Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Layer 511 . . . Taxing Wealth, Fear of Taxes, US Elections, Global Apocalypse, Carl Jung and Data Pool 3

The thing is, politics is far too important to be left to politicians. That's why we need public intellectuals, capable analysts, and great writers & journalists. And we need the Guardian to give them a creative platform. Here's a selection of what was in the paper yesterday.

[It might seem like dull, dutiful, hard work sometimes to keep up with what's happening in the world, but in times of crisis and change we all have a public duty to pay attention, and to work hard if necessary at knowing what's going on. Otherwise we lose the right to complain when we don't like what's done to us.]
Mysteries of Data Pool 3 give Rupert Murdoch a whole new headache
The arrest of four Sun journalists threatens to open a fresh phase of the scandal surrounding News International
by Nick Davies

On Saturday morning, the police arrested four journalists who have worked for Rupert Murdoch. For a while, it looked as though these were yet more arrests of people related to the News of the World but then it became clear that this was something much more significant.
This may be the moment when the scandal that closed the NoW finally started to pose a potential threat to at least one of Murdoch's three other UK newspaper titles: the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.
The four men arrested on Saturday are not linked to the NoW. They come from the Sun, from the top of the tree – the current head of news and his crime editor, the former managing editor and deputy editor.
Taxing wealth? The public mood still escapes the Tories
Ed Miliband's task is to point out where the blame really lies for unfairness in the system
by Polly Toynbee
The Hester bonus retreat marks a seismic political moment, a point of no return. How long it has taken, how slow Westminster has been to respond to public outrage since the crash – but Labour has seized the moment.
Labour's call for a tax on bank bonuses gains real traction as boardroom kleptocracy finally breaks through the political sound barrier. Despite poll after poll showing disgust at top pay, the issue has been ignored at Westminster and was invisible at the last election. Hester's failure to respond in time to public outrage has lit the blue touch-paper. Uncharacteristically, David Cameron missed the public mood, so he looks both weak and in hock to a City that bankrolls his party. Each new bonus announcement will skewer him again and again – one RBS trader gets £4m and on Friday, Barclays' Bob Diamond will swipe £10m: no Cameron nudging is likely to shift his sod-you-all attitude.
Hester has handed Labour the tin-opener to the whole can of worms over boardroom pay. Research from Professor Karel Williams at Manchester University's Cresc shows how far soaring executive pay is unrelated to performance, but how closely related it is to the tiny pool of people sitting on boards, similar earners rubber-stamping one another's ever-rising pay. There is, Williams says, "a very weak link between pay and performance". Most employees know that performance-related pay is largely a chimera: gamed by managers, resented by staff, it corrodes into custom and practice. Let this end the bonus and incentives fallacy in every sphere.
Why are deficit-cutters so afraid to talk about tax?
Reducing public spending is not the only way of balancing the budget, but taxation seems to be taboo for politicians
By Mehdi Hasan
 'I like paying taxes," the US supreme court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked, "with them I buy civilisation." As hundreds of thousands of self-assessment taxpayers frantically file their returns to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, ahead of 31 January's looming deadline, the late judge's words are worth bearing in mind.
We need to talk about tax. I won't pretend I like paying taxes. I don't. But I agree with the argument that it is taxation that helps civilise our society. Tax revenues fund high-quality public services, the welfare state, our national defence and much-needed infrastructure projects. Progressive taxation of income keeps inequality in check, by redistributing from the rich to the rest.
But taxation also goes to the heart of the current debate over the deficit. In his new and aptly titled Compass pamphlet, White Flag Labour, economist Howard Reed points out that "there are two ways to close a fiscal deficit when the economy is operating at full potential – one is to cut spending, the other is to raise taxes" yet deficit hawks assume that "cutting spending is always and everywhere the preferred route to fiscal balance, rather than raising more revenue via the tax system".
Fiscal policy has been reduced to a sterile debate over public spending in recent years. Our political elites act almost as if taxation doesn't exist. Defending Labour's recent tilt towards cuts, Ed Miliband proclaimed in a speech on 10 January that "the next prime minister will still have a deficit to reduce, and will not have money to spend". Really? Why can't said deficit be reduced through additional tax revenues?
The phrase "deficit reduction" has become a convenient euphemism for cutting public expenditure. It shouldn't surprise us. The biggest myth in British politics is that government borrowing spiralled out of control because of overspending; our record budget deficit, say the Tories and their Lib Dem mini-mes, is the inevitable consequence of Labour profligacy.
It cannot be said often enough: the deficit was caused not by rises in public spending but by a collapse in tax revenues. For example, by 2009-10, the Treasury had received around £112bn less in tax revenues than it had expected to. As Channel 4's FactCheck website decisively concluded earlier this month, "the drop in tax receipts triggered by the economic crisis is what's behind the bulk of the £149bn deficit".
Poll after poll shows overwhelming public support for a tax on bankers' bonuses; a mansion tax on multimillion-pound properties; a windfall levy on the oil and utility companies; a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions; and a one-off wealth tax of 20% on the richest 10% of households (which would raise a whopping £800bn and, according to YouGov, is backed by three out of four voters).
Increasing taxes on the rich to help reduce the deficit isn't "class warfare", as President Obama belatedly argued in his state of the union address last week: it is "common sense". If our leaders want us to believe that they are serious about the deficit, then they have to lift their self-imposed taboo on discussing tax.
The time has come to say the politically unsayable: it is wrong to pretend that cutting spending is the only, best or main method of eliminating the deficit. It isn't. In the long run, once the economy is off its knees and growing again, we need to make much greater use of taxation to balance the budget. Perhaps we can update Justice Holmes's mantra for our age of austerity: I like paying taxes, with them I pay down the deficit.

US elections: no matter who you vote for, money always wins
Dollars play a decisive role in US politics. And more so since the supreme court allowed unlimited campaign contributions
by Gary Younge
Republican presidential debates are not for the faint-hearted. 
Given the general state of the Republican party . . . truth and facts are but two options among many. The party's base, overrun by birthers, climate change deniers and creationists, floats its warped theories and every now and then one makes it to the top and bobs out into the airwaves.
 It is difficult to think of anywhere else in the western world where these debates would have any credibility outside of a fringe party (even if the fringes in Europe are now spreading). Far from indicating America's exceptionalism, it looks more like an awful parody of the stereotypes most outsiders already believed about American politics at its most bizarre. "Those who follow this race daily may have long since lost perspective on how absurd it is," said the German magazine Der Spiegel last week. "Each candidate loves Israel. They all love Ronald Reagan. Each loves his wife, a born first lady, for a number of reasons."
The good news is, with the exception of Perry's demise, the debates have not been pivotal. The bad news is that the truly decisive element has been something even more insidious: money. Lots of it.
The issue here is not class envy, hating rich people because they are rich, but class interests – cementing the advantages of the privileged over the rest. The problem is not personal, it's systemic. In the current climate, it means a group of wealthy people in business will decide which wealthy people in Congress they would like to tell poor people what they can't have because times are hard. And unless the ruling is overturned there is precious little that can be done about it.
Downplaying money's central role at this point merely buys into the illusion of participatory democracy, where ideas, character and strategy are paramount, while others are actually buying the candidates and access to power. The result is a charade. Fig leaf, G-string – name the scanty underwear of your choice. The emperor is butt naked. Whoever you vote for, the money gets in.
"Truth and facts are but two options amonst many."
Great line, and one which is borne out every day here on Cif by the more mendacious right-wingers.
It's difficult to believe that, four years after a financial crisis created by widespread corruption and fraud by banks, not a single person has been jailed either in the US or the UK for perpetuating this fraud.
It's even more difficult to believe that this crisis has been exploited by right-wingers and free market zealots to make the case for a shrinking of the state and greater deregulation in the interests of those who clearly cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.
The neoliberal zealots, for whom truth and facts are simply options, shout down those who call for regulation and controls on irresponsible markets as socialists who will usher us all into the Gulag.
They will have missed the Newsweek report this week which found that there are 6 million people in the US either incarcerated or under some form of criminal supervision.
Newsweek helpfully pointed out that the figure of 6 million, in the Land of the Free, exceeded the total number of people imprisoned or under state supervision in the Soviet Union in the worst years of Stalinist repression.
Meanwhile, there are $18trillion sitting in offshore tax havens, a figure which exceeds the combined debt of the OECD economies.
The truth and the facts show that there is no justification for austerity.
Austerity is simply a policy choice for neoliberals who care more for their own selfish interests than they do for truth and facts.

Davos policymakers are playing Global Apocalypse – and running out of lives
If the world economy was a video game, the central bankers and politicians have been struggling to master the controls – and remain stuck on the first level
By Larry Elliott
Policymakers have put the question of global rebalancing into a box labelled "too hard to deal with", and have been dilatory in sorting out the problems of their financial sectors. Instead, whether through a misguided belief in financial orthodoxy or a fear of the bond markets, they have concentrated on heavy-handed and blanket austerity, something that should have come at the very end of the game.
The result has been sluggish growth in the west because every element of growth – public expenditure, consumer spending and investment – has been choked off simultaneously. If government is to retrench without causing recession, private demand has to rise, but the squeeze on real incomes and a reluctance to invest means this is not happening. The result is an unbalanced global economy, drifting towards a double-dip recession (in the west at least), a dysfunctional financial system and – a new ingredient in the toxic mix – a deeply disaffected public.
Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund's managing director, spent last week rattling the tin in the hope of getting contributions for a $2 trillion (£1.3tn) war chest. European policymakers were trying to put the finishing touches to a Greek debt deal. Draghi made it clear that providing liquidity to Europe's banks would not be enough on its own to bring an end to the crisis.
What does it mean? It means that blanket austerity is not working, and. It means that what was originally a global response to a global crisis has become a series of national responses to national crises. It means that Europe is treating a three-dimensional problem (growth, banks, public finances) with a one-dimensional fix of deficit reduction. It means that the global economy is still struggling to get beyond level one of Global Apocalypse. And if policymakers don't start showing a bit more skill, it will soon be Game Over and time to play Global Apocalypse 2.
This could be Carl Jung's century
The psychoanalyst saw himself as a sort of therapist for western culture, and his diagnosis of its ills resonates today
by Andrew Samuels
If the last century has been called "the Freudian century", there are reasons for thinking that this one could be Jung's. His time does seem to have come.
He had a much more positive view of the human psyche and unconscious than Freud. For Jung, the unconscious is not only full of wild and destructive drives; it is also the source of creativity, spirituality and the capacity for relationships.
What Jung saw in western culture is very familiar to what its contemporary critics perceive. He despaired of the over-rational one-sidedness of western culture, the way it has got cut off from nature (Jung is the pioneer of what is now called ecopsychology). He hit out at the materialism and loss of individuality in our world, focused on the mind-body split, on mechanical approaches to sex, and the west's loss of a sense of existential and spiritual purpose and meaning. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Layer 510 . . . Revolutions, Start The Week, the Force of Ideas and the Power of Truth


The following sentences are from a blog by Oguejiofo Annu which Oxzen quoted last January (Layer 426) -

On January 14, President Ben Ali [of Tunisia] fled the country amid escalating violence and opposition . . .
The entire Africa and middle east is taken by surprise. Strong men and presidents are quietly sweating it out and considering their counter strategy. The commentators say this fire has the potential of blazing outside the borders of Tunisia as it moves like a forest firestorm to burn down the oppressive power structures of Africa and Middle East.
Rasta Livewire will keep you posted as this fire blazes on . . .

Little did we dare to believe that the downfall of the tyrants in Egypt and Libya would be witnessed before the year was out.



The whole of this morning's Start The Week on Radio 4 was on the subject of revolution.
On Start the Week Andrew Marr talks revolution. Wael Ghonim explains how social networks played a vital role in the Arab Spring. His Facebook page,'We Are All Khaled Said', which featured the death of a young Egyptian, inspired a new generation to fight oppression. Mary King, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies looks back to earlier struggles in eastern Europe, and the journalist Paul Mason explores how far the worldwide economic crisis and growing inequality lie behind the new revolutions.
The call for a mass protest on January 25th last year - the start of Egypt's revolution - began from the Facebook page, Kullena Khaled Said. It was a page created to highlight the fate of a young man beaten to death by the police in Alexandria. But as events changed across the Arab world, it became a focus for hundreds of thousands of protestors demanding an end to Mubarak's rule. Its creator was Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, who used his knowledge of technology and the love of his country to inspire a generation of young Egyptians to demand change.
Revolution 2.0 is published by Fourth Estate.
From Tahrir Square in Cairo, to the streets of Athens, to the avenues of Madrid, to Westminster and St Paul's, 2011 saw an uprising against regimes and systems of government almost unprecedented in world history. Journalist Paul Mason visited many of the places where revolutions were 'kicking off' and spoke to many of the new generation of revolutionaries. So who are these people and how significant was the world economic crisis in triggering such widespread social and political unrest?
Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions is published by Verso.
In 1989 revolution spread throughout Eastern Europe, toppling the dictatorial regimes in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Out of all of these countries only Romania overthrew its old regime through violent action. A lifelong advocate of peaceful protest movements and a civil rights activist with Martin Luther King, Mary King argues that armed struggle is ultimately less successful. She looks at the parallels between the recent Arab Spring and the Autumn of Nations two decades ago.
Quotes from the broadcast:

Technology has empowered people.

Media has been decentralised.

We're seeing processes of disorientation as the dominant neo-liberal economics model (globalisation) falls apart.

The degree of 'preparedness' of the people is the key to successful peaceful revolution.

The revolution in the USA is more about culture and behaviour - 'people power' - driven by the anger and the condition of the American poor and the poverty-stricken masses. (Paul Mason)

Governments are having to learn to listen, and can no longer ignore the will of the people.

Activists around the world have read the autobiography of Gandhi and have learnt the methods of non-violent struggle - from South Africa to Georgia; from the Ukraine to the Phillipines.

The revolution in Egypt was directly inspired by the Tunisian revolution. People saw what was possible! (Through direct non-violent action.)

Discontent has been driven by the breakdown of the neo-liberal economic model. (Paul Mason)

[The technology of] communication is phenomenally important for mass non-violent movements. (Mary King)

The majority of people are fed up with a world run by rich people FOR rich people.

The protests we're seeing are a reaction to the bankrupting of states.

People in some countries are finding it hard to survive due to food economics - caused by commodity price inflation and asset price inflation.

Many slum dwellers can't even afford bread and sugar.

Young people are the detonators.

Sustained long-term mass action needs established self-sustainable groups (students, unions, churches and mosques) and the use of general strikes. (Mary King)

The American civil rights movement learnt how to be effective from Gandhi.

The force of ideas will eventually prevail.


In his autobiography (Page 47) Gandhi wrote about the power of truth amd morality :

"One thing took deep root in me - that morality is the basis of things, and that truth is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective."

Also speaking truth to power . . .

In case you missed it, take a look at this previous blog about Paul Mason's book:

Layer 504 . . . Kicking Off Everywhere, Global Unrest and a Viral Revolution


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Layer 509 . . . Happier, Rat Racers, Top of the Pops, Music, Star Wars and Jane Austen


Today's Observer contains within it a free book which is very cleverly called 'Happier'. Following on from yesterday's blog ruminations on 'happiness' this is timely indeed.

The book's author, Tal Ben-Shahar PhD, has very astutely cottoned on to the fact that 'happiness' is in fact an indefinable and highly relative concept - relative both within ourselves and between one other. It's therefore a waste of time discussing 'happiness' - since we'll never agree on what it is - but we can and should address issues of what might make each of us happier!

As a taster here's a brief quotation -
"Am I happy?" is a closed question that suggests a binary approach to the pursuit of the good life: we are either happy or we are not. Happiness, according to this approach, is an end of a process, a finite and definable point that, when reached, signifies the termination of our pursuit. This point, however, does not exist, and clinging to the belief that it does will lead to dissatisfaction and frustration.
We can always be happier; no person experiences perfect bliss at all times and has nothing more to which he can aspire. Therefore, rather than asking myself whether I am happy or not, a more helpful question is, "How can I become happier?" This question acknowledges the nature of happiness and the fact that its pursuit is an ongoing process best represented by an infinite continuum, not by a finite point. I am happier than I was five years ago, and I hope to be happier five years from now than I am today.
Very wise words, in my opinion. Here's a few more:
The rat racer, subordinating the present to the future, suffers now for the purpose of some anticipated gain.
As a young child, Timon is unconcerned with the future, experiencing the wonder and excitement of his day-to-day activities. When he turns six and goes to school his career as a rat racer begins.
He is constantly reminded by his parents and his teachers that the purpose of going to school is to get good grades so that he can secure his future. He is NOT told that he should be happy in school or that learning can be - and ought to be - fun.
Afraid of performing poorly on tests, fearful of missing a word of the teacher's gospel, Timon feels anxious and stressed. He looks forward to the end of each period and each day and is only sustained by the thought of the upcoming holiday, when he will no longer have to think about work and grades. 
Timon accepts the values of the adults - that grades are the measure of success - and despite the fact that he dislikes school, he continues to work hard . . . His classmates - who have also been indoctrinated - envy him. By the time he enters high school, Timon has fully internalised the formula for success: sacrifice present enjoyment in order to be happy in the future. No pain, no gain. Although he does not enjoy his schoolwork he devotes himself fully to it. He's driven by the need to amass [grades], titles and honours, and when the pressure becomes overwhelming he tells himself that he will begin to have fun once he gets into college.
Of course college turns out to be pretty much the same as school, as far as self-sacrifice, stress and unhappiness is concerned, and so too does the world of work.
Timon was a top student in college; he is now a partner in a prestigious firm; he and his wonderful family live in a large house in an upscale neighbourhood; he drives a luxury car; he has more money than he can spend. Timon is unhappy.
While Timon is an unhappy rat racer, it's important to note that there are many businesspeople who love to spend eighty hours each week immersed in their work. being a hard worker, or a high achiever, is not synonymous with being a rat racer. There are supremely happy people who work long hours and dedicate themselves to their schoolwork or to their profession. What differentiates rat racers is their inability to enjoy what they are doing - and their persistent belief that once they reach a certain destination they will be happy. 
As I say - well worth a read. The book then goes on to deal with the 'Hedonism Archetype' and the 'Nihilism Archetype', before arriving at the 'Happiness Architype'. I'll probably quote from these in the next blog.


Top of the Pops

Why on earth is BBC4 re-broadcasting old editions of Top of the Pops? I only ask because I've never seen anything quite so depressing. It's not funny, it's not clever, and it's definitely not entertaining. This weekend's edition is a repeat from January 1977. I watched for a few minutes out of sheer curiosity, but soon had to switch it off.

The whole rubbishy punk phenomenon that started to take off in 76/77 clearly happened from a need to revolt against the crap that was infesting the entire nation in the name of music in the early and mid-70s. It was shockingly bad, post-60's, the whole music 'business'. Money for nothing, indeed.

Punk, at least, was an attempt to reclaim music for people who wanted to play and to sing from genuine feelings and emotions of authentic joy, passion, anger, and so on. Of course punk was also stupid in its own way, being born of teenage angst, aggression and ego, but for the most part early punk was at least authentic. The Clash were certainly a good band.

On last night's TOTP there was the twat known as Noel Edmonds, the great Noel himself, with his ridiculous hair and his stupid beard, presiding over the whole plastic shambles. (Tony Blackburn was also a top man on TOTP.) Pathetic fakes and posers: Celebrity DJs.

There was also David Soul at 'Number 1'. Was there ever a greater misnomer than Mr Soul? Apparently the programme also featured Gary Glitter, Leo Sayer, Brotherhood of Man, Showaddywaddy, and others too horrible to mention. McCartney's Mull of Kintyre also dates from 1977.

Gruesome, horrible rubbish. This was awful back then, and it certainly is now. How did all that crap happen - post Woodstock, post Rock n Roll, post Psychedelia, Post Sergeant Pepper, post Rhythm n Blues, post Tamla and Soul? Who actually bought such cheesy rubbish?

And then there was Legs and Co. Did anyone really get off on them - with their silly routines, their ill-fitting, badly-designed costumes, and their girl-next-door grinning faces?


Apparently David Soul's been married five times -  a true romantic.

One reviewer of 'The Very Best of David Soul: Don't Give Up On Us' on Amazon (£4.49) says,

"When I bought this album recently, everybody in the office laughed at me, but they didn't really know what they were laughing for."

Oh yes they did.

Horrible lyrics here:


Makes you wonder what the Very Worst of David Soul might be like.

Click the arrow heads and sample some of the tracks here, including 'Bird On A Wire':


Eat your heart out Leonard Cohen.

42 songs for £4.49 - at 10p a pop they're a bit pricey, but what the heck - they are hilarious.

It seems Mr Soul was born on August 28th - the same day as my son. Worrying.


Star Wars and Jane Austen

'So You've Never Seen Star Wars?' is a programme that's been broadcast on both radio and TV by the BBC, and one I sometimes try to catch. The basic premise is that we all have gaps in our experience, and we've all failed to do things that the rest of the world seems to consider essential to the good life - such as watching Star Wars. Celebrities go on the programme and do things that they otherwise wouldn't, and never have done before.

If I did a session on the programme I reckon I might have to confess to never having read a Jane Austen novel, and also to never seeing a film or television adaptation. How come? - when everyone else talks about the wonderful Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy and all the rest of it?

For a start off, the books are impenetrable - especially for someone who has a problem with long, dreary complex stories concerning romantic young women and their efforts to ensnare suitable husbands. At least I think that's what they're about. As I say, I've never read any of them. Life's too short.

If you doubt what I'm saying then I'd challenge anyone to get past the first 2 or 3 pages of Sense and Sensibility - Austen's first published novel - without losing the will to live. You can read the entire thing here, if you really have the urge - http://www.online-literature.com/austen/sensibility/1/ Even getting through the first paragraph requires a lot of dedication and determination.

Mind you, even the synopsis of the book on Wikipedia is very hard work to wade through. It's not clear to me, at least, why anyone would actually care about the life and times of the upper middle classes and the landed gentry either now or back in history, unless you happen to be a historian and somehow find this stuff fascinating.

Never let it be said, however, that Oxzen isn't open to new experiences. And so I duly went along to see a new stage play based on Sense and Sensibility. It's currently having a run at the Rosemary Branch theatre, N1.

Ahem. It's brilliant.

The 6 actors are all superb in their (multiple) roles. The script is brilliant. The music and sound effects are sublime. The whole production works incredibly well, especially in the confined space above the Rosemary Branch. It takes a lot to bring tears to the eyes of an old cynic, but the performances are so well crafted and so passionately acted there were actually two and a half instances of welling-up in Oxzen eyes. Emma Fenney's speech as Elinor – the sensible and intelligent, charming yet reserved one of the two sisters - when she tells her sister in increasingly passionate and pain-filled words how she's had to keep within herself her true feelings about the loss of the man she desires - is just beautifully and brilliantly done. Breathtaking and heartrending.

Of course the story consists of basically immature romantic twaddle, told by a young woman who had yet to experience what most of us would call reality, but it's a story incredibly well crafted and well told - at least in this wonderful touring version of the book. Definitely catch it if you can.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Layer 508 . . . Happiness, Desert Island Discs, Kirsty Young, Contentment, Intelligences, Philosophy, de Botton and Zen

It's Desert Island Discs Weekend. Hurrah!
Castaway: 70 Years of Desert Island Discs
Kirsty Young tells the story of the long-running programme as it celebrates its 70th anniversary and investigates what has made it such an enduring part of the radio schedule.

Why Desert Island Discs is still in the groove
Who are the classic radio show's most colourful castaways of the past 70 years?
As part of the 70th birthday celebrations, we are all asked to choose our own favourite eight discs – results will be broadcast on BBC national and local radio tomorrow after the 70th anniversary Desert Island Discs at 11.15am on Radio 4. Will national tastes have altered yet again? Will Ralph Vaughan Williams have been demoted? We will soon find out.

Is Kirsty Young the most intelligent and attractive woman in the UK? If not, then who is? And we're not just talking intellect here. Sense of humour and sense of the ridiculous are also key.

I don't want my children to be happy just to be content and have self worth, says Kirsty Young
The presenter of Desert Island Discs said that "life is complicated" and that her children will be "bloody lucky" if they even glimpse true happiness.
The 43-year-old, who has two daughters and two stepchildren, was speaking as the BBC radio programme, the world's longest running, celebrated its 70th year.

So what does Kirsty Young mean by 'being content'?
The presenter of Desert Island Discs has caused a stir by saying she doesn’t want her children to be happy.
Young knows the value of not having it too easy. Her Scottish childhood was tough; her parents divorced, there wasn’t a great deal of money, and she has in the past paid tribute to her mother for instilling in her the ambition to do better for herself.
Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, political biographer and co-founder of the campaigning group Action on Happiness, was horrified by her comments. “She is totally and profoundly wrong,” he says. “I feel sorry for her children. Every parent should want their child to be happy more than anything else in life, to achieve that sense of deep fulfilment, that they are experiencing life to the full.”
Why is Seldon so obtuse? He's talking here about being fulfilled, and experiencing life to the full. Is that all there is to happiness? Is it possible to feel fulfilled and to 'experience life to the full' ALL of the time? Is there no place in life for sadness and melancholy? Can you experience happiness whilst NOT 'experiencing life to the full'.
Seldon is in the vanguard of those credited with promoting a “happiness agenda” in government circles. His school was the first in the country to offer pupils lessons in happiness. “It is all about psychological health,” he explains, “about connectedness and engagement, about relationships, doing good, appreciating nature and art. Happiness underpins them all. At a time when we are experiencing so much mental illness, teaching youngsters about happiness enables them to see what they can be and to strive for it.” In other words, his take on happiness may mean exactly the same as what Kirsty Young labels contentment.
Doh! Lessons in happiness indeed! He's talking about enabling young people to develop all of their intelligences - personal, social, emotional, spiritual, etc. Happiness is then a by-product of all-round development and reaching one's full potential as a human being. Happiness cannot UNDERPIN this process. How the hell do you acquire happiness in the first place - especially if you're living in dire circumstances? Like in certain public schools.

Happiness doesn't cause you or enable you to develop good relationships, do good to others, appreciate nature and art, etc. Happiness is a by-product of these things.

Seldon's already been told these things - so why doesn't he listen? Especially when he agreed with those of us who were telling him that you can't actually teach young people to be happy!

This article goes on to say,
The emphasis on happiness also worries writer and mother of four Sarah Johnson. “It all sounds so easy,” says the author of The Christian Parents’ Toolkit and Parents on Parenting. “Happiness is very much a state I associated with childhood, all that living in the moment, immediacy and enjoyment. But I cannot say that, as they have grown up towards adulthood, what I have wanted most for my children is for them to be happy, over and above everything else, because that carries with it for me the implication that their lives should be about gratifying their immediate desires. As a goal in life that way only unhappiness lies.”
Seldon is keen, though, to draw a distinction between happiness and pleasure. “Pleasure is when you only think about yourself. It is always about having material satisfaction – good food, another body next to you, a smart car, and it is time-specific. It doesn’t last. But in the 10 routes to happiness that Action for Happiness has identified, serving others and volunteering is among the highest. Happiness has a spiritual value,” he stresses, “with a small s.”
The same message is promoted by Alain de Botton in his new book, Religion for Atheists. The great faiths, he suggests, have always managed to make their followers happy, so why shouldn’t atheists do the same by establishing their own “temples of tenderness”?
But de Botton is misrepresenting religion, says Mark Vernon, the author of Wellbeing and a former Anglican priest. “Religions aren’t keen on the word happiness. It is there in what Christianity means when it uses terms like 'blessed’, but it also understands how complicated it can be. In modern terms, happiness tends to describe only if you are up or down, and my instinct would be to forget it as thin and shallow if you want to talk about spirituality.”
Which brings us back to the attraction of contentment felt by Kirsty Young and others.


Alain de Botton is annoying. He talked this morning on Radio 4 about Zen Buddhism and about religion as though they're one and the same thing. They're NOT. There is no God and no worship in Zen Buddhism, which is a philosophy and a method of developing higher levels of spiritual intelligence. De Botton is a clever man and a philosopher, and he ought to know better.

Saturday Live - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qgj4


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Layer 507 . . . Scotland, Capitalist Realism, Maximum Wages, Welfare Cuts, Cannabis Taxation, The Age of Austerity and Morality

There are several good articles in the Guardian today, all of which deserve to be read by progressives and others who care about political literacy.

Alex Salmond's column is a brilliant exposition on why Scotland needs either full devolution or independence:

An independent Scotland will be a beacon of fairness

As an independent nation Scotland can make a far greater contribution to progressive politics, while reinvogorating our social union with England



Paul Mason: 'These revolts have ended the period of capitalist realism' - video



Only a maximum wage can end the great pay robbery

Corporate wealth is being siphoned off by a kleptocratic class that has neither earned nor generated it

by George Monbiot



For Greece default is the only option

The dreadful debt saga will only come to a close when Greece takes charge of its predicament

by Costas Lapavitsas



Welfare cuts: now they're slamming the door on the truly desperate

After a dismal day in the Lords comes the cruellest cut to the welfare state, in which emergency loans go over to 'local' control

by Polly Toynbee



The payout to the boss of RBS is a disastrous deal for the taxpayer

Ministers could act over Stephen Hester, the most lavishly rewarded public servant of all – but will they?

by Aditya Chakrabortty



Cannabis taxation: a win-win all round, Richard Branson tells MPs

Virgin boss appears before Commons committee to argue for regulation of drug and diversion of resources to crime-fighting



These letters certainly deserve to be noted, especially the one by Michael Meacher -

Alternatives to the age of austerity



Last week Polly Toynbee wrote this column -

On morality Ed Miliband is way ahead of Cameron. Now for the economy

Miliband has done well to force Cameron to fight on Labour territory. But he needs to change the economic conversation


Before the election Cameron made one speech on "markets without morality", one of his butterfly touch-downs, but has done nothing since – until Ed Miliband got "predatory capitalism" up and running. Focus groups tell Cameron he has to run to catch up: voters are angry at runaway excess in hard times. But where's the beef? Praise for free markets and blame for regulation left no plan for correcting corrupted capitalism. Bank regulation has been kicked into 2019 – political neverland: in a trice the entire NHS is put up for tender to "any qualified provider", but banks get seven years to "prepare" while they lobby against already weak reforms.

Labour's adoption of all the High Pay Commission recommendations is more radical than the party's been given credit for. Listen how loudly business protests at putting employees on remuneration committees. Why? Because that requires works councils to elect representatives, opening a new world of German-style collaboration, more productive and leading to fairer pay. Labour would oblige all companies to publish a pay ratio, showing pay scales. All fund managers would have to reveal how they voted on boardroom pay, shaming pension funds that rubber-stamp greed at shareholders' expense. This week Miliband challenged predatory takeovers, such as Kraft eating up Cadbury.

So far not bad, and the Tories are trailing. Now Labour needs to jump ahead again with bolder plans. Take this week's Fair Pay Network report on supermarkets' poverty pay. To cut the benefit bill steeply, Labour should demand rich companies don't leave taxpayers to subsidise starvation wages with tax credits. If the TaxPayers' Alliance were not a Conservative party front, it would support a living wage.

The Eds are right to make 2015 year zero. Only when seeing how bad the economy is, and which cuts have done most damage, can they choose priorities. Even within George Osborne's iron envelope, opposite choices can be made. With 3 million out of work, would raising public-sector pay come first? No: jobs and growth, an investment bank, work for the young, restoring worst cuts and building homes come first. Money washes around, from the Concorde-style HS2 to Boris's airport, bibles in schools, a yacht for the Queen, bank bonuses, a free schools bonanza and £3bn on NHS turmoil. From Trident, wars and whims, there is money. While Goldman Sachs pays bonuses the size of Albania's GDP, this rich country has phenomenal untaxed wealth in property accumulated by the top 5%: shedloads more is sequestered abroad. Public appetite for fair tax collection and sharing of the burdens grows. Why else is Cameron frit?

A firm baseline for the economy need not stop Labour opposing cuts. Costed promises can be made: why not earmark aircraft carriers for universal childcare, make a mansion tax build new homes, and super-tax companies who overpay directors for small business investment? There need be no contradiction between an economic policy voters trust, and an imaginative radicalism they would support. Labour has done well to pull Cameron on to its own agenda. But winning the election matters most.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Layer 506 . . . Inheritance Tracks, Wax, Laughs, Hardy and Even More Cohen

It's often worth listening to Saturday Live at 9.00 on Radio 4, if only for the feature called "Inheritance Tracks". This morning featured Ruby Wax, who gets better as she gets older.

"The piece of music I inherited was the first time I ever heard The Beatles' "Twist & Shout" - and I almost fainted on the floor. John Lennon's voice was the sexiest thing, and I didn't even know what that meant. I grew breasts overnight. Boy do I wish I'd met him. I only came to England to marry one of The Beatles."
This is something that people who don't 'get' the Beatles' fame and music fail to understand. Lennon's voice (and the band) was capable of being raw, raucous and totally compelling - especially back then - when Britain on the whole hadn't discovered rhythm and blues or soul music, and the musical idols of the day were people like Cliff, Adam Faith, Billy Fury and others too bland to mention.

"The music that I would hand down is James Taylor's 'You Can Close Your Eyes'. The reason I want my kids to hear it is because I want them to understand how deep and profound our music was - in comparison to the stuff you get on X-Factor."

Ruby also mentioned 'Frontier Psychiatrist' - "The video is NUTS!"

To listen to Ruby's bit go straight to minute 49.30 (out of 58.00) if you don't have time to listen to the rest of the programme.

[47.35 - an amusing piece of poetry by Elvis McGonagall ]


Jeremy Hardy at the Watford Palace Theatre

I don't want to say anything bad about Watford, so I won't say anything at all. Jeremy, on the other hand, was brilliant. Funny, political and passionate. Catch him when you can.



Here's another mention of Leonard from this week's Guardian:
Leonard Cohen shows there's life in the old dog yet with launch of new album
by Alex Needham
His detractors may sarcastically call him Laughing Len, but Leonard Cohen kept a roomful of journalists entertained on Wednesday night as he launched his first album in eight years.
"Old Ideas" proves that Cohen's long-term preoccupations with sex, death and salvation have endured. The inside cover features a drawing, by Cohen, of a naked woman and a skull.
[Cohen said] songwriting involved "perseverance, perspiration, but also a certain kind of grace and illumination."
[Jarvis Cocker asked] how Cohen felt about being awarded the PEN New England award for literary excellence in song lyrics.
"The thing I liked about this award was that I'm sharing it with Chuck Berry," said Cohen. "'Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news' – I'd like to write a line like that."
Once questions were opened to the floor, Cohen revealed that he is likely to tour after the album's release. The singer said he had been "invigorated and illuminated" by his last tour, which took in 247 shows over two years to huge audiences and ecstatic reviews.
Before he'd started the tour, Cohen said, "I hadn't done anything for 15 years. I was like Ronald Reagan in his declining years. He remembered he'd had a good role – he's played the president in a movie and I felt somewhat that I had been a singer. Being back on the road really re-established me as being a worker in the world and that was a very satisfactory feeling."

Comments on Len from the Guardian's feedback this week:

Lovely article. Laughing Len is truly a living legend. Would have to say that I felt blessed to see him twice on his world tour in 2008. The atmosphere at the 02 was electrifying. He wears his learning lightly but he speaks so much truth, beauty and wisdom, he is impossible not to appreciate.

For anyone interested in LC, a fascinating and revealing recent speech by him at the Prince of Asturias awards.


Seeing Mr Cohen in a concert hall in Vienna, where he sang for over 2 and a half hours and even the normally reserved Viennese were literally "dancing in the aisles", will always remain one of the top 3 moments of my concert experiences. When the audience showered him with roses was special too.

Of course, when he played "Take this Waltz" the Viennese audience went "mental" in their own sweet peculiar way.

I want more.

For someone who can't sing, he is the master of melody, of tune, of song.

And then there's the lyrics.

The widest, most heartfelt, most gregarious tip of the hat to Leonard.

Leonard Cohen is the real thing: a poet in an era--and especially, in a country--that does not value poets. He is not a scribble of mediocre lines, he is not simply self-absorbed, he is not a relentless self-promoter. As noted in the excellent interview described above, he cares but is not didactic.

His poem/song "Democracy" is in many ways the theme of our time, the struggle to bring people back to the integrity of self-rule. He never fails to suffuse his work with a vulnerable tenderness that is only accentuated by his unmusical voice.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen, for your life and your life's work. Some of your songs are among the most important I've ever had the good fortune to hear. Bless you.

It feels like a privilege, a blessing, to live during the time that Leonard Cohen is recording and performing. Generations to come will tell me how lucky I was. And they will be right.

Only Dylan, who is more musical, has in my lifetime even attempted to yoke together the concrete and the abstract, the personal and the political, in the same line.

Cohen is a poet who was forced to make recourse to music to create an audience.. Dylan is a musician who was forced to make recourse to poetry to stand up and be heard.

They are the best of our times; but Cohen is the real poet.

Commit suicide listening to Cohen's lyrics? More chance I would have committed suicide because I had never heard his voice.

Thanks for everything you gave.

Whither thou goest, I will go...

He reduced the political choice of mankind to 4 lines without mentioning poltics:

I saw a man on a wooden crutch 
He said to me, 'You ask for too much.' 
And a woman in her darkened door 
She said to me: ''Hey, why not ask for more?'

I too want to add my gratitude for being alive in the same era as the great man.

I love his voice, his words, his humour, his wit, his dryness, his darkness, his generosity as a thinker, poet, song-writer, performer.

The thing I have found most inspiring about leonard cohen is his stoic approach- the balance of ego, incredulity and honesty. It's like he has nailed the scientific formula for how to address and express ideas. I think everyone can benefit from that, it is a gift we are all fortunate that he can share, including him. He strikes me as a fully realised individual - his ascension is a community event.

Leonard is of course your man and (as has been said) is along with Dylan the best songwriter of the last fifty years. i would just like to put in a word for Ten New Songs
one of his most neglected masterpieces, absolutely wonderful. Alexandra Leaving is one of his best songs ever. Not to be missed.

For me, the best Cohen album is the recording of his concert at the O2 in 2009

I was at that concert - wonderful show, awful arena (like a 10,000 seater cinema) but the performance was magnificent in many respects. Also the most musically-literate audience I've ever seen - they appreciated every minor tweak, every slightly-changed lyric, every phrase of a solo instrument that made delicate reference to a different Cohen song. Probably the best concert I've heard.

Consummate performer........The man is perfect in every respect........

I'm so glad Cohen is still with us and still recording and touring (and hopefully I'll get to see him). Such brilliant writer - I don't know anyone who can tie up love, despair, sex, politics, and theology in quite the same understated way. Some of his lyrics - Love Itself, or If It Be Your Will - are the most astonishing fusion of Jewish, Zen, and Christian thought, with his own wisdom and experience driving them. And he doesn't hit you over the head with how clever he is, either.

Just extraordinary.

Leonard Cohen is the greatest singer-songwriter of them all. When I first heard 'Songs of Love and Hate' as a teenager, I realised: here is someone who feels everything , who suffers everything, who understands everything, and yet it does not destroy him. He's kept me going for nearly forty years, and I treasure his life and work as a blessing.

I am not a "fan" of anyone else, but Cohen is simply incredible. Had the great luck of hearing him at the jazz festival in NIce three and a half years ago...have never, ever seen an audience (for anything or anyone else) that was as profoundly reverential, hanging on every note, waiting for the revelation of the next song, as this one. Left deeply moved, as I think did everyone there.

Saw him twice on last tour - he has the most amazing charisma. Brilliant song writer and as sexy as hell.

I've been a fan of Leonard Cohen for more years than I care to remember and he has always been my hero. I had the great privilege of hearing him sing at the O2 and it was just amazing how he could make that vast hangar feel intimate, holding the audience in the palm of his hand.

I met the man twice long ago. Even then he was charming, droll, gracious, self-deprecating, patient. I would always go and see him on tour in the 60s/70s. He was always impeccable.

His songs are full of self deprecation and sly wit.
How about: I don't trust my inner feelings; inner feelings come and go.

I've always thought that in interviews Leonard appears as kindly, avuncular, and amused, but above all, detached. He doesn't seem to believe in his own mythology. As the mighty Ian Dury once said, 'Never explain' - it shouldn't be necessary. 

When Leonard toured here in 08 and 09 the demand for tickets and the size of the venues he played came as a pretty big shock to me (as well as the price of the tickets!) Never realised there were so many fans. A very big cult audience I suppose combined with the fact that a lot of us had thought that seeing Leonard Cohen live in concert was something we were never going to see - so pretty much everyone who likes LC wanted a ticket. I wasn't really expecting that much to be honest - thinking LC was pretty old and his voice would be gone. Thought I'd just be there for the fact of seeing him. But he surpassed all expectations - really great shows. And as someone said earlier he managed to bring an atmosphere of intimacy to very large venues. Very much enjoy watching the DVD of the O2 performance also 

Being there [at the interview with LC] does mean you have to endure the monotony of waiting for a considered response. I have every sympathy for those who find silence so threatening - unfortunately in this media-driven cacophony it's a rarity. It's the wall to wall din that conceals the vacuousness of content, empty-headed superstars with verbal diarrhoea and not an intelligent thought they can call their own. That's why LC and his like are difficult for some to appreciate - they think before they open their gobs, and what they say is well worth the wait. 

Leonard will assuredly go down as one of the great creators from our time - a Shakespeare or Botticelli. I've been listening since '68 - how great to have Cohen play through my life as a grounding rod. 

We called him Laughing Lenny because he was funny from the beginning, not the miserable cliché which lazy music writers came up with..

The New Yorker is streaming the new Leonard Cohen song 'Going Home', the first time they have ever streamed a song. They also publish the lyrics.

'I have been satirised as suicidal and self-indulgent' – a classic Leonard Cohen interview from the vaults



Friday, January 20, 2012

Layer 505 . . . Old Ideas, New Album, Cohen, Justice, Art, Education and Ecuador

Terrific piece on Leonard Cohen in today's G2.
Sombre prophet, mordant wisecracker, repentant cad: Leonard Cohen is back with a great new album, Old Ideas – and more wit and wisdom
These days, Cohen rations his one-on-one interviews with the utmost austerity, hence this press conference to promote his 12th album, Old Ideas, a characteristically intimate reflection on love, death, suffering and forgiveness. After the playback he answers questions. He was always funnier than he was given credit for; now he has honed his deadpan to such perfection that every questioner becomes the straight man in a double act. Claudia from Portugal wants him to explain the humour behind his image as a lady's man. "Well, for me to be a lady's man at this point requires a great deal of humour," he replies. Steve from Denmark wonders what Cohen will be in his next life. "I don't really understand that process called reincarnation but if there is such a thing I'd like to come back as my daughter's dog." Erik, also from Denmark, asks if he has come to terms with death. "I've come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that I am going to die," he responds. "So naturally those questions arise and are addressed. But, you know, I like to do it with a beat."
He had lived, and this gave his elaborate, enigmatic songs a grave authority to younger listeners who sensed that he was privy to mysteries that they could only guess at. He was neither the best singer, the best musician nor the best-looking man around, but he had the charisma and the words, and the eroticised intelligence. Perhaps because his style owed more to French chansonniers and Jewish cantors than American folk, he was always more loved in Europe than north America. An early write-up in folk gazette Sing Out! remarked: "No comparison can be drawn between Leonard Cohen and any other phenomenon."
In 1993, resurgent and well-loved but in a dark frame of mind, Cohen disappeared from the public gaze. He spent the next six years in a monastery on Mount Baldy, California, studying with his old friend and Zen master Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, whom he calls Roshi and who is now a resilient 104 years old. "This old teacher never speaks about religion," Cohen tells the Paris audience. "There's no dogma, there's no prayerful worship, there's no address to a deity. It's just a commitment to living in a community."
When he came down from the mountain his lifelong depression had finally lifted. "When I speak of depression," he says carefully, "I speak of a clinical depression that is the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse. I'm happy to report that, by imperceptible degrees and by the grace of good teachers and good luck, that depression slowly dissolved and has never returned with the same ferocity that prevailed for most of my life." He thinks it might just be down to old age. "I read somewhere that as you grow older certain brain cells die that are associated with anxiety so it doesn't really matter how much you apply yourself to the disciplines. You're going to start feeling a lot better or a lot worse depending on the condition of your neurons."
In Paris, after the press conference, I'm discreetly ushered into a back room for a rare interview alone with Cohen. Up close, he's a calming presence, old world courtesy mingled with Zen, and his smoke-blackened husk of a voice is as reassuring as a lullaby. I ask him if he wishes the long and painful process of writing his songs would come more easily.
"Well, you know, we're talking in a world where guys go down into the mines, chewing coca and spending all day in backbreaking labour. We're in a world where there's famine and hunger and people are dodging bullets and having their nails pulled out in dungeons so it's very hard for me to place any high value on the work that I do to write a song. Yeah, I work hard but compared to what?"

Excellent front page on the Guardian today. Justice!
How News Group hid the phone-hacking scandal
Judge criticises Murdoch empire as it agrees aggravated damages for 37 victims of News of the World
A high court judge said the Murdoch-owned company behind the News of the World had made "an admission of sorts" that it engaged in a deliberate cover-up of evidence relating to phone hacking, on the day that the publisher paid an estimated seven figures in damages to settle 37 phone-hacking claims brought by public figures ranging from Jude Law to John Prescott.
Mr Justice Vos, the judge presiding over the hacking cases, told News Group Newspapers (NGN) he had seen evidence which raised "compelling questions about whether you concealed, told lies, actively tried to get off scot free".
The judge read out a section from the confidential court papers detailing the cover-up allegations made by hacking victims against the company's executives and directors. It included the charge that the company "put out public statements that it knew to be false", that it had "deliberately deceived the police" and had destroyed evidence of wrongdoing including "a very substantial number of emails" as well as computers.
Mark Thomson, of law firm Atkins Thomson, said: "After years of denials and cover-up, News Group Newspapers has finally admitted the depth and scale of the unlawful activities of many of their journalists at the News of the World and the culture of illegal conduct at their paper."
Should art really be for its own sake alone?
If art museums are the new churches, perhaps they should end the veneration of ambiguity and start serving our inner needs
by Alain de Botton
Try to imagine what would happen if modern secular museums took the example of churches more seriously. What if they too decided that art had a specific purpose – to make us a bit more sane, or a little bit wiser and kinder – and tried to use the art in their possession to prompt us to be so? Perhaps art shouldn't be "for art's sake", one of the most misunderstood, unambitious and sterile of all aesthetic slogans: why couldn't art be, as it was in religious eras, more explicitly for something?
Modern art museums typically lead us into galleries set out under headings such as "the 19th century" and "the Northern Italian School", which reflect the academic traditions in which their curators have been educated. A more fertile indexing system might group together artworks from across genres and eras according to our inner needs. A walk through a museum of art should amount to a structured encounter with a few of the things that are easiest for us to forget and most essential and life-enhancing to remember.
The challenge is to rewrite the agendas for our art museums so that collections can begin to serve the needs of psychology as effectively as, for centuries, they served those of theology. Curators should attempt to put aside their deep-seated fears of instrumentalism and once in a while co-opt works of art to an ambition of helping us to get through life. Only then would museums be able to claim that they had properly fulfilled the excellent but as yet elusive ambition of in part becoming substitutes for churches in a rapidly secularising society.

Jayati Ghosh is a brilliant economist and an excellent writer:

Could Ecuador be the most radical and exciting place on Earth?
A decade ago, Ecuador was a banana republic, an economic basket case. Today, it has much to teach the rest of the world
Ecuador must be one of the most exciting places on Earth right now, in terms of working towards a new development paradigm. It shows how much can be achieved with political will, even in uncertain economic times.
A major turning point came with the election of the economist Rafael Correa as president. After taking over in January 2007, his government ushered in a series of changes, based on a new constitution (the country's 20th, approved in 2008) that was itself mandated by a popular referendum. A hallmark of the changes that have occurred since then is that major policies have first been put through the referendum process. This has given the government the political ability to take on major vested interests and powerful lobbies.
The government is now the most stable in recent times and will soon become the longest serving in Ecuador's tumultuous history. The president's approval ratings are well over 70%. All this is due to the reorientation of the government's approach, made possible by a constitution remarkable for its recognition of human rights and the rights of nature, and its acceptance of plurality and cultural diversity.
Consider just some economic changes brought about in the past four years, beginning with the renegotiation of oil contracts with multinational companies.
Increased government revenues were put to good use in infrastructure investment and social spending. Ecuador now has the highest proportion of public investment to GDP (10%) in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, social spending has doubled since 2006. This has enabled real progress towards the constitutional goals of free education at all levels, and access to free healthcare for all citizens. Significant increases in public housing have followed the constitution's affirmation of the right of all citizens to dignified housing with proper amenities.
There are numerous other measures: expanding direct public employment; increasing minimum wages and legally enforcing social security provision for all workers; diversifying the economy to reduce dependence on oil exports, and diversifying trading partners to reduce dependence on the US; enlarging public banking operations to reach more small and medium entrepreneurs; auditing external debt to reduce debt service payments; and abandoning unfair bilateral investment agreements. Other efforts include reform of the justice system.
All this may sound too good to be true, and certainly the process of transformation has only just begun. There are bound to be conflicts with those whose profits and power are threatened, as well as other hurdles along the way. But for those who believe that we are not condemned to the gloomy status quo, and that societies can do things differently, what is happening in Ecuador provides inspiration and even guidance. The rest of the world has much to learn from this ongoing radical experiment.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Layer 504 . . . Kicking Off Everywhere, Global Unrest and a Viral Revolution

Paul Mason's an ace journalist who is currently the economics editor of Newsnight. This week he had a major article published in G2 called "The Revolution Goes Viral". It's basically a trailer for his new book, "Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions".
Global unrest: how the revolution went viral
The past 18 months have seen extraordinary outpourings of discontent. But what links them? In this extract from his new book, Paul Mason examines how technology has been at the heart of the global unrest, and finds parallels less with 1968, and more with 1914
I got a call: would I do a lecture on the history of the Paris Commune for something called The Really Free School in Bloomsbury?

I turned up to the venue to find it was a squat. They had formed an ad hoc university, occupied an 18th-century townhouse in the heart of London and stuck a sign on the door saying "Journalists Fuck Off". Here was the hard core of the student protest movement . . .
The discussion buzzed: is it technology, economics, mass psychology or just the zeitgeist that's caused this global explosion of revolt?
One thing was clear: the events taking place across the world carried too much that was new in them to ignore.
There is something in the air that defies historical parallels: something new to do with technology, behaviour and popular culture. As well as a flowering of collective action in defence of democracy, and a resurgence of the struggles of the poor and oppressed, what's going on is also about the expanded power of the individual.

For the first time in decades, people are using methods of protest that do not seem archaic or at odds with the contemporary world; the protesters seem more in tune with modernity than the methods of their rulers. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris calls what we're seeing the "movement without a name": a trend, a direction, an idea-virus, a meme, a source of energy that can be traced through a large number of spaces and projects. It is also a way of thinking and acting: an agility, an adaptability, a refusal to accept the world as it is, a refusal to get stuck into fixed patterns of thought. Why is it happening now? Ultimately, the explanation lies in three big social changes: in the demographics of revolt, in technology and in human behaviour itself.
At the centre of all the protest movements is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future.
The financial crisis of 2008 created a generation of twentysomethings whose projected life-arc had switched, quite suddenly, from an upward curve to a downward one. The promise was: "Get a degree, get a job in the corporate system and eventually you'll achieve a better living standard than your parents." This abruptly turned into: "Tough, you'll be poorer than your parents." The revolts of 2010–11 have shown, quite simply, what this workforce looks like when it becomes collectively disillusioned, when it realises that the whole offer of self-betterment has been withdrawn.
In revolts sparked or led by educated youth – whether in Cairo or Madrid – a number of common traits can be observed. First, that the quintessential venue for unrest is the global city, a megatropolis in which reside the three tribes of discontent – the youth, the slum-dwellers and the working class.
Second, members of this generation of "graduates with no future" recognise one another as part of an international sub-class, with behaviours and aspirations that easily cross borders.
The boom years of globalisation created a mass, transnational culture of being young and educated; now there is a mass transnational culture of disillusionment.
There is a third social impact of the graduate with no future: the sheer size of the student population means that it is a transmitter of unrest to a much wider section of the population than before.
This new sociology of revolt calls to mind conditions prior to the Paris Commune of 1871: a large and radicalised intelligentsia, a slum-dwelling class finding its voice through popular culture, and a weakened proletariat, still wedded to the organisations and traditions of 20 years before. It makes the social order of the modern city highly fragile under economic stress.
Technology, social change, institutional decay had unleashed something bigger than teenage angst. If this sounds like an 18th-century version of the "death of deference" complaint, well, it was. A deep social crisis was under way, then as now. But with one big difference: today, in every garret there is a laptop.
Social media and new technology were crucial in shaping the revolutions of 2011, just as they shaped industry, finance and mass culture in the preceding decade.
The crucial concept is the network – whose impact on politics has been a long time coming.
If you look at the full suite of information tools that were employed to spread the revolutions of 2009–11, it goes like this: Facebook is used to form groups, covert and overt – in order to establish those strong but flexible connections. Twitter is used for real-time organisation and news dissemination, bypassing the cumbersome newsgathering operations of the mainstream media. YouTube and the Twitter-linked photographic sites – Yfrog, Flickr and Twitpic – are used to provide instant evidence of the claims being made. Link-shorteners such as bit.ly are used to disseminate key articles via Twitter.
Underpinning the social media is mobile telephony: in the crush of every crowd we see arms holding cellphones in the air, like small flocks of ostriches, snapping scenes of repression or revolt, offering instant and indelible image-capture to a global audience.
And in all the theatres of revolution, blogs have offered a vital resource: somewhere to link to.The ability to deploy, without expert knowledge, a whole suite of information tools has allowed protesters across the world to outwit the police, to beam their message into the newsrooms of global media, and above all to assert a cool, cutting-edge identity in the face of what WH Auden once called "the elderly rubbish dictators talk". It has given today's protest movements a massive psychological advantage, one that no revolt has enjoyed since 1968.
Suddenly, the form of today's protests seems entirely congruent with the way people live their lives. It is modern; it is immune to charges of "resisting progress". Indeed, it utilises technology that is so essential to modern work and leisure, governments cannot turn it off without harming their economies. And, as Mubarak, Gaddafi and the Bahraini royals discovered, even turning it off does not work.
Because – and here is the technological fact that underpins the social and political aspects of what has happened – a network can usually defeat a hierarchy.
The pioneer of network theory, Walter Powell, summed up the reasons for this as follows: the network is better at adapting to a situation where the quality of information is crucial to success, but where information itself is fluid; a hierarchy is better if you are only transmitting orders and responses, and the surrounding situation is predictable.
Once information networks become social, the implications are massive: truth can now travel faster than lies, and all propaganda becomes instantly flammable. Sure, you can try to insert spin, but the instantly networked consciousness of millions of people will set it right: they act like white blood cells against infection so that ultimately the truth, or something close to it, persists much longer than disinformation.
Andre Gorz's definition of revolution: taking power implies taking it away from its holders, not by occupying their posts but by making it permanently impossible for them to keep their machinery of domination running. Revolution is first and foremost the irreversible destruction of this machinery. It implies a form of collective practice capable of bypassing and superseding it through the development of an alternative network of relations. By this definition we are in the middle of a revolution: something wider than a pure political overthrow and narrower than the classic social revolutions of the 20th century.
The radicals of the 60s were able to conceive the possibility of a new mode of human existence, but technology and the balance of global forces – class, race, inter-state rivalry – militated against achieving it. In the pre-1914 [Russian Revolution] period, the freedom zeitgeist, technological progress and globalisation were aligned. Now they are aligned again.
The past 10 years have seen disruptions in the pattern of social life that mirror what happened in that era. But this time, it's happening at high velocity and across the canvas of all humanity.
2012 is already shaping up to be a very interesting year. Today President Obama announced massive reductions in United States military spending. Who says his period in office has been a complete failure? He even appears to have the military on his side on this one. It's an obvious thing for the USA to do, given their huge and unsustainable expenditure on their armed forces. But when was the last time an American president did things that were clearly necessary . . . and right?