn't make the Grauniad's front page.

Well, you made my front page Charlie; and I and the world are a better place for it.



And talking of making the world a better place, and fully evolved human beings, we come back to a young man of mixed race, who has lived in different countries, who has the potential to be one of the exceptional human beings of all time. He probably already is, but given half a chance and a fair wind he has the potential to achieve amazing things.

Healthcare reform vote: sweet victory for Obama

Winning the vote for healthcare reform in Congress last night showed that Obama was right to keep fighting

by Richard Adams

Some myths got slain last night in Washington DC. For one thing, the Democratic party rediscovered its vertebrae and used it, for a change, to pass healthcare reform. For another, the myth that the US political structure is broken and cannot digest fundamental issues … well, it took a dent.

Minutes after the final passage of the bills through the House of Representatives, President Obama got on with selling the reforms to the American public, going live on television despite the late hour. "This is what change looks like," Obama said, minutes before midnight, tying together his election promises of change with his commitments to reforming healthcare. "We proved that this government of the people and by the people still works for the people."

The key fact from last night's vote is not what the margin was or the procedure used. The fact that it happened at all that was the real miracle. "Tonight at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of politics," Obama said in his late-night post-vote address.


Not ideal but the US has rejoined the civilized nations. Shame so long absent.


Obama delivered on his promises where Clinton couldnt; 95% of Americans will get coverage. Only time will tell if USA can afford any of this, but seems that its a huge step forwards with regards to equity and cost control. It may not be perfect, but Obama will rightly claim victory. He (& we) can now move on with one huge and controversial job well done, and look forward to closing out the deal on a second term with his credibility stature & authority massively enhanced.


    "Honestly, I have never been for the life of me been able to figure out why so many so called Christians most strongly oppose any measure to help the disadvantaged in the US."

It's not that strange when you remember what brand of Christianity the US was founded on, and which is still practised by many of its citizens. The religion of the founding fathers was a particular strain of Protestantism, or Puritanism, where poverty was seen as a sign of being unfavoured by god and where self-reliance was a great virtue. The idea is that if you're poor, it's your fault for not being among the chosen. Sounds bizarrre, but how else to explain the fact that millions of 'ordinary Americans' with no connection to the insurance or pharmeceutical industries, oppose national health care with a passion?


There is a mythology - the "Horatio Alger" idea - that is deeply woven in the American psyche. Americans believe strongly in the ideal of the autonomous individual. In modern times, corporate interests have learned to exploit that ideal to avoid sensible community obligations like universal health care. The Republican party has been remarkably successful in convincing ordinary working class folks that the government only steals from them and if they could just be left alone, they'd thrive.

It's a ridiculous point of view, of course, but it's very prevalent.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Layer 269 The LRB, Springwatch, Holy Joes, Ratso and Romero

Yesterday I received my first subscription copy of the London Review of Books, which fell on to the doormat just as I was getting ready for a long and lazy hot bath. It's a real joy to read beautifully written essays, reviews, letters and articles on subjects of real interest and importance. I was going to add, "from a left/liberal perspective", but that over-simplifies what's essentially non-aligned writing which is better characterised as fact-based truth-seeking on a kind of radical anarcho-syndicalist basis - a loose collection of independent minds communicating with a network of similar minds.

You can read it here:

This interview is brilliant:

So is this review:

But you have to be a subscriber to read all of it!

I'm now going to be a passionate convert and evangelise about a new-found fount of truth and wisdom! Everyone should subscribe to the LRB because a) this is the type of publication that should in principle be supported by people who care about literature, society, politics and the human condition, and b) for less than the price of a glass of decent wine you have the delight of hours of stimulating and satisfying reading. Even if you only read a few pages of it every month you're still quids in, and all the better for reading it. The only problem being - you could spend a small fortune buying all the books you see reviewed and advertised so temptingly.

For example:

Taming The Gods - Religion and Democracy on Three Continents - by Ian Buruma

"Buruma broaches the biggest themes in contemporary world politics in this book: what are the relations, actual and possible, between religion and democracy in a globalised world?"

"Buruma's cosmopolitan and historical perspective and his sense of complexity distinguish Taming the Gods from much other writing on religion and politics. Concrete detail, historical perspective, and practical wisdom. His major target turns out not to be the irrationality of religion but the irrationality of the political and social debate, especially in Europe, surrounding religion."


Rage and Time - A Psychopolitical Investigation - by Peter Sloterdijk

"A brilliant and conceptually rich analysis of rage on the development of Western culture."


The Nature and Future of Philosophy - by Michael Dummett

" . . . among our foremost living philosophers . . . there is no question of the importance of this book."


Women as Weapons of War - Iraq, Sex and the Media - by Kelly Oliver

"Brilliant and unforgettable . . . In these times of shame and sorrow, this book is indispensable reading."


The New Old World  by Perry Anderson

"A masterly survey of the European project, coupled with a critique of its current failings, is just what the EU needs. Firmly left-wing, his solidarity with the 'street' against the 'palace' allows him to see the modern EU for what it too often is: a 'cartel of self-protective elites.'" - Economist

"A hugely ambitious and panoramic political book." - The Guardian


The Invention of Paris   -  by Eric Hazan

"With its astonishing breadth of reference and incredible detail, this is a must for all lovers of Paris."  -  Kevin Rushby

"This book is both a political and aesthetic delight, uncovering the real mysteries of Paris."  -  Andrew Hussey



Yesterday it was raining, and mild and wet weather had taken over from cold and dry. Though we've had a couple of days last week when the sun shone and the temperature rose to 15C. The forsythia outside the kitchen window suddenly looks ready to burst into yellowness. The cherries out in the street are all budding nicely and almost ready to blossom.

Final day of the rugby 6 nations yesterday. The commentator on the Wales v Italy match said something about these two national anthems being the best ones in the 6 nations. It's true the Italian anthem's a jaunty little tune, but the Welsh? It's as much of a dirge as God Save The Queen, if not more so.

What is it with Welsh men and the singing thing? So they can hold a tune - but so what? It's a horrible sound they make. I'll make a very large bet that outside of Wales NOBODY would buy a CD of a Welsh male voice choir. Not even 0.001% of any other population. Because it's a boring drone of a sound. I'd MUCH rather listen to a Welsh female voice choir.

And why do we call them male voice choirs anyway? Surely by definition every choir uses voices? Or do the Welsh, somewhere in the valleys or down in the mines, have male fart choirs?

In any case, the Marseillaise is by a very long way the best national anthem.


Here's the Guardian's editorial on Springtime and blossom:

It has been a long and unremittingly bitter winter on all fronts: meteorlogical, financial and political

Today is the first day of spring. It is the vernal equinox, when day and night are of equal length. And even if all you have to judge it by are the flowers on sale on the garage forecourt, this is a moment which only the most miserable can ignore. Birdsong is already throbbing with testosterone. Ponds are soupy with frogspawn. And after a winter when snowdrifts were replaced on country roadsides by extraordinary masses of snowdrops, daffodils are at last coming into flower.


Holy Joes and Evil Spawn of the Devil

The Catholic child abuse scandal seems to be doing for the Catholic church what the expenses scandals have done for Parliament, and the financial scandals have done for the banks. All three institutions, which have held sway over huge numbers of people for so many years, have been completely busted, shamed and exposed as hypocrites, cheats, liars and frauds. Not only do these shoddy emperors have no clothes, as many of us have been saying for years - they are ugly criminals and abusers of decent people. Their foghorn voices can, and must, just shut the fuck up.

So NOW is the time for the 'common people' to assert their right to have governments, banks and churches serving US, and not the other way round. WE, the people, tell THEM what to do, in order to be of service to US. This is the way it should be.

Sorrow and shame over child abuse

The pope apologises for years of child abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. Surely this is the point at which the church finally lost its hold on the moral high ground and was exposed, for all to see, for its institutionalised bigotry.
Bernie Doeser
Helston, Cornwall

One issue that hasn't been discussed, to my knowledge, is the criminal law. The abuse of children by any person is an extremely serious crime. Surely it is not legal to keep such crimes within the church and not report them to the police. The abusers and their superiors should be charged with conspiracy to commit child sexual abuse and harbouring a criminal, multiplied by the known number of abusers.
Josette Coburn-Morgan
Potton, Bedfordshire

Lay Catholics once again experience deep sorrow and shame over clerical child-abuse scandals and mounting allegations of clerical cover-ups.

I'm deeply worried that it was the present pope who, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took over control of child abuse cases in 2001 and as Ratzinger insisted that all investigations were made in secret and sent a letter out to every Catholic bishop to this effect. How can he then lament the failure of the Irish Catholic church to deal with the errant clerics because of a cover-up when he himself seems to have ordered it?
Kathryn Marooney
Abingdon, Oxfordshire

And talking of Ratzinger (or Pope Benedict as he now calls himself) sending out letters, today we read this on the Guardian website -

Pope Benedict apologises for Irish priests' child sex abuse

Pastoral letter to victims expresses shame and remorse of Catholic church and calls on priests to face justice

The pope today apologised to the victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, saying he was "truly sorry" for their suffering.

In a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, Benedict XVI castigated Irish bishops for "grave errors of judgment" in their handling of the paedophilia scandal and ordered a Vatican investigation into the Irish church.

But he made no mention of any Vatican responsibility and gave no specific punishments for bishops who have been blamed by victims and Irish government inquiries for having concealed the abuse.

The letter described the sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by priests, brothers and nuns as "sinful and criminal", saying they had betrayed the trust of the faithful, brought shame on the church and now must answer to God and civil authorities.

"I recognise how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice," Benedict wrote.

"Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. And this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness."

Victims have demanded that bishops resign. Three Irish bishops have offered to step down but the pope has not accepted their resignations.

Three official inquiries, ordered by the Irish government, documented how thousands of Irish children were raped, molested or otherwise abused by priests in their parishes, and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages. Irish bishops did not report a single case to police until 1996 after victims began to sue the church.

Returning to the idea that the Catholic church should have some point and purpose in "those causes on which the church has proved a trenchant champion, stirring lazy consciences on the arms race, global inequality and capitalist excess" (Madeleine Bunting, Friday) - today's 'Face To Faith' column considers some interesting points -

Romero, a beacon of hope for the poor

Oscar Romero died 30 years ago. Yet he can still teach us much about good Christian values

by Christine Allen

In four days' time I will be among millions of people around the world remembering a man gunned down in El Salvador by a government-sanctioned bullet. In the early 1980s in El Salvador, a single death in an era of disappearances, repression and massacres was not remarkable. But this death was.

The murder of archbishop Oscar Romero – by a bullet to the chest as he said mass at the altar – was not just a personal attack on a man who was a thorn in the side of El Salvador's corrupt ruling elite. It was the murder of an icon: a man who was prepared to "speak truth to power"; a bishop who stood side by side with the poor and the oppressed.

Far from being a "revolutionary", Oscar Romero was a quiet, mild-mannered soul whose faith compelled him to speak out for the people who couldn't. When he took office as the archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, violence and murder were claiming the lives of 3,000 people each month. In the words of one witness: "The streets were flooded with blood."

What was an archbishop to do about such brutality? Most of the senior clergy had remained tight-lipped out of fear or out of complicity.

[This is putting it mildly. In those days the Pope actually spoke out against priests and bishops in South America who espoused "liberation theology" and who identified themselves with the poor and powerless against the rich and despotic.]

Romero quickly became a "bishop of the people", demanding answers for the mounting deaths, visiting the poorest and most oppressed in far-flung communities, and bravely speaking out against what the poor told him was happening. It was a dangerous task, and one for which he paid the ultimate price.

Romero became world-famous overnight. Over the last 30 years, he has been a guiding light for all Catholics concerned for peace and justice. Today his memory lives on. In the towns and villages of his home nation . . . masses, vigils and talks will be held to remember this man who gave his life for the poor in El Salvador.

But to remember Romero, as important as that is, is only a part of the story. His life and death also hold a prophetic message for us now and in the future. Romero calls on each of us to be transformed into good news for the poor and oppressed in our world.

Today, there are many who say that rather than walking hand in hand with the oppressed, the hierarchy of the Catholic church is too disengaged from the plight of the vulnerable and marginalised.

In principle, the church is with the poor. Take this, for example, from a statement by the Catholic bishops' conference just weeks before a general election: "Development requires that people are rescued from every form of poverty, from hunger to illiteracy … "

But, as Romero himself said, "things can't just be written on paper". His prophetic message is that it is our duty as Christians to bring these values to life. We have to act to put our principles into practice.

A young man in El Salvador told me recently: "Monsignor Romero provided a means through which social protest could be expressed. If a poor person said that beans were expensive, they were killed. No one could talk. But he could say those kinds of things.

Thirty years on from his death, Romero's life and murder is a challenge to the church and to all believers: are we prepared to actually put that power at the service of others, and to fight for justice for the world's poor and marginalised, whatever the cost to ourselves?


It's worth taking a look at the comments about this piece on CIF, providing you ignore the usual bollocks from MoveAnyMountain.



Might I direct you to the report that the US Ambassador, Robert White, made on the matter (1980)
    The major, immediate threat to the existence of this government is the right-wing violence. In the city of San Salvador, the hired thugs of the extreme-right, some of them well-trained Cuban and Nicaraguan terrorists, kill moderate-left leaders and blow up government buildings. In the countryside, elements of the security forces torture and kill the campesinos, shoot up their houses and burn their crops. At least two hundred refugees, from the countryside, arrive daily in the capital city. This campaign of terror is radicalizing the rural areas, just as surely as Somoza's National Guard did in Nicaragua.

This is from the ambassador of the country that supported the Salvadorian Government throughout the period, and of course was utterly opposed to the communist insurgency.

Later in the document he also says that for any Salvadorian government to have legitimacy they need to gain the support of Archbishop Romero.

Of course, White was dismissed by the Reagan administration who just went on blithely supporting the torturers and killers.


Think about what Hugh O'Shaughnessy wrote in a recent blog:

I wondered about why some in the Vatican held out so long against any move which would signal an end to their hatred, and I don't use that word lightly, of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero. Thirty years ago next month he was assassinated while saying mass by one bullet fired at the instance of a right-wing extremist trained by the US army.

When John Paul II visited El Salvador he was perfunctory towards the shining record of martyrdom by Romero, a hero to millions, Christians and non-Christians round the world. Nor can I remember any word Rome said about the action of the western-trained forces in machine-gunning the faithful massed in their tens of thousands at Romero's funeral at the ugly concrete cathedral of San Salvador which had been his.


El Salvador was a dictatorship run by thugs who were supported blindly by the USA. The only place worse in Latin America at the time was Guatamala where full scale genocide was being perpetrated against Mayan indians in the countryside.

The vast majority of killing in El Salvador was by government forces or right wing death squads (who were often the same people). And it was directed at anyone who protested, not just supporters of the FMLN, including Romero, the American Nuns that were killed and many many more people whose only crime was to fight for human rights for the population.

To justify the torture, kidnapping and murder of tens thousands of people by the right, by blaming the left, shows complete moral bankruptcy.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Layer 268 . . . Berlusconi, Bannatyne, Bunting . . . and Catholicism

The Berlusconi Show
I'm becoming irritated with Sam Wollaston, who's one of the Guardian's TV critics and commentators. I'm getting sick of wanky journos who seem to care mainly about getting easy chuckles and taking cheap shots. I don't mind the odd chuckle or cheap shot, but I also expect more than glib summaries of some pretty important work on TV.

This week we've had a wealth of brilliant documetaries to savour and enjoy on our TV networks - the ones on Detroit, Gaza, and the encounter between Maya Angelou and Dave Chappelle, which Oxzen has already commented on - to name but three.The documentary film is an increasingly important art form.

These three documentaries were anything but straightforward reportage on their subject matter: a great deal of creative thought and energy had gone into their editing, sound, images, and so on. Work of this quality deserves to be taken seriously.

And then we had a documentary called The Berlusconi Show, made by Mark Franchetti, and shown on BBC2 in prime time on Wednesday.

So what does young Wollaston have to say about it?

This fine study of Italy's leader leaves me amazed, says Sam Wollaston. How did he ever get elected?

Mark Franchetti, who's lived away from his native country for 20 years, goes back to find out how the hell this clown came to lead a European democracy in the 21st century. Franchetti  speaks to lots of people on both sides, and looks at the historical context of Berlusconi's rise to power; this is proper, balanced reporting.

For the viewer, though, what stands out is the stuff that makes you wince. It's not as if we didn't know it all before: the media control, the alleged mafia connections and corruption, the links to the extreme right, the trials, the legislative changes, the escorts and young girls, the cosmetic surgery, the parties, the gaffes, the dissing of Angela Merkel, the referring to Barack Obama as "tanned". It's just that, when it's all presented together, you're left with your jaw on the floor. How the frigging frig did that happen? And again. And again. He's been elected three times.

This was extraordinary, fascinating and worrying, all at the same time.

So Sam - which bit of it didn't you understand - when you ask the question: "How did he get elected?"

Francitti in fact did a superb job in examining the Italian psyche and revealing how Berlusconi, ever the populist, very cleverly "triangulates" in ways that Blair and New Labour could only dream of. Slippery Silvio is smart enough to make sure that he speaks TO the working classes, and not ABOUT them or AT them. And he also makes sure that he offers them enough treats to keep them happy, unlike New Labour. He also delivers on his promises and bribes. Unlike New Labour. The programme made all of this perfectly, beautifully, clear.

Of course he also behaves like a tycoon, a megalomaniac, a monopolist, and a smug, self-satisfied would-be tyrant, which appeals to the Italian middle and upper classes, who like their leaders to be "strong", powerful", "decisive", "colourful", "maccho", "bold", wealthy, nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-socialist, anti-communist, anti-trade unionist, Machiavellian and to also have a passing resemblance to Garibaldi.

And not dissimilar to that other Italian guy - what was his name? - oh yes, Mussolini.

"His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire", to give him his full title.


Duncan Bannatyne

Here comes another tycoon with aspirations to be a political big wheel. He was on Desert Island Discs this week. And he's yet another guest of DID who knows nothing (and cares nothing) about music. Or, as he put it himself - "Ah wasnae intae music all tha' much."

How very true. Not at all into it, in fact.

Rod Stewart   — Maggie May
Tom Jones   — Green, Green Grass of Home
Dawn  — Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree
Michael Ball   — Love Changes Everything
Beverley Knight   — Shoulda Woulda Coulda
Chesney Hawkes   — The One and Only

Sample lyric -

I can't wear this uniform without some compromises
Because you'll find out that we come
In different shapes and sizes
No one can be myself like I can
For this job I'm the best man
And while this may be true
You are the one and only you


But at least he didn't feel the need to throw in anything classical. Strange though how so many of our 'celebrities' either don't have time for music or are just very fond of wall to wall schmaltz. Or both. Sentimental. Florid. Maudlin.


Chopin was quoted on R4 today as having said, "The aristocracy in Britain are brought up to treat music as background noise."

Hmm. They're not the only ones.

Chopin also wrote, "Scottish people are kind - but such bores. God help me."

It seems Mr Bannatyne is a well-known supporter of charities. Which is nice.


He was on BBC1 on Friday - dancing for Sport Aid. Incredibly badly. Unsurprisingly for a man who has no taste in music, he shows an abysmal sense of rhythm. I.e. none whatsoever. As one of the judges said - appalling. Cringe-makingly bad.

Still - it's for cheridy. And Mr B would rather be bigging up his "profile" on TV - even if people are basically laughing and cringing at him - than not be on TV at all.


Madeleine Bunting is right on the ball again with a piece in the Guardian today about Catholicism and child abuse -

An inquiry is vital, but the church's moral authority is lost for ever

There is only one conceivable reaction to the fast-spreading crisis in the Catholic church: horror. Only the most virulent anti-papist could ever have quite envisaged the scale of child abuse and the doggedness of the church's desire to stifle scandal. The rest of us are astonished and appalled. Quite rightly, Angela Merkel saw fit to intervene. After decades – perhaps we should rather be referring to centuries – of obfuscation, the Catholic church has to be called to account for what has happened.

Last summer the Ryan report exposed decades of systematic abuse of thousands of children in Ireland.

Abuse allegations emerge across Europe in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy.

The current issue of the Catholic weekly, the Tablet, carries a thoughtful article by the head of Berlin's Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine which acknowledges that the church's celibacy requirement may have appealed – misleadingly appearing to offer a solution – to paedophiles' conflicted sexuality. While the debate about disproportion continues, what is increasingly clear is that the church's determination to preserve its institutional power and authority repeatedly involved suppressing the truth – even when that put children at further risk.

The crisis simply accelerates what is already happening: the drift away from a model of religious experience which younger generations find increasingly unintelligible. Despite all the talk in Ireland and elsewhere of inquiries to ascertain the truth and "rebuild confidence in the church", such initiatives are very unlikely to achieve that outcome. Inquiries prompt more lurid headlines as they expose further the scale and detail of the abuse. They are necessary and important, but they will not save the Catholic church.

There will be plenty celebrating the Catholic church's plight, and it is hard not to agree in some part with MacCulloch, that hubris has played a huge part in this institution's history and its current crisis. But it is also important to acknowledge that this is more tragedy than anything else. For the victims, their families, their congregations – many of whom see no cause for celebration despite their need for truth – and for those causes on which the church has proved a trenchant champion, stirring lazy consciences on the arms race, global inequality and capitalist excess.


I'm going to bed slightly depressed tonight, having read so many bullshit comments on CIF following Lynsey Hanley's latest column in the Guardian, which was basically a good news story about Newham Council allocating over £1m so that every child in ther borough can have music lessons on an instrument of their choice.

The really depressing thing is that our education system turns out so many people who've been to probably quite decent schools, and even universities, and still end up witless, mean-spirited and up their own arses. What's more these morons have nothing better to do than hang around the Guardian's website ready to spew out their ignorant and reactionary bile, totally incapable of any constructive or even any interesting thoughts.

Watch this video:


This is great. I just wish we'd been able to keep the one that carried us nearly all the way across Africa.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Layer 267 . . . Devastation . . . Return to Gaza . . . and Detroit

Dispatches: Children of Gaza (Channel 4)

I had an idea a while ago to make a documentary about education that would use children speaking to camera about their experiences of school to tell the truth about the way in which schools have become results factories that have nothing to do with 'learning how to learn' and everything to do with using children in a despicable and cynical effort to achieve government-set targets for test and exam passes.

You would need to find some reasonably articulate kids who could speak from the heart about how much they hate being subjected to a form of schooling that has nothing to do with their own need to enjoy learning for its own sake, and nothing at all to do with enabling them to become self-directing independent learners, which is something we all aspire to, if we have any spirit left in us.

I'm saying here that my documentary would "use" children in this way, but what I really want to do is give children who care about this misuse of their childhood an opportunity to speak out in their own voices about what is clearly a form of abuse.

[Incidentally, I also want to make a film about the opposite case - children who were subjected to an extreme version of "child-centred" schooling that allowed them to drift through the Primary school phase and avoid any engagement with literacy and numeracy if they "didn't feel like it". The interviewees would be adults who, in living memory, attended a school where the headteacher and her hand-picked staff held the view that children "naturally" choose to learn how to read, write or do mathematics "when they're ready for it".

I've met some of these children and they rightly resent enormously the failure of their teachers to find ways to interest and engage them in forms of learning that usually require considerable effort and application - just to satisfy their "child-centred" philosophy. It's the reverse side of the coin that has on its other side the Blunkets and Blairs of this world saying that children have to be made to sit down, shut up, concentrate on the teacher, do hours of pointless homework and do nothing that 'gets in the way' of getting the highest possible marks in tests.]

The reason I'd want to use children (and ex-pupils) to tell these stories is that they'd speak from the heart in ways that would be impossible to coach or direct into professional actors even. When a child speaks with passion and conviction about serious matters that affect them you KNOW they're telling the truth, and not just parroting someone else's lines or points of view.

This week there was a documentary on Channel 4 about the children of Gaza, which allowed the children to speak in their own voices about what they've been through, and are still going through. It made me so angry and sick that at one point I had to stop watching it, which is something I've never experienced before. The children themselves were calm and reasonable as they spoke about the sheer horror and vileness that was inflicted on them and their families by the Israeli army and airforce. They also spoke about what it's like to be still living amidst the rubble of their destroyed communities, which the Israelis refuse to let them rebuild.

I remember very well writing my Oxzen pieces about the attack on Gaza at the time it was happening, and the disgust and loathing I felt about the sheer bloody brutality and evil that was being carried out in the name of revenge for a few largely ineffectual rocket attacks that caused very few Israeli casualties. Needless to say, the children of Gaza were not responsible for those attacks, and neither were most, if any, of their parents. The real reason the destruction of Gaza took place, of course, was punishment for the Palestinians for voting for Hamas in their elections, and in order to kill as many of the Hamas leadership and militia as possible, regardless of how many homes, schools, hospitals, etc (and also 'civilians') were destroyed in the process. In fact, the more the better, it seems.

As well as featuring children telling their stories this documentary also showed parents talking about their children that had been killed or injured in the attacks. For all of them, the experience can only have created even more hatred for their oppressors and attackers, and an understandable desire for revenge. Which of us wouldn't hate those who had done these things to us, after making us refugees in the first place by destroying our family homes and appropriating our family's land?

On the other hand, Sam Wollaston, in his Guardian review of the programme, focused pretty much exclusively on the hatred felt by the Gazans for the Israelis, rather than the reasons for the hatred. He seems to have found the programme "deeply disturbing and depressing" because of the desire of some Gazans to carry out revenge attacks, rather than the fact that thousands of innocent men, women and children have had their lives devastated by murderous attacks by an over-mighty Israeli military machine.

In December 2008, the Israeli Defence Force unleashed a campaign to destroy the ability of Hamas to launch rockets and mortars into Israel. Around 300 children were among the 1,300 Palestinians that were killed.

After the ceasefire, BAFTA-winning filmmaker Jezza Neumann arrived in Gaza to follow the lives of three children over a year.

Surrounded by the remnants of the demolished Gaza Strip and increasingly isolated by the blockade that prevents anyone from rebuilding their homes and their lives, Children of Gaza is a shocking, touching and uniquely intimate reflection on extraordinary courage in the face of great adversity.


International Solidarity Movement in Palestine
This is well worth a read - Brian Logan's article on the efforts of Ivor Dembina to support (through his political comedy and theatre) the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine.

Six years in development, the show is a labour of love for Dembina. It addresses his Hendon childhood, his rejection of his parents' politics, and his work with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine, where he witnesses Israeli tanks bulldoze the house of a suicide bomber. "That's a family's home," Dembina tells a soldier. "Not any more, it isn't," the soldier wisecracks back. That remark represents a watershed moment for Dembina, a disciple of Jewish comedy who suddenly realises that Jewish comedy isn't very Jewish any more.

"Jewish comedy," he explains, "is part of our identity. But now it's stuck. Traditionally, Jewish comedy is warm-hearted, full of truth and intellectualism. But now, most people's perception of Jews relates to Israel, and Israel means tough. It's shoot first and ask questions later. And what's that got to do with vulnerability, with love of humanity? So Jewish comedy becomes just some dislocated tradition, like Scottish people tossing the caber." Dembina fills up. "I feel really sad. I really feel this loss."

Since volunteering in Palestine, and more so since making the show, Dembina has received letters branding him a "traitor" and a "self-hating Jew". But he's adamant that "I'm one of the growing number of Jewish people who want to speak out." He was invited to perform the show in Israel, where there is – contrary to many people's monolithic image of the country – a thriving peace movement. He also performed the show in the Occupied Territories, where audiences "were amazed that there should be Jewish peace volunteers", he says. "They found that very difficult to get to grips with."

Veteran Labour dissenter Marshall-Andrews visited Palestine, too – Gaza, in his case – on a recent parliamentary delegation. He thinks it's "enormously important" that anti-Zionist Jewish voices make themselves heard, because it "demonstrates that what Israel is doing is not done in the name of all Jews". But is comedy an appropriate way to make that point? Absolutely, says Marshall-Andrews. "There is humour in everything in life, however dire. I found that the Palestinians, although deeply oppressed, maintain precisely the humorous spirit that people often do in those circumstances. That side of the conflict needs to be shown."

Dembina goes further: jokes, he says, can change the world.

"I've always believed that comedy should be about things you care about and that affect you," he says. "But writing a standup show about this subject, I struggled with it for years." The invitation to parliament is a kind of vindication. "I just wanted to show that, if you give quality, serious-minded work to an audience, they will listen." And as for his new audience, "MPs and peers are no different from anybody else," says Dembina. "It's important for them to know that some Jewish people are deeply uncomfortable with Israel's behaviour. They need to be told."

This Is Not a Subject for Comedy is at the Houses of Parliament on 22 March.


Requiem for Detroit

America, the country that supplies many of the armaments and war machines that were used in the attack on Gaza, has its own devastated and derelict cities and suffering people. Detroit, for example.

Requiem for Detroit? (BBC2, Saturday)

One Shot!

This is a brilliant film, with incredible use of images and sound. When you watch stuff like this, when you really concentrate on it with the sound turned up, you understand the anger that drives guys like Eminem to make the kind of music they do. And as Dr Angelou says, "If you're not angry . . . you're either a stone or you're too sick to be angry."

John Crace wrote this review in the Guardian:

Julien Temple has form as a self-styled auteur, but for once he kept his more irritating filmic tics in check, and his talent became all the more apparent for it.

Temple kept his camera within an area of a few square miles, yet managed to make a film about the entire history of the western world in the last 100 years. Through a collage of modern landscape, archive film and talking heads, Temple started with Henry Ford and the Model T, and took us on a journey of mass consumerism that embraced unionisation, race riots and segregation, and ended in the autophagism of the automobile. The very thing on which Detroit's wealth had been built came to destroy it – not just with the economic recession, but in the way communities were ripped apart to make space for more and more freeways.

There was little romance here: Motown, so often treated to the rose-tinted gloss of memory by music writers, was merely a pit-stop in the city's decline; 47% of Detroit's population is illiterate; schools are closing; and interviewees flinched as gunshots echoed.

Despite this, there was an out-of-time beauty to the vast expanses of Detroit that have been left derelict – they could pass off as the set for Blade Runner. Street after street of deserted houses; lot after lot of burned-out cars; acre after acre of abandoned car plants; the morning rush hour that isn't – no one is going anywhere. But there is hope among the people who have decided to work this land as nature reclaims it. Slowly but surely, Detroit is returning to the farmland it once was.


The BBC's blurb says:

Julien Temple's new film is a vivid evocation of an apocalyptic vision: a slow-motion Katrina that has had many more victims. Detroit was once America's fourth largest city.

Built by the car for the car, with its groundbreaking suburbs, freeways and shopping centres, it was the embodiment of the American dream.

But its intense race riots brought the army into the city. With violent union struggles against the fierce resistance of Henry Ford and the Big Three, it was also the scene of American nightmares.

Now it is truly a dystopic post-industrial city, in which 40 per cent of the land in the centre is returning to prairie. Greenery grows up through abandoned office blocks, houses and collapsing car plants, and swallows up street lights.

Police stations and post offices have been left with papers on the desks like the Marie Celeste. There is no more rush hour on what were the first freeways in America. Crime, vandalism, arson and dog fighting are the main activities in once the largest building in North America. But it's also a source of hope.

Streets are being turned to art. Farming is coming back to the centre of the city. Young people are flocking to help. The burgeoning urban agricultural movement is the fastest growing movement in the US. Detroit leads the way again but in a very different direction.

2 days left to watch!!!