Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Layer 473 . . . Politics, Labour, Liam, Ed, Education, A Mad Professor, Poor Children, and Assaults From The Right

Liam Byrne MP may well be a very decent chap, but he's a bloody useless advocate for the Labour party. He popped up on the radio this week, trying to explain what the leadership of the party is trying to do to make themselves more relevant and make the party more electable.

Gone are the days when the Labour party was led by people who could speak with passion and conviction about what the party actually stood for. Liam Byrne is like some sort of insurance salesman - a systems man, a grey man, a bureaucrat, a beige person, a dull apology of a politician. We, the people, need and deserve a lot better than this - by way of spokesmen for a party that's supposedly of the people, for the people.

As Jackie Ashley says in her column this week, these people appear responsible, reasoned, and rather bland. Which may be fine in government, but is no good in opposition.

Personally I think Ed Miliband is the best of the bunch that are now leading the Labour party, and it's a pity that the New Labour Blairites are out to get him. Sadly, however, Ed has a very long way to go to become a figure of inspiration, and a motivational speaker.


Time for a round-up of recent articles about education.

Mad professor goes global

As New Labour's backroom boy, Michael Barber had lots of influence but very little publicity. Now he has his dream job, he tells Peter Wilby, with 'the world's leading learning company'

by Peter Wilby


I love this headline. But it's not so much that Barber is completely mad - he's typical New Labour / New Tory in his world view and his ideas about education are ignorant, reactionary and destructive.

Sir Michael Barber was New Labour's mad professor and master of the flow chart, the man responsible for the literacy and numeracy strategies of the first term and, later, when he worked for Tony Blair as head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, for top-down targets across the public sector. He moved in 2005 to the world-renowned management consultancy McKinsey, and its unofficial motto could be his own: "Everything can be measured, and what is measured can be managed".

If teachers hated the Whitehall commands of the New Labour era, they should blame Barber as much as Blair and his education secretaries. On the domestic front, he was the nearest thing to a New Labour guiding spirit, more consistently influential than any of the intellectual gurus Blair briefly took up with.

But Barber was the backroom boy, absorbed in graphs and charts. Newspapers hardly mentioned him, except to mock or denigrate. The columnist Simon Jenkins called him "a control freak's control freak", while the Mail's Quentin Letts compared him to the speaking clock. When he gave PowerPoint presentations on "delivery" before Blair's monthly press conferences – described by one Downing Street official as "excellent punishment for the hacks" – one journalist muttered "bullshit, bullshit, bullshit" throughout.

Now Barber and his graphs have gone global. As McKinsey's hubristically titled "head of global education practice" . . . 

Barber nearly became the top civil servant in Michael Gove's education department this year. The prospect caused panic in Whitehall, where officials feared a return of his top-down regime. But the mad professor clearly regards England as too small a laboratory for his ambitious experiments. His decision to decline the job was no reflection on Gove, he assures me when we meet just before his move to Pearson is announced. "Broadly, Gove's doing the right thing," he says . . . 

He insists that invading Iraq was "the right thing to do" – he says Quaker values still guide his life, particularly the belief that "you're on the planet to make a difference".

Despite giving off a sense of restless energy, he seems wholly comfortable, even serene, in his own skin. "What's wrong with counting beans?" is his response to those who dismiss him as a mere bean-counter.

Reflecting on the literacy and numeracy strategies, he says it was a mistake to underestimate their negative effect on teachers. "I thought being enabled to do their jobs better and see children in their classes doing better would have a transformative effect. I thought teachers would say: that's great."

Which seems an odd misunderstanding for one who worked inside classrooms for six years and spent eight years in the largest teachers' union. But though he's a good and polite listener, he is apt, I think, to hear what he wants to hear and, like many people who derive their values from religious belief . . . is a little too confident of his own rightness. "I've always enjoyed bouncing ideas around with him," says Tim Brighouse, former chief education officer of Birmingham and Barber's predecessor at Keele. "But I could never be as convinced as he is that my ideas are right."

All in all I have the greatest respect for Peter Wilby, but in this article I think he's too soft on Barber, who may be a jolly fine fellow for all I know. What you can't get away from is the fact that Barber was one of a group of New Labour bastards (including Blair, Blunkett and their pal Woodhead) who were a totally malign influence on English and Welsh education. The horrific damage wrought by their regime of bean counting, SATs tests, Ofsted terror and league tables has had the most profoundly damaging effect on children, teachers and schools in this country. What they did is unforgivable, no matter how fine their motives. Whilst the rest of the world was moving towards a more enlightened approach to education these stupid fucks were driving schools back to a Victorian model of cramming and bean counting, targets, payment by results and teaching to tests - as if ANY of this was in the best interests of schools, children and teachers. This man is unforgivably stupid and a complete arsehole for what he did in his time in government.


Poor children's life chances face a new assault from the right

New research taken up by the Tory right is sneakily reintroducing the idea of 'innate' intelligence


by Fiona Millar

Feinstein's conclusions were stark. Children's test scores at 22 months could predict, though not determine, educational qualifications at 26 and were related to family background. The offspring of educated or wealthy parents who scored poorly in the early tests had a tendency to catch up, whereas the low-achieving children of worse-off parents were unlikely to. Early high-achievers from disadvantaged backgrounds were gradually overtaken by early poor-achievers from advantaged families.

Over the years, Feinstein's graph, illustrating the last point, has been heavily used by the left and right. 

It is quoted frequently by Michael Gove; most recently, and crudely, to MPs in defence of the hasty passage of the 2010 Academies Act. Inequality, he explained, was so entrenched that "rich, thick kids" achieve more than their "poor, clever" peers even before they start school.

Schools do have a part to play in breeding academic success, vital personal skills and attributes. But money, parenting, relationships, culture and community also matter. Bright children can easily lose competitive advantage if they are battling with poverty and chaotic home lives in poor neighbourhoods. Others can develop ability and confidence if they have aspirant, supportive parents, good schools, cultural capital and (often) private tuition.

None of this is rocket science to those working with children from a range of backgrounds. The real question is why there might now be a political class searching for evidence to undermine such a powerful and widely accepted basis for more progressive policies.

My own theory is that we are moving into an era in which what Willetts once described as the "parental arms race" will be increasingly fierce and give rise to a mean, rancorous streak. The better-off already fight like tigers to protect what they perceive to be their children's right to a place at the top. What better way to up the ante than by sneakily reintroducing the idea of "innate" intelligence, subtly linked to family background, restoring the idea of a natural order, which social policy cannot interrupt.


The fierce, mean, rancorous, competitive streak that's such a strong feature of bourgeois life is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. There's a great body of basically unintelligent, though intellectually capable, spiritually barren middle class people who excel in rancour, meanness, egocentricity and aggression. I'll maybe write more about spiritual and emotional intelligence later this week, if I can be bothered.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Layer 472 . . . Alfie Bowe, Songs and Singers, AC Grayling, Rowan Williams, Blair, Bunnies, Private Equity and Phone Hacking

Opera singer Alfie Bowe, brought up in Fleetwood, Lancashire, said this on Desert Island Discs -

"I never actually go to the opera. It's not my world. I don't feel comfortable in it. I love singing and performing, but sitting in the audience I'm bored stiff."

So there we have it. I love the honesty of this man.

And his choice of music! First disc - Bob Dylan: Knocking On Heaven's Door.

He's from a family of nine, whose father used to deliver groceries on his bike.

"I don't just like one genre of music. I like good music and good singers."

He also chose The Beatles' "A Day In The Life", Led Zeppelin's "Rain Song", and the Floyd's "Comfortably Numb". Brilliant. This is a guy who REALLY knows about good singers. "Robert Plant is the Rock God."

He also said, "It's an incredible thing - being present at the birth of your child, and the death of your father."


SJ hits the nail right on the head in today's paper - as ever:

AC Grayling has caricatured British universities. No wonder they're fuming

The New College of Humanities founder has exposed higher education as a luxury consumable for the middle classes

By Simon Jenkins


This has been a purple week for red rage. The hirsute philosopher, AC Grayling, may call himself a "pinko" but his embryo London humanities university in Bedford Square has induced apoplexy in the old left . . . The Kropotkin of our age, Terry Eagleton, claims to be fit to vomit.

What Grayling has done is caricature the British university. He has cartooned it as no longer an academic community but a high-end luxury consumable for the middle classes, operating roughly half a year, with dons coming and going at will, handing down wisdom in between television and book tours. Just when state universities have been freed by the coalition to triple their income per student (initially at public expense) to £9,000, Grayling has mischievously doubled that to £18,000

Grayling thus reveals today's "anti-fees" demonstrators for what they are: middle-class militants protecting their parents' incomes from fees today and their own incomes from a graduate tax tomorrow. He wants to make the rich pips squeak.

The academic left needs the comfort blanket of state finance for a reason. It covers the unpleasant truth that universities are a benefit chiefly to the present and future middle classes. Universities in general redistribute money from average tax payers to rich ones and are anti-egalitarian. Their staff do not teach in sink schools or give literacy classes in prison or wrestle with Haringey social services.

I blame the Liberal Democrats. Their impact on every coalition policy has been dire, but nowhere more than in abolishing university fees while still pretending they exist. By converting the student cost of a university education into a postponed surtax, and loading the immediate cost on to the Treasury, the coalition relieves thousands of families who could well afford fees from doing so. Why should any parent meet their offspring's future tax liability at age 18?

Yet by implying that fees still exist, the Lib Dems must have deterred thousands of poorer students from applying to university. The policy is as cruel as it is mendacious. 

This is the desperate state of affairs that Grayling and co have ridiculed. Their college is exploiting the global intellectual melting pot that is London, to make a point and make a profit. In this they are no different from any publisher, broadcaster, magazine or private clinic.

They have lobbed a few well-aimed grenades at the preference of state universities for incomprehensible research at the expense of teaching, for science at the expense of humanities and for scholarly pursuit at the expense of career opportunities. The proposed emphasis on developing a student's critical, logical and life skills is admirable, as is the determination to draw on London's cultural vitality. That said, I would still be amazed if the venture succeeds.


Archbishop of the opposition

While Labour's leader Ed Miliband is muted, it is right for Rowan Williams to speak out on social justice

by Giles Fraser


Should the church get stuck into the mucky world of politics? How ridiculous – of course it should. Dom Hélder Câmara, former Roman Catholic archbishop in Brazil, put it perfectly: "When I give to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."

The coalition government is letting down the most vulnerable in our society.

Where is Ed Miliband? Has he gone to sleep on the job?

The archbishop's electoral deficit does not disqualify him from speaking out on issues of social justice where he has the overwhelming majority of the church behind him. The very fact that his opinions do not need to be muffled by the deadening constraints of the focus group helps to generate a public debate in areas where career politicians are often too bland and cautious. What the archbishop said is only controversial because the elected politicians are not saying it themselves. Even-handed in his criticism, the archbishop rightly bemoans the lack of a coherent vision for society emerging from the Labour party itself: "We are still waiting for a full and robust account of what the left would do differently and what a left-inspired version of localism might look like."

Like it or not, the voice of the theologian is back in the public square.


This is also excellent -

The journey's over, Tony Blair

Tony Blair supports the Arab spring and wants to heal Africa. Laudable aims but breathtaking hypocrisy


by Ian Birrell

Switching on the Today programme yesterday, it was like an unwelcome blast from the past. There was Tony Blair, that familiar mixture of evangelical fervour and earnest sincerity, putting the world to rights with his views on the coalition, Europe and events in the Middle East.

Money, of course, lay behind his appearance on the show, since he was promoting the paperback edition of his biography. Just as money lay behind his decision to take free holidays at the expense of the Egyptian people while in power, ignoring complaints from families of those being tortured in the country's notorious jails.

As blood began to run in the streets during the tense standoff in Tahrir Square, Blair hailed Mubarak as "immensely courageous and a force for good".

But what breathtaking hypocrisy to place himself in the vanguard of the movement for change in the region, diminishing the Arab spring to a struggle between modernisers and reactionaries and saying the Gulf states must change or lose our support. This is the man, after all, who earned a seven-figure sum advising the Kuwaiti royal family, and rakes in a fortune giving speeches in the region.

Just recall, if you can bear to, how he cosied up to the Libyan leader he now wants to see overthrown . . .

Little wonder the dictator's son saw him as "a personal family friend".

Even worse was Blair's appeasement of the Saudi royal family in perhaps the most disgraceful episode of his time in office, when his pressure led to the halting of the landmark BAE bribery case. This was an incident that demeaned our country, usurping Britain's legal process to avoid upsetting a repressive and – to use his own words – reactionary regime.

The BAE move sent a signal round the world that Britain turned a blind eye to allegations of corruption, ensuring autocrats could feel safe laundering their stolen money here with the help of pin-striped pimps in our finance houses, law firms and estate agencies. Large-scale larceny by the likes of Mubarak, Gaddafi and the Assad family in Syria was one of the primary sparks for the explosion of protest – and all had substantial holdings in Britain.

Shameless corruption is one of the primary causes of poor governance across Africa. Now Blair proclaims it as part of his mission to heal the continent he once called "a scar on the conscience of the world". 

Now he has the effrontery to speak about the importance of freedom of expression in north Africa.

You can almost admire the brazen way Blair ploughs on, ignoring his past and brushing aside uncomfortable facts as he seeks to play a part in shaping the future. But then you remember how he backed an ethical foreign policy before ending up an apologist for torture.

As well as promoting his book, it is part of a desperate bid to promote himself as a future elected president of Europe. Someone should tell him the journey's over.


This is the best article I've read so far on the debate about "childhood sexualisation" - because it focuses on children themselves, and their points of view, and it also highlights the whole agenda to suppress sexuality in general and sex/relationships education.

Playboy bunnies? We should be more upset by Poor Kids

The moral crusade against childhood sexualisation isn't top of most parents' agenda – or that of the children allegedly at risk


by Libby Brooks

What goes through the mind of an 11-year-old girl as she picks a Playboy bunny-emblazoned pencil case from the shop display? . . .

I wouldn't want to speculate further because I'm an adult, and thus can't speak for children.

Still, since the publication of the Bailey review on Monday, grownups have been speaking a lot about children . . . 

It may be too late to backpedal to a point where we can usefully define what is actually meant by "sexualisation". And it is problematic to ask children about a term that is so freighted with adult anxieties. Very little work has been done that takes into account young people's views – and when they are included it's usually in a limited fashion, responding to an adult-set agenda.

But when researchers have looked beyond the generalised public account of innocence corrupted, young people present themselves as active, knowledgeable and nuanced consumers.

Anyone who watched Poor Kids, Jezza Neumann's powerful documentary about some of the 3.5 million British children living below the poverty line would have been prompted to ask whether sexualisation is indeed the most pressing harm facing our young people. Of course, a social concern is not rendered benign because it is the least of the evils on offer. But this is a preoccupation favoured by the white middle classes who have the means to buy their way out and, on occasion, the inclination to use it as a method of policing other people's parenting choices, and their taste.

There is deep disquiet among professionals that this crusade will end up cutting off young people from the sexual advice and support services they need. As much as we require more effective research into the links between, say, thongs and teenage pregnancy – with more input from young people themselves – we owe it to ourselves and our children to interrogate whose agenda this serves and what that agenda is. It's all too easy for legitimate, loving adult anxieties to be used as window-dressing for a far harsher and more insidious governmental moralism.


This is a brilliant column by Peter Wilby, on a subject a lot of people don't even know exists, let alone know anything about -

Rampant private equity will mean more Southern Crosses

Without tight regulation, this institutionalised corporate irresponsibility – capitalism at its most barbaric – will triumph


Private equity takes over firms and often does bad things – otherwise known as "efficiencies" – such as sacking workers, cutting wages, selling off assets, walking away from pension liabilities and screwing suppliers. But exactly what private equity is, why it does bad things and why it is so important are not widely understood. Business journalists rarely explain it, presumably on the same principle that sports journalists don't explain leg-before-wicket or offside.

Private equity plays a central role in what modish academics call "late capitalism"

Politicians endlessly debate the merits of public ownership versus privatisation. When business people use those terms, however, they mean something different. To them public ownership means not a nationalised industry directly accountable to taxpayers but a public limited company (plc) in which shares are traded on the stock market under strict rules. Such firms are required, for instance, to announce biannual financial results, issue warnings if profits are about to plunge, abide by rules of corporate governance, and publish annually details such as employee numbers, wage costs and remuneration of senior executives. In short, they have to meet standards of accountability and transparency.

A private firm has no such obligations. It is largely beyond the reach of public regulation – or "red tape" – and it can keep many of its financial arrangements, and even the identity of its owners, out of the public eye. After the US introduced new rules for publicly owned companies in the wake of Enron and other scandals, many went private, so they could, as it were, do their dirty capitalist business in the dark . . . 

[Publicly owned companies have] been the dominant form of corporate capitalism for the past 150 years. If it is lost, capitalism in its rawest, most fundamentalist and arguably barbaric form will have triumphed. Public companies are under growing pressure to accept "corporate social responsibility". Private equity institutionalises corporate irresponsibility.

The left needs to focus far more on challenging the argument that regulation equals burdensome "red tape" and on pressing for effective control of private sector firms, particularly where public services are involved. In the future, as health and education as well as social care are increasingly traded as commodities, private equity will pose a much bigger threat to vital public services than the industrial action against which the Tories threaten to legislate.

Four years ago, when private equity was flourishing, there was an intense political debate about more regulation. The result was a voluntary code of conduct, mainly concerning greater transparency. Most private equity firms don't subscribe to it and, of those that do, about half don't observe it. EU regulations take effect in 2013 but, after intense lobbying, are so enfeebled that unions describe the glass as not so much half full as barely above empty. Don't hold your breath for more from a Tory-led government. But Labour and – dare we hope? – the Lib Dems should at least be pressing for tight restrictions on the role of private equity and high debt in companies that supply public services. Otherwise, there will be many more Southern Crosses, with children and hospital patients as well as old people thrown on the taxpayer's mercy.



Welfare reform: Canterbury tales

At the heart of the archbishop of Canterbury's comments is a shrewd and important observation


At the heart of his comments is a shrewd and important observation. His central contention is that the sense of a society underpinned by mutual responsibility – the essence of Beveridge – has been in decline for decades (certainly since his predecessor Robert Runcie tackled Mrs Thatcher about it 30 years ago) and is now on the point of collapse.

This is why language matters. Mr Duncan Smith's welfare reform programme is far from perfect but, in an article commissioned by the archbishop, he describes it in the language of empowerment, of supporting marginalised communities. It is a different animal to reforms motivated by assigning merit and penalising those found undeserving, a view that seemed to underlie – say – the way George Osborne originally proposed a cap on housing benefit. At least in theory, the Duncan Smith approach is meant to work with the grain of community, and the Osborne version against it. It is the difference between a society of rights and responsibilities and an atomised world of individuals. A fundamental question – three cheers to Rowan Williams for raising it.


Phone-hacking scandal: Time for a public inquiry

News Corp has conducted the most feeble non-inquiries of its own. It has denied the allegations, throwing mud at its accusers


The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has a problem. His instincts – and possibly his advisers and lawyers – are in favour of remaking the British media landscape by allowing News Corp to have full control of BSkyB. But with every passing day the politics of the decision become harder as more and more evidence comes to light that questions whether News Corp is really a fit and proper business to be allowed to become easily the most dominant media company in Britain – owning nearly 40% of the national press as well as 100% of a TV company generating £6bn a year in revenues.


Phone hacking: End this toxic culture now

The police, the government – and spineless MPs who've settled with News International – have failed in their democratic duty



Thursday, June 9, 2011

Layer 471 . . . Essays, Rowan Williams, The New Statesman, Proper Public Argument, and the Bastard Blair


Thought For The Day

The things that bring meaning to life are fellowship, solidarity and community.


Bastard Blair on the Today programme again . . . Every single word that comes out of his mouth is pure shit. Here's an appalling psychopath with an abysmal track record  - whose great success was in winning the Labour leadership and then surfing an enormous wave of anti-Tory feeling in the country - who's STILL being given platforms to spout his neo-conservative bullshit opinions - on Syria, Egypt, Middle East policy, the state of British politics - you name it. Tone still has lots of opinions.

In a week when the current Archbishop of Canterbury is strongly criticising our Tory-led government's policies (as guest editor of the New Statesman!) and pointing out that they have NO MANDATE for their policies, all that Blair had to say is he doesn't read the New Statesman (ignorant bastard) and he supports the 'reform agenda' of the coalition - as long as they're continuing with the 'reforms' that the New Labour mob started during Blair's time as Leader. Which indeed they are.

This man is a fucking disgrace - and a shameful reminder of what the Labour party allowed itself to become. Any Labour party member who DIDN'T resign their membership to protest about Blair's policies really needs to take a good look at themselves and ask to what extent their continuing support for Blairism got us to where we are now. Or do they really think that they did something valid and useful by continuing with their membership?



Archbishop of Canterbury criticises coalition policies


The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the government is committing Britain to "radical, long-term policies for which no-one voted".

Writing in the New Statesman magazine, Dr Rowan Williams raises concerns about the coalition's health, education and welfare reforms.

He said there was "indignation" due to a lack of "proper public argument".

Talking specifically about the government's key health and education policies, Dr Williams said they were being introduced at a "remarkable speed".

"At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context," he said.

"Government badly needs to hear just how much plain fear there is around such questions at present."

In a wide-ranging attack, he accuses the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of creating "anxiety and anger" in the country by introducing reforms without sufficient debate.

Dr Williams is critical of Prime Minister David Cameron's flagship Big Society initiative, which aims to shrink the state and hand more control of services to volunteer groups, describing it as a "stale" slogan which is viewed as an "opportunistic" cover for spending cuts.

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent, Robert Pigott, says this is by no means the archbishop's first attack on government policy, but it is extraordinary for its breadth and it is the most overtly political yet.

"Dr Williams even questioned the coalition's use of its democratic mandate, claiming that no-one had voted for its radical reforms to health and education, and that they were being forced through without 'proper public argument'," he said.


Rowan Williams: no one voted for coalition policies

Archbishop of Canterbury issues broadside against 'radical policies' and 'big society' project in New Statesman editorial


by Patrick Wintour

The archbishop challenges the government's approach to welfare reform, complaining of a "quiet resurgence of the seductive language of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor".

In comments directed at the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, Williams criticises "the steady pressure" to increase "punitive responses to alleged abuses of the system".

Westminster politics "feels pretty stuck" he warns, adding that his aim is to stimulate "a livelier debate" and to challenge the left to develop its own "big idea" as an alternative to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance.

The coalition is facing "bafflement and indignation" over its plans to reform the health service and education, he writes. "With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted," the archbishop says. "At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context."

He complains that the education secretary Michael Gove's free-school reforms passed through Parliament last summer with little debate, using a timetable previously reserved for emergency anti-terrorism laws.

Separate reforms to universities will see tuition fees treble and funding for humanities courses cut.

Williams says education "might well be regarded as a proper matter for open probing". But "the feeling that not enough has been exposed to proper public argument" has created "anxiety and anger" in the country.

Britain needs a long-term education policy "that will deliver the critical tools for democratic involvement, not simply skills that serve the economy", he says.


This is an interesting event at the University of London - The Literary Essay in English  -   2 and 3 July 2011 - organised by the Queen Mary department of English -

And this is an interesting piece for bloggers to consider -

Since Montaigne, the essay has been, alongside fiction, poetry, and drama, one of the major genres of literature, distinguished by its appeal to personal experience rather than institutional approval for authority. It is an intimate forum in which difficult political, scientific, and philosophical issues can be introduced to the general public, and to one another. Yet the essay has been almost completely neglected in literary studies, and in contemporary culture there is little understanding of the genre's history and importance. Its distinctive forms - experimental, exploratory, polemical, introspective, or conversational - have not been charted; nor have the themes which mark the essay through its history: dissent, whimsy, experience, experiment, conversation, unconscious experience, frailty, amateurism, friendship, and intimacy. In the public arena opportunities to publish essays are now very few: the tradition which passes from Johnson's Idler, through the Edinburgh Review, the Westminster Gazette, Hound and Horn, the Dial, the Athenaeum, the Criterion, Horizon, and - finally, perhaps - Encounter - is practically at an end. Hazlitt and Lamb would have few opportunities to publish their essays nowadays. This conference seeks to remedy this neglect, bringing together academics, novelists, and essayists, creating an opportunity for ideas to be exchanged, stimulated, and disseminated.

Spot the strange assertion there? "Few opportunities to publish their essays nowadays". This is a bit like a music lover saying, "Thanks to the Internet there are very few record shops still operating in High Streets nowadays."

So which is best - having a dozen or so magazines with limited circulations that publish a small circle of recognised essayists, or an Internet that gives anyone and everyone the opportunity to publish worldwide (for free) every single essay, review, article, etc they would ever want to write?

So is the issue really about getting paid for (or making a living from) writing essays? Or is it about having access to the guaranteed readership of an established magazine?


Monday, June 6, 2011

Layer 470 . . . Not Keeping Up, Spain, Obama, Gil Scott-Heron, The Super-Rich, Nakba Day, and Social Housing

It's a bit of an effort to keep up with what's happening in the world these days.

Good things have been happening in Spain. The people are stirring. Crowds have been gathering in towns and cities and demanding an end to the political and economic bullshit that's being inflicted on them, just like it is everywhere else. The start of the European Summer?


Of course he's driven by a spirit that neither he, nor anyone else, can control. He's smart enough to know how fast he can move with the things he wants to do in a hideously conservative country like America. Some things you don't even try - rather than rush forward and suffer a heavy defeat. He's learnt the lessons of history.


Gil Scott-Heron: leader of a revolution you could dance to

He fought the powers that be and paid the price. But he also taught us that politics plus soul equals movement

by Suzanne Moore


When Gil Scott-Heron asked in the mid-70s: "Sister/woman have you heard from Johannesburg?" I hadn't actually. I was too young. Too uninformed, maybe, to know really what was going on. He also told us the news was unreliable. And that the situation of black people in America was not far from that of those who would end up rioting two years later in Soweto.

That was important. But what was important to me at the time was that I liked the songs. This was joyous music: politics with soul. And soul meant movement. It meant a revolution you could dance to.

I cant remember where I first saw him, in the early-80s. For some reason I always associate seeing him with seeing Fela Kuti for the first time. "Music is the weapon of the future," said Fela, another kind of prophet.

By then we all knew because of Gil that the revolution would not be televised. We knew about Detroit. We knew this ain't really life, this ain't nothing but a movie. A B-movie. We knew about Ronald Reagan ("mandate my ass"). We knew and were changed by what he knew. He changed our world. And we danced to those changes. We could not stand still. We had to move. We knew that voice, pitched low but light. Revolution was irresistible once you heard that. It was anger as seduction, and in between songs he would talk and talk in a way that you could listen to forever.

And we did.

And we will.


Anxiety keeps the super-rich safe from middle-class rage

The pay gap at the top should change the terms of political trade. But the squeezed middle must first learn to look up

by Peter Wilby


Why aren't we more angry? Why isn't blood running, metaphorically at least, in the streets? Evidence of how the rich prosper while everyone else struggles with inflation, public spending cuts and static wages arrives almost daily. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that last year incomes among the top 1% grew at the fastest rate in a decade. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the top 1,000 are £60.2bn better off this year than in 2010, bringing their collective wealth close to the record pre-recession levels.

Now comes a report this week from the High Pay Commission, set up by the Labour pressure group Compass. It reveals that FTSE 100 chief executives are on average paid £4.2m annually, or 145 times the median wage – and on current trends will be paid £8m, or 214 times the median, by 2020. In the financial sector, even the CEO can seem modestly rewarded: this year, the top-paid banker at Barclays will get £14m, nearly four times the chief executive's earnings and 1,128 times more than the lowest-paid employee receives.

Meanwhile, once inflation is taken into account, most people's incomes are set to fall, after 15 years of virtual stagnation.


Nakba day: we waited 63 years for this

The remarkable bravery of refugees on Nakba day was the first act of a Palestinian summer

by Karma Nabulsi


It was the moment for which we had all been holding our breath for decades – for 63 years to be precise. Palestinians everywhere watched the unfolding scene transfixed and awed. The camera followed the movements of a small group of people advancing from the mass of protesters. They were carefully making their way down a hill towards the high fence that closed off the mined field separating Syria from its own occupied territory of the Golan that borders historic Palestine, now Israel.


The 'localist' assault on social housing

The localism bill sets the conditions for US-style mass private landlordism and a revolving door of housing need and insecurity

by Glyn Robbins


The localism bill, the legislative framework for the "big society", gets its third reading in parliament this week. Amid the furore over NHS privatisation, potentially far-reaching changes to planning, public services and particularly housing have had less attention. The Con-Dems are using the easy rhetoric of the golf club – cutting waste and bureaucracy, promoting individual freedom – as camouflage for an attack on the welfare state and the poor.