Saturday, October 29, 2011

Layer 487 . . . Private Eye, 50th Anniversary, Politics on TV, Outrageous Pay Rises and Bay of Rage

Private Eye

A special issue of Private Eye - marking its 50th anniversary - is now on sale. I've been reading the Eye on and off since I was a teenager - it was an essential read back in the satirical sixties. Thinking about the several boxes of back issues in my cellar, I came across a cartoon in the current issue that shows a bloke fuming at his wife, saying, "You've thrown out the only copy of issue number one because it had gone YELLOW?!"

Best bits this week -

Dave Snooty and his New Pals - Dave's in a panic, saying, "Everyone says I've got a problem with women! What am I going to do about it!?!"
To which several Tory women MPs reply, "Calm down dear!"

An excellent newsletter from The New Coalition Academy

From The Message Boards - on Wootten Bassett's royal title

50th Anniversary Gnomemart

This news story -

England Rioters 'Poor And Young'

Comprehensive statistics on the England riots show those charged with offences were poorer, younger and of lower educational achievement than average. 
On Other Pages:
* Pope 'More Catholic than other people who aren't Catholic'
* Bear 'Still shitting in woods'

This Poem -'s_Book_of_Practical_Cats


Politics on TV

I think I've completely had it with watching political talking heads. Newsnight's not what it used to be, Question Time's become predictable and boring, and the Politics Show is just about unwatchable - thanks to Andrew Neil, and his various guests such as Alan Johnson and Jackie Smith. (Michael Portillo is still OK - an intelligent and straightforward progressive Tory who speaks his honest opinion - a very rare creature. His recent programmes on "capitalism on trial" on Radio 4 were very good, and he concluded that the way we do capitalism must change significantly.

How can politics be boring, given the age we're living in? How can these flagship BBC programmes remain so formulaic and dry?

Why can't we have a Question Time whose panellists consist of 6 of the protestors from the St Paul's camp? It ought to be possible to find a couple who voted Tory and Libdem at the last election. Why can't the appalling Andrew Neil have a protestor sitting on the sofa next to Portillo?

Pay Rises Soar By 49% For UK's Top Bosses
Britain's top company directors have enjoyed a pay rise of almost 50% in the past year - taking their average earnings to almost £2.7m.
A study of FTSE 100 companies by Incomes Data Services (IDS) showed the 49% increase, which covers salary, benefits and bonuses, was higher than the 43% seen by chief executives.

Average bonus payments for directors increased by 23% from £737,000 in 2010 to £906,000 this year, the report said.

Steve Tatton of IDS said: "Britain's economy may be struggling to return to pre-recession levels of output, but the same cannot be said of FTSE 100 directors' remuneration.

"The generous remuneration packages that FTSE 100 directors now receive indicates a marked improvement in boardroom fortunes.

"But, with closer scrutiny of boardroom pay expected in the future, remuneration committees will have to make sure that they are able to provide full and thorough justifications for the bonuses awarded.

"This means that they will have to be much more transparent about how total benefits packages are structured and how performance is measured."

- Sky News


Bay of Rage

Lots happening in Oakland, etc.
After the 4:30am brutal police eviction of Oscar Grant Plaza on Tuesday morning and massive clashes in downtown the following evening, thousands returned to the plaza tonight. Police completely withdrew from the area and the plaza was retaken. Over 1500 people participated in Wednesday’s Occupy Oakland General Assembly. A proposed General Strike & Mass Day of Action on Wednesday, November 2 was overwhelmingly agreed upon with 1484 votes in favor and 46 votes against. Get ready y’all. Liberate Oakland! Shut Down the 1%!

October 2011


Delaware Online

Friday, October 28, 2011

Layer 486 . . . Literacy Crisis, Education, Dyslexia, Vulgar TV, China, Frozen Planet, Peaceful Protest and Resignation

Thinking about the times we live in -
Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.
All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.
An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.
Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education.
It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.
The little people must be sacred to the big ones, and it is from the rights of the weak that the duty of the strong is comprised.
The degree of civilisation is reflected by the quantity of the imagination.
An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
The three great problems of this century; the degradation of man in the proletariat, the subjection of women through hunger, the atrophy of the child by darkness.
The ox suffers, the cart complains
 - Victor Hugo


I love this story -
Reality bites: China orders crackdown on 'vulgar' TV shows
State broadcasting watchdog orders curb on dating shows and talent contests in favour 
of 'morality building' output
Sick of tacky reality shows with egotistic wannabes? Tired of formulaic talent contests for shameless show-offs? If you feel the prime time schedules are packed with lowest common denominator viewing, you are not alone.
Chinese officials share your pain and have ordered a curb on popular entertainment shows. Out go sexy dating shows and lurid programmes on crime. In come art appreciation, astronomy and weekly "morality building shows".
The new edict from the state broadcasting watchdog is expected to come into force on 1 January. Provincial channels will be allowed to show no more than two entertainment shows in the "golden time" between 7.30pm and 10pm, according to a report on the Chinese NetEase website. Particular types of programmes, such as dating shows, will be strictly limited; no more than 10 talent contests will be permitted nationwide per year, and each must be of a different kind.
"The State Administration of Radio Film and Television also encourages [broadcasters] to produce harmonious, healthy and mainstream programmes, such as culture and art appreciation, history, geography and astronomy, and [those addressing] public welfare," the report added.
We can all benefit from more enlightening and more enriching programmes on television. But what's this about being 'sick of tacky TV shows'? How can you get sick of something you can easily switch off? Maybe. But you can be sick of your family or your friends watching crap, and your TV at home being dominated by the choices 'voted' for by the majority.


Frozen Planet

Fabulous David Attenborough programme on TV this week - Frozen Planet. Stunning photography - take a look at these photos on Yahoo:

We need many more intelligent, enjoyable and accessible documentaries - at the cinema as well as on TV.

Read all about it: Britain's shameful literacy crisis
So rioters shunned bookshops because they didn't offer anything they wanted? That points to a debilitating exclusion from a civilised culture

Deborah Orr's final 'column' in G2 made me sit up and . . . despair. "Shameful". "Crisis"?

Test and exam scores are demonstrably better than they've ever been - and yet we have a shameful crisis on our hands, according to La Orr. Shock fucking horror.

You then take a look at the 8 pages of feedback on the website (by 6.00pm - 328 comments on this article on CiF. 370 this morning) . . . and despair.

Yes - we have a problem with literacy in this country. Since the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy test scores have gone up, and enthusiasm for reading and writing has gone down. Any connection there?, we ask ourselves. More and more literacy exercises and drills, more and more didactic teaching, more and more 'booster classes' . . . and fewer children reading for pleasure; fewer children writing for their own purposes and pleasure.

Yes - there are thousands of children eagerly consuming Harry Potter, but so what? It's what the less technically able and fluent readers are reading, if anything, that we need to be concerned about. Voracious readers - those who find the passing of tests a doddle in any case - will always find books they want to read. But how do we get the less able to become 'hooked on books'?

Not by giving them more of the same drills and tests, that's for sure. Not by failing to understand the psycho-linguistics of reading, the importance of all the cueing systems and not just 'synthetic' phonics, the importance of onset and rime, etc, that's for sure. We learn to read by reading - the same as we learn to ride a bike by riding it. But first of all we have to want to read, or ride the bike.

Still, we can all have an opinion, can't we? No matter never having tried to teach literacy to a group of thirty very needy 4, 5 and 6 year olds, or a reluctant 14 year old. No matter never having studied psycholinguistics. No matter never having worked with pupils with severe learning difficulties of various sorts. Let's all just jump up and down and shout "Crisis! Shameful!" - shall we?

Of course there are teachers who are poorly trained, poorly prepared, and even some who are poorly motivated and clearly inadequate in all sorts of ways. Add to the mix a 'literacy strategy' which is no more than a return to skilling and drilling . . . and we have a big problem.

The good news is that the profession as a whole is capable of working this out for themselves and doing something about it - should the politicians and the pundits care to piss off and allow good schools and those who know what they're talking about to spread best practice, instead of having tinpot 'solutions' rammed down their throats by bureaucrats. Take a look at Finland, Canada and Denmark if you don't believe me. Learn how an education system ought to be run - for the real benefit of pupils and teachers.

Incidentally - there was an interesting programme on the radio this week that said very positive things about so-called dyslexics, who are normally seen as kids and adults with grave disabilities. It seems those with difficulties with literacy are often excellent communicators, often talented and creative in other ways, and often strong in '3D spatial reasoning ability'. Often these 'dyslexics' become brilliant in their own field, once they've discovered their true strengths and passions.

The question is - do schools enable these pupils to discover their other gifts and talents, and enable them to unleash their energy and creativity? Indeed, do schools do so for ANY of their pupils?

Canon of St Paul's: church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence
In his first interview since his resignation, the Reverend Giles Fraser says he was unable to reconcile his conscience with the breakup of the Occupy London camp
Fraser said he decided to resign on Wednesday when he realised he could not reconcile his conscience with the possibility of the church and the Corporation of London combining to evict the protesters from the land outside the cathedral, some of which is jointly owned with the City.
"The church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence," said Fraser, adding that it was apparent that the Corporation of London was clearer than the cathedral authorities about its desire to see the protesters moved on.
"I cannot countenance the idea that this would be about [the eviction of] Dale Farm on the steps of St Paul's.
"I would want to have negotiated down the size of the camp and appeal to those there to help us keep the cathedral going, and if that mean that I was thereby granting them some legal right to stay then that is the position I would have had to wear."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Layer 485 . . . Canon Giles Fraser, Detonation, Resignation, Principles, St Paul's and Protests

Further to my comment yesterday about Giles Fraser, Canon of St Paul's -

St Paul's Cathedral canon resigns
Giles Fraser quits over plans to forcibly remove Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters from outside cathedral

The canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, the Rev Dr Giles Fraser, has resigned in protest at plans to forcibly remove protesters from its steps, saying he could not support the possibility of "violence in the name of the church".

Speculation grew in the last 24 hours that Fraser, a leading leftwing voice in the Church of England, would resign because he could not sanction the use of police or bailiffs against the hundreds of activists who have set up camp in the grounds of the cathedral in the past fortnight.

Just after 9am on Thursday, Fraser tweeted: "It is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St Paul's Cathedral."

In a statement to the Guardian, Fraser, who was appointed canon in May 2009, confirmed his resignation, saying: "I resigned because I believe that the chapter has set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the church."

Fraser quickly became a hero figure among the Occupy the London Stock Exchange (LSX) movement, clearing police officers off the steps of St Paul's and supporting the group's right to peaceful protest after a court injunction stopped it from setting up camp in nearby Paternoster Square. He also delivered a Sunday sermon decrying corporate greed, which was seen as another sign of his endorsement of the protest.

Occupy London said it was "deeply moved" to hear of his resignation.

"He is man of great personal integrity and our thoughts are with him. He respected our right to protest and defended it. For that we are very grateful, as he ensured that St Paul's could be a sanctuary for us and that no violence could take place against peaceful protesters with a legitimate cause – challenging and tackling social and economic injustice in London, the UK and beyond."

A spokeswoman, Naomi Colvin, added: "Courage like that is really very inspiring. It reassures us that what we're doing is important. The people who have a bit of integrity, it's becoming more obvious who those people are. I hope we can do well enough to justify their sacrifices."

Giles Fraser: the jeans and T-shirt wearing cleric of St Paul's Cathedral
Resigned canon known by fans and opponents alike as a fiercely bright, progressive and genial man unafraid to speak his mind

On the face of it, Giles Fraser is an unlikely looking cleric. Bald, jovial, worldly, ferociously bright but genial towards those within the fractious Church of England who disagree with him, his favourite form of garb is jeans and T-shirt.

It is a uniform in keeping with the 47-year-old's support for Chelsea football club and his determinedly demotic persona, though he had to change into a more conventional dog-collar and black suit when translated from his parish in Putney to St Paul's two years ago.

His family background is Jewish, and he was a teenaged Trotskyite before converting to Anglicanism at university. His doctorate comes from a thesis on the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who famously declared that God – at least in the old-fashioned sense – was dead.

Fraser, served his curacy on a rundown Midlands council housing estate and for 10 years was vicar of Putney parish church in one of the most well-heeled parts of London. He equally valued the church as the scene of the post-English civil war debates on the sort of society England should become.

He has never made any secret of his generally, leftwing, progressive views both politically and within the Church of England, where he has been a prominent supporter of the pro-gay Inclusive Church group, launched at a service in his church.

He will have realised, as some of his colleagues did not, how the cathedral chapter's attempts to close the camp down – and their over-reaction in closing the cathedral – would play in the outside world and how it would make the church appear: scared, cowed, out-of-touch and pro-establishment – the very things he consistently preaches against in sermons and broadcasts.



Giles Fraser
@giles_fraser London
Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral.


Wikipedia is already up to date on the canon who fired himself -


I'm keeping this blog deliberately short as I want to post it quickly!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Layer 484 . . . The Olympic Family, Fuckwits, Gridlock, Protests, St Paul's, Fundamental Change and Putting Down Roots

The Olympic Family

What an unfortunate expression. What can it possibly mean? At last night's meeting/briefing for 'the Hackney community' (ugh) presenter after presenter kept talking about The Olympic Family. What they actually mean is - all of those entitled to drive or be driven along the "Olympics Only" vehicle lanes leading to and from the various Olympic sites: competitors, officials, bureaucrats, etc. It'll be interesting to see whether people like the Royal Family will become honorary members of The Olympic Family. These road appropriations will be in force from 6.00am to midnight every single day for more than three weeks. And if millions of regular road users can't be persuaded to either a) go away or b) just stay put at home during those weeks, then gridlock is guaranteed. And that's not speculation - that's official.

The highlight of the meeting was a woman in the audience who stood up to make the following contribution:

"A few years ago I was in Australia with my son at the time of the Olympics, and I went to spit on the floor. My son said, 'Don't do that - you'll get a £1,000 fine - and you can also get fined £1,000 for dropping litter'. And now I think this is a REALLY GOOD IDEA and we should DO IT HERE. This could really make the Olympics better for EVERYBODY."


It turned out there was gridlock in the car park of the community centre where the meeting was taking place. There was a classic moment when it was announced that a car was blocking the entrance to the car park - and a description of the car and its registration number was duly read out. Nobody moved. We all know what happens in this situation - out of sheer embarrassment for being humiliated and for being shown up as a fuckwit you let the meeting move on, and after a decent interval you quietly get up and move your car, or whatever. "Don't worry", said the oragniser, "We'll all look to the front so nobody's going to turn round and look at you!" And then a guy stood up on the front row - and went out to move his car.

Doesn't bode well for the London Olympics.


Will the anti-capitalist movement have grown stronger by the time the Olympics begin, and if so - with what consequences? Or will the protesters simply get hoovered up from the streets and detained for the duration?

I've just heard an item on the radio saying that the Bishop of London has said it's time for the anti-capitalist protesters camped outside St Paul's Cathedral to leave. In response to this, the Canon of St Paul's, Dr Giles Fraser, has apparently threatened to resign if the protest camp is forcibly closed down. Previously he said this -

"I remain firmly supportive of the right of people peacefully to protest. But given the strong advice that we have received that the camp is making the cathedral and its occupants unsafe then this right has to be balanced against other rights and responsibilities too. The Christian gospel is profoundly committed to the needs of the poor and the dispossessed. Financial justice is a gospel imperative. Those who are claiming the decision to close the cathedral has been made for commercial reasons are talking complete nonsense."


This is from last Wednesday's Guardian:

The Occupy movement has lit a fire for real change

Establishment praise for the Occupy protests reflects anxiety at public anger – which needs to be turned into political pressure

by Seumas Milne

It's not hard to see why the Occupy Wall Street protests have gone global. What kicked off a month ago in relative obscurity – drawing inspiration from this year's Spanish indignados occupations and the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia – has now spawned protests in more than 900 cities around the world. The only surprise is it didn't happen sooner.

Three years after the banks that brought the west's economies to their knees were bailed out with vast public funds, nothing has fundamentally changed. Profits and bonuses are booming for financial oligarchs and corporate giants, while most people are paying the price of their reckless speculation with falling living standards, cuts in public services and mounting unemployment.

Coming as this crisis has done – at the end of an era of rampant deregulation that has created huge disparities of income and wealth, concentrated in the hands of the top 1% and secured by politicians bought by corporate interests – a backlash against those actually responsible was well overdue.

While the protesters were originally ridiculed as unfocused, or denounced by leading Republicans as "mobs", they are now championed by the media establishment – including the New York Times and Financial Times – on both sides of the Atlantic. Obama has made friendly noises, while his officials say they now plan to "run against Wall Street" in next year's presidential campaign.

In a climate where plutocrats like Warren Buffett are meanwhile begging to pay higher taxes, it's a clear sign of elite anxiety at the extent of popular anger and an attempt to co-opt the movement before demands for more fundamental change get traction.

Something similar seems to be going on in Britain where – against a steady drumbeat of lobbying scandal and escalating unemployment – police and the conservative Daily Mail have so far both given the City occupation outside St Paul's Cathedral a notably easy ride.

There's no doubt that these occupations echo both the spirit and organisation of the anti-corporate movement that erupted in Seattle in 1999. The tactic of occupying a symbolic public space (as opposed to strikes, sit-ins and marches) can be traced back to Greenham Common in the 1980s through a string of often dubious "colour revolutions" over the past decade.

But it's this year's drama in Tahrir Square (acknowledged with an Egyptian flag at the London camp) that has given it such evocative power. And while the 1990s anti-capitalist globalisation protests took place at a time of boom and speculative frenzy, today's occupations are targeting a global capitalism in the deepest crisis.

Which is why they have such a clear sense of reflecting the common sense of the age. What both movements now and then also share is an intense commitment to direct democracy and the influence of an "autonomist" opposition to engagement with mainstream politics – seen as a central part of the problem, rather than any solution.

In that, of course, they're in tune with millions. But when it gets to the point of resisting making direct political demands at all – an issue of controversy this week among US protesters, with some arguing "the process is the message" – that would surely limit the protests' impact.

The Occupy movement has already changed the political climate in the US. Some commentators argue that's enough – and it's up to politicians and wonks to turn the theme of economic justice into policy. But that would be to hand the initiative to the very system the protesters reject – and limit the scope for making common cause with others resisting austerity and corporate greed.

Not only that, but any demands need to be a good deal more radical than "independent regulation" if they're to make sense of the call for fundamental change and action to tackle the crisis: democratic ownership and control of banks and utilities, say, and wealth and transactions taxes for a start.

And as Naomi Klein argued to protesters in New York, the movement will also need democratic structures and institutions if it's to put down roots rather than fizzle and burn out. 

The form and focus of these protests already varies widely from country to country: in Chile, they originally concentrated on free education, but now the target has expanded to include banks and GM crops. Across Latin America, where the revolt against neoliberalism first began more than a decade ago, it has been alliances of social movements and political organisations that have proved most successful in turning protest into economic and social change.

But there is of course no automatic link between large-scale protest and any radical political breakthrough: Spain has been convulsed with occupations and strikes – and is expected to elect a rightwing neoliberal government in reaction to the socialist government's austerity. The populist right can take advantage of mass disaffection as well as the left.

But in just a few weeks the Occupy movement has helped bust open the political class veto on the scale of change demanded by the crisis – and now that opportunity needs to be seized.


Major meetings are taking place today concerning the Euro crisis.

Seumas Milne wrote this excellent piece a couple of weeks ago:

The class interests at the heart of David Cameron's plan

The Conservative party is effectively the political wing of the City of London. No wonder it can't lead Britain out of this crisis

"Our plan will work", was all the prime minister offered by way of reassurance yesterday. But that judgment already looks flaky. And most people in Britain aren't reassured. Nor are Cameron and Osborne's old friends at the IMF, which yesterday called on countries able to borrow at low interest rates, such as Britain and Germany, to "consider delaying" their cuts programmes.

The IMF has argued Britain could afford to raise its debt by 50% of GDP without triggering a crisis. But the Tory leaders show no signs of budging. Osborne's "credit-easing" plan to boost bank lending to businesses simply reflects the failure of his Project Merlin to achieve the same thing.

Not even its most enthusiastic advocates imagine such an intervention will turn round the collapse in investment or demand. But still the government shrinks from using its control of two of the biggest banks to boost investment and lending directly.

Osborne instead came up with a new growth plan: make it easier to sack workers, while requiring them to pay £1,000 for an unfair dismissal hearing in an employment tribunal – refundable only if they win the case. There's no serious evidence that extending the qualifying period to claim unfair dismissal from one to two years will create jobs. 

Signed off by Vince Cable, it also reveals the limits of Liberal Democrat restraints on Thatcherite recidivism. But more than that, it casts some light on the class interests at the heart of this government's response to the crisis.

Cameron and Osborne's refusal to change course is partly driven by ideology, of course, and a determination not to weaken in any way the private grip on the major levers of economic life. But there's something else, more quintessentially Tory, about it.

"If this party is anything, it's the party of small business and enterprise", Osborne told the Conservative faithful in Manchester this week. But that's not the whole picture. As the figures published at the weekend by the Guardian underline, the Tories are first and foremost the party of the City of London and financial engineering. More than half the party's £12m donations in the last year came from the City and banking. Its most lavish donors were hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms: the very interests which drove the financial sector over a cliff in 2007-8.

Now, the Tories' intimate links to banking are hardly new – even if the funding grip has tightened. But a government in the hands of what is effectively the political wing of the City of London takes on a more dangerous significance when bankers and financiers are almost universally recognised to have both played the central role in creating this crisis – and in perpetuating it.

It's not just slashing the rate of corporation tax for banks, or delaying the milk-and-water Vickers bank ringfencing proposals till 2019, or refusing to clamp down on bank bonuses in the teeth of public hostility or vetoing a financial transactions Tobin tax. It's the refusal to intervene directly in banking and finance to drive recovery that most starkly reveals whose interests the government puts first.

None of this, of course, has stopped Cameron talking earnestly about being "completely dissatisfied with the banking industry's behaviour", or the need to "encourage good business practices", or his determination to "crack down on tax evasion". In fact, despite the Tory leaders' withering dismissal of Ed Miliband's call last week for a new "economic system", it's striking how much they have echoed some of his language.

No doubt they've registered the polling that shows most people agree Britain is dominated by "fast-buck capitalists" and "predators, not producers". The problem for the Tories is that those are also their most enthusiastic supporters and paymasters.

If Miliband really intends to break with the 30-year-old "Thatcher settlement", one Conservative cabinet minister told me this week, it would be a highly significant political shift. "But I don't think that's where the British people are," he added, "they just want us to sort out the mess of the last five years". As the crisis deepens, however, it's becoming ever clearer you can't do one without the other.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Layer 483 . . . An Architecture of Consciousness, A People's Forum and a Bay of Rage

It looks like I underestimated (in yesterday's blog) the number of cities where there are anti-capitalist camps - according to this piece in the New York Times. The Observer's version of this article estimates the number of camps as 900, not 600.


In Protest, the Power of Place
by Michael Kimmelman

THE ever expanding Occupy Wall Street movement, with encampments now not only in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington, London and other cities, proves among other things that no matter how instrumental new media have become in spreading protest these days, nothing replaces people taking to the streets.
We tend to underestimate the political power of physical places. Then Tahrir Square comes along. Now it’s Zuccotti Park, until four weeks ago an utterly obscure city-block-size downtown plaza with a few trees and concrete benches, around the corner from ground zero and two blocks north of Wall Street on Broadway. A few hundred people with ponchos and sleeping bags have put it on the map.
Kent State, Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall: we clearly use locales, edifices, architecture to house our memories and political energy. Politics troubles our consciences. But places haunt our imaginations.
So we check in on Facebook and Twitter, but make pilgrimages to Antietam, Auschwitz and to the Acropolis, to gaze at rubble from the days of Pericles and Aristotle.
I thought of Aristotle, of all people, while I watched the Zuccotti Park demonstrators hold one of their “general assemblies” the other day. In his “Politics,” Aristotle argued that the size of an ideal polis extended to the limits of a herald’s cry. He believed that the human voice was directly linked to civic order. A healthy citizenry in a proper city required face-to-face conversation.
A peculiarity of zoning law has turned an unexpected spotlight on the bankruptcy of so much of what in the last couple of generations has passed for public space in America. Most of it is token gestures by developers in return for erecting bigger, taller buildings. Think of the atrium of the I.B.M. tower on Madison Avenue and countless other places like it: “public” spaces that are not really public at all but quasi-public, controlled by their landlords. Zuccotti in principle is subject to Brookfield’s rules prohibiting tarps, sleeping bags and the storage of personal property on the site. The whole situation illustrates just how far we have allowed the ancient civic ideal of public space to drift from an arena of public expression and public assembly (Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, say) to a commercial sop (the foyer of the Time Warner Center).
Living in Europe for the past few years, I often came across parks and squares, in Barcelona and Madrid, Athens and Milan, Paris and Rome, occupied by tent communities of protesters. Public protest and assembly are part of the European social compact. Maybe the difference in America has something to do with our longstanding obsessions with automobiles and autonomy, with our predilection for isolationism, or our preference just for watching, more than participating.
In Europe, the protests were about jobs, government rollbacks and debt. That the message of the Zuccotti Park occupiers is fuzzy somewhat misses the point. The encampment itself has become the point.

“We come to get a sense of being part of a larger community,” said Brian Pickett, a 33-year-old adjunct professor of theater and speech at City University of New York. I found him sitting last week among the neat, tarpaulin-covered stacks of sleeping bags in one corner of the park. “It’s important to see this in the context of alienation today. We do Facebook alone. But people are not alone here.”
And as a result, demonstrators also reveal themselves to each other. Egyptians described this phenomenon at Tahrir Square. Tea Partiers have talked about it, too. Protesters don’t just show the world a mass of people. They discover their own numbers — people with similar, if not identical, concerns. Imagine Zuccotti Park, one protester told me, as a Venn diagram of characters representing disparate political and economic disenchantments. The park is where their grievances overlap. It’s literally common ground.
And it was obvious to me watching the crowd coalesce over several days that consensus emerges urbanistically, meaning that the demonstrators, who have devised their own form of leaderless governance to keep the peace, find unity in community. The governing process they choose is itself a bedrock message of the protest.
It produces the outlines of a city, as I said. The protesters have set up a kitchen, for serving food, a legal desk and a sanitation department, a library of donated books, an area where the general assembly meets, a medical station, a media center where people can recharge their laptops using portable generators, and even a general store, called the comfort center, stocked with donated clothing, bedding, toothpaste and deodorant — like the food, all free for the taking.
That’s where I found Sophie Theriault the other morning, sorting through loads of newly arrived pants and shirts. A soft-spoken 21-year-old organic farmer from Vermont, she had already spent many days and nights working as a volunteer. “We may not have all come here with the exact same issues in mind,” she told me, “but sharing this park day in and day out, night after night, becomes an opportunity for us to discover our mutual interests.”
“We meet every night to talk about how to keep this place clean and sober, to keep it an emotionally, physically safe space for everyone. Consensus builds community.”
Patrick Metzger, a 23-year-old sound engineer and composer, echoed the thought: “From Web posts, you never get information about race, class, age — who people really are. Fox News talks about flakes and mobs. But you can see how complicated the mix really is: students and older people, parents with families, construction workers on their lunch break, unemployed Wall Street executives.”
O.K., a few flakes, too, as at any political rally. But Mr. Metzger got it right. The protesters’ diversity, at least during the day, is intrinsic to the protest’s resilience. Not since 9/11 have so many people been asking “Have you been there?” “Have you seen it?” about anyplace in Manhattan. The occupation of the virtual world along with Zuccotti Park is of course jointly propelling the Occupy Wall Street movement now, and neither would be so effective minus the other.
That said, on the ground is where the protesters are building an architecture of consciousness.


What's happening in the USA is fascinating, given the total domination of USA politics by the neo-conservatives for past decades. But let's not forget that it was in America in the 1960s that the whole hippy/alternative society thing really took off. It's been puzzling that the Left in America has been so marginalised for so many years.

Check out The People's Forum:



This polemic is interesting:

Bay of Rage

Corporate Greed is the Wrong Target
Being “greedy” is what good corporations and businesses are supposed to do in capitalism. In this system, individuals can only get ahead by acting greedy, in their own self-interest. So while many recent city occupations in the USA have built themselves against  “corporate greed”, “big business,” and “financiers on Wall Street”, we cannot forget that the most greedy corporations also donate the most to charity, that small business is just as much part of the system as big business, that productive industry cannot exist without finance. We must challenge the entire system. If we are really against “corporate greed” then we are against capitalism itself.
The 99%?
Yes, the 1% have been screwing us, for a long ass time. The 99% are reduced to working, serving and maintaining a system that makes us miserable and prevents us from realizing our potential. A growing number of us have been completely expelled from ‘society’ altogether—through homelessness, joblessness, an inability to get adequate healthcare, lack of access to education and other miserable conditions.
But the idea that there is something called society that we should all work together to defend is an illusion. Society is rife with divisions, conflicts and wars. Some of these wars are manufactured and waged by the 1%. Other wars, such as the wars conducted by indigenous peoples and people of color against racist colonization and the war conducted by women and trans people against patriarchal gender violence, are hidden and suppressed in the false name of society. Every year for these last decades, the casualties of society have piled up as the revolutionaries have been killed or jailed.
In recent years, many of the 99% have appeared to follow the rules. Many of us have been caught in the cycle of working and borrowing in order to continue working and borrowing, we have been terrified of speaking out against daily injustices and humiliations for fear of losing the tiny foothold we hope to protect, or for fear of getting jailed or beaten by the cops, or getting ostracized and criminalized by the obeyers (even though they know the rules are unjust). Many people who have recently lost their social standing are figuring out that the promises capitalism holds out to them are hollow. What the 99% faces, at best, is a life of debt, chained to shitty jobs and to shitty commodities.
The Occupy Movement is awakening to the fact that if we continue to follow their rules, they, the 1%, will win. The Occupy movement is a wake-up call to disobey their rules and to create new ways of living together.
The square occupations in North Africa unleashed revolutions that toppled dictators and those in Europe brought global stock markets to the brink of collapse. The difference here is obviously in the numbers; 50,000+ in Tahrir Square, 20,000 in Syntagma. Yet there was also something more.The strength of these occupations lied in their refusal to be removed, their commitment to physically resist any attempts to evict them from their liberated spaces. Remember the barricades around Tahrir? Non-violence made no sense during those long nights of fighting to protect the revolution. Here in the usa, we will also need to resist, in our own ways. By limiting the scope of that resistance right from the start, we undermine our potential strength and we let the state decide when we will be removed, when this explosion of resistance has gone too far and needs to be extinguished.
We need tens of thousands to take to the streets and build this movement into something greater. But if the past weeks have taught us anything it is that clashes with the state do not scare people away. In fact it is the opposite. The numbers on Wall Street have clearly grown after each round of escalation and scuffles with police.
The potential of this movement. What do we really want?
We don’t want shitty jobs. We don’t want to vote for politicians who promise to change things. We don’t want to waste our energies trying to change the constitution. We don’t want a few new rules for Wall Street.  We don’t believe we can “affect the system” by just “being together.”
The 1% controls the wealth of the society. We need to take it back, and remake it in the process. But what comes after occupying the city squares? City Hall? Foreclosed homes? Supermarkets? And then—Liberating public transit? Free health clinics? Free education? Collective food production?
Everything is possible.


Anti-capitalist protest camp sets up in Birmingham city centre

Wall Street protest camp builds its own world order

Occupy London protest to 'camp at St Paul's until at least Christmas'

Occupy London protest camp prepares to become permanent fixture
Anti-capitalist base in the City grows to 200 tents as activists set up kitchens, toilet blocks and media centre


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Layer 482 . . . Freefall, Stiglitz, Anti-capitalist Occupations, Eagleton, Economics, Villanelles, Douzinas, Greece, Tunisia and Gaddafi

From BBC TV last night I learned that 600 Canadian soldiers died in 1944 in an area near Caen on the day that British and American planes bombed the city into oblivion. Obviously the bombs were not meant to kill allied troops.

"Francis Reginald Scott, commonly known as Frank Scott or F.R. Scott, (August 1, 1899 - January 30, 1985) was a Canadian poet, intellectual and constitutional expert. He helped found the first Canadian social democratic party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and its successor, the New Democratic Party."
 - Wikipedia
"Scott's father instilled in his son a commitment to serve mankind, a love for the regenerative balance of the Laurentian landscape and a firm respect for the social order. He witnessed the riots in the City during the Conscription Crisis of 1917."

A villanelle is a poem with only two rhyme sounds. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close. A villanelle is nineteen lines long, consisting of five tercets and one concluding quatrain.

"Dear Heather" is Leonard Cohen's eleventh studio album, released in 2004.

"Villanelle for Our Time", the album's 7th track, was recorded on the 6th May 1999, shortly after Cohen's return from the Mount Baldy Zen Center. It is an improvised jazz recitation of an F.R. Scott poem.

Villanelle For Our Time
From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.
This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.
We loved the easy and the smart,
But now, with keener hand and brain,
We rise to play a greater part.
The lesser loyalties depart,
And neither race nor creed remain
From bitter searching of the heart.
Not steering by the venal chart
That tricked the mass for private gain,
We rise to play a greater part.
Reshaping narrow law and art
Whose symbols are the millions slain,
From bitter searching of the heart
We rise to play a greater part.


It's been an eventful month. 600 anti-capitalist camps have sprung up in cities around the world. Libya's civil war has raged to its end. Gaddafi has been captured and shot. The citizens of Tunisia are voting today for a new post-revolutionary government . . .

Some say there's a ridiculous number of competing parties seeking election for their candidates in Tunisia. Maybe - however - this is how an anarcho-syndicalist democratic system should work: through there being a large number of parties, or syndicates, representing every possible point of view, that must genuinely communicate, discuss, persuade, negotiate and compromise. How can this be worse than a two-party system in which both the parties espouse basically the same conservative ideology?


Joseph Stiglitz is one of the most intelligent men on our planet. In 2009 he published a book called "Freefall - Free Markets & the Sinking of the Global Economy". (Now a Penguin @ £9.99) Stiglitz was the Chief Economist at the World Bank and won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001.

Paul Mason said this in the New Statesman -

"If anyone is going to produce a bold new economic theory and vision to guide the centre left beyond the financial crisis, it's going to be Joe . . ."

David Smith said this in The Times -

"Freefall is a spirited attack on Wall Street, the free market and the Washington Concensus."

Chuck Leddy said this in the Boston Globe -

"Freefall is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the roots of the financial crisis."

So the question you have to ask yourself is - do you NOT want to understand the roots of the financial crisis, the reasons for the banking collapse, and what should be done now and in the future?

"Freefall - Free Markets & the Sinking of the Global Economy". Penguin  £9.99


Here's an extract from the preface of Freefall:

"In the Great Recession that began in 2008 millions of people . . . lost their homes and jobs. Many more suffered the fear and anxiety of doing so . . . A crisis that began in America soon turned global, as tens of millions lost their jobs worldwide - 20 million in China alone - and tens of millions fell into poverty. This is not the way things were supposed to be.
The Great Recession . . . has shattered illusions. It is forcing [many of us] to rethink long-cherished views. For a quarter century, certain free market doctrines have prevailed. 
This book is about a battle of ideas, about the ideas that led to the failed policies that precipitated the crisis and about the lessons that we take away from it. The battle between capitalism and communism may be over, but market economies come in many variations and the contest among them rages on. 
Managing the crisis is only my first concern; I am also concerned about the world that will emerge after the crisis. We won't and can't go back to the world as it was before.

Terry Eagleton's another very clever guy, and a Distinguished Professor of English Literature. Hot off the press is a new book of his called, "Why Marx Was Right".
Yale University Press  £16.99

"The crisis has at least meant that the word 'capitalism,' usually disguised under some such coy pseudonym as 'the modern age,' 'industrialism' or 'the West,' has become current once more. You can tell that the capitalist system is in trouble when people start talking about capitalism. It indicates that the system has ceased to be as natural as the air we breathe, and can be seen instead as the historically rather recent phenomenom that it is . . . 
A form of social life can be perceived for what it is when it begins to break down. Marx was the first to identify the historical object known as capitalism  - to show how it arose, by what laws it worked, and how it might be brought to an end.
[As for] Marxism as a moral and cultural critique . . . Alienation, the 'commodification' of social life, a culture of greed, aggression, mindless hedonism and growing nihilism, the steady hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence: it is hard to find an intelligent discussion of these questions that is not seriously indebted to the Marxist tradition . . .

 This is from a major article in the Guardian G2 last Friday:

Occupy London: my nights with the St Paul's protesters
The Occupy London protesters have a kitchen, a tech-tent, a library – even a football team. But do they have any answers?

by Patrick Kingsley

In the short term, I learn quickly, these guys want to stay here. I arrive on Tuesday, the fourth day of the occupation, and already the place seems staggeringly well organised – and growing fast. Estimates vary, but yesterday some say there were 100 tents lining the steps of the cathedral, and along its northern face. Today there are around 150. Tomorrow, maybe 200.
 People always impatiently ask what the occupiers' "demands" are, and why collectively they seem unwilling, or unable to provide quick-fix solutions. These questions miss the point. First, there are lots of occupiers, all from different social and political backgrounds, who understandably need time to thrash out what it is they want to achieve together. The camp gives them that time. Second, if there's one thing that does unite almost all of them, it's their rejection of capitalism – although they are wary of how they couch this. Nevertheless, a huge "capitalism is crisis" banner hangs over the entrance to the site; they're not interested in making petty demands on a system they see as irreconcilably flawed. If anything, the camp itself is their demand, and their solution: the stab at an alternative society that at least aims to operate without hierarchy, and with full, participatory democracy. And to be fair, in its small way, it kind of works.
Wail Qasim, an 18-year-old politics student: "You can go to the ballot box every five years, but politicians don't actually represent your view. So the importance of this kind of space is in the way it brings together people to open up a dialogue about building an alternative." 
Blogger Steve Maclean, 31, is slightly more pragmatic: "We're forming a space where people can come together and crystallise all of what we think. Out of this more concrete ideas can be formed."
Bear, who co-ordinates the kitchen, runs catering at festivals. He, incidentally, as he picked his way over a few crates of donated fruit, gave me the most nuanced view of what he hopes the camp will achieve: "We're not going to create the answer here, but we can effect a change by leading by example, by showing people that an autonomous, democratic community based on social rather than financial cooperation can work."
The tech team is one of 15 autonomous sub-groups at the camp, each with responsibility for a particular area. There is a group that deals with the camp's donations; there are the food, and "university" teams; the police negotiation group; legal, which has enlisted a friendly QC, in case of future trouble; recycling; outreach, which distributes flyers about the camp, and is planning a politics workshop for schools; music, art, and entertainment; a cathedral liaison team, which is tactfully dealing with its increasingly wary clergy; and a media team, for dealing with people like me.
Almost everyone's involved in something and, crucially, there's no hierarchy – or there's not supposed to be. The teams meet once a day and agree things by consensus, in a discussion "facilitated" (but not led) by a different member of the group each time. Their decisions are announced every lunchtime at a pan-camp logistics meeting – once again ideally facilitated by different people, to avoid anyone gaining too much influence. But the main meeting of the day is the general assembly. Held at 7pm, it's attended by 400-500 people and aimed at political discourse and camp strategy.
Most of the occupiers don't think this is a problem that can be solved by a few tweaks to [financial] regulation. They think it's a systemic problem not attributable to a single group. It's a problem with capitalism.
At the back of the crowd, the suit standing next to me leans in to say something. "So what answers have they got?" is what I expect him to say. After all, he's a former investment banker now studying for an MBA. But Nikita – "yes, just call me Nikita" – surprises me. "Even if they don't have a solution, people still have the right to say 'no'," he says, pausing between each word. "It's only once people start saying 'no' that we will start thinking about what the solution could be."

Sleepless at Occupy London Stock Exchange - video


Greece's lines now are clear
The Greek elite that tried to push through policies on the back of a deficit it fuelled stands alone and accused

by Costas Douzinas - Professor of Law at Birkbeck College

Greece is split in two. On one side are politicians, bankers, tax evaders and media barons supporting the most class-driven, violent social and cultural restructuring western Europe has seen. The "other" Greece includes the overwhelming majority of the population. It was in evidence yesterday when up to 500,000 people took to the streets; the largest demonstration in living memory. The attempt to divide civil servants (ritually presented as lazy and corrupt) from private sector employees (the "tax evading" plumbers) has misfired. The only success the Papandreou government can boast is the abolition of the old right-left division – replaced by a divide between the elites and the people.
It is as if the Greek elites desired the debt to orchestrate the wholesale destruction of the welfare state and transfer of public assets to private hands.
The Papandreou government will stand accused of incompetence and moral cynicism. Every authoritarian regime dreams of radically changing society. This government's mission was to replace care for others with indifference, hospitality with exploitation. They failed, and now only a thick blue line separates the elite from the outraged people.
Thursday's demonstration ended tragically with the death of a trade-unionist. The last vestiges of governmental legitimacy are gone and the government will follow soon. The democratic deficit from which political systems suffer everywhere is irreversible in Greece. The responsibility of the "other" Greece is to devise a constitution of social justice and democracy for the 21st century. This is what Greece can offer to the world.

Other articles by Costas Douzinas:

Greece is standing up to EU neocolonialism

The usurious conditions of the Greek bailout reveals Brussels' colonial mindset – but Athens is showing citizens can resist

In Greece, we see democracy in action

The public debates of the outraged in Athens are the closest we have come to democratic practice in recent European history

Austerity? There is an alternative – a new project for Europe's left

Our initiative aims to show there is an alternative analysis of the present situation rather than the misery and injustice of austerity

These hunger strikers are the martyrs of Greece

Asylum seekers willing to die in the face of expulsion after shame and exploitation bear witness to a higher truth than life

Greek protests show democracy in action

A minister described Greek civil disobedience as 'anomie' – but it is legitimately reclaiming our democracy from failed institutions

In London and Athens, protesters are rekindling the true European spirit

The idea of Europe must go back to a democracy that resists fake economic orthodoxy and false monoculturalism