Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I hope to find none of these,
and savour an odd drop of this.
Depending on how the fancy takes me, light posting may lie ahead so here is another fat man on a keyboard to keep you going.
Monday, July 28, 2008
... local contacts, learning delivered through community centres, supported by community workers and local volunteers, with established and trusted partnerships between the college and local agencies. That's based on high calibre creative workers; plus conversations, lots of them, sometimes called networking.What that signifies is an investment in a community and its people. And it is an investment that, in time, does pay off in terms of participation. Networking builds links and trust between institutions, like universities, and a community that can have see them as hostile, remote or simply 'not for the likes of us'. However, it costs money, it takes time and effort and the effects can be seen, felt, but rarely measured.
Unfortunately, bureaucrats do not place value on apparently-purposeless conversation, because its effects can't easily be measured. Which may be why community education is slipping from crisis into oblivion.As well as increasingly surreal managerialism, there has been much damage done by the plethora of short-term projects. Just as something gets up and running, the funding runs out and people whose lifetime experience is one of being let down are disappointed once more. Then there is a new tranche of money and it all gets reborn before it, once again, dies through the end of the project and changes brought about by the latest fashionable nonsense. It is the karma of community education.
Long term commitment is one of the keys for extending educational opportunities for adults, as is local delivery. However, there is another factor as well. Many of our educational institutions, especially universities, need reforming to develop a local commitment and a culture that does not exclude. Put crudely, they are still far too far up themselves. And how can they loosen up when all that seems to be rewarded are numbers described in jargon?
Friday, July 25, 2008
A self-employed painter and decorator has been given a £30 on-the-spot fine for smoking in his own van because it is classified as a workplace.
He had popped out to buy teabags.
While returning from work the other day, my partner phoned to ask if I could pick up a couple of cans of lager. I popped into our local shop and took two cans to the counter, where I was informed that “due to binge drinking” they were now unable to sell me just the two — I had to purchase the whole four-pack.
It is no wonder I am confused.
There has been, rightly, a lot of fuss about recent attacks on human rights and civil liberties. However, there has also been an erosion of economic rights, as embodied in the universalist principles of the welfare state, through an increase in conditionality that has generated far less noise. Rights are disappearing and obligations multiplying.
Shuggy, both on his own site and the Drink-soaked Trots, does an excellent job on Labour's forward march to 1834 by attacking the notion that poverty is the result of the moral failings of the poor and opposing the concept of 'workfare'. The comments are well worth reading too. I would like to support his critique by committing further heresies against conventional wisdom.
The first is to question the notion of dependency culture. I always thought that this idea of a demotivated underclass languishing on benefits because that it is all they know, if it bore any relation to reality at all, mistook effect for cause. However, let's take it one step further and ask what is wrong with dependency? Why do we view dependency as being so bad? We are all dependent at different stages of our life; when we are children, when we are old, when we are sick. If people neglect us then, they are called cruel and heartless. A civilised society recognises dependency as a necessary condition in which we will all find ourselves at times and actually supports us through it. Instead, Labour is offering us Victorian parenting, a sound thrashing for our own good.
Secondly, there is a monomania about the only way out of poverty being work. Work may well be a good way out. However, it is also a route in. It depends what you get paid.
Wages depend largely on the position of people in the labour market. Unlike some of his modern followers, Adam Smith was deeply concerned about the dangers of the market depressing workers' income if their market position was weakened. Much of recent government policy has been devoted to doing just that.
Trade unions have been legislated against, employment protection weakened and the 'flexible workforce' promoted. Tax credits may be invaluable to the recipient, but, in reality, they are a state subsidy to employers and encourage low pay. Coercing people into the job market by removing their means of subsistence and getting them to, in effect, work for nothing puts more downward pressure on pay levels.
The way out of poverty is actually to have a secure, adequate income. Flitting between low paid, insecure work and periods of unemployment might look good on the statistics, but is not much use to individuals trapped in the whole dispiriting process.
Thirdly, governments have this wonderful self-confidence that they can shape human behaviour by using an economic stimulus. The problem is that people don't always respond as expected. And often their choices are damaging and anti-social, but make far more sense in the context of their lives than the approved route. For instance, if you take benefits away from someone with a drug addiction because they do not, or cannot, seek treatment what will they do? Rob you, that is what.
Cutting support may make people disappear from the statistics, but not necessarily into employment. They can sink into the black economy, homelessness, prostitution, crime - they become part of an invisible, disenfranchised poor.
And finally, if, as Shuggy suggests, we have necessary and inevitable structural unemployment, wouldn't it be better if the unemployed were actually the ones who want to be? They would be happier and better at it than those who want to work.
Let's be honest about this. Unemployment is a curse. If you want to see the damage it can do, look at the bitter experience of people who lost their jobs when mass unemployment hit under Thatcher. However, low pay, long hours, exploitation, exhaustion and stress are just as much a scourge. To pitch people from one to the other is not progress.
Working in adult education has allowed me to see the fantastic transformation that gaining qualifications and employment can make on individuals. I have also seen the complexity of the problems people need to overcome if they are to make that transformation. They need support, help and real choices, sometimes over a long period of time. The worst thing to do is to is to force them into inappropriate training or work through fear of the benefit officer, accompanied by constant anxiety over the loss of their means of support. An activist welfare policy makes a lot of sense, but not one that punishes the poor for the sin of their poverty and is really designed to cut spending and appeal to the right wing press.
The mainstream left has had to spend much time and energy rescuing itself from the stupidities of the "we are all Hezbollah now" brigade. It also needs to free itself from an authoritarian, centralising and conservative political economy and social policy if it is to be a left worthy of support. In Britain, after Glasgow East, it looks increasingly like this reinvention will take place in opposition. They have only themselves to blame.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
As a Swinton fan, dislike of Salford runs deep although I can see the sense in expanding the geographical spread of the game to South Wales. However, Rugby League has never been short of paranoia and if you are a Widnes fan you might be entitled to feel that they really are out to get you.
Demoted to the second tier when Super League was first formed in order to admit a new team based in Paris, despite never being under threat of relegation if the old system had remained, the former world champions struggled financially but rebuilt the club and their stadium and won promotion. In the meantime the Paris club collapsed and disappeared. Then, though once more not in a relegation place in any other season, they were demoted again to make way for another French side, Catalan Dragons. Now, rebuilding once more with new financial backers, they have missed out to South Wales.
There is anger and disappointment amongst the other teams applying and I can't help thinking that it is all the result of abandoning the only proper way to decide a club's status, by competition on the pitch. If something as commercialised as football can live with it, why can't Rugby League?
I have been wrong about many of the changes in the sport, but this rankles. My hope now for the end of the season is for the National League One Grand Final to be between Salford and Widnes and for Salford to be soundly thrashed. It won't change anything, but boy will it be satisfying to a Swinton supporting traditionalist like me.
As well as questioning the health benefits of Brody's principles, Ehrenreich calls them a way of enabling the well-off to feel virtuous merely by indulging their own narcissism. "The low-fat diet has been the hair shirt under the fur coat - the daily deprivation that offsets the endless greed."
"The hair shirt under the fur coat" is a wonderful sound bite and will be added to my catalogue of anti-diet sentiment. It is a beautiful way of encapsulating the moral smugness of a particular type of dieter. What it does do, however, is to ignore the real damage done, not by self-righteousness, but by self-loathing and this is the main emotion that drives the plump into continuous yo-yo dieting. It is this product of the social bias against fat people that makes diet gurus not only smug, but rich.
Monday, July 21, 2008
The publication chronicles a group of radicals and socialists gathered around J W Wallace, a Whitman enthusiast, who struck up an unlikely, long distance friendship with the poet from 1887 until Whitman's death in 1892. The group continued and had links with the leading figures of early British Socialism, notably Edward Carpenter, together with Keir Hardie and Katharine and Bruce Glasier.
The left they belonged to was far from orthodox, it experimented with a range of ideas, many of which were hardly impressive, but others provide insights that are relevant to a libertarian left and laid the foundation for modern sexual politics. At a time of left realignment the rediscovery of what became marginalised traditions is of more than academic interest.
(Thanks to Mike)
What mainly drew me was the other star of the film, Greece. It was shot in the Sporades and Pelion. I could identify many of the locations and seeing them was tear-jerkingly evocative on a cool Manchester evening. There is one scene with a small boat leaving the jetty in the dark with the moon spreading a rippling satin streak on the water and the night sky laden with stars. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was a studio mock up. No, it really is like that. I am not sure I would have liked the movie quite as much if it had been filmed in Withernsea.
There is the inevitable stereotyping, but on the whole the film caught the atmosphere of some of the more out of the way places well. And, despite the critics, Meryl Streep was perfect as the kind of ex-pat you can find, working impossibly hard to run a small business so that they can stay and raise a family there, instead of having the comfortable professional existence that could have been theirs elsewhere if they had chosen not to dream.
The broadsheet critics hated it of course. Then they too need to lighten up a bit. Now all I have got to do is to get those bloody tunes out of my head.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Plans for the occasion have now been leaked
Friday, July 18, 2008
The future of education increasingly resembles the factory-line producing cans of nothing - 6,000 students on a single course called perhaps 'Studies Studies', sponsored by McDonalds, Blue Arrow and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Paulie picked up on the post too.
The passage in Bayley's article that raised eyebrows was this,
The architecture both expresses and helps direct a new educational philosophy. Rigidity went the way of the cane. Academies must respect key stage testing, but do not have to follow the national curriculum. This ventilates both the style of teaching and the plan of the building. The way it was explained to me was: we don't do French language and history, we do 'Napoleon'. This way, pupils learn about motivational leadership and acquire French language and history at the same time.
It's a masterpiece. Six short sentences. How is it possible to cram so much bollocks into such a small space? OK lets briefly pass over the suspicion that best way to speak French might just be to learn French. Let's ignore that a study of Napoleon alone could leave a few gaps in someone's knowledge of the history of France, however significant he undoubtedly was. And it would take far too long to unpack the concept of motivational leadership (funny how they rarely talk about the motivated led), which has a long, and slightly dubious, historical pedigree.
No, it is clear that Britain needs motivational leaders to take it forward to a bright new future. Who better than Napoleon as a role model? He was a high achiever certainly. He seized power, crowned himself emperor in a fit of megalomania, helped plunge Europe into war, ultimately led his country to defeat and spent his last years in bitter exile. Just what Britain needs; an economic model based on Enron.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The narrative is melodramatic, the sadistic violence pervasive, the theme of cruelty, grief, hatred and revenge is overpowering. Yet there are none of the artifices that alienate George Szirtes from the novel as a literary form. There are no convenient coincidences, no neat closing of circles. There is a resolution, but it is one of the real world; the new generation struggling to repair the damage of the old after death has removed their passions.
What allowed our Prime minister to be drawn to a casual comparison with someone so ferociously cruel? Ignorance is one factor, but another is that both he and his interviewer were not thinking of the Heathcliff of the novel, but of the stereotype of romantic fiction; the dark, brooding man waiting to be redeemed through love. The erotic power of this fantasy figure was beautifully explained in Scribbles' memorable post here. I rather fear that Brown might have fancied the idea of being a sex symbol.
The Bronte sisters all played with this fantasy. Charlotte subverted it within the genre. In Jane Eyre there is a neat conclusion, though reached in a bizarre manner, that redeems Rochester from sin through a marriage based on absolute equality. This was not Emily's way. She took the stereotype and celebrated it with a shudder. What is more, her female heroine is no redeemer. Speaking to the narrator, Nellie Dean, Cathy says, "...he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same ...". She shares his savagery. Instead, it was she who faced a choice between redemption and damnation. She chose redemption, but desired damnation. Her choice led to an unquiet death. And Heathcliff's revenge was remorseless. Somehow I always feel that Emily Bronte's sympathy lay, in truth, with the damned.
Could this book be a metaphor for Brown's premiership? Perhaps. Brown faced a choice when he acceded to the leadership between continuity and change. In his brief period of popularity he flirted with change, but then retreated into the comfort of continuity and a formulaic Blairite strategy. There is no point to his premiership if he is not to be the candidate of change. Will he be redeemed? I doubt it. I think that he is facing an early and unquiet political death.
A pastiche of Wuthering Heights is so much part of popular culture that this incident will do little other than to confirm Brown's personal awkwardness. If he really wants us to like him, maybe a little sing-a-long will help.
(Thanks Doc D)
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Her great interest has been in adult education. She and her husband moved to Yorkshire in 1976 when her daughter was due to be born. In the mid-80s, working for the extramural department at Sheffield University, she started teaching day-release classes for miners.
These days, liberal adult education is dying; not a natural death through lack of demand, but as a victim of government policy. I have watched with an increasing sense of despair. The Tory governments of the 80's and 90's had waged a long war of attrition against it and, just when it seemed salvation was at hand, New Labour embraced a narrow utilitarianism and started to deliver the coup de grace.
This hostility leaves me baffled. Both parties had viewed adult education with favour and funding, even if it was never as lavish as we might have liked. Then, despite its continuing popularity and growth, the climate changed; the right saw adult education as an expensive state extravagance, the left as middle class privilege, both articulated economic justifications for their prejudice. Policy makers began to see education as predominantly an economic, rather than a social good.
Justificatory ideologies went through a number of phases, one of the fashions being the idea of a post-industrial knowledge economy. You hear less of it today, thankfully, because, like many ideas that see us entering a new modernity, if you look hard enough all you see is a tired banality. All economies are knowledge economies. A hunter gatherer economy, as Jared Diamond memorably pointed out, can only survive because of an encyclopaedic knowledge of the flora and fauna of their environment, a knowledge that would put many a naturalist to shame. The knowledge economy is a truism; there is no such thing as an ignorance economy.
What they really meant was that wealth creation was based on 'knowledge products' in a 'weightless', hi-tech 'new economy' and hence there was a premium on science and technology, a concept eagerly leapt on by the scientifically illiterate lawyers in government. This was accompanied by the eulogising of a flexible workforce and followed more recently by anxiety about a skills gap between Britain and the other industrialised nations. None of it bore much relation to reality, as described by the more convincing research, but the breathless urgency with which it was expressed, together with the apocalyptic prophecies of decline that would result inevitably from a failure to follow the latest fad, gave policy makers the ammunition to use against the expensive, unproductive luxury of liberal adult education.
The only reason to learn was now work. Learning for its own sake became a 'bit dodgy'. Lifelong learning, when it did not have a direct relationship to employment, was seen as a luxury in the scramble to maintain a competitive advantage in a globalised economy.
This analysis is all based on a false dichotomy between liberal and instrumental learning. There are no hard and fast barriers, hermetically sealed against the other. Lifelong learning means just that, and people learn for different reasons at different times of their lives. In a desperate attempt to justify liberal learning, its practitioners have leapt on the examples where the first step on the ladder is something that would now be demeaned as a 'leisure course', for example the person who started in a belly dancing class and ended up at university (true story). What we often forget though is the example of the person who got turned on to learning by a health and safety course at work and finished by studying mediaeval literature (also true). There is no good learning and bad learning, one strand is not more useful than another, there is not only one path to take. Instead, lifelong learning is complex, diverse and intensely human.
Adult educators tried to counter this philistinism by finding their own utilitarian justifications for liberal learning, yet it should be unnecessary. We do not need to justify the protection of children, the care of the elderly, a universal health service or, indeed, education for the young as anything other than a self-evident good. Learning is intrinsic to humanity and adult education is a human need and a human right; it is something people like to do and they love it. Not only that, the impact of learning on individuals, families and communities can also be awe inspiring and transformational. It should be provided in the most appropriate way for a wealthy, industrial nation.
It has been a bitter experience watching as doors closed and departments shut, all the while struggling to protect my own work from the barbarians at the gate. Now the defences have been breached and the threat is palpable; anger and frustration have been joined by an intense grief. We are witnesses to a crime.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
More importantly, has he read the Labour Party Constitution? Remember it says, "the Labour Party is a democratic socialist party." On the other hand he says, "I don't think these labels help. They confuse people sometimes." And he's its leader?
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
If that has whetted your appetite there are two old series on You Tube, Music of the Outsiders, a really excellent film featuring a young George Dalaras, and a more glossy and romanticised, though interesting, BBC 2 documentary narrated by Anthony Quinn.
If you just want a song, there are plenty of gritty, early recordings from the first half of the 20th Century on You Tube, but this is a modern version of a standard from Glykeria.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Tony Blair 2005
Balls to aspiration, it's a tosser's mirage.
Charlie Brooker 2008
I'm with Charlie.
Via Graeme and Will in comments
Do you remember having earnest childhood exhortations to 'eat up everything on your plate because there are plenty starving in Africa'? It seems that Gordon Brown does and took it to heart. We now have the political equivalent, a war on waste. Only with the current obesity panic it is don't buy it in the first place rather than eat it.
Food waste is an important problem. All those 'buy one get fifteen free' offers and use by dates that suggest that your Worcester Sauce will turn into nuclear waste at a particular time in a couple of years don't help either. However, to suggest that this is anything other than peripheral in a crisis that affects the supply and price of basic staple grain crops is to duck the important issues. The world food system is a bit more complicated than that.
How about the dysfunctions of a fully commercialised and heavily monopolistic capitalist food system? How about the monopoly over supply and retail exercised in the developed world by the big supermarkets? How about the continuing dispossession of highly productive small farmers? How about the displacement of local markets by global ones? How about cash cropping as a substitute for food production, of which biofuels is only the latest emanation? How about the erosion of sustainable rural communities? I could go on adding to the list and you can explore more here.
Malnutrition kills millions annually. Millions of poor people that is. Cutting down on that extra banana, which you bin when it goes manky, will only reduce the income of farmers rather than save the world.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Why Work?, is a collection of essays put together by the late anarchist activist, Vernon Richards, and published by Freedom Press. Subtitled Arguments for the Leisure Society, it is an eclectic collection, including non-anarchist classics by Bertrand Russell and William Morris, together with some post-war pieces, mainly culled from the pages of Freedom. There are quite a few striking insights that are still relevant, but some of the material seems dated. This is not only because post-war assumptions about the growth of leisure have proved wide of the mark, but also because of a resurgence of the work ethic, not least in New Labour's approach to social welfare, resulting in the expression of a growing contempt for leisure.
Bertrand Russell remarked that, "the idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich" and there are many comments in the older essays about the idle wealthy living off the industrious poor. This is still the case, especially globally, where much luxury in the North is created in the sweatshops of the South. However, within the developed countries, for many of the better paid, idle privilege has been replaced by a pathological, macho, workaholic culture. Managers can work ferocious hours themselves, a sign of their social dysfunction, and also seek to impose them as the norm on the rest of us. Managers' hours are spent inventing more "useless toil" for us to do, thereby displacing "useful work" and driving too many people into exhaustion and ill health. The contempt for, and even fear of, leisure is widespread.
Much of the book is not spent on the discussion of leisure itself but on making work pleasurable and rewarding, after all it is unavoidable. Though this contrasts with my current need for pure indolence, there is a real issue here - the deeply destructive nature of boredom. The question of the problem of boredom is now being answered mainly through work alone, even including proposals for the extension of working lives long into retirement age. Other solutions have seemingly been abandoned. For example, adult education, which was widely seen once as a socially useful weapon against boredom, is now derided as 'leisure courses', with funding withdrawn from liberal adult education in favour of training for work.
Paid employment, for some people, may well be a way of staving off boredom and finding satisfaction and meaning in life. It can be part of a drive to achieve and succeed. For others it is the essence of tedium, carried out in a network of servile relationships, that only brings money. For those of us in the public sector, a belief in the core values of our work can give us the privilege of rewarding work and great pleasure. You can get too much of a good thing though. Everyone can get tired.
And so we are always thrown back onto the human need for rest and leisure and they should be seen as valuable and desirable rather than as manifestations of weakness. The fight for paid holidays was an integral part of working class struggles, just as the right to work was. We should celebrate leisure, have more holidays and invest in those who provide leisure for others. One person's fun is another's paid employment until it is their turn to escape. Yet how do we define what leisure is? There isn't an easy answer. Sitting and looking can be mind-numbing to some, whilst DIY fills me with horror. I suppose it is whatever gives us, as individuals, a sense of delight, pleasure and refreshment. And, at the moment, writing this post is doing just that for me.
The challenge of creating a society where the enjoyment of leisure is universal is a profoundly political one. It requires more than shifting social attitudes away from a driven, aspirational work ethic. The key to the ability to enjoy leisure is certainly the liberty to do so, but that liberty can only spring from economic security and that, in turn, raises profound questions of political economy. They will have to wait though. Now it is time for me to pull up a chair into the shade. After all, I'm busy.