Thursday, September 30, 2010

Layer 357 . . . Carlos Santana, Clapton, Great Guitarists, Higher Consciousness, Divine Communication, Cleaning Out the Stables, Fairness, Will Hutton and the Road Ahead


Listening to Carlos Santana play is a good way to start any day, To hear him playing on the news-heavy Today programme on R4 this morning was an unexpected treat. Carlos is a phenomenon. His style is unique. Who else plays what can only be described as Latino blues/rock? From the very first time I heard Santana's first album - played at volume in a Ferrari howling along the autoroute from Provence to Paris back at the end of the 60's - I've loved Carlos, his band and his music. I may have mentioned this before.

Carlos is in Britain to play at the O2, and has a new album called Guitar Heaven. (See Layers 354, 280, 279, 196, 180 ) He played, and shot to fame, at Woodstock in 1969. It's been quite a journey. The fortunate few who have a ticket to hear him play at the O2 tomorrow, for his only London gig on his current European tour, will no doubt have an unforgettable experience.

On the Today programme he spoke about the 60's counterculture ideals - peace, love, and the end of war. He described his Woodstock experience as 'deliciously scary and exciting', and his music as 'African rhythms in a different rainbow of colours and sounds - sensual dance rhythms'.

Carlos recalls the Beatles' 'Revolver' album as marking the beginning - 'the ground zero' - of a 'consciousness revolution'. "Music and art that is genuine, heartfelt, true and earnest makes you believe or at least dream that you can make a difference to the world." On the other hand, "Religion produces the opposite of a higher consciousness".

The interviewer said Carlos is in the very top category of guitarists, alongside Hendrix and Clapton. (Should have added David Gilmour)

The track featured in Today's interview was "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - already mentioned in Layer 354. On YouTube and Spotify.


Released this week, and already available on Spotify, is Eric's new album - 'Clapton'. Check it out - it's his first since 2006.


In Our Time - The Delphic Oracle.
Melvyn Bragg

A divine communication?


The Shadow Cabinet and the Way Ahead

So - David Mili has decided he's not going to stand for election to the shadow cabinet. Quelle surprise!

This is good. As the Heir to Blair he's really not wanted on voyage any more, especially as he's yet to acknowledge the bad stuff that New Labour did, unlike his brother.

The really great thing about Ed's speech was its very honest listing of all New Labour's failings. We had to have that before we could start believing in the fresh start and the New Generation stuff.

The one thing lacking in Ed's speech - the really glaring omission - was any mention of the bad stuff they did to the public services with their targets and league tables and their bureaucratic market-oriented MBA management culture. This was particularly so for education. This has still to be dealt with.

The other stuff was there, though - much to TweedleDave's dismay:

the lack of any care about inequality, increasing the gap between rich and poor,  failure to re-regulate the City and financial services, failure to prevent the property bubble, continuing to privatise public services, PFI, no concern for work-life balance, damaging civil liberties, failure to support a proper solution for Palestine, the Iraq nightmare, failure to introduce Proportional Representation or at least the Alternative Vote, failure to complete reform of the House of Lords, failure to promote proper businesses and industries, and above all any care about redistributing prosperity, tackling low pay, and introducing a living wage.

The basic failure of New Labour was its adoption of Thatcherism Lite, and its repudiation of socialism and any concern with building a fairer society.

Will Hutton has a new book just out which focuses on the central issue of 'fairness'.

As Britain grapples with the recession and a vast public debt crisis, what direction should the country take? The economics commentator Will Hutton asserts that Britain’s fundamental economic, political and social problems can only be tackled by increasing levels of fairness. In his book, Them and Us, Hutton argues that Britain has paid a high price for running its capitalism unfairly and sets out an approach which he believes combines libertarian and egalitarian principles. The financial, media and political systems need reforming, and the required changes should be based on a firm moral framework with fairness as the guiding principle.

Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society is published by Little, Brown.

The way ahead had been identified. We now need a detailed road map.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Layer 356 . . . Cocks, Roosters, Ed Miliband and the New Leader's Speech . . .

Hazel Bleeding Blears was on the Daily Politics show panel today, chatting with the Neil Scotsperson. I've no idea why.

In the leadership contest it seems she voted for the other three guys in the contest ahead of Ed Mili. Interesting. Clearly, for Hazel, New Labour isn't 'over'.


Cocking It Up

Boost for Ed Miliband as new poll puts Labour ahead of the Conservatives

As Ed Miliband prepares to give his first major speech as party leader, a new poll shows support for Labour on 40% compared with 39% for the Conservatives

Hmmmm. So who is this Ed Miliband? Does anybody really know him? Oxzen's exclusive research has come up the following personality profile.

Ed is a Cock. Or Rooster if you prefer. Such people are found in professions where security is assured without excessive risk-taking. Deep down they are extremely conservative. Oh dear.

It seems Roosters are dandies who feel that appearance is everything in life.

What's more, Ed, being born in 1969, is an Earth Rooster. This means that this particular Cock is egotistical, and preoccupied with his own success, security and appearance. He's happy to profit from other people's work, and is not overly imaginative. And he's realistic, pragmatic and shrewd rather than creatively intelligent, insightful, enlightened, visionary, radical or imaginative . So much for Red Ed.

So far, so New Labour. So very Blair/Brown.

And it goes on. Due to his egotism, he's not burdened with too many principles. Earth Roosters rapidly climb to the top in their profession, especially in politics, property and banking, not hesitating to elbow others out of the way. These people need activities that flatter their pride while assuring them of fame and comfort. They need to be seen and admired.

As it happens, Ed is also a Capricorn, and all of the above can also be said of most Capricorns. So now we know. You read it here first, folks!

I'll continue.

The Rooster is the incarnation of the forces of youth, hope and clarity. "With his mixture of conformity and eccentricity, aggressive impulses and meditative leanings, the Rooster is a rather strange and paradoxical animal. This captive king is a bizarre and contraDicTory creature (my emphasis), a ruler and a slave whose bravery and despotism are confined by the narrow limits of his farmyard. In this sense the Rooster is an analogy for the frailties of prestige and power, confined within the inevitable enclosure of time and death."

Honest, frank, obliging, courageous, vain, thoughtless, preoccupied with appearance.

Hates any attempt to probe his private being or expose his motives.

"Sooner or later one begins to question whether the Rooster superficiality is real or a game. The answer is that they conceal their inner selves with near desperation, obstinately camouflaging their lack of inner confidence the fact that, at bottom, they are only fragile birds. What remains of a Rooster when one takes away his feathers and his cock-a-doodle-do?"

We shall see.

On the positive side - "Rooster/Capricorn is just and full of integrity. he is also the most hard-working and clear-sighted of all the Roosters."

Which is all very well, but the likes of Thatcher, Blair and Brown were also hard-working. The question is - to what ends?


The Big Speech

Ed walked into the conference hall hand in hand with his partner - with her bump, and her tragic haircut. A purple tie day.

More boring displays of brotherly love. More silly grins from his bro. Hello Ed! - We don't fucking care about your family and your sibling history! You've said too much already!

Tedious tributes to Darling and Straw. Dullards and hacks. Visionaries - not.

"The new generation of Labour is different."

"Why I'm here. It starts with my dad. His escape from the Nazis. His family arrived in Britain with nothing. They worked hard and got on. My dad learnt English. He joined the navy to fight for Britain.

Secure and loving homes. The aspiration to succeed. People of courage and conviction can make a huge difference. We do not have to accept the world as we find it. Never walk by on the other side of injustice.

Freedom and opportunity are precious gifts. My values are my anchor. My sense of right and wrong. Dedication, energy and the determination of activists makes the difference.

But we had a very bad election result. Now we're out of power and we cannot change our country for the better. We must make sure this is a one-term government.

But we need humility. We should blame ourselves, not the electorate. This will require strong leadership. And lead I will.

Tony and Gordon took on conventional wisdom. They were reforming, restless and radical. They lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. Newly-built schools and modernised hospitals. Saviours of the National Health Service. We helped deliver peace in Northern Ireland.

Development spending around the world. Working for malaria eradication.

Tony and Gordon had the courage to take on Establishment attitudes. But where did we go wrong - how did we lose so many votes.?

Trapped by our own certainties? Over time we looked more and more like an old Establishment. Failure to re-regulate the City. Immigration. Personal debt. Tuition fees. Claims of having ended boom and bust. The scandal of MP's expenses. Our style of politics and our remoteness from the people.

We cannot claim we know all the answers. But we have to set a new direction. We know there's more to life than work and money. Foreign policy must be based on our values.

To change Britain we need a new politics. We need to build a new economy. We need to reduce the deficit. We need to win back fiscal credibility.

We were too exposed to financial services. We should take responsibility for not building a more resilient economy. Growth should now be our priority. We should go on rebuilding schools. We need to lead the world in new technology. No plan for growth means no credible plan for deficit reduction.

We need a higher banking levy to protect the services that people rely on. We need an economy and a society fit for our kids to live in.

My ambition is for us to learn deeper lessons about changing our economy for the future. There are too many people stuck in low pay. We must redistribute prosperity. Labour must be the party of enterprise and small businesses.

We did not do enough to address the concerns about globalisation and its consequences - wages driven down by immigration. Those consequences should have been dealt with. Migrant labour should never have been allowed to undercut people's wages. We need proper protection for agency workers. Workers need to make their voices heard. Basic standards of decency and fairness. Trade unions are part of a decent society.

But we need to win the public to our cause - not alienate them through irresponsible strikes.

And we also need responsibility from business. Decent wages. Living wages. Fair pay. Not just a 'minimum'. A living wage must be the foundation of our economy in the future.

High quality apprenticeships.

The gap between rich and poor DOES matter. What does it say about the values of our society? Excessive salaries must be challenged. The lives of the poor can be transformed. Those in need must be protected.

Work is central to life - but it's not all that matters. Strong families, love and compassion, time with our families. Do we just know the price of everything and the value of nothing? We must shed old thinking.

Post Office closures? Identikit high streets? We believe in community and social solidarity. How do we protect families? People working 60 - 70 hours a week - how does this help kids?

How do we think about the State, and what it can achieve? Government must be accountable and responsive.

Flannel flannel comprehensive schools flannel flannel failing schools flannel flannel.

Civil liberties must never be given away lightly. Protecting freedoms.

The new generation must challenge old thinking in foreign policy.

Our boys in Afghanistan . . . thanks. Stabilising the country. Supporting our mission.

But Iraq! I criticise nobody - but I do believe we were wrong. War was not a LAST resort.

Our alliance with America . . . Our values . . . International support for the problems in the Middle East. Israel must accept and recognise the Palestinian right to statehood. The attack on the Gaza flotilla was wrong!

We must change our politics - its practice, its workings, and its reputation. Vote yes to AV! Fully elect the House of Lords! More local democracy and decision-making.

Protecting the environment.

Working with the other parties. Praise for Liberals like Keynes and Beveridge. And  Ken Clark on prisons. Teresa May on stop and search.

Let's have a grown up debate about ourselves and our country - not silly name calling.

A difference in attitudes and ideals to the Tories. Optimism! Let's be humble about the past, and inspire people with our vision.


He spoke well. His delivery was good. His voice is not unpleasant. Infinitely better than Blair or Brown. A decent effort. And he might well get better.

He deserves support AT LEAST for what he said about inequality, the gap between rich and poor,  re-regulating the City and financial services, values, work-life balance, civil liberties, Palestine, Iraq, support for the Alternative Vote, creating new businesses and industries, and above all redistributing prosperity, tackling low pay, and introducing a living wage.

This is indeed a new beginning. Bye bye New Labour. Well done Ed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Layer 355 . . . SATs, Assessment, Gove, Free Schools and Academies, Young, Springsteen, Fry and Wagner

Year 6 Stress

Children like being tested, they just don't like Sats

Really? Shouldn't this say children like learning and achieving, and having their achievements recognised?

A survey of 1,000 children carried out by the Wellcome Trust shows that children are surprisingly positive about assessment, but they don't think Sats are the best method

A significant new report published today by the Wellcome Trust and seen exclusively by Education Guardian points out that the Sats debate has never canvassed opinions from those at the heart of the matter – children. The trust commissioned academics at Queen's University Belfast to rectify that, carrying out an extensive survey polling 1,000 children, plus parents, on their views of how key stage 2 assessment takes place in primary school.

While the report shows overwhelming support from both children and parents for primary school assessment, it records a strong preference for non-Sats testing.

"Children are more sophisticated than we often give them credit for: the survey results show that they understand why they need assessment, but they also understand the difference between a test that simply measures their ability, and one that gives them feedback and helps them learn."

In the survey, 95% of students said science assessment was "useful", but only 10% said Sats were the best method for finding out how well they were doing in the subject. The reason for that disparity, according to the Wellcome research, was that children liked tests that give them feedback and a consequent chance to improve, but they didn't associate those benefits with Sats.

"Kids get no individual feedback with Sats – just a mark. The tests are not about individuals – and our research showed that children know this, and they know it's not very good," says Bell.

Another concern flagged up in the Wellcome report is the burden placed on children to perform. The researchers highlight one child's comments in the survey that Sats "make you less confident because there is a lot of pressure".

That is a real concern, says Bell. "Schools know that Sats can have a huge effect on their ranking, so many put significant effort into ensuring that the measuring of their kids on Sats day goes well. But it just brings more pressure on kids, and all that time spent doing revision means schools end up losing the richness of the curriculum because Sats dominate everything."

The report also recorded the "largely negative" impact of Sats on children's home life, with year 6 and 7 pupils reporting "feeling stressed or nervous, being made fun of or bullied over their marks, and even talking of assessment causing break-ups between friends". One year 6 child admitted: "My family push me too much and my friends get all nervous and angry and don't want to be friends anymore."

The Wellcome report concludes that children know the value of assessment, but that it makes them stressed and they would prefer it to be broader, including investigations, projects, presentations, and end-of-topic (rather than end-of-year) testing. Bell is now sending the findings out to policymakers, including those involved in the current curriculum review, as well as teachers and education ministers, hoping to bring about change.

"It's not a case of throwing Sats out completely, but designing them more carefully so they're testing what we want to be testing – individuals," he says. "The current system makes pupils stressed, there's too much pressure on producing particular results. We need to remember that we are dealing with children, who need support and help."

Pardon? After all that's said in the report - it's bleeding perverse to say that SATs should continue, rather than being scrapped in favour of proper tracking systems that make use of formative assessment backed up by a certain amount of in-school testing.


Why I oppose free schools and academies

The coalition government's education policy is incompatible with the basic principles of the Liberal Democrats

by Peter Downes

The academies bill was rushed through parliament in July with a speed and urgency normally reserved for anti-terrorist legislation.

The substance of the act we now have on the statute book is potentially a very significant threat to the stability, fairness and viability of our educational system.

Gove's educational vision is based on a number of fallacies. I want to concentrate on just five.

First, he is very keen to liberate schools from "local authority control". Local authorities do not "control" schools. They used to.

It is the head and governors who make the vast majority of the decisions as to how the school functions. The LA is there to provide a whole range of services and support, including: curriculum advice and challenge;
coordination of admissions; and the cost-effective provision of enough school places for children coming through the system.

Clearly some LAs perform these functions more effectively than others but there is no justification for dismantling a structure that has an essential and invaluable role.

The greatest interference in schools today comes not from local authorities but from central government: a highly prescriptive national curriculum and shelf-loads of guidance; an oppressive inspection regime; an obsession with targets and putting schools into categories; and a never-ending stream of education acts and hundreds of regulations.

Gove's accusatory finger of excessive control should be pointed at central not local government.

The second fallacy is that there needs to be a massive upheaval in the school system because of parental dissatisfaction with schools as they currently function. This is simply not true. The latest DCSF survey of parental views on the schools their children attend shows that 94% of parents are extremely satisfied, very satisfied or fairly satisfied with the school their children attend. A very small minority have serious reservations. These need to be addressed, but there is no widespread demand for schools to be revolutionised.

An Ipsos/Mori poll recently reported that 96% of parents want their children to go to a good local schools within the local authority family.

There is no popular support for a root and branch reform on the scale envisaged by the academies act.

Fallacy number three is that changing the structure of the school system raises standards. The idea is that you call schools by another name and re-organise them and standards will somehow rise. The academic research on pupil performance gives a different finding. Dylan Wiliam, from the London Institute of Education, says it's not the school you're in that matters, it's the classroom. So our national efforts should be focused on improving teaching and learning rather than on an expensive and distracting administrative re-structuring.

Fallacy four is the idea that academies and free schools are part of the localism agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth. I quote from the DfE website: "The Young People's Learning Agency will fund, monitor, regulate and handle complaints about academies." This isn't localism – it is a massive centralisation of our school system.

The most dangerous fallacy of all is the idea that the principles of the market place can be applied to state-funded education. "Good" schools are expected to expand; "free schools" will provide competition so that under-performing or failing schools will have to improve their performance or wither and die.

Just as the supermarket drives the corner shop out of business, so it will be with schools.


Simon Jenkins:

Another middle-class escape tunnel parents don't want

He may see them as a way of saving children from local politics – but Gove's free schools are just a blackboard Tea Party


Britain's Youngest Boarders

Brilliant. Shocking.


The BBC's Battle of Britain programmes continue to be superb:


Culture Corner

Neil Young: Le Noise

Neil Young's latest is frightened, confused, and a bit of an effort. All good signs, says Alexis Petridis

Le Noise demands more effort than some listeners might be willing to put in, but at its best, it repays that effort pretty handsomely. In that sense at least, it pretty much sums up Neil Young's entire career.

Brilliant album, Neil's best since Sleeps With Angels and probably my favourite of this year.


Bruce Springsteen: 'People thought we were gone. Finished'

Hobbled by legal wrangles, a frustrated Bruce Springsteen turned Born to Run's optimism on its head – and Darkness on the Edge of Town was born.

Springsteen is in Toronto, where The Promise, a documentary about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, is receiving its world premiere at the city's film festival.

The notion of "authenticity" will always attend Springsteen, owing to his espousal of the basic human values of community and civility in tandem with material wealth, a paradox that coalesced around Darkness on the Edge of Town. Consequently, The Promise offers a valuable insight to Springsteen's motivation at a key moment in his life.

As work proceeded throughout the second half of 1977 and into 1978, Springsteen's conception for the new album hardened. He had become influenced by the film versions of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, and John Ford westerns such as The Searchers, whose themes of essentially decent men assailed by external forces resonated on a personal and increasingly political level with this shy product of working-class New Jersey. He began posing himself Big Questions: "How do you make a way through the day and still sleep at night?" "How do you carry your sins?"

"I veered towards music that I felt would speak of people's life experiences."

"Thirty five years staying connected . . . That's why I think the band continues to improve. You can't be afraid of getting old. Old is good, if you're gathering in life. Our band is good at understanding that equation."


A Bit More of Fry and Wagner

Stephen Fry's at it again with his Wagner obsession. (see also Layer 346)

You can't allow the perverted views of pseudo-intellectual Nazis to define how the world should look at Wagner.

All of us who love Wagner are familiar with another argument, where people will say: "It's too powerful, there's something wrong with music that can have that much effect." Is it earned? Is it too much? Is it manipulative? Is it unfair for music to have this unbelievable ability to make one shake in quite that way? There are those who disapprove of Wagner purely on that aesthetic ground.

There are those of us who "disapprove" on the grounds that there is FAR more enjoyable music available, and life's far too short to waste it on bombastic, germanic, martial bollocks like Wagner. Is it earned? Is it lovely? Is it too little? Is it pretentious twaddle? Is it mad posturing? Is it squawking, screeching, twittering tish tosh twattishness?

Perfect music (Ride of the Valkyries) for a mad murdering US Air Cav commander like Kilgore in Apocalypse Now to play loud as his Hueys bombed, rocketed and machine-gunned the shit out of Vietnamese villages.

Stephen's ambition is to produce, at enormous expense, an animated version of The Ring.

Not a cheesy cartoon, but a truly serious animated Ring. Because – let's face it – in the last five minutes you've got a Valkyrie getting on a horse, galloping into a flaming funeral pyre then being covered by the river Rhine, while the palace of the gods crumbles into dust in the background.

Think what you could do with beautifully and properly presented animation. So my ambition is to one day meet a Russian oligarch billionaire who has a passion, because it would cost a huge amount of money. But wouldn't that be fantastic?

Er . . . no. That would be a fucking huge waste of money that could be far better spent on far more worthwhile projects and causes. Best keep those fantasies of Valkyries, galloping horses, flaming funeral pyres and palaces of the gods crumbling into dust right there in your head, Stephen dearest.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Layer 354 . . . Bobby, Vince, Capitalism, Communism, Alexei, Leonard, Carlos, Clegg, New Labour's Record, Britain's Broken Economy and Blond on Blond

Dylan's Mystery Tramp is, of course, Capitalism - who is completely unfathomable and ultimately unknowable. He moves in mysterious ways, and is a God to many.

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you . . .

We educate our young people in our finest universities to believe they belong with, and belong to, the Masters of the Universe - the captains of big business, banking and finance, controlling their own destinies, living in Emerald Cities . . .

We fill them full of technocratic know-how, and pay them ridiculous sums in return for managing teams of 'traders' who sit at computer consoles shifting billions of dollars, euros amd pounds around the world in order to rob the less switched-on and the less well-informed, and the slightly less-able gamblers, of the money which they control . . .

What they don't learn is how to cope with themselves and with life when things don't work out, and when they do indeed . . . fall.

And there's a hard rain gonna fall . . .

You've been to the finest school all right,
But you know you only used to get juiced in it . . .
Nobody ever taught you how to live out on the street
But now you're gonna have to get used to it . . .
You said you'd never compromise
With the Mystery Tramp, but know you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say - do you want to . . . make a deal?

How does it feel?


The Vince Cable Show and a New Capitalism

Vince's performance at the Lib Dem conference was very well advertised beforehand, and Vince managed to live up to expectations for his star turn. He's a good man.

So what were his thoughts on capitalism? Having started his speech with, "Good morning Conference; good morning 'comrades'," he said this:

We need successful business. But let me be quite clear. The Government's agenda is not one of laissez-faire. Markets are often irrational or rigged. Why should good companies be destroyed by short-term investors looking for a speculative killing, while their accomplices in the City make fat fees? Why do directors sometimes forget their wider duties when a cheque is waved before them?

Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can, as Adam Smith explained over 200 years ago. I want to protect consumers and keep prices down and provide a level playing field for small business. Competition is central to my pro-market, pro-business, agenda.

But the big long-term question is: how does the country earn a living in future? Skilled and educated people. High tech manufacturing, of which we already have a great deal. Creative industries, IT and science-based industries and professional services. In my job I meet many outstanding, world class, British-based companies. But we need more companies and more jobs in the companies we have.

Businesses cannot grow because of a shortage of trained workers while our schools churn out young people regarded by companies as virtually unemployable. The pool of unemployed graduates is growing . . .

There are some unhelpful cultural prejudices and vested interests to overcome. The belief that only A-starred A levels count, not apprenticeships. Or the assumption that top Oxbridge maths brains should go to Goldman Sachs or hedge funds, not to Rolls Royce or into teaching. Wrong. Completely wrong.

I am doing everything I can to ensure that graduate contributions are linked to earnings. Why should low paid graduates - nurses, youth workers or science researchers - pay the same as corporate lawyers and investment bankers? We have to balance higher contributions with basic fairness.

On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer. There is much public anger about banks and it is well deserved.

But I am not seeking retribution. The Chancellor and I have set out a range of sticks and carrots to get banks to support the real economy. Tough interventions will be needed if capital which could be used to support business lending is frittered away in bonuses and dividends.

The Coalition Agreement was crystal clear, too, that the structure of banking must be reformed to prevent future disasters and promote competition. Our agenda can be summed in seven words: make them safe and make them lend. I agree with Mervyn. We just can't risk having banks that are too big to fail.



Alexei Sayle is a genius. His parents were Jewish Liverpudlian working class intellectuals and radicals who took him for holidays all over Eastern Europe, travelling for free on his dad's rail pass, which he was entitled to as a worker for British Railways. Yesterday Alexei was on Midweek, talking about his new autobiography, and he was brilliant. Thanks to his parents, and his travels, Alexei grew up speaking the language of communism but also seeing what communism had done to countries in the Eastern Bloc.

I have to pass on a friend's recommendation to enjoy this film of Alexei on YouTube -  a message to Leonard Cohen.

Len has a new album out, which is available on Spotify - Songs from the Road. This is an album of live tracks recorded from his gigs over the past 2 - 3 years.

The first track is Lover, Lover, Lover. This is a track he rarely performs. It's from an album released in the early 70's - New Skin for the Old Ceremony.

The man is unbelievable. He sang this in Tel Aviv in September 2009:

I asked my father,
I said, "Father change my name."
The one I'm using now it's covered up
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame.

I love Len. He's not only a great artist - he's a brave and principled man, and a totally spiritual being.


Carlos in Guitar Heaven

Carlos Santana, another genius, has a new album - Guitar Heaven. Available on Spotify. - samples - While My Guitar Gently Weeps (with Yo-Yo Ma doing what people should be doing with cellos - not tiddling around with 'classical' crap.)



Is this an example of Nick Clegg doing his job well, or just a statement of the bleeding obvious that anyone with half a brain could have made?

He listed Labour's record as "civil liberties destroyed on an industrial scale. A widening gap between rich and poor. Failure to act on the environment. Locking up more children than anywhere else in the western world. Kowtowing to the banks. A foreign policy forged in George Bush's White House. The invasion of Iraq. And then on top of that they brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Imprisoned by timidity they squandered a golden age".

Whatever. I'm just glad he's saying it, and I hope the TV companies keep on broadcasting it. I want New Labour castigated and exposed as often as possible.


Britain's economy is broken. This is how to start fixing it

As homes and jobs turn into sources of insecurity, Labour has to develop a distinct alternative vision of the good, fair society

A knackered economic model is revealed for all to see as eminently fit for replacement.

And yet Labour hasn't debated what that alternative should be – not just during this summer's leadership campaign but for the best part of two decades. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that since 1994, the party's mainstream outsourced its economic thinking to Gordon Brown, who in turn took his cues from straightlaced economists and the City. The result was neoliberalism-lite, and some of the most unsightly political contortions ever pulled by a prime minister. Who would ever have thought a Labour leader could go softer on the banks than his Conservative opposite number? Yet Cameron has consistently talked tougher on the City.

Holding that debate on what an alternative economic policy should look like will be one of the biggest challenges for whoever takes over the party leadership this weekend. He or she will not have much time to do it, nor much wiggle room, given the pressure they will be under to respond to Cameron's cuts. It was in order to try to provide such a space that a year ago we set up the New Political Economy Network. A group of economists, other academics, professional politicians and party activists, it was generously supported from the off by the MP Jon Cruddas, and by the Guardian, and has held a series of seminars and public meetings. Today we publish an e-book, laying out ideas for what a new political economy for Labour should look like.

It may have been written collectively, but a common theme runs through the book: Labour can't go on with Thatcherism with a Presbyterian brow. The old defensiveness about the role of the state in the economy is part and parcel of an old politics. In the short term, that means reducing the deficit only as jobs are created and the economy grows. Alistair Darling's election pledge of a four-year deficit-reduction plan is too rigid. The principal concern of any government in a slump should be to restore capital investment and ensure sufficient demand to restore business confidence.

But there is a role for the state over the longer term. Relying solely on financial markets to encourage new industries and create jobs hasn't worked, because financiers do not have the patience. Rebuilding and rebalancing the economy must start with a radical reform of the banking sector. We need a new system for directing credit to promising industries and to all those areas (pick pretty much anywhere north of Watford Gap) denuded of private business.

As even bankers now admit, Brown and Blair went too far with light-touch regulation. But the new regulation should not just be about capital ratios and other technicalities, however important. Labour has to take a greater interest in how corporations are run, in devolving real power and decision-making to employees and – in the case of public services, their users. That will mean radical reform of the state, with power decentralised to the nations, to local government and to civil society organisations, including unions. In other words, if Cameron (and Phillip Blond, on this page) wants to bang on about the "big society", Labour should offer a vision of the "big economy" – where wealth is not just transferred to the top but shared round.

The main sources of security in our lives are our jobs, our homes, our pensions and access to finance and credit. But for many these are now sources of insecurity. Labour has to develop an economy that delivers decent jobs, good homes, proper pensions and fair finance. The basis of this moral economy is a common prosperity. Its principles are environmentally sustainable wealth creation, equality, and human flourishing.


I'm still not sure what to make of erstwhile Tory political guru Phillip Blond, and his Red Toryism:

Reclaiming a Liberal legacy

The party's great postwar leader Jo Grimond would have approved of David Cameron's 'big society'

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Layer 353 . . . The Tyranny of Testing, League Tables, Bullshit Reforms, Free Schools, Charter Schools, Faith Schools, A Classroom Experiment and Back to Crap

Border Conflict

Warwick Mansell is the author of Education by Numbers: the Tyranny of Testing

This is a well-worn topic, but still deserves attention. Mansell wrote a good article for this week's Guardian Education lead story:

Schools focusing attention on middle-ability pupils to boost results

The practice of focusing extra attention on 'C/D borderline' pupils in order to improve a school's GCSE results may be widespread. But at what cost?

The words come easily to the teacher as he describes what happened at the school where he was working last year. "Appalling", "unbelievable" and "ruthless" are among those he chooses to sum up measures the comprehensive, in London, put in place in a bid to raise its GCSE results.

And yet he is merely describing a practice – taken in this case to the extreme – that appears to have been tacitly encouraged in many schools for years.

The practice is for schools – sometimes acting on the advice of government agencies and consultants – to focus extra resources, time and attention on groups of middle-ability pupils whose achievements are most likely to help them rise up the league tables, impress inspectors, hit improvement targets and, in some cases, avoid closure.

In the process, higher- and lower-ability youngsters can receive less support because their results are less likely to affect the school's published scores, it is widely claimed.

This extra emphasis given to middle-ability students who are believed to be on the cusp of achieving five A*-Cs at GCSE, including English and maths – the threshold measure around which league tables centre – has been criticised by all three major parties.

Of course the same can be said of what goes on in Primary schools in order to "raise attainment" - the same sort of appalling, unbelievable and ruthless game-playing.

Anxieties about this appear to be confirmed in emails between staff members.

An email sent by a teacher in October said: "The lower set, difficult behaviour, pupils ... have very little intention of learning independently so they are running riot instead. Today there was a big fight ... I think it needs to be brought to the head's attention that it is not possible to include the [pupils with English as an additional language] in this group. I am sorry to say they are simply frightened."

The teacher says: "These students were provided with individual support and group lessons in order for them to achieve a grade C in English or maths. In English support lessons, the students were being told what to write in their [coursework] essays."

The teacher says: "The situation created an appalling atmosphere within the school. The senior management were not concerned about those who were not on the [intervention] list, and even if they were on the list, they were only targeting a grade C even if that student needed to obtain a grade B for sixth-form college."

Anastasia de Waal, director of family and education at the thinktank Civitas, has investigated results-boosting tactics in other secondary schools.

She says: "How have we got into this crazy situation where school improvement strategies can actually end up damaging students' education? It all becomes a statistical exercise, with the kids' needs becoming utterly redundant in this equation."

DAMAGING students' education? How about completely fucking up the entire education system to the point where hardly any of our pupils' developmental needs are being met and most pupils either hate school or feel completely bored and alienated by it? How about - we've created thousands of factory schools which focus on results and league tables and ignore real education?


Bullshit Reforms

Meanwhile, in the same publication, Mike Baker published a good 'Opinion' column:

UK and American school reforms: who is copying whom?

The US and the UK are copying each other's school reforms, but they focus too heavily on measuring achievement

American schools are changing. And there are fascinating parallels with the reforms taking place in England.

For the US is going through the same navel-gazing crises familiar this side of the Atlantic: concern that the nation's educational performance is falling behind other countries, and growing frustration that successive school reforms have failed to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor.

The trend in US education policy is towards "school choice". This is about increasing school autonomy and injecting market forces into a monolithic system in which schools were run by the states and districts, and almost every child attended their nearest elementary or high school.

There are now more than 5,000 charter schools, serving 1.5 million pupils, which lie outside the traditional school districts.

Charter schools are new schools, initiated by parents, teachers or other groups, funded by the taxpayer, free to pupils, but autonomous from the traditional school authorities.

There have been numerous studies on the impact of charter schools and, to put it simply, they provide no definitive proof that they have raised standards overall. This is not very encouraging for the "free schools" here. Will we, in 20 years' time, still be looking for evidence that they have made a difference?

These reforms have tended to focus on structural reform, or on assessment and monitoring, but not on the core of what happens in the classroom: the curriculum and teaching methods.

Attention is now focused on President Obama's Race to the Top programme. This involves a massive $4.3bn (£2.7bn) fund being distributed to individual states in return for competitive bids to improve educational performance. To get the money, states have to prove their plans will meet four aims: developing tough academic standards or targets for what pupils should achieve, building data systems that measure pupil progress, improving the professional development and evaluation of teachers, and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

While the focus on teacher quality is new and encouraging, the emphasis is still very much on setting targets, and measuring achievement, rather than on curriculum innovation. It seems the UK and the US are copying each other's school reforms, each pushing market-based reforms, backed by targets and carrot-and-stick data gathering, but not fundamentally changing what happens in the classroom.

It's interesting that the coalition is stressing its interest in Scandinavian 'free schools' and downplaying its interest in American 'Charter' schools, even though they're virtually the same concept. Obviously no sane politician these days wants to associate themselves overtly with American and neo-conservative ideas - for very obvious tactical and electoral reasons.


A rather unchristian school admissions policy?

Four years as a governor in a church school converted Sharon Wright into a radical opponent of faith schools

When I learned that almost half of the first 16 free schools given the thumbs-up by the education secretary, Michael Gove, were faith schools, my heart sank. Because, after serving four years as a committed church school governor, I personally couldn't feel more powerfully opposed to faith schools.

It wasn't always like that, obviously. When my church appointed me as a governor of our south-west London Church of England junior school, it had an inclusive admissions policy. Being "paired" with the community infant school next door meant the kids usually just swapped uniform and toddled round into year 3. We had nothing to do with all that "tactical worship" and church selection nonsense, so I never felt touched by it.

Very quickly, I found myself in a tiny faction fighting to bin draft policies that put worshippers in plum position. Battle lines were drawn and, according to the chair, I was on the wrong side – I was "anti-church", in fact.

I was pretty stung. I wasn't anti-church, I was anti church admissions policy that enshrined religious discrimination and encouraged stupid church-attendance games to get into the school. Games that, strangely, middle-class, Sats-loving parents tended to win by finding Jesus at an opportune moment.

In desperation, at one meeting I quoted the view of Jonathan Bartley of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia that giving ourselves admission privileges in the public system was "unchristian". Seldom has a silence been so stony. It seemed raising that whole "love thy neighbour" thing as an obvious pointer just embarrassed everyone and showed me up for not really getting it. "It" being mysterious things such as church school "ethos" and "distinctiveness".

The crunch came, though, not over admissions, but over children with special educational needs. Increasingly, I felt that the attitude of some people at the school towards challenging children was anything but Christian. We were due an Ofsted inspection and I listened to grumbling that "disruptive" behaviour could earn the school an automatic downgrade from inspectors. When, in fact, it was how behaviour (often stemming from SEN) was managed that would be judged, and that was what we should be worried about improving.

I boiled with rage. I felt that some people were concerned with not how we were failing these children, but how they were failing us. When one mum of a misunderstood SEN child said: "I thought it was supposed to be a Christian school?" I could only share her despair.

It shouldn't be unreasonable to expect a Christian school to go the extra mile to help the neediest kids.

Wasn't it blindingly obvious how unfair and socially divisive it was to be allowed to reserve priority places for your own churchgoers? And weren't troubled children the most in need of Christian love?

Now, I think having a system of state-funded faith schools is actually immoral. We should surely object to how it legitimises discrimination, segregates our children, often fails to embrace the vulnerable with compassion and empowers tiny religious quangos to rule over publicly funded education.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain chairs the Accord Coalition, which unites religious and secular groups worried about the social impact of faith schools:

"I have this fear that in 30 years' time, we will have built up a generation that is not at ease with itself and that has been brought up in a very divisive way," he warns. "We will rue the day we divided the children."

So, as communities draw away from each other and our society fragments, we can only fear what endorsing the power of faith schools is really teaching our children.


Dylan Wiliam's The Classroom Experiment is on BBC Two, 27 and 28 Sept at 1900 BST

[Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys started on BBC Two on Thursday 9 Sept, 2100 BST]

Dylan Wiliam and Gareth Malone are two people who care passionately about children, about good teaching, and about generating enthusiasm for learning.

Anything they are involved in is worth paying attention to.

The Big Debate - Where Next for Primary Assessment? -


Back to Crap

Amy Winehouse, a skinny singer who has the worst tatoos in the world, big hair, drug abuse issues and mental health issues, made a name for herself by imitating jazz/soul singers and writing her own songs.

Amy Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson have been "discussing" their individual contributions to her work.

First, Ronson appeared on Later ... with Jools Holland on Friday, and downplayed Winehouse's contributions her own hit album, Back to Black, which he produced: "Amy Winehouse would come to me with just a song and an acoustic guitar, and then kind of you dream up the rhythm arrangement and track around it and you help arrange all sorts of things," Ronson said. Winehouse, who caught wind of Ronson's remarks, then lashed out at the producer on Twitter, writing: "Ronson you're dead to me; one album I write an you take half the credit- make a career out of it? Don't think so BRUV."

Of course what Winehouse should have been complaining about is the thoroughly abysmal production job done on her work by young Ronson. That album is almost unlistenable - in fact it IS unlistenable - on account of the horrible production - nasty, repetitive instrumentation, rhythms, drum machines, loops, etc; tinny sound quality and sheer dullness. Awful computer music. And awful Winehouse vocals. As for the lyrics - couldn't even get that far. They tried to make me listen, but I said no, no, no.

Who gives a damn about these silly, worthless people?

Layer 352 . . . Gaga, Changing the World, Battle of Britain, Training Leaders, Coalition Education, Free Schools, Theorems, Gove, and Wild and Whacky


"And now, I'm just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time."

It seems Lady Gaga - Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta - has over 6 million "followers". And that doesn't include people who pay attention to her but haven't identified themselves as Gaga followers on Twitter, or whatever.

Channel 4 news has just reported that LG's been making televised speeches demanding that the laws against gays in the US military be repealed, and it seems the US legislature might well be preparing to do exactly that. Gaga seems to be turning herself into a formidable political lobbyist.

Obviously any changes in the anti-gay laws won't be entirely down to Gaga, since there's been an ongoing campaign on the issue by several different groups. But it's significant that artistes like her, thanks to the internet and to their access to the media, are able to play a major part in politics if they're so minded.

Other musicians and artists who are already well known for their support for various 'causes' include Bob Geldoff and the guys in U2. The significance of Gaga is that she's young, photogenic and extremely popular. The lady has plenty of guts - which isn't a pun on the meat dress thing, either. There are literally millions of homophobes in the US - many of them aggressively so. Millions of fruit cakes of all sorts - many of them right-wing gun-toting fully paid up loons.

Let's not forget this is the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, and that he was only 40 when he was murdered.

Lennon was an artist who was best known for wanting to change the world, especially after he left the Beatles, and was a massive propagandist for world peace and universal brotherhood and love. Clearly a dangerous radical. Pretty amazing he chose to live in the USA really.


Battle of Britain

A few weeks ago, before I'd realised that 2010 is the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, I took a drive along the Kent coast with my good friend K. We came across a place called Capel-le-Ferne, and just off the main road, on the clifftops, the beautiful Battle of Britain memorial. Watching a TV programme about the battle a few days ago I was delighted to see some brilliant aerial shots of the memorial.

The memorial consists of a replica Spitfire, a replica Hurricane, a curved wall on which are written the names of every pilot who took part in the battle, and a landscaped circle of grass in which a gigantic three-bladed aircraft propellor is depicted. At the centre of the circle is a sculpture of a seated pilot. You can zoom in on the site here:

(c) Oxzenpics 2010

Training Our Leaders

Oxford University is opening what it says is Europe's first school of government, with the backing of international leaders.

Funded partly by a £75m donation from Soviet-born philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik, the school will train top graduates in the skills needed for government.

It has the backing of world statesmen Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan.

The school also has Prime Minister David Cameron's support.

Mr Cameron said the school would create "a new avenue for training and research in the crucial field of good government and public policy in this country and around the world".

He added that Mr Blavatnik's gift was a "very generous act of philanthropy".

'Huge milestone'

Former UN secretary general Mr Annan said: "More than ever before, we need a new generation of leaders who understand the different dimensions of society and the economy, and its implications for governance and public policy.

"I am certain that the school of government at Oxford University will spearhead this new approach to leadership and public service."

Mr Mandela said he was delighted about the establishment of the new school.

Professor Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of Oxford University which is contributing an extra £26m, said the development of the school represented a "huge milestone" in the university's history.

"It will give tomorrow's leaders the best of Oxford's traditional strengths alongside new and practical ways of understanding the challenges of good governance," he said.

He added that Oxford had educated 26 British prime ministers and more than 30 other world leaders, but that until now international schools of government have all been outside Europe.

The Blavatnik School of Government would develop leaders in both private and public sectors and would aim to address complex global problems in new and practical ways, Oxford said.

On the Radio 4 Today programme there was talk about 'vision' and 'ability to inspire' and 'character' and 'being informed'.

The idea is clearly that our leaders need to have an informed understanding of society's problems, and they also need to understand technical, scientific and legal advice from experts. They also need to renounce war and violence.

The big question is - can 'character' be taught? Can empathy and a determination to achieve social justice be taught? Can the ability to find innovative solutions be taught?

"The course will combine disciplines ranging from the humanities, social sciences and law, to science, technology, health, finance, energy and security policy. The school will also teach an understanding of different political systems."

Which is all very well, but doesn't guarantee we'll get wise or radical leadership instead of another generation of bullshitting administrators doing the bidding of the Establishment, Whitehall, the City, financiers and fat cats in general.


Education and the Coalition

Further to my previous blog's wondering whether Clegg and Gove have been talking to one another about education policy - Gove popped up on the Today programme and pretty much reiterated what Clegg had said about giving headteachers more control over their schools - including Primary headteachers, who must have the same freedom to direct their schools as their Secondary counterparts.

He also guaranteed that the pupil premium will shift resources to the more disadvantaged schools. He intends to extend the Teach First programme for training 'high flyers' to teach before going off on careers in the City, etc.

He also spoke about flaws is our current system, the need to 'level up' and create more aspiration. He said he was concerned with addressing inequality 'head on'. "How poorly we educate those from disadvanteged homes". He said he wants to encourage ideallistic people who want to work with the poorest children.

So far, so good.

Citing the much celebrated Mossbourne Academy on Hackney Downs, Gove said it's a genuinely comprehensive school that has a brilliant headteacher and also does brilliant things for the least able, on account of insisting on 'academic rigour' for the least able.

And it's here, of course, that he starts bullshitting. Because Mossbourne may well have a balanced and fully comprehensive intake, but the same can't be said of other schools in the area. Mossbourne appears to have gone beyond the tipping point thanks to having good teachers, good premises and facilities, good leadership, and a critical mass of focused pupils of all abilities who are eager to study and enjoy going to a good school.

But it's also oversubscribed and as such is able to pick and choose from those in its catchment area of every ability and aptitude who have the most positive attitudes and 'fit in with the ethos' of the school. The same isn't true of all schools in the poorest and most challenging parts of our inner cities. Besides which - not all of our least academically able pupils are willing to strive for academic success when what they need is an education that emphasises success in creativity, art, communication skills, emotional intelligence, practical skills and technical skills. Yes, it's possible to have all of that PLUS academic success - in ideal circumstances. The reality is that lots of kids are simply unwilling to write essays galore on obscure topics towards exams in science, history, literature, etc. A lot of kids aren't willing to write at all, because they hate writing. Whilst this is regrettable, it's simply the reality, and as such schools need to take account of it and shape their offering accordingly. Most schools are too inflexible to do so.

As John Humphries said - surely we need better teaching and a more relevant curriculum that meets the interests and needs of pupils - not 'free schools' and more 'academies'?

At which point Gove gave himself away and started spluttering about 'proper uniforms', 'strict discipline' and 'academic emphasis' instead of "wild and whacky 'theorems' ".

Theorems? Pillock.

Obviously an education that puts equal emphasis on all the intelligences, plus creativity,  imagination and the development of human values, is a wild and whacky 'theorem' in Gove's book.

'Strict discipline' sounds like an urge to get wild and whacky with the more wayward souls in our schools. Which I'm sure it is for Whacker Gove. I'm sure he'll testify that getting whacked never did HIM any harm. Obviously.

He's incapable of conceiving that self-discipline, whose development is far more important than any imposed discipline, can only come from motivated learning and engagement with a rich, diverse, relevant and enjoyable curriculum, which for some pupils will have nothing to do with traditional academic disciplines, or indeed A levels and universities.

How many times do we need to say this? Not going to university does not mean failing in life. And going to a university is far from being a guarantee that someone will learn how to live well, find fulfilment, become self-actualised, learn how to live and work creatively, and develop all of their intelligences.


Blow for Clegg as Lib Dem delegates vote down coalition's flagship 'free schools' policy

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Layer 351 . . . The Pope, the Vatican, Beatification, Politics, Progressive Coalitionism, Clegg, Education, Football and Rooney

Papism and Politics

This Pope's got a fucking cheek. He comes here for a 'State' visit and then immediately 'beatifies' Cardinal Newman - a murky character who's best remembered for leaving the C of E and going Catholic. And if that isn't a recruitment ploy, and also cocking a snook at the Anglican church, then I don't know what is.

There was a photo in the paper yesterday of His Popeness meeting and greeting a long line of VIP divs at Westminster Hall - Willie-waggler Hague, John & Norma Major, Tony and Cherie, Mad Thatch, Gordo . . . And Nick Clegg. (Was there anyone who was invited but decided not to go, I wonder?)

They all came running to honour our Very Important Guest. You have to wonder who the fuck proposed a State Visit for the Head of State of . . . The Vatican. Which genius was that? What's that all about? Who needs it? Who's paying for it? (Us) And the Vatican isn't even a city, or a town - let alone a fucking state. This is all bollocks.

It has an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of just over 800.
- Wikipedia

Benedict XVI, nee Ratzinger - or XVI as he likes to be known - is a comic-book Pope with a comic-book German accent who was a member of the Hitler Youth - which some think is an excellent qualification to become the head of another monolithic organisation with a desire to infect the entire planet with its bizarre, dangerous and reactionary ideology, and its habit of issuing instructions on how to live your life. "You vill obey!!" "Vimmen - stay at home!" "No condoms!" "Homos - go avay!"

And yet, as he made his stealthy way up the Vatikan, or Watikan, or Whatdickan, hierarchy, he was a man who was personally and directly involved in not only covering up child abuse but also making sure the perpetrators were never brought to civil and criminal justice, whenever possible. And in spite of accepting recommendations to do so, the RCs have yet to expel from their ranks most of those who have been identified as child abusers.


Clegg, Fairness, and Education

Speaking of Nick Clegg -  he was on the Andy Marr prog this morning. Very good he was too. Personable, relaxed, human, quick, clever . . . And I'm not going to put him down. Clegg and Cameron are both impressive. Cameron was very gracious, very warm and generous towards Harriet Harman last week during PM's questions, as she made her final appearance as acting Labour leader. He's clearly a decent man, and he's had a lot of personal tragedy to cope with.

Compared with the New Labour freaks vying for the leadership - Milibands, Balls, and the other one - Clegg & Cameron look and sound reasonable, personable and human - not fucking political robots. (Abbott's also a wierdo, but at least she's not New Labour.)

The toughest question Clegg had to deal with today was the charge that the coalition is not carrying out its pledge to make everyone suffer equally from its slashing and burning - and that the richest people haven't suffered at all. Clegg rightly said that the current analysis from those who claim unfairness assumes that the current conditions will remain the same. Whereas - according to him - the coalition plans to create budgetary changes to tax and benefits which will ensure that the rich pay more and the poor pay less. Which is something that New Labour clearly failed to do. We shall see.

To his credit he sounded as though he really meant it. All politicians are actors, but this doesn't mean they never have a core of honesty or decency. I'd rather trust Clegg and Cameron than the New Labour Continuity candidates, and I say this as a lifelong socialist to whom fairness and social justice is all. I suspect I'd also enjoy a conversation in the pub with them more than with the NuLab gits, even if we never agreed about a single policy or principle. C & C may both be conservatives, but they say, at least, they believe in progressive conservatism. And they don't, as far as one can see, have a track record of being lying slimeballs who collaborated with the likes of Blair and Bush and the whole of the neo-conservative/New Labour 'project'.

The other thing, and the most important thing, I really liked about Clegg's statements today was on the subject of education. He rightly said that New Labour's approach had been all about central direction and dictation, combined with divide and rule - one rule for the Academies and another for the rest. He said he'd visited many 'free' schools in Holland and Scandinavia and was impressed with how they were run and what they offered. He said he wants freedom for all teachers and heads in this country to do whatever's right for their school, supported by a more progressive and fairer allocation of resources to schools. And you can't say fairer than that.

It's a fact that every school is different, faces different sets of problems according to its pupil and staffing needs, will therefore have different priorities and constraints, and requires different approaches to its curriculum, pedagogy and organisation as it proceeds along a time line towards whatever 'ideal' state is decided upon by its governors, staff, parents and pupils. Some schools, for example, have yet to realise that the wellbeing of pupils and their enjoyment of school is the key to everything. Being motivated to learn drives all achievement. Hating and resenting school ruins everything - even for the staff. Having a real  and lifelong love of learning for its own sake is the greatest good. Being constantly beaten over the head to jack up exam scores is not guaranteed to produce high achieving pupils or teachers, let alone rounded individuals who embrace school life and look forward to each day.

More power to Clegg's elbow, say I, and I wonder whether he's spoken with Gove about his thoughts on education policy?


Football, Flintoff and Rooney

Two excellent pieces in yesterday's Guardian, ostensibly on the subject of sport.

"Assailed on all sides by spin and vested interest it is more important than ever to make a clear distinction between things that are actually, properly over – albeit still hanging about the place making comebacks and doing interviews – and those that are simply in recess, but still worthy of our urgent interest.

David Beckham, for example, is over. Famous but over. Talented but over. Over with an agent. Andy Murray is not over, but perhaps repeatedly attempting to bully him into winning a grand slam is over. The Lampard-Gerrard "conundrum" is over. The England football team are over. England, generally, is over. Cars are over. Small, very expensive organic chickens with pretend-homemade plastic packaging are over. The phrase "properties of this quality very rarely come on to the market" is over. Twenty20 cricket is over. Opening up a pretentious high-end coffee cart in the East End of London, growing a straggly beard and talking in a sniffy voice about the quality of your roast is over. Telephones with wires are over. In fact, pretty much everything is over apart from China, pornography and multiplying legions of sub-KFC fried chicken outlets called Chicken Shed and Chicken Bungalow and Chicken Loft.

Plus of course Rooney: Rooney is not over. Flintoff's retirement may have come with an earned sense of relief from his creaking knees, those unreliable hinges and cranks. But Rooney still pulses with angry vitality, still carrying with him the imprint of his career high with England at Euro 2004, the Croatia defence scattered like late-night kebab salad brushed angrily to the pavement, tongue lolling like a length of prime luncheon meat, seeing in front of him only the engorged and pulsing flower of the goal between its vulvic posts and demonstrating, in effect . . . tremendous quality from the young lad.

For Rooney, the enemies of promise are more diffuse, and not solely confined to tabloid entities known as Rooney Hooker and Rooney Threesome Girl and even Rooney Hooker Dad. There is also expectation: the fact that we now look for, and expect to find, inveterate decline beneath the star-burnish."

- Barney Ronay

What Won't Happen This Week

Sir Alex Ferguson announces that Wayne Rooney will not be playing against Liverpool as he feels the striker needs to be "protected from football". "It's appalling what goes on. It sickens me. It's totally unnecessary - 22 men in shorts chasing a piece of leather around. It's nonsense. Nobody should be subjected to that." Fears are raised that Sir Alex's move may set a precedent with dozens of top-class celebrities being withdrawn from matches to protect them from penalty misses, falling over, or just standing with their mouths open making uncomprehending gestures, leading to them being laughed at by luxury call girls in night spots. PFA chief Gordon Taylor observes, "The level of abuse these young men suffer as a result of football is appalling. The sooner the FA moves in and clamps down on the game, possibly even bans it altogether, the sooner these lads will be able to get on with their lives."

- Harry Pearson

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Layer 350 . . . Mexico, Drugs, Revolution, Britain, Smashing the State, The Pope, Religion, SEN and Patience

It's real autumn - tomatoes continuing to ripen, chilli peppers, sunflower seeds harvesting, apples, pears and damsons from friends' trees, etc.


Someone on the radio said he'd learnt the secret of happiness from a food container: Stand Upright in a Cool Place.

Two challenges here. How to stand upright. Finding a cool place to make your stand.


Continuing with thoughts about Mexico and revolutionaries -

Mexico's modern revolutionaries
As Mexico marks its 1810 and 1910 uprisings, 2010's upheaval is likely to be about drugs, not politics

This week sees the 200th anniversary of Mexico's war of separation from Spain; in addition, 20 November marks the centennial of Mexico's landmark revolution, the first mass uprising of the underclass in the Americas. The coincidence of centennials has given breath to the hypothesis that Mexico explodes every 100 years in social upheaval, and some leftists are eagerly expecting renewed fireworks in 2010. Indeed, conditions are ripe for revolution here: 70% of Mexico's 103 million population teeter on and around the poverty line.

Revolutions don't happen unless the working class is angry. Electricity workers recently mounted a mass hunger strike (they lasted 90 days) in the main plaza of Mexico City to protest at the loss of their jobs to privatisation.

Today full-scale urban warfare rages on the streets of Juárez – over 1,800 citizens have been slain in the first eight months of the year in firefights between drug gangs and the Mexican military. Car bombs detonate on downtown streets and the mansions of the wealthy are looted and torched. Narco-commandos attack police stations and army barracks, carrying off artillery, and prisoners are broken out of jails much as they were by revolutionaries a century ago.

The Mexican military and the US North Command – for which Mexico is the southern security perimeter – have long expected the narco-gangs and leftist revolutionary bands to coalesce. But revolutionaries in their armchairs complain that revolutions must have ideologies and display class allegiances: this narco-insurrection seems to be all about barbaric killing and taking power, not the liberation of the working class.


The drugs issue is hotting up. Even The Economist is running major features on the arguments in favour of following Portugal and decriminalising drugs. Portugal now has one of the lowest levels of drug use in Europe, according to The Economist.


Meanwhile, back in Britain, it seems it's the government itself that wants to start a revolution:

Yes, the coalition wants to smash the state. That's good

The misery of cuts will grind the government down unless it boldly declares the ideology behind its spending plans

This is an ideological government with a plan for a smaller, less centralised and more liberal state. The left dreads the obvious fact that spending cuts are central to this plan – and they are. The left senses that the government is staging a cultural revolution against social democracy – and it is. The coalition does not want to make mild adjustments to the old order. It intends to smash it.

To say that cuts are being forced by necessity and nothing more, is to imply that when fatter times return ministers will reverse them. Nobody who knows the leaderships of this coalition believes that. Much of what the government must do to balance the books it would have wanted to do even if they were in balance.

The point of reducing spending is to change the state, not just spend less.

There's a kamikaze spirit in this government's soul. Ministers seem strangely pacified by the prospect of their possible political doom. New Labour feared unpopularity so much it became timid. This government has written unpopularity into the script. This has freed it to do things it would never have risked in fiscal peacetime. It is why change seems reckless and fast. The coalition feels a revolutionary duty to be brave. It should be proud of that.



Financial markets are still ruled by instant gratification

Two years after the collapse of Lehman Bros, it's hard to find much sign of the fundamental reforms we were promised

The crisis exposed the structural weaknesses of the bubble years and policymakers said what they always say at this point in the economic cycle: never again. Faced with evidence of the fragility of globalisation, they announced that the system required fundamental reform. At this juncture, it is appropriate to assess how they have been getting on.
The Demand for Immediate Gratification.

Andrew Haldane, Bank of England executive director for financial stability, said recently in Beijing that rapid gains in economic growth in the modern age were accounted for by patience: investing for tomorrow meant sacrifice today.
"Studies have shown that happy people save more and spend less," he argued. "Happy people also take longer to make decisions and expect a longer life. In short, they are patient. These patterns are connected and reinforcing."

But patience does not always triumph. When impatience takes control, we save less and borrow more. We take snap decisions, thinking little about long-term consequences. This sort of behaviour, as Haldane noted, reaches its apotheosis in the financial markets. "Most traders' brains harbour the impatience gene. Often they harbour little else."

So, it would be a real sign of progress if there was evidence that the gods of the financial markets were re-learning the virtue of patience, thus setting an example to mortals. The sad fact is nothing has changed. The business-as-usual mindset makes the case for reform even more compelling.

Simon Hattenstone's interview with Sinead O'Connor is well worth a read. It seems she's a total believer in God and Jesus, but hates the Pope, who arrives here tomorrow, and the whole of the Christian hierarchy of priests and bishops.

Sinead O'Connor: 'The Vatican is a nest of devils'

When she tore up the pope's picture as a protest against child abuse, people thought she was loopy. But Sinead O'Connor – former pop star, priest, newly married mother of four – won't say 'I told you so'

She says, apart from her children, her ordination is her greatest achievement. "I am proud that I did listen to that voice inside me rather than be intimidated by men telling me you can't be a priest. One ought to be more concerned in obeying what the Holy Spirit inspires you to feel rather than what a bunch of men in fucking dresses are telling you to do or not do."

I'm still trying to work out her position – she loves God, but despises Catholicism? She shakes her head. "No, what I think is wrong is that the people running the show are misrepresenting what Catholicism actually is ... what I'm talking about is the highest echelons of the Vatican't as I call it."

"The way they've behaved just in the last 20 years, over this issue of sexual abuse, shows they don't give a shit. They feel untouchable. And to me it seems they don't believe in God at all. Because if you did believe you couldn't stand in front of that spirit covering up and moving priests and doctoring reports to psychiatrists and not telling them there was a suspicion of abuse, you just couldn't do that."

"OK, the abusive priests have been dealt with and that's very important, but now what has to be dealt with is the criminality of the cover-up." She says it has to go to the very top – after all in 2001, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, issued an updated edict instructing the world's bishops to silence all abuse allegations or risk being thrown out of the church. "The Vatican is a nest of devils and a haven for criminals. It's evil, the very top of the toppermost is evil."

O'Connor is clear what has to happen – those responsible have to go. "And when all the those guys stand down we should take back the church for us." Would she like to see a democratically elected pope? "Do we need a fucking pope? Why do we need a pope? Christ doesn't need a representative. Ten years from now the church will be nothing resembling what it has been."


Also on the subject of the Pope and religion:

The pope's priestly model: a rabid, self-harming tyrant

The Catholic priesthood needs radical reform. Yet Benedict looks to a cleric who banned dancing and whipped himself nightly

What has the pope done about the crisis? What he hasn't done is to initiate reforms based on inquiries into the culture of the total clerical crisis. His solution to the complex problems of clericalism is to ask seminarians and priests to emulate a French priest called Jean Vianney, who died 150 years ago.

Last year Benedict was on the verge of proclaiming Vianney as the patron saint of parish priests, the model for a purer, healthier, irreproachable priesthood. In a scolding letter to the Irish clergy earlier this year, the pope asserted that following the life of Vianney would redeem Ireland's disgraced, abusing clergy. At every opportunity he has promoted Vianney as exemplary.

The promotion of Vianney seems to me the most backward-looking of this pope's initiatives, which include bringing back the Latin mass, routinely denouncing homosexuality, and declaring the ordination of women a great sin.

What is the holy father thinking of, promoting this self-harming, narrow-minded tyrant as a solution to the problems of paedophile priests? Even by a mild interpretation, we should infer that priests must turn parishes into spiritual ghettoes where all secular influences are banned. Masochistic displacement activity, the punishing of the flesh, is proposed as a substitute for personal maturity and integrity.
In other words - spiritual intelligence.


Special Educational Needs in the press today, and on the 'Today' programme this morning:

'Special' education comes in many different guises

Some school students need extra support to liberate them from the constraints with which their world tries to strap them down

Young people in our schools, particularly challenging inner-city schools, do need special educational provision to liberate them from the constraints with which their world attempts to strap them down.

Schools have a duty to provide these young people with the tools to enable them to break free from these constraints, to drive up self esteem, aspiration and expectation, and to take their rightful place at the table of learning.

Schools and teachers cannot do this alone. It is a multi-agency agenda of skilled professionals working alongside the most committed, hardworking, diligent and skilful teachers that can create this climate of success.