Thursday, July 29, 2010

Layer 336 . . . The Politics of Education, Graduates, Sweat, Debt, and Disillusionment

Oh well, it's back to keeping up with politics, beginning with the politics of education.

Peter Preston, loud-mouthed supporter of SATs and league tables, and scourge of trendy lefty teachers, as he imagines them, is suddenly concerned about children and students actually enjoying life. Why? Well wouldn't you know it - he's been awarded an honorary degree (why?) and he wants us to know about it. Being at a graduation ceremony has caused him to focus on real students and their experiences of the education system.

University: learning to enjoy life

Witnessing the hope of a graduation day, I remember that education is about more than sweat and debt

He remembers!!! At last!!

Actually this piece is only concerned with university students, and I suppose it's too much to expect him to think laterally to what also goes on in schools, and whether pupils enjoy their lives within them. To do that he'd need to actually go into a school, having been awarded an honorary GCSE or maybe an honorary Level 4 in English.

So what does he have to say about learning and enjoying life?

University isn't a mere staging post to a well-paid job . . . Nor is it just an investment in Britain's future, so we can compete with Beijing by 2020. It isn't wholly a practical slog, either, a skill box of computer or engineering skills. University is an experience, often a life-changing one. You leave school a spotty child, and three years later, you're sort of grown up. You have friends you'll probably never lose. You've looked after yourself. You've sweated through exams. If you're lucky, you've learned how to think – the best boon of the lot.

Yes Pete, old duck, IF YOU'RE LUCKY. Because even at undergraduate level there's still no priority given to learning how to think. What we have is still a grim determination to force young people to swallow a curriculum, memorise its content, and regurgitate it in exams.

In fact, this happens even at postgraduate level! A friend's very bright son decided to bale out of his Masters course as soon as he realised that there was still no scope for self-directed learning and research, and it was still a bloody boring exam treadmill.

Pete goes on:

When did we begin to forget such things?

When did YOU forget, you old bastard? Some of us have been saying this stuff forever. Beginning with primary schooling.

He goes on to blame education ministers for making "degree courses seem like tests for national survival."

This is the man who talks about Primary tests and league tables as though they're essentials to national survival!

And there's more. He concludes:

Is school, and then college or university, there as an obstacle race, a slog of tests and hurdles? Is it just a rehearsal for 50 years of frustration, sweat, debt, disillusion and staffroom tears?

The danger is making education seem unutterably grim. The hope – see that beaming [graduation] queue of something achieved – is that happiness has a part to play. For learning in this crunched, short life means learning to enjoy yourself, too.

Thanks to people like Peter Preston, Melanie Philips, Chris Woodhead and their politician friends, schools and universities HAVE become unutterably grim results factories where pupil and student wellbeing, as well as their social, emotional and spiritual intelligences, have been increasingly neglected and marginalised - in the rush to "drive up standards".

Learning to enjoy yourself? How can you enjoy yourself when you're racking up debt doing stuff day in and day out that's basically cramming for exams, with little or no opportunities for self-directed creative experience?

What a fucking idiot.


There's more evidence of the university system being useless and actually harmful to young people's life chances reported in the education section of the Guardian this week.

Should universities teach students how to find a job?

Sarfraz Manzoor has been following the fortunes of six young people who graduated last year. How well do they feel that university prepared them for today's economic realities?

The class of 2009 left university knowing they were facing the toughest battle for jobs in a generation.

That was, at least, the dire prediction, but what was the reality? I have spent the last year documenting the post-graduation lives of six students who are among the class of 2009. The six studied at the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University, and agreed to keep audio diaries throughout their year in which they recorded their hopes for the coming year as well as their reaction to the reality.

By the end of the year, the six students were scattered around the world and were far more cynical about the value of a university education than they had been on graduating.

For a start off it's interesting that none of the six was interested in using knowledge gained from their degrees - they all wanted to pursue careers in areas like sales, journalism and the media - careers that had nothing to do with the subjects they'd been studying. Given the likelihood that they'd originally chosen those subjects for their interest and enjoyment, what does that say about the universities making them somehow utterly tedious and uninspiring?

Page and Ali both left the country to seek work in Cyprus and Saudi Arabia, while Del Core found the soul-crushing business of being rejected hard to take. "I've looked for jobs in newspapers, at the job centre, on the internet, and by word of mouth," she says. "I've had several interviews, some of which I got to the second stage, but I never got past that. It has been quite disheartening – some positions I applied for were more the dream job than a means to an end, and I was very upset when I didn't get those. I was in tears."

Having spent time with the graduates, I was struck by how much they seemed to have believed, at least at the start, that they were entitled to a well-paid and fulfilling job simply because they had been to university. "When you look at the people who are going to university," explains Professor Kate Purcell, of Warwick University's Institute for Employment Research, "they have been encouraged to think that education has given them employability skills, so as well as learning about history or English or business studies they are also learning problem solving, developing communication skills, so they are pretty confident about themselves."

This confidence is not necessarily well founded.

A lot of people go to university for the sake of it because they think it is the right thing to do. So that makes lots of graduates. Universities are still selling the idea to people that if they go to university they are guaranteed a great job at the end of it, and that is just not the case any more.

The increasing number of graduates entering the job market has meant that employers are often insisting that prospective employees pass psychometric tests as a way of selecting candidates, and it has also led to claims that too many young people are being herded into university.

"When I think about a university course, I think of something that teaches people a skill so that they are qualified to do a certain job," says Gerrard. "But, in reality, after my degree I don't feel qualified for anything – degrees don't indicate someone's common sense or people skills, and I don't think you can get through many interviews without a little of both."

Just a little? It's pathetic really - these young graduates aren't even properly aware of what they're lacking. Common sense? What's that? People skills? Such as?

What's more, it's not their fault. They've been told since Primary school that high attainment is all that matters - and too late they find it isn't. What's more, they don't really know what does matter. And they're not the only ones. Politicians and university bosses don't know either. Their assumption is always that a first class honours or a 2.1 degree will get you anywhere in life. Beyond that, they haven't a clue. Well - that's what got them a meal ticket to their high status, was it not?

And it's no wonder that employers put more trust in 'psychometric tests' than university attainment in subjects whose facts and figures they won't be using anyway. The poor bloody students think that having a degree tells people they're "bright". Actually it doesn't. It's just as likely to say they're a dull swat, a boring little library-goer, a self-regarding 'academically able' nonentity with little experience of life, proper work, or real people. Possibly a dull conformist who's unable to think for themselves, unable to think creatively and imaginatively, unable to work well in a team, or communicate effectively, or write well, or show any empathy, intuition or instinctual intelligence. Common sense indeed.

The New Learning Revolution is about developing all of these intelligences and skills. How come the people who run education in this country don't realise that yet? How many more generations of our young people will go through our education system deprived of the sorts of learning that are taken for granted in countries much smarter than ours?

What's more, they're deprived of their human right to enjoy learning for its own sake, and to be free of undue pressure and stress within the education system.

This country used to be known for its creative and innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Not only have other countries overtaken us, we've actually been going backwards for the past 20 odd years.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Layer 335 . . . Tom Jones, Soul, Blues, Praise, Blame, Glam and Glitter

Tom Jones was always a great soul and gospel singer, and now he seems to be increasingly turning to the blues and boogie. It also seems his new album has been rubbished by the head honchos at his new label. They had apparently signed him in the expectation that he'd crank out more Sex Bombs and maybe another Delilah. Ha!

On Jones' 70th birthday, 7 June 2010, the single "Burning Hell", a cover of the John Lee Hooker classic, from the forthcoming Praise & Blame album, was released. In July 2010 it was reported, however, that David Sharpe, vice-president of Island Records (to whom Jones had moved, from EMI, for £1.5m in October 2009), had emailed colleagues demanding that they "pull back this project immediately or get my money back" and asking if the record had been "a sick joke". Jones later attacked Sharpe and revealed that he was furious about the leaked email. - Wikipedia

First track on "Praise and Blame" is Dylan's sublime "What Good Am I?", which is about a million miles away from the green, green grass of home. Or Las Vegas. Lyrics here:

Performance on 'Later' here -

One of Yentob's 'Imagine' documentaries was shown recently, featuring Tom J, obviously as a tie-in for the release of the new album. He really came across as a very decent and likeable guy, and very honest. If it's still available on iPlayer it's worth watching.

This is a decent page about Tom -

Also on this site is a brilliant video of Tom duetting with the amazing Janis Joplin - a song called Raise Your Hand - an Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper soul classic.

The sheer joy on the faces of both of them as they belt out the song makes you realise all over again what an incredible loss it was to the planet when Janis died. She's never been equalled as a blues and soul singer.

Janis singing it on her own (with her band) here:

Incidentally there's an interesting version of Talking Heads' excellent 'Burning Down The House' by Tom Jones with The Cardigans available on Spotify.

"I'm just an ordinary guy
Burning down the house."

And did anyone know that Tom recorded an entire album with Jools Holland in 2004? Boogie Woogie! Some nice Hammond playing on this. Track 1 is terrific - "Life's Too Short". Listen here:

Also on Spotify I came across an album Tom made in 2002 called 'Mr Jones'. First track is a very funky thing called 'Tom Jones International', which is credited to Tom and Wyclef Jean. Practically hip-hop.
'Younger Days' is also a great piece of funk, with brilliant drums and bass.
"I was young and rowdy
Now I'm old and rowdy."
Way to go, Tom.


Tony Palmer's an interesting guy. His excellent 17-part documentary "All You Need Is Love, a history of popular music", is being re-broadcast nightly by Sky Arts.

Last night's episode, Glitter Rock, focused on the bands and singers that emerged in the early 70's, sandwiched between the eras of 60's Hard Rock and Punk. Lester Bangs ( laid into it with relish, calling the music slick, shallow, superficial and deeply depressing. Also vacuous, bland, ignorant, stupid, mindless, drab, dumb and self-indulgent frippery. And you can't say fairer than that.

He also pointed out that this music had no intellectual energy whatsoever - it had nothing to say of any interest. Which is generally very true, and in contrast to the traditions in jazz, blues and rock, where emotional honesty and honesty about the state of the world was taken for granted. As was great musicianship.

Glitter and glam were pure escapism - shiny and dumb. It was hard to see how it could appeal to a teenager with even half a brain, but easy to see how retards of any age could get off on it. Its only goals and values were fame and riches.

Stupid clothes, stupid hairdos, ridiculous attitudes. Nothing countercultural or rebellious whatsoever. Vacuous materialism - like the rest of society, only taken to extremes.

Music for escapism, 100% style, packaging and presentation; 0% content.

As Ian Anderson said in the programme, rock isn't meant to be a professional, organised branch of show business. Though Pop is.

So-called Glitter Rock was strictly for kids who were looking for self-aggrandisement, seeing it as a business, and not a calling, or an artform.

Bryan Ferry couldn't even hold a tune. His use of pin-ups and glamour girls on his album covers certainly had nothing to do with art and everything to do with blatant eye-catching packaging. Art has something to do with the communication of feelings and the revelation of truths.

None of the individuals in the bands that peaked in the early '70's had any soul, any authenticity, any truth to reveal. T Rex? Gary Glitter? Alice Cooper? Kiss?

Bowie said on the programme that he'd started out as a jazz sax player, but wasn't much good at it. Therefore he'd gone into pop and rock, which he could 'fake' (his word) quite easily. Theatricality and showmanship came very easily.

Elton John and Bowie were maybe the most interesting of the glam rockers, in that they were extremely good at what they did, and actually recorded the odd exceptional track. You could possibly same the same of Roxy Music. Unfortunately these people were all posers and fakers, to use Bowie's word. They had much more in common with Gary Glitter than, say, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, the Stones, Doors, Neil Young, etc.

Did Glam and Glitter have any durability and quality? Would anyone pay to see it performed now? Maybe if you were an adolescent in the '70's and felt like wallowing in nostalgia for stuff you thought at the time was pretty exciting. After all, a reformed Roxy did a show in Victoria Park about 10 days ago, and it seems plenty of people paid to watch.

Roxy Music: as decadent as ever, they noodled their way beautifully through a bunch of slowies, before ending on an intoxicating blast of Virginia Plane, Let’s Stick Together and Love is the Drug. A band once described as 'the triumph of artifice’ proved they were the perfect headliners for a crowd of East End peacocks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Layer 334 . . . Two Men and a Boat

Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize laureate and author of Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain and Death In Venice, as well as numerous other works, was born in Germany in 1875.

"In 1930 Mann gave a public address in Berlin titled "An Appeal to Reason", in which he strongly denounced National Socialism  and encouraged resistance by the working class. This was followed by numerous essays and lectures in which he attacked the Nazis. At the same time, he expressed increasing sympathy for socialist ideas."  -  Wikipedia

According to Thomas Mann,

No man remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself.

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.

I mention these things in passing.

Tom Mann, on the other hand, was born 19 years earlier, on 15th April 1856 in Coventry, and lived in a cottage in Grange Road, just a few yards within the city boundary. He was the son of a clerk who worked at a local coal mine.

"He attended school from the ages of six to nine, then began work doing odd jobs on the colliery farm. A year later he became a trapper, a labour-intensive job that involved clearing blockages from the narrow airways in the mining shafts. In 1870, the colliery was forced to close and the family moved to Birmingham. Mann soon found work as an engineering apprentice. He attended public meetings addressed by Annie Besant and John Bright, and this began his political awareness. He completed his apprenticeship in 1877 and moved to London. However, he was unable to find work as an engineer and took a series of unskilled jobs.

In 1879, Mann found work in an engineering shop. Here he was introduced to socialism by the foreman, and decided to improve his own education. His reading included the works of William Morris, Henry George and John Ruskin.

In 1881 he joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and took part in his first strike. In 1884, he joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in Battersea. Here he met John Burns and Henry Hyde Champion, who encouraged him to publish a pamphlet calling for the working day to be limited to eight hours. Mann formed an organisation, the Eight Hour League, which successfully pressured the Trades Union Congress to adopt the eight-hour day as a key goal.

Activist and leader

After reading the Communist Manifesto in 1886, Mann became a communist. He now believed the main purpose of the labour movement should be to overthrow capitalism, rather than just to ameliorate the condition of workers under capitalism. He moved to Newcastle in 1887 and organised the SDF in the north of England. He managed Keir Hardie's electoral campaign in Lanark before returning to London in 1888, where he worked in support of the Bryant and May match factory strike. With Burns and Champion, he began producing a journal, the Labour Elector, in 1888.

Along with Burns and Ben Tillett, Mann was one of the leading figures in the London Dock Strike in 1889. He was responsible for organising relief for the strikers and their families. With the support of other unions and various organisations, the strike was successful.

Following the strike, Mann was elected President of the newly-formed Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers' Union, with Tillett as General Secretary. Tillett and Mann wrote a pamphlet called New Unionism, which advanced the utopian ideal of a co-operative commonwealth.

Mann was also elected to the London Trades and Labour Council and as secretary of the National Reform Union, and was a member of the Royal Commission on Labour from 1891 to 1893. In 1894, he was a founding member of the Independent Labour Party and became the party Secretary in 1894.

He helped create the International Transport Workers' Federation, and was its first President. He was deported from a number of European countries for organising trade unions.

He advocated the co-operative model of economic organisation, but resisted alliance between the ILP and other socialist organisations in Britain, like the Fabians. In 1895, the Fabian Beatrice Webb criticised Mann's absolutism and described his goal derogatorily as, "a body of men all professing exactly the same creed and all working in exact uniformity to exactly the same end". Philip Snowden, a member of the ILP, liked Mann but was critical of his inability to stay with any one party or organisation for more than a few years.


The contest for the leadership of the Labour Party is currently meandering on, boring everyone to death, and provoking anger in those who see the candidates as absolute prats of the first order, in one way or another. With the exception of the sole woman candidate the candidates are all members of the faction known as New Labour, which successfully infiltrated and overthrew the party of Mann, Hardie and MacDonald during its inception - under the leadership of Blair, Brown and Mandelson - in the 1990s.


The Coalition and their media allies appear to have been highly successful in brainwashing working class as well as middle class people into believing that slashing public services ("cutbacks") is desireable and necessary, because of "the debt". As if they have any idea what the real effects of the cuts will be on jobs, the economy in general, and the public services themselves.

It was good to hear Brother J, at least, in a state of absolute rage this morning, talking about the Coalition, their economic illiteracy, and their determination to outdo even Thatcher and her voodoo economics.


In 1901, Mann emigrated to Australia to see if that country's broader electoral franchise would allow more "drastic modification of capitalism". Settling in Melbourne he was active in Australian trade unions and became an organiser for the Australian Labor Party. However, he grew disillusioned with the party, believing it was being corrupted by the nature of government and concerned only with winning elections. He felt that the federal Labour MPs were unable and unwilling to change society, and their prominence within the movement was stifling and over-shadowing organised labour. He resigned from the ALP and founded the Victorian Socialist Party.

Returning to Britain in 1910, Mann wrote The Way to Win, a pamphlet that argued that socialism could be achieved only through trade unionism and co-operation and that parliamentary democracy was inherently corrupt. He founded the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, and worked as an organiser for Ben Tillett. He led the 1911 Liverpool General Transport Strike. In 1912 he was convicted under the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 of publishing an article in The Syndicalist, as an 'Open Letter to British Soldiers', urging them to refuse to shoot at strikers (later reprinted as a leaflet, Don't Shoot); his prison sentence was quashed after public pressure. He was opposed to Britain's involvement in the first World War on socialist and religious grounds and addressed pacifist rallies. In 1917, he joined the successor to the Social Democratic Federation, the British Socialist Party, which had affiliated to the Labour Party the previous year.

Tom Mann continued to actively champion socialism, communism and co-operation until his death in 1941. He published further pamphlets and regularly addressed public meetings in Britain and abroad, and he was arrested for sedition on several more occasions. He continued to be a popular figure in the labour movement, attracting large audiences to rallies and benefits. During the Spanish Civil War he wanted to fight on the Republican side, but was by that time far too old. A unit of the International Brigade, the Tom Mann Centuria, was named in his honour.

Tom Mann died on 13 March 1941.   -  Wikipedia

Tom Mann's Memoirs -

I had only a very short time at school as a boy, less than three years all told. When I was nine years old I was considered old enough to start work. My father was a clerk at the Victoria Colliery; so it was counted fitting that I should make a start as a boy on the colliery farm. A year as a kiddie doing odd jobs in the fields, bird-scaring, leading the horse at the plough, stone-picking, harvesting, and so on, and I was to tackle a job down the mine.

My job was to make and keep in order small roads or courses to convey the air to the respective workings in the mines. The air courses were only three feet high and wide, and my work was to take away the mullock, coal, or dirt that the man would require taken from him as he was worked away at 'heading' a new road, or repairing an existing one.

For this removal there were boxes known down the mine as dans, about two feet six inches long and eighteen inches wide and of a similar depth, with an iron ring strongly fixed at each end. A piece of stout material was fitted on the boy around the waist. To this there was a chain attached, and the boy would hook the chain to the box, and crawling on all fours, the chain between his legs, would drag the box along and take it to the gob where it would be emptied.

Although I was connected with the Anglican Church, the Bible class I attended and liked so much was conducted by Edmund Laundy of the Society of Friends. Mr. Laundy was a public accountant, a precise speaker, a splendid teacher. He taught me much, and helped me in the matter of correct pronunciation, clear articulation, and insistence upon knowing the root origin of words, with a proper care in the use in the right words to convey ideas.

See more quotes at -

He (Tom Mann) combined the qualities of whirlwind and volcano. His was the genius of sheer energy. His tremendous capacity for the work he enjoys the most became a mighty factor in the supreme crisis of the Dock Strike. For Tom Mann I entertain a deep respect as a comrade which has not been destroyed by the intellectual vagrancy into which his energy led him in after years. I remember old Henry Hyndman saying that Tom's intellect was a tidal one, swayed by changes in the moon, and capable of the same ebb and flow. Still, he has been a consistent class-conscious fighter for the various causes to which he has adhered; sound at heart, self-sacrificing and courageous, he has never deserted the flag, even if he has sometimes attempted to plant it in impossible places.  -  Ben Tillett
No white flag for Tom Mann.





Aunt O still lives in Grange Road, a hundred yards or so down from Tom Mann's house. She's lived in and around Grange Road all her life. Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of the Christmas gatherings that took place in her and Uncle H's little terraced house - their home during the 50's and 60's - which was just a few doors down from Tom's house. It still amazes me to think how many people used to squeeze into such a narrow house for Christmas dinner and Christmas parties.

The Boat Inn was the hub of the community in Grange Road. Uncle H's family apparently used to work on the barges. The Coventry Canal runs across Grange Road, just the other side of the Tom Mann house. To get over the canal you have to use a terrifyingly steep hump-backed bridge - quite a challenge for a horse-drawn vehicle such as a bread delivery van, especially in icy weather.

Hawkesbury Junction is a major intersection on the national canal system, and is situated just off Grange Road.

The Boat Inn is no more. It practically broke Uncle H's heart when some faceless bureaucrat decided to run the M6 right through Grange Road, at the exact spot where the Boat stood.

Now you see it.

Now you don't.


The rumble of traffic is never-ending, 24 hours a day.

So much for progress. So much for improving the lot of the working people.

The thing is - this has become commonplace throughout Britain. Georgian and Victorian pubs demolished or redeveloped as little flats. Nowhere for people to gather, mingle, chat and form friendships. Lives blighted by traffic, and the noise of traffic.

21st Century people for the most part sit isolated in their little comfort zones in front of their home TVs and computer screens, drinking supermarket beer and wine. The new generations don't even miss what they never had. The young people go off to get ripped and fight in the impersonal city centre hangouts. The old people sit alone, and excluded, and remember fondly the good old days. Aunt O is 95 next month.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Layer 333 . . . Radio 4, Reasons to be Cheerful, and a Big Lunch

I heard on the radio recently someone saying, with absolute authority, "We can never get rid of aggression and jealousy in human beings . . . "

Really? The good news is that we have techniques for controlling these destructive emotions - techniques which centre on learning to be emotionally, socially and spiritually intelligent. We're just waiting, some of us, for our school system to enable our children to develop these intelligences in any thorough and significant way - and to do it day after day, throughout each day. Thank goodness it's already happening in more enlightened countries.


Possibly the best antidotes to destructive emotions are laughter and music. People like the Dalai Lama and the Zen masters laugh a lot.

I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue is back to its very best - Mondays at 6.30 on R4. Jack Dee is turning out to be a very good choice for the successor to Humph. Maybe the humour in this programme isn't for everyone, but if you think it might be hilarious to hear two people playing "Sisters" as a duet for swanee whistle and kazoo - tune in now.


Desert Island Discs was superb this week - Tim Robbins is a very interesting guy, and has brilliant taste in music. Springsteen, Joni, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and more.

During the programme he recalled his dad's band, The Highwaymen, and their version of Donovan's 'Universal Soldier':

Repeated on Friday, but also on the website.

The BBC website for DID gets better and better:

Unfortunately Tim's track of Ry Cooder with V.M. Bhatt isn't available on Spotify, but I noticed other Ry Cooder classics are there - especially Theme from Southern Comfort, Get Rhythm and The Very Thing That Makes You Rich. So are The Bourgeois Blues, Across The Borderline, and The Way We Make A Broken Heart.


Big Society, Big Lunch

This year's Big Lunch Day was Sunday 18th July. This is only its second year, but it could grow into a national phenomenon. So what is it? I hear you ask.

The Big what?

It’s a one-day get together with your neighbours on Sunday 18th July 2010. It can be anything from a simple lunch to a full-blown street party with DJs and a home cooked feast.

Why be involved?

You’ll enjoy it. Food, music and laughter tastes, sounds and feels better with others.

The Big Lunch began life as a wild seed at The Eden Project. We believe the world can get better by working together, with nature, optimism and common sense.

We know that when people get together, we become more positive and start to sort out some serious stuff. By simply having some fun on one day in July, we can build new friendships that we can enjoy for the rest of the year.

The Big Lunch is a chance for different generations and backgrounds to hear each other out and share stories, skills and interests. It's the start of a journey into rebuilding our communities. We call this phenomenon ‘human warming’.

Make isolation history

For most of us, doing The Big Lunch is simply about having fun and sending a message to the establishment that we're not all going to hell in a handcart. But there are many of us who lead lonely lives or at least more isolated or anonymous lives than we’d like. The stats don’t make easy reading but if we want to turn them around, we need to hear them:

    * Two million more single person households by 2019.
    * More rich, poor and ethnic ghettos than ever before.
    * 7% annual drop in trust between neighbours from 2003-05.
    * Social trust in the UK halved and now among the lowest in Europe.

So, you might think a street party is the last thing you’d do to tackle crime, domestic violence, homelessness or children in poverty. But as a catalyst facing up to tough issues, it works, as anyone who took part last year knows. When doors open up, people open up and neighbourhoods open up, from sleepy hamlets to hyper estates.

Why the Eden Project kick-started The Big Lunch

We believe the world can get better by working together, with nature, optimism and common sense. We took a former china clay pit and turned it into a landscape capable of sustaining plants from all over the world to prove the point.

Ten years on, we’re developing more wild ideas to help us face up to the challenges of the toughest century on record. Global warming needs human warming. The odd light bulb here and there won’t work. Ideas like The Big Lunch just might if we join up our efforts. Change the way we live, do the things we know we should, and we’ll leave the planet in a ripe state for our children, their children, and so on.

Eden is all about projects, we believe in experiments that live, eat, breathe and with luck, thrive. Eden is a celebration of life. People say it puts champagne in your veins, which sounds a lot more fun than chlorophyll. Although Eden kick-started The Big Lunch (and are working hard to help it grow year on year), we’re resisting the temptation to own or control the day. We want to keep it organic, create a mood, a rumour.

As we said, it’s your party.


As far as I can see, pretty much anything that Tim Smit gets involved in turns out to be pretty special - The Lost Gardens of Heligan, The Eden Project, and now The Big Lunch.

So does the event live up to its billing? The 'lunch' I was invited to certainly did.

Seeing a typical London street completely empty of vehicles is an experience in itself. As someone said - they're surprisingly W I D E.

In the centre of the street, within a simple frame of wooden planks, a ton of sand created a brilliant beach for the kids to play on, right next to two large blow-up paddling pools. They had even covered them with a huge colourful sunshade, strung between four houses. What could be more brilliant for kids than to come out of their houses in bare feet and swimming cossies, carrying buckets and spades, and get busy on their very own beach?

Someone had set up a DJ station in front of his house, using the street's own community wi-fi to play a Spotify feed through laptops and big speakers - an amazing variety of brilliant music - all day long, and into the evening, at which point there was literally dancing in the street - some of it very tipsy.

Everyone contributed food - either in dishes and casseroles, or to be cooked on the barbeques. Feed the world!

Someone had organised a bunch of people - adults and children - to play a variety of instruments and lead everyone in singing some favourite songs. Who knew so many neighbours had such musical talent? There were guitars, cellos, recorders, drums and various percussion.

The sun shone, and people actually mingled and talked to one another. All the generations together, from four months to well over eighty. I met a young guy who has a recording studio set up at home, and an older guy who's really into the local live music scene, who readily offered to pick out some places to introduce me to. Someone else reminded me that it's really worth keeping in touch with the Vortex.

As darkness descended, sitting on the front steps of the houses, even my cynical son agreed that it was a brilliant day, and people ought to live like this every week - not just on a single day of the year. By then his own son was soundly asleep upstairs, having spent the whole day toddling from beach to pool and from person to person. His dog was also sleeping contentedly, having had endless fussing and food from practically everyone there. A very happy Staffie.

People got to know one another, and got to know one another's children, and dogs. It was a day full of sunshine, music, laughter, amusement, entertainment, conversation, good food, good beer and good wine.

Exactly as it says on the Big Lunch label.


Big Society

David Cameron reveals 'big society' vision – and denies it is just cost cutting

Cameron also outlined three strands of the big society agenda. These included social action for which the government had to foster a culture of voluntarism and philanthropy. There was also public service reform – getting rid of centralised bureaucracy "that wastes money and undermines morale" – and community empowerment, "creating communities with oomph", the neighbourhoods being "in charge of their own destiny".

Monday, July 19, 2010

Layer 332 . . . Duncan Smith, Tory Economics, Gove, Education, Sugata Mitra and TEDGlobal

Iain Duncan Smith at loggerheads with Treasury over benefit cuts

So says the headline over an article in the Observer. I've written about this previously, and about my support for Duncan Smith's proposals.

Duncan Smith's central idea is to increase the "work incentive" by ensuring that there is enough of a financial gain for people on benefits to work. The difficulty is that the way to address the issue is either to increase payments to those in work – which would cost billions – or to withdraw benefits to those out of work or in the lowest paid jobs – hurting the most vulnerable in society.

Before the election, the Centre for Social Justice thinktank came up with proposals that carried a price tag of £3.7bn a year, claiming that the money would be clawed back over time and eventually result in savings.

Sources say officials at [IDS's] DWP [Deparment for Work and Pensions] are "frustrated" that the Treasury will not take into account the potential income raised from income tax and VAT as more people move into work.

Kayte Lawton, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said it was inevitable there would be tensions between the DWP and the Treasury because Duncan Smith's ideas depended on spending money in the short term that could be regained in the long term.

Or, putting it more simply, IDS and his DWP are saying that the key task is to get people who are living on welfare back into work, or into self-employment, and in order to do that we need to continue to pay them their unemployment and housing benefits during their first weeks of work - both as a 'reward' and as an 'assurance' that it will be worth their while to take on the available jobs.

Not surprisingly the bastards at the Treasury - the stupid bean counters and dull accountants - can only see the short-term numbers and can't see the long-term sense of what Duncan Smith is proposing.

The key to this lies with Cameron, and if he doesn't support IDS's enlightened proposals then the mystery will be why on earth he ever appointed him to the job, knowing full well, we presume, that he knew what IDS stood for and what his philosophy would be for getting people back into work. Indeed, we're entitled to assume that this is why he gave him the job in the first place. - this one from way before the General Election


Further to the favourable comments about Cameron in Layer 330 - there was another article praising him and the Coalition in the Observer:

This coalition is proving to be a champion of common sense

Of course Henry Porter is mainly interested in issues centering on liberty and human rights, on policing, surveillance, civil liberties, etc. And he claims that

"these [government] actions should be given more than a grudging welcome by those who argue that cuts are the only way to assess the coalition. Let's remember that there is just 1% difference between Labour and coalition proposals on cuts."

Personally I doubt this figure. Tory economics are the opposite of enlightened and wise, as is their determination to privatise everything in sight, including health and education.

Even Jackie Ashley points out that Cameron is cutting whereas Obama understands that creating a recession or another depression is unnecessary and evil. It's making the poor pay for the excesses of the rich.

So what is the kernel of the ["Special"] relationship now? What makes it so special?

Certainly not economics or domestic policy. Obama's strategy is going in almost exactly the opposite direction from Cameron's. He has been spending heavily, creating a fairer healthcare system, and regulating Wall Street with a toughness the UK government has so far shrunk from. He is worried about the depth of European spending cuts, and Cameron's are as deep as any. In most key areas, Obama has been behaving more like Brown than Cameron.

Gary Younge, as ever, also gets it:

The coalition doesn't want to heal Britain's broken leg, but amputate it

The left must show this for the elective surgery it is: cuts born of ideology, where the many pay for a crisis created by the rich

The first point is that this situation was not brought about by excessive public sector spending in Britain, but by an almighty binge in the private sector that sparked an international banking crisis. Far from government getting in the way of business, at the point of collapse it was governments – across the world – that rescued business from itself through massive bank bailouts. Indeed, the crisis was made possible not by too much state intervention in capitalism but too little.

Given its global nature, it defies logic to blame any one government or even country for this crisis, let alone a single party. And while it can be argued that Labour made the country vulnerable to the fallout through its deficits, it is not an argument David Cameron can honestly make. For most of the time he was opposition leader he was committed to matching Labour's spending plans. Only when the crisis was in full swing did he abandon them.

In their place he has introduced an agenda that is, by any standards, extreme. Osborne has floated cuts averaging 25% across almost all departments. In Germany, the eurozone's primary deficit hawk, the government department taking the steepest hit will suffer an 8% cut.

Far from being economically necessary, these particular cuts represent an ideological choice. The Conservatives want to shrink the state to a lower proportion of the economy than Margaret Thatcher did. Not even the markets are demanding austerity on this scale, or at this pace.

This is elective surgery. The trouble is that the country didn't choose this. True, Labour lost. But no party won. There is simply no mandate for such an extreme agenda. Opposition to this agenda represents not the reflexive response of malcontents but the considered appraisal of a broad swath of the economic community. The US, France, the Financial Times and the Economist have all argued against such a scale of fiscal tightening at this stage. Even the IMF earlier this year said: "For most advanced countries, some fiscal and monetary stimulus may need to be maintained well into 2010."

It is also widely acknowledged and easily proven that, for all the talk of fairness, these measures will have a disproportionate effect on the poor. "The looming cuts to public services are likely to hit poorer households significantly harder than richer households," said Robert Chote, the director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies the day after the budget.

Not only are these measures not necessary, there is every chance they will make matters far worse. "The historical precedent," argues John Philpott, chief adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, "would suggest that the application of stronger fiscal discipline to an economy in too weak a state to bear it will both slow the rate of economic growth and stem the pace of job creation."

It was not those with low-paid final salary pensions who got us here, but those raking in multimillion dollar bonuses. The wealthy created this crisis, and now the coalition is making ordinary working people pay for it by playing politics with the livelihoods of millions. These are cuts of choice from a government we didn't choose. A softer landing is possible; a crash landing is imminent.

Even Ed Balls has something sensible to say on the subject:

Don't repeat the 30s folly

Those rushing to cut the deficit have not learned from the past. Labour has to set out the alternative


Gove was back on the radio this morning, sounding as chipper as ever. Clearly ministerial life and the trappings of power agree with him.

Of course he's rushing to legislate to get all schools turning into 'Academies' (bloody hateful word) and effectively abolish local authority governance and responsibility - also known as interference -  which, as I've said before, many times, many of them thoroughly deserve, and good riddance to all their useless bureaucrats. It's not difficult to make the case for giving schools the money and letting them employ their own advisers and 'consultants'. LMS in the early '90's effectively started this trend, and it's only in the New Labour years that bureaucrats have again grown in numbers and fat-cat salaries.

What's still not completely clear is whether Gove really does want to liberate schools from outside interference and imposition, or whether he simply wants control of schools to be effectively direct from Westminster.

A couple of weeks ago he took part in a radio discussion about the merits of 'reviving' the art of 'deep thought', which seems to suggest we used to have it but somehow lost it.

In terms of curriculum reform, there was general agreement that narrowness and specialisation in the curriculum does not promote creativity and originality - and in fact tends to work against these things. We can't make connections between disparate things if we're not aware of disparate things.


Back in March Oxzen picked up on an article in the Guardian about the work of Sugata Mitra:

In yesterday's Observer there was another reference to him in a two-page article about TEDGlobal:

TEDGlobal conference: where ideas have sex

What happens when one idea meets another idea? They have idea sex. And, when the conditions are right, they conceive and spawn little baby ideas, which go on to have ideas of their own. Or at least that was the theory proposed by science writer Matt Ridley, speaking at TEDGlobal in Oxford last week.

Given that TEDGlobal is a conference at which 60 speakers have 18 minutes each to explain their big idea to an audience of 750 individuals, all of whom have had to apply and provide evidence that they are ideas-type people . . .

One of the most stunning presentations came from the educationist Sugata Mitra, who has discovered that children are capable of teaching themselves almost anything, up to and including biotechnology, in a language they cannot even speak.

Education, he says, is a self-organising system and learning is an emergent phenomenon. What Mitra has so brilliantly demonstrated is that children actually like to learn. If they can figure out how to do it among themselves. And adults, too, it turns out. They're having idea sex online. With an Oxford professor in quantum physics. The net's dirtiest secret yet.

See also this piece from the BBC:

Using computers to teach children with no teachers

It really is about learning . . .

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Layer 331 . . . New Labour, Psychopaths, the Prince of Darkness and Gimme Shelter

Leading on from yesterday's comments on the mature behaviour of the Coalition's leadership, there was lots of talk on the radio this morning about the childish antics of the New Labour leadership and their disfunctional relationships during the Blair and Brown (and Mandelson) years. Obviously Mandelson has a new book to promote, and he's been advertising the Times' serialisation by playing up to his image as the Prince of Darkness.

The lack of emotional, social and spiritual intelligence shown by Blair and Brown and their ilk certainly ought to be documented. A tale of anger, jealousy, resentment, bullying, plotting, revenge and pettiness. Unprofessional conduct. The opposite of statesmanship and enlightened behaviour.

You can call it childish, or you can see it as extended adolescence, since those people behaved like gang members, playground cliques and sullen, frustrated, egomaniacal, status-seeking, power-crazed prats.

In any organisation the tone is set by the leader - in this instance, Tone - who was clearly psychopathic in his manipulations, his lust for power, his belief in his righteousness & invincibility and his belief that he was doing God's will. All of which is the opposite of a leader who can justify every decision by reference to clearly articulated and agreed ethical and moral aims and goals.

It's been pointed out that New Labour, under both its leaders, was nothing more than a mob that was bent on the aquisition and retention of power, and all its trappings. Hardly better than a mafia, in reality.

In contrast to that we now have a government that has already clearly articulated its negotiated programme for government, and has documented its aims and priorities after a process of internal bargaining and discussion. (See Guardian supplement of 15th May, for instance.) Also a government that has returned to decision-making through respectful cabinet discussion and negotiation, reaching compromises and agreed majority positions. The opposite to a presidential style of government through prime ministerial dictat. The opposite to kitchen cabinet Thatcheresque or Blairesque government. The opposite of scheming and bullying.


Yet again Mandelson brings up the idea that he and Blair, and New Labour, made the Labour party 'electable'. This is the most detestable bullshit. It was the electorate itself that ejected the Tories, in the hope and expectation that after nearly 20 years of Thatcherism we'd return to a decent form of liberal/social democracy - NOT even MORE neo-conservatism.

After nearly 2 decades of Major and Thatcher the country was desperate to be rid of the Tories, and certainly didn't want a government whose leadership was determined to maintain the economic and financial status quo, arse-licking the City and the power structures of our vastly unequal society - determined to do nothing serious to address inequality - very relaxed about the seriously rich getting even richer.

The country not only wanted better public services - it wanted greater social justice, greater equality, affordable housing, proper living wages, etc. From New Labour it got NONE of those things. It didn't even get better public services, if what you mean by better is the deprofessionalisation of education, social services and health, and staff demoralised by the targets and league tables culture. It got bloated, vindictive and self-serving bureaucracies and children deprived of proper education. It also got war in Iraq and Afghanistan, loss of civil liberties and an insane housing bubble, making even small flats in some areas unaffordable to people on average wages.

How DARE Mandelson boast about making New Labour 'electable'? How come he can't face up to the fact that he helped hi-jack a party that was supposed to be socialist, and in favour of greater equality, and then turn it into Continuity Conservatives - friends of the City and George Bush? The man is completely despicable, and shameless. Not psychopathic - just completely devious, nasty and unprincipled. New Labour personified.


But talking of psychopaths - the more common or garden varieties - there was a really interesting woman on Desert Island Discs this week - forensic psychotherapist Dr Gwen Adshead.

A consultant at Broadmoor Hospital, it is her job to try to understand the behaviour of some of the most vilified people in our society. The Victorian institution in Berkshire is home to more than two hundred men; all people who have been convicted or accused of the most dangerous violent behaviour.

Her life outside work seems impossibly normal - bringing up her children, singing in a choir and gardening fill her spare time. Of her work, she says: "Other people's minds are so fascinating I can't think of anything more interesting and I can't understand why everyone isn't a psychiatrist."

Obviously I'd never heard of her, and didn't expect anything other than the usual dreary collection of classical crap. Terrible stereotyping, I know, but then so many of these people they have on the programme - even the more colourful ones - have no time for music in their lives, and no feeling for it either.

Not a bit of it. First track - Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter. Brilliant.

Second Track -   Pablo Casals playing the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G Major. Superb.

Third Track -  Ian Dury  — Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Magic.

Fourth track - The Weather Girls   — It’s Raining Men. Excellent.

Her favourite track turned out to be James Taylor's "Shower The People". I've never really paid much attention to this particular singer/songwriter, but this track is interesting:

Great programme. What an amazing job, and a very special individual.


A Final Word on Psychopaths

It seems there's a Facebook tribute page, whatever that is, called "RIP Raoul Moat: You Legend."

In other words, thousands of fucking nutters have signed on to show their admiration for a fucked-up multiple killer. Much love from people who hate the police, all of them, and feel happy to see policemen shot, injured and killed in the course of doing their duty. To say nothing of their support for crims who kill their ex-girlfriends, etc.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Layer 330 . . . Goldblum, Joy, Transformation, Cameron, Grace and France

Thinking about 3-dimensional people, I noticed at the weekend that Lewis Hamilton strums a mean guitar - as a TV programme showed him bashing out the chords to Wonderwall with a roomful of people singing along.

Jeff Goldblum plays jazz piano, according to an article in the Guardian. He also has his own band, called The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. I think a passion for music and singing is at least a sign that someone might be 3-dimensional.

Goldblum does yoga and meditation.

In his mid-teens, in the late 60s, Goldblum attended summer sessions at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There he had an introduction to acting that wasn't about "careerist ambition", but something deeper, more important - and apparently more hippyish. Yoga was part of the training, and in acting, Goldblum decided, there was the potential for a "spiritual, humanistic, soulful, magical, mystical journey. Not, hey, love me, love me, I need to be loved. It was about something else."


Never mind acting - what if life itself was about "something deeper", and had the potential for a "spiritual, humanistic, soulful, magical, mystical journey"? At least that's what Zen assumes.

Many people assume that spiritual explorations and quests for greater meaning in life are much easier to do if you're extremely wealthy, as many actors are. But is that really true? Aren't many actors, and wealthy people generally, trapped in strange, unreal worlds by their own egos and by their paranoid fears for their privacy and security? Isn't this what Jesus referred to when he spoke about rich men, camels and eyes of needles?

The article goes on,

"Any objective assessment would be that my life has been wildly abundant, lucky beyond words, and shame on me if I don't easily come to that view every day."

As a child, he says, "even as I felt moments of awkwardness or outsiderness, I also had moments when I felt the seeds of what I feel now – a happy part of something large. I felt that early on, as I walked by myself in the woods near our house. I remember overflowing with joy." Goldblum may just be far weirder than anyone guessed: a genuinely satisified, happy person. As rare, in his way, as a unicorn.

Where Oxzen grew up there was a large bluebell wood right next to our housing estate, with several points of access. Memories of walking in the woods, with shafts of sunlight filtering through to the pathways and the bluebells, feeling alive and free, remain strong.

According to Wikipedia,

In September 2006, it was announced that Goldblum was one of the founding members of a new theater company in New York called The Fire Dept. According to press materials, "The Fire Dept is made up of established and emerging writers, directors, actors and designers who have come together to create and produce work that cannot be replicated inside a television box or on a movie screen...The work of The Fire Dept combines the rigor and structure of great narrative storytelling with the vitality of formal experimentation to immerse audiences in a total experience that leaves them awake, alive and transformed."

"Experiences that leave people awake, alive and transformed . . ." Maybe those experiences could start in schools. Or do we just want kids to stay focused on maximising attainment?

Maybe we all have a duty to ourselves to make sure we keep on having those experiences throughout life, and not just leave it to the likes of Goldblum to hand them to us on a plate, in a theatre.

The qualities that Goldblum looks for in people are clearly those he finds in his co-star in the Old Vic's The Prisoner of Second Avenue:

Mercedes Ruehl, "a genius, brilliant, master actor, not only spectacularly talented and gifted with grace, humour, intelligence, sensitivity, multi-coloured emotional, um, a garden of rich inner life, dynamic, fun to be with . . ." He pauses thoughtfully. "Hmm, you know, it's hard to describe her. BUT! She is an enthusiast."


Talking about people who are gifted with grace and charm, Martin Kettle, not my favourite journalist, wrote this piece about David Cameron:

A man of grace. Cameron has been good for Britain

Like Tony Blair before him, Cameron deploys his courtesy and charm for political purposes.

If you are tempted to think this sort of courtesy across the political divide is mere bourgeois triviality, remember how effective this maturity of style has also been in larger contexts. In the last two months, nothing has become the prime minister more than his Commons statement of regret for the Bloody Sunday killings. The speech was a model, and when Cameron said, "On behalf of our country I am deeply sorry", the applause outside Derry Guildhall almost seemed to wash away 40 years of hurt.

A certain grace has marked Cameron's outings on the international stage, too. He has handled European meetings with a deftness and in a tone which have surprised those who feared an immediate lurch to the right.

Cameron has not just taken to the realities of coalition better than any other Tory. He has also done it infinitely less condescendingly than Brown or any Labour leader would have done. He recognises that he is delivering a deal, not a sell-out. Yet in doing so, he has pulled the Tory party further towards both the centre ground and an acceptance of coalition politics – and pushed Labour off both – than many would have believed possible. His seizure of the opportunities of 6 May to put liberal conservatism at the heart of this government's project has been audacious. Its long-term impact on the Conservative party is not yet clear. Its short-term impact is immense and, in Tory terms, almost wholly desirable. The old right (like the old left) can only gawp and grumble.

The imperatives of coalition have helped cement Cameron's authority in ways that not even he can have foreseen. Like Blair, Cameron came to power outside parliament rather than within it, by climbing the outside of the building, as Bill Rodgers said of Blair. Before the election he was criticised within his own party for ruling through a handpicked oligarchy, again like Blair. The election has changed all that. Coalition requires Cameron to consult, make deals, and actively manage both his party and his government. Necessity has demanded the return of proper cabinet government. The seductions of cliquism and presidentialism to which Blair succumbed are off limits because of the hung parliament. A good thing, too, and Cameron has adapted with an admirably sure touch.

These are still very early days. The coalition has to get through difficult votes on AV and negotiate the most difficult spending round in a generation. The economy may tank. Yet in these first weeks even opponents should concede that Cameron has played a blinder. He is showing himself as potentially the best all-round prime minister of the modern era. Labour's hopefuls should learn from him. No doubt about it, Cameron wins this season's political golden boot.

I agree with all of this, and most of what Kettle wrote in the rest of his piece. If only Blair and Brown had shown a similar style - a similar intelligence, grace and lightness of touch - in all their dealings, then we may not now be dealing with Cameron and co's determination to inflict more neo-conservative economics and more of the Shock Doctrine (privatisations, cutbacks in public services, reductions in benefits to the neediest people) on this country.

I particularly agree about the speech apologising for Bloody Sunday killings being a superb piece of statesmanship. What's more, the words sounded genuine coming from him, which they wouldn't if the psychopathic Blair or the devious Brown had said them.

The nation ought to feel grateful it finally has a leader of the Conservative party who might be considered something of a statesman, and a liberal Tory, at least in his style, if not his economics. Shame he's such a conservative, and his ideological prejudices as well as his ignorance about economics are going to fuck up the country and send us all into even greater recession and depression.



Watching the Tour de France today with its long, lingering helicopter shots of stunningly beautiful scenery in the Isere region of the Rhone Alps, just north of Gap, I suddenly realised without a shadow of doubt that France is easily the most beautiful country in Europe, and possibly the world.

To begin with, Paris is an incredible city. Then there is the amazingly varied topography, from the beaches of Britanny and Normandy, through the wondrous Loire region, down to the stunning landscapes and mountains of the Auvergne and the Massif Central, to the delights of Provence and the Mediterranean. That's to say nothing of the Isle de France, Alsace/Lorraine, the basin of Aquitaine, Burgundy, the Dordogne, the Savoie, Languedoc, the Rhone, and the Somme. And then there are the Alps and the Pyrenees . . .

For sheer physical beauty and variety, nothing touches France. Whatever one might think about the people, the cuisine, the climate, the culture and the architecture - and I happen to think very highly of them - the country is sheer physical and geographical perfection. And if you want deserts as well - Algeria and North Africa are just a short flight or Mediterranean ferry away.

Germany is too boring. Italy is too . . . narrow. Spain is too parched, too big, and too full of empty plains. Benelux is too small and lacking in variety. Ditto Portugal and the countries of eastern Europe. Austria and Switzerland are too full of huge mountains, and very little else. Scandinavia is too bleak, too empty and too bloody cold. Britain is pretty in parts, but limited and lacking the variety of landscapes that France has. To say nothing of the climate.

Today is Bastille Day. Vive La France! Allez tout le monde!

Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!


Footnote on the Isere department -

The president of its General Council is a socialist, and the majority of seats on the Council are socialists, backed up by a collection of leftists, communists and greens. Right wing parties hold less than a third of the seats.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Layer 329 . . . Schools of the Future, Education, Gove, F1, Spiritual Intelligence, The Spirit of Football, the World Cup, and South Africa.

The government's economic policies are, as expected, so disasterously misguided, ideological and awful it's been necessary for the sake of personal sanity & also stable blood pressure to stay away from all consideration of them for a few weeks, and conveniently take refuge in football, tennis and now the cycling extravaganza - the Tour de France, which this year is particularly intriguing and full of sub-plots and ploys to get the favourites split apart over several difficult stages right at the start of the event. The next two weeks, especially in the Alps and the Pyrenees, should be very watchable.

The politics of education, however, keep sucking me back into the revolting reality of a government determined to pursue its ideological objectives at the expense of real education, the needs of children and of course the teachers and support staff who will now be condemned to work in old, badly designed and under-specified premises - all because The Banana (Gove) wants to build his "free schools".

There's no doubt that the Building Schools of the Future scheme was over-bureaucratic and wasteful, but instead of just instantly scrapping it Gove could have set about modifying and simplifying it, and making it work a lot better.

But no - the man wants his Free Schools. He wants his education "market". He also wants, I presume, new schools to be built as cheaply as possible, using standardised cheapo architecture, and prefabricated structures. If an old building is completely falling apart he'll no doubt reluctantly agree to replace it as long as the replacement is a boring and off-the-shelf design that facilitates maximum speed of construction and minimum standards of space, fixtures and fittings. And he'll argue that this is all the nation can now afford. How convenient.

We have to be thankful that he's at least made a complete prick of himself in the way he's gone about his announcements of the cuts - giving out false and misleading information about which existing projects are for the chop, and which towns and cities will no longer get the excellent schools they've been promised.

He's made it clear the "savings" will be used to fund the Free Schools that will be run by cliques of parents and commercial "providers". Having established a "model" of schools run by pushy parents and their tame business partners, this will no doubt then be imposed on existing schools, along with the abolition of local authorities. Some might see this as not a bad thing, given the cravenness of LAs and their willingness to sacrifice children to the 'Standards Agenda' imposed by central government. Some might say what is their fucking point anyway?

The idea of new smaller "free" schools run by community activists might almost be acceptable if they were to be of real benefit to children by offering a type of education that's not available in the mainstream factory schools (and so-called "Academies") where test and exam results are the be-all and end-all. However, it's all too clear that what's being proposed are merely small "crammers" which will cater for parents who want even more emphasis on academic attainment and "discipline", and more pressure on children to be taught to the tests - sit down, shut the fuck up and memorise even more of this shit if you really want to get to a top university.

Cynical, moi?

If you'd like to read a more balanced and rational appraisal of what Gove's been up to then try this Ed Balls column in the Guardian -
This piece could have been written by any number of Balls' unpaid 'interns' and various arse-lickers, but in essence it's all valid.

Me - I'd just like to see Gove kicked to death as publicly as possible. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

The man has zero understanding of children and their educational needs, and zero understanding of - let alone interest in - what a fair and equitable education system might look like - one in which all children have equal access to good teachers, premises fit for purpose, and aims of education that include the development of the whole child, the creation of a love of learning for its own sake, and the development of children's capacity for creativity and imagination.

Government by bananas like Gove, of schools lashed together for relative peanuts, with attainment aims devised by neanderthals, can only result in further generations of under-educated primates, instead of future generations of thinking beings who embrace life and are capable of transforming our stupid society.


The occasional individual who stands head and shoulders above the sea of mediocrity we see all around us needs to be cherished and applauded.

Ahead of last weekend's British F1 Grand Prix there were several favourable comments about the quality of the two (British) guys who currently lead the drivers' championship.

Oxzen has commented previously on the emotional and spiritual intelligence of Hamilton and Button, and here's Hamilton in a Guardian interview with Donald McRea talking about fame and its consequences,

"It's not the easiest thing in the world to deal with. Over time you learn to accept it and handle it in the best way. You have to be very patient and very polite. And you have to be the least selfish person you possibly can be."

In the same paper Button is described as having enormous talent but also a great deal of maturity and a sense of what's real and what isn't. He's also praised for his attitude to his work and his well-balanced personality.

You don't get those things through academic attainment or through attending high-pressure crammers. You get a nation of ego-driven, non-actualised, boring, materialistic, uptight, unspiritual emotional retards, which pretty much sums up the type of people who rule the roost on this little island.

Take our footballers, for example, and also the people who run football in this country. Please.

Harry Pearson commented last week on the fact that the World Cup Final was to be controlled by British officials, since our small team of referees and linesmen have apparently done so well in this World Cup.

"It is surely plain after 60 years of achievement that places us on a par with Sweden and Belgium, that we can't play football properly . . .

"Instead of trying to paper over the negatives of our game, let's for once build on the positives. Stop all the talk of coaching, tactics and formations and simply abandon playing international football altogether to focus all our considerable resources on training the world's finest match officials.

Webb, Cann and their compadre, the as yet unsung hero Mike Mullarkey (who I believe will also give good flag should the opportunity arise) are indeed England's men of the tournament, exuding a professionalism, self-belief and steely determination our footballers could only mumble on about in the squeaky, resentful voices of teenagers who've been caught on the school playing field with a shoplifted bottle of Cyprus sherry and a packet of Lambert & Butler.

For English watchers, the Brazil versus Chile game last week was a pivotal point. During the course of the first 45 minutes it rapidly became obvious that the emphasis of our national game was shifting before our eyes. "Good decision by Howard Webb," warbled Peter Drury with the sort of throaty majesty he normally reserves for calling out "Ronaldo!" moments before the pouty Portuguese lone parent blasts a volley 30 yards over the bar. "Oh, excellent advantage there by the man from Rotherham."

Jim Beglin was quickly in on the act, effusively praising assistant Darren Cann for "a great flag" that denied Chile a possible goal. Back in the studio Gareth Southgate, blinking crazily like somebody trying to transmit an unabridged Morse code version of Anna Karenina using his eyelids, was in total accord with his Irish colleague: "And that's a great flag from Darren Cann," he said after the incident replayed, as Andy Townsend nodded wisely and murmured something about "putting down a marker" for the final.

I was watching the game with a German friend and the sudden excitement about the match officials didn't escape his notice. "Darren Cann is fantastic!" he exclaimed merrily. "He is England's man of the tournament," he added with what I suspect might have been something approaching a chortle. "In fact, with that absolutely super offside decision I believe he has maybe overtaken Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlán as the most eye-catching individual of the World Cup thus far."

It is one thing for the English to be taught a football lesson by the Germans – some truths we take to be self-evident and all that – but when they start giving us a severe thrashing in the sarcasm department it really is time to consider burning your passport. I suppose I should count my blessings he wasn't in the room when Gary Lineker revealed that Paul the Psychic Octopus was "actually born in Weymouth".

Jim Beglin, by the way, is the world's most boring "expert" commentator bar none, except maybe for Eurosport's very own drone on the Tour de France, Sean Kelly - though in Kelly's case the boredom comes from the awful monotony of his delivery rather than having sweet fuck all of any interest to say for himself. What a blessing when Beglin was ill and unable to co-commentate on the Spain v Germany game.

That game, incidentally, was terrific - played in exactly the right spirit, especially by Germany, who never succumbed to the temptation of trying to win by kicking the Spanish out of it. In fact the Germans have won huge admiration for their efforts to emulate the Spanish in their style of play - open, fluid, expressive, intelligent, and at times exhilarating. Arguably they have been the most entertaining team of the tournament, with their 4-goal demolitions of Australia, Argentina and England. Most neutrals will surely have relished the Argentines and the English being taught a lesson in how to play properly and empathetically as a team, instead of playing like a bunch of Maradona-style prima donnas.


In contrast to this, the Dutch were disgusting in the way they spoiled the Final by setting out to clog the Spanish out of the game - to win by any means necessary. The very opposite to playing with grace and with respect for your opponents. This was a truly stupid strategy. By all means compete strongly - but for fuck's sake without cheating and violence, without tripping and shirt-pulling, and a total lack of spiritual intelligence.

Thank goodness for Johan Cruyff - the keeper of the flame as far as intelligent Dutch football is concerned. Cruyff immediately condemned the way the Dutch had played. "They played very dirty. This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football, style . . . They were playing anti-football."

In the Guardian, Paul Hayward commented,

"Creativity . . . does not mean trickery, though there is some of that. It means orchestral passing. Spain exclude the opposition from the game. They have mastered the art of circulation and space manipulation. At Barcelona's urging the nation's team turned their backs on power and automation in favour of agility and self-expression."

Britain is still a country whose education and training policies are based on the triumph of power over creativity, and turning young people, including young footballers, into automatons who follow orders and who never think for themselves. Obedience to bosses (coaches) and systems is all - as if the best football isn't about the self-expression and the creativity of the 11 individuals out there on the pitch, and their ability to create astonishment and delight in their audience.

Modern English footballers are akin to our world-famous boy bands - creatures of the managers and entrepreneurs who put their teams together for commercial profit above all else. Music and football without spirit - cold, ruthless, cynical, soulless and uncreative.

Meanwhile, let's hope the likes of Spain and Germany continue to rock and roll.

Also South Africa. As Dominic Fifield said in the Guardian, one of the very best and the most heartwarming moments of the entire tournament was watching the South African players joyfully singing and dancing their way into Green Point stadium in Cape Town, "which neatly summed up the colour and exuberance of their approach".

What a pity none of the England team did any of that before they slouched off home. Playing and winning, and even losing, with joy, imagination, grace and dignity. We have so much to learn from South Africa.