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Not a new year’s resolution, but...  Starting at the end of 2017 I felt I needed to make notes of interesting things I had read, as I feel the thoughts I had might disappear afterwards! 

These notes will be mainly on topics not covered in the rest of the notes on this website.

Is this a blog?


22nd Dec.  Horrifying account of what happens to male chicks after they hatch, and why:



17th Dec. 2018 Brexit, and immigration.

Three letters sum up my feelings:

(i) Dr Dennis MacShane: the four freedoms of movement (capital, goods, services and people) are indivisible, so the deal Mrs May has negotiated is unworkable. ‘Many of the EU27 have greater numbers of Europeans living and working there than the UK does, and cannot comprehend the UK hostility to workers who pay taxes and add value to the economy. There is an answer... it is to control the need for incomers by promoting jobs, training and access to work for British citizens... We do not train sufficient doctors and nurses in Britain... There are tough EU rules on posted workers and gangmaster employment agencies, but we choose not to enforce them. All other EU countries register workers or have ID card systems, and EU citizens without a job can be required to go home.’ Movement of workers in Britain can be managed without killing access for our goods, services and people.

(ii) Chris Hughes: ‘Why didn’t Theresa May or David Cameron avail themselves of the ‘whole range of controls’ used by other EU member states to control free movement of people?’  A second referendum could be run when these controls have been implemented...

(iii) John Daunton: a second referendum might not lead to remain. Why doesn’t parliament vote on the three options – May’s plan, no deal, remain – and ‘put an end to this Brexit fiasco.’


18th Dec. 2018. Grammar schools:



6th Nov. 2018. Worrying article on GM potatoes:



30th Oct. 2018. Interesting new book: The Finance Curse by Nicholas Shaxson:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/23/the-finance-curse-nicholas-shaxson-review (by Oliver Bullough) - how finance led to end of Bretton Woods agreement on capital controls, and is now dominating our economy - says we need full transparency, a land-value tax to defang tax havens, and bans on some hot money. We also need to break up the big four accountancy firms and regulate the tech giants.

And Guardian ‘long read’ by NS: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/oct/05/the-finance-curse-how-the-outsized-power-of-the-city-of-london-makes-britain-poorer


20th Oct 2018: Churchill: review by David Olusoga of new biography, which doesn’t say enough about his failings (Dardanelles, deploying Black and Tans to Northern Ireland, siege of Sidney Street 1911, opposition to Indian self-government and contribution to the famine there):



Sep 2018: article on rise of hard right in Europe by Thomas Meaney, argues we mustn’t get carried away by comparisons with rise of fascism... in New Statesman (14-20 Sep). Interesting summary of fascism:

‘These parties forged a new political form by blending together different features, which were sometimes at odds with each other: the idolisation of the beauty and efficacy of violence, the need to construct a mythical past for the people that could only be fulfilled by the instincts of a charismatic leader, and the belief that socialism [sic!] could only be achieved through a corporatist economy that met the needs of a racially defined group and co-ordinated the interests between workers and capitalists.’ There were, he says, right-wing populist groups active in the ‘90s, but they were held back by: the cold war which meant that western governments had to provide the lower middle classes with tolerable living conditions, and a common vision of the future. (This ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989); the ‘third way’ had not yet failed (I like his description of this as a new ‘compassionate’ form of neoliberalism!); the absence of pressure from China on the world economy. ‘Now, however, illiberal nationalism is being thwarted by and adaptable breed of populist neoliberals. The rising political form appears to be a mongrel: the expansion of the market into every domain, combined with shrewdly targeted redistribution and social programmes, all wrapped in an appeal to racial solidarity and the demonization of outsiders.’


20th July 2018. When the world almost ended. An excellent account of the 2008 financial crisis:



18th July 2018. Crumbling of the nation-state:


For much of this article I couldn’t determine exactly what was being said, and there seemed to be a number of contradictions – e.g. he talks of the waning of the nation state and then in the next sentence of ‘a strange brand of apocalyptic nationalism’... Later he returns to (apocalyptic!) groups such as ISIS, rather than nationalistic ones – and he writes as if the clash between religion and the nation state was new! Surely religion, by appealing to a ‘higher’ authority, will always potentially conflict with the authority of the state.

He says we have spent ‘half a century... building the global system on which we all now depend, and it is here to stay’ – having said ‘This system has done far less to deliver security and dignity than we imagine – in some ways it has been a colossal failure’!

However, I think I agree with the thrust of his conclusion: that we need a new international order to regulate the forces that have undermined the nation state, especially the unregulated flows of money, but I do find his list of causes of the current problems for the nation state (‘deregulated finance, autonomous technology, religious militancy and great-power rivalry’) to be missing an awareness that a small group of very wealthy people are gaining from many of these changes.

Other curious statements: ‘a moral promise was made’ by the state at the end of the 19th century, ‘the development, spiritual and material, of citizen and nation alike.’  But there has been a conflict, since at least Rousseau and Hobbes, over the role of the state. 

Some excellent points about war and conflict: ‘Since 1989, barely 5% of the world’s wars have taken place between states: national breakdown, not foreign invasion, has caused the majority of the 9 million war deaths in that time’. Further on, however, he says: ‘at least 15 million died in the proxy wars of that period [i.e. post-imperial], in theatres as dispersed as Afghanistan, Korea, El Salvador, Angola and Sudan.’ Which suggests to me that superpower interference was a bigger factor than ‘national breakdown’... Or perhaps the latter follows the former?!

Most importantly, I do agree that superpower rivalry ‘buried’ the idea of a ‘society of nations’ and ‘destroyed any constraints on international action.’

So, three things will continue: global forces will cause rich countries to break down; poor countries will be more vulnerable now they don’t have superpower protection; and the ‘international order’ will continue to lose legitimacy.

We need: global financial regulation; global flexible democracy with ‘nations nested in a stack of other democratic structures’ (e.g. the EU!), and ‘new conceptions of citizenship’ – by which I think he means that all the world’s citizens should have the same rights and opportunities.

Can’t disagree there!

Rana Dasgupta has a book coming out: After Nations (2019).


1st July 2018. Kenan Malik, Hostility to migrants...

The resolution agreed by the EU won’t help solve the ‘migration crisis’ because this has little to do with migration itself. In 2015, 1.3million asylum seekers came to Europe, but this was an exceptional year, the numbers driven up by the Syrian war. The figures were much lower in the years before and after... In the last five years of the 20th century Europe took in more refugees than between 2011 – 15 (despite the numbers in 2015). So far this year, just 42,000 arrived. The crisis is more the product of perception and politics than of numbers. 

Sociologists Vera Messing and Bence Sagvari have observed that ‘countries with a negligible share of migrants are the most hostile, while countries where the migrants’ presence in the society is large are the most tolerant.’ What shapes hostility is not the presence of migrants but perceptions of trust and cohesion. ‘People in countries with a high level of general and institutional trust, low level of corruption, a stable, well-performing economy and high level of social cohesion and inclusion (including migrants) fear migration the least.’ ‘People are fearful in countries where people don’t trust each other or the state’s institutions, and where social cohesion and solidarity are weak.’

Anti-migrant attitudes have little to do with migrants they conclude.


He goes on to say that the left has, by embracing politics of austerity and privatisation, left a space where disdain for mainstream institutions has been reinforced. The (populist) right has moved in... Defence of jobs, support of the welfare state, opposition to austerity are now policies the right has seized on because (my words) the left has not been strong enough on them.


27th June 2018.

From an interview with Dave Eggers, by Paul Laity, Guardian Review Sat 23rd June: talking about immigration - when he moved to California he realised ‘how profoundly enriched I am, and we all are, by every new arrival... Our strength comes from our welcome and our identity as a haven and a blank canvas that anyone is free to paint on. And I’m enraged and offended by anyone who makes this into a fearful place. I always picture Trump hiding under a table, because he’s afraid of everything: he’s afraid of Muslims, he’s afraid of change. He is a deeply fearful human who has never acted courageously in his life.’


2nd June 2018.

I’ve never been quite sure what to think about ‘identity politics’. It is clear to me that class is the most important characteristic when thinking about social division, inequality, exploitation etc., but alongside class, and often doubling the unfairness, exploitation etc there are other dimensions – of ‘identity’ – that must be taken into account: especially race, gender, sexuality etc. For me it would not make sense to say that any one of these is the sole feature we should concentrate on. Even distinctions of gender, which permeate society, culture, politics, philosophy etc, are surely always accompanied by class distinctions as well?

A useful book explores ‘identity politics’: Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump, by Asad Haider. It is reviewed by Ben Tarnoff:


And I like this quote: ‘[Haider stands] for a revolutionary practice rooted in people’s identities as racialised, sexed, gendered and classed individuals who face interlocking systems of oppression. These systems have to be fought together, by organising people of different identities in what Haider calls “a project of universal emancipation” devoted to dismantling all of the structures that make them unfree, including and especially capitalism itself.

And this: ‘Haider contends that identity politics causes people to become invested in their marginalisation as a source of identity, and to continuously enact that identity as a form of politics. This approach can extract occasional concessions from the system but cannot build the power necessary to transform it.

Identity politics has been attacked, frequently, and especially by those on the right, but also by (American) liberals – it leads to polarisation, or it calls for special treatment of one group at the expense of others. I’m not sure why identity politics should provoke such strong reactions...

‘Collective self-emancipation doesn’t require abandoning one’s identity, but linking it with those of others in widening circles of solidarity.’

May 27th

Guardian has an editorial on ‘Corbynomics’ which is intriguing... https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/27/the-guardian-view-on-corbynomics-more-creativity-please

I would like to know more about Karl Polanyi, but I cannot disagree with the idea attributed to him here, that ‘capitalist systems quickly become dominated by markets, where values are framed by cash. The result is the “annihilation (of) the natural substance of society”. He argued, perceptively, instead that cooperation was more important to humans than competition. If reciprocity was considered, then the notion of what was valuable could be broadened to better represent society’s health.

This seems to me very close to the key point Marx made about capital, and – from his early writings – about the way that things are valued for the wrong reasons.


I’ve also read some of the ‘alternatives’ columns: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/series/the-alternatives (there’s a link in the editorial) and I wish these were getting more attention! The ‘alternatives’ here are obviously similar to those in my notes: imagining other - alternatives.


Letters following up on this editorial make some good points too:

-         The danger with a deficit spending programme is that there will be a fall in sterling and rising import prices, which will be exploited by Tory commentators – the best counter is to set out a fiscal programme to tax wealth – a land value tax, a progressive reform of council tax on higher-value houses, and stronger taxes on companies extracting monopoly profits and share values (Alan Bailey)

-         Keth Flett points out these ideas were close to those of the New Reasoner, published 1957-59, and run by John Saville and E.P. Thompson. Flett says the latter was ‘the foremost theorist of a moral economy.’

-         Another letter warns that the damage done by neoliberalism since Thatcher has been so great that a Labour government would need to spell out clearly the limits of its programme to avoid inflation etc. (Hedley Taylor)


May 25th.

(i) The Bishop who gave the sermon at the royal wedding, Michael Curry, has caused a stir. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44186049


(ii) I enjoyed Tanya Gold’s piece on the aristocracy (Guardian Weekend, 19th May). Some snippets: ‘The new toffs are woke [I don’t like this neologism, but never mind!], glossy and active on Twitter... Lady Violet Manners retweets criticism of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party [no surprise there really!]. Lady Kitty Spencer is an ambassador for the homeless charity Centrepoint [ye gods as my Dad used to say!]... Fourteen aristocrats are richer than the Queen...’ And as for Prince Harry: ‘Harry pretends to be a feminist, though possibly only to impress a woman. It is a sheen of ‘democratisation’ that is, if you think critically, nothing of the sort. Marrying a middle-class girl and talking nonsense about equality when your entire existence is dependent on hereditary power is not a radical act. It is hypocrisy...’ Yes!


Sat 19th May. 

The obscenity of wealth and status: The Swiss luxury goods group Richemont – the group behind Cartier – ‘has destroyed nearly £437m of its timepieces over the past two years to prevent them being sold at knockdown prices.’ It buys back the unsold watches from jewellers. A factor is the recent crackdown in corruption in China, where expensive watches used to be given as bribes. Richemont ‘was worried that unsold stock would end up being discounted in the so-called ‘grey market’ of unauthorised resellers, damaging the image and pricing power of its brands.’


11th May 2018.

Simon Jenkins writes ‘Let’s not forget how to agree to disagree’. He briefly describes a couple with strongly opposing views, and says it is reassuring – nowadays social media and other factors make for polarisation and intolerance of difference. He argues that the ‘flight from the political centre ground has become alarming. He then attacks ‘identity politics’ as a ‘grievance factory.’ It excuses ‘why I don’t have to talk to you’, and emphasises group differences, not shared values. I’m not sure about all this: if clinging to (or defending!) an identity (Jewish, black...) is seen as all that matters in a political outlook, then clearly it is wrong because simply inadequate. Politics is more complicated! However, Jenkins cannot deny that certain ‘identities’ suffer from exclusion and discrimination.

He refers to the book The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt... where it is said that when good people disagree, ‘reason gets subordinated to a “groupish righteousness”. We want friends and loved ones to echo our views, as a proxy for affection – we don’t want them to argue with us. (Hmm – I don’t like it when my wife disagrees with me... but we usually try to sort it out with a discussion of course.)

Politics starts with conversation, Jenkins concludes. We must talk across the divides of politics.

Another slant on this comes from the writer (I’ve forgotten who!) who said you cannot convince people with reasoned arguments, you need to tell them a story...

Another author who deals with this: Derek Parfitt – according to John Gray he argues that ‘personal identity is not ethically important.’ (Not sure what this means! Need to look further into all this).


May 10th. George Monbiot

Recovering from his prostate cancer operation, he writes of his three guiding principles: imagine how much worse it could be (not how much better); change what you can change and accept what you can’t; do not let fear rule your life. And of course he had many, many messages of support... But he goes on to say he doesn’t accept the notions of detachment from the material world (jnana, sunyata, and the Christian equivalents) – since ‘wellbeing is intimately linked to attachment – not only to other people but to the natural world.’ See Jeremy Lent, in The Patterning Instinct: ‘the association of the tangible world with corruption, pollution and obstacles to enlightenment has informed our disdain for nature and accelerated its destruction, with devastating effects on our happiness.’ (Monbiot’s words).


April 2018.

29th April.

Struck by an expression in an interview by Lisa Allardice, with the feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Guardian review 28th April): she is angry with ‘the progressive left, especially in America, which she believes is fostering [an] unforgiving atmosphere, closing in on itself and closing down essential conversations (‘shut up, you are wrong’) in its haste to assume ill will. Displaying a ‘fundamental lack of compassion’, it goes against her credo as a storyteller, in which all human beings are flawed: “There’s no room to be righteous.”’

I like this – it goes with the Buddhist view that we are all suffering and deserve compassion. To use the word ‘flawed’ is so much more humane and constructive than the traditional Christian view that we are all ‘sinners’. Why should we feel righteous when we see others make mistakes? After all, we are all capable of making mistakes! And presumably then it is up to each of us to understand and forgive others’ mistakes. What a contrast with the Christian notion that it is God who forgives, and that if you are not forgiven you will not go to heaven!


24th April. 

Car Parking

Reading an old cutting on car parking, struck by the following: RAC Foundation says that in 2016 353 local councils made £756m in parking fees and fines (a 34% increase since 2011). The main point of charges should be to manage parking space – but some people suspect it has become first and foremost a way of raising revenue. However, Cllr Martin Tett of LGA says ‘Where they do make surpluses from on-street parking [councils] are required to spend it on improving parking and transport facilities.’ Moreover, English councils spent £4.3bn on transport-related services in 2015-16, and the £756m surplus is only 17% of that. Almost all of Brighton and Hove’s surplus (more than anywhere else outside London) was spent on providing 46,000 free bus passes for older and disabled people. In Nottingham a ‘workplace parking levy’ raised almost £35m over four years to pay for trams, buses and the redevelopment of the rail station. At least 50 councils make no surplus. Tim Walker, Guardian 29th May 2017.

The ‘truth’ in a post-fact age...

Jonathan Freedland on ‘tribal epistemology’ – ‘the truth or falsity of a statement depends on whether the person making it is deemed one of us or one of them.’ See David Roberts [reference?] ‘information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or corresponding to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals...’ Freedland argues, further, that ‘social media is the weapon of choice. Its algorithms favour virality over veracity, spreading false stories faster than true ones.’ 

How do I react to this? Initially it’s worrying, since I have often felt that to sort out various versions of the ‘truth’ you have to go with what is said by people you (a) trust and (b) feel share your beliefs and values. This approach could be strengthened by questions such as: how can the average citizen get hold of all the evidence and arguments and weigh them all up (especially in war, when the first casualty is truth). For me, thinking about the danger of ‘tribal epistemology’, then scepticism is essential until a generally-agreed truth emerges.

And yet, what exactly is a ‘common understanding of the world’ – what about the post-modern view that ‘truth’ has been defined by those with most power (white, male, western)? And how does the fact that ‘science’ has often been twisted to suit the rich and powerful along the lines of what suits their vested interests?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/20/trump-us-syria-truth-tribal-robert-mueller-white-helmets-factse and this links to:


A further dimension: 21st April, Decca Aitkenhead interviews Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms about ‘New Power’ (book published by Macmillan) which is ‘open, participatory, peer-driven’ as against old power which is ‘jealously-guarded, closed, inaccessible and leader-driven’... Old power values ‘expertise, confidentiality, formal governance and managerialism’ whereas new power values ‘online crowd-sourcing, radical transparency, leaderless structures and amateurish enthusiasm’. However, their argument ‘is not: “Throw away these old power skills... you’ve learned to navigate traditional organisational structures”. We all still need those skills. The key is learning how and when to use old and new.’  

My immediate reaction: the distinction is over-drawn (there’s plenty of expertise that is open to being questioned, and governance that is democratic is surely what we all want – conversely you only have to read Freedland’s article to see the dangers of so-called ‘new power’... amateurish enthusiasm indeed?!

Bretton Woods agreement and how differently the world financial system is organised now.

Larry Elliot https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/apr/22/could-donald-trumps-lone-ranger-approach-provide-the-silver-bullet  gives a neat summary of the goals of the 1944 agreement: for full employment; finance has to be controlled; countries could sort out their difficulties in their own way. Now: inflation is more important than full employment; capital should move freely; IMF has a basic structural template then asked to intervene: squeeze the domestic economy to get costs down; privatise (to make industries more efficient); devaluation to foster export-led growth. The odd thing about Elliott’s piece, though, is that he suggests Trump’s approach to trade imbalances is closer to the Bretton Woods view, that both debtor and creditor should make adjustments.

Have to agree with his other points though, especially the dominance of the US.


21st April: on thinking

Review of Elastic: flexile thinking in a constantly changing world, by Leonard Mlodinow (review by Steven Poole): distinguishes elastic thinking i.e. the way new and creative ideas pop into the conscious mind in moments of insight, with analytic thinking – rule-led, logical, conscious thought. (Similar to Gladwell, who values elastic/intuitive thinking more than analytical) – Mlodinow says we need both. New ideas may need pruning by the analytical mind. We need ‘ecopsychology’ to find a balance – to ‘let go of comfortable ideas and become accustomed to ambiguity and contradiction. ‘Ecopsychology aims to keep our minds fertile terrain for the green shoots of constructive thinking.’ Incidentally, we have developed computers to carry out analytic thinking, but elastic???


EU vs. Commonwealth?

Brilliant and funny piece by director of Institute of Commonwealth Studies: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/10/commonwealth-uk-brexit-leaving-eu  - ‘Sorry, Brexiteers, banking on the Commonwealth is a joke.’

Dictators and literature:

(From New Statesman, 6-1`2 April 2018): I really like the conclusion of the review by Lucy Hughes-Hallett of Daniel Kalder’s ‘Dictator Literature’ (2018): ‘Books... are, after all, he suggests, nearly impotent. By the time of his death Hitler owned some 16,000 books. They didn’t broaden his mind much. “Bad people read good poetry and remain evil, while good people read bad novels and remain good, and we all, anyway, forget most of what we’ve read.” ’ 

The book also slates Lenin for using his prose to attract people to his violent and antagonistic politics – something I’ve written about myself. See pp17socialismsincemarx1.htm #Lenin and Stalin. A pamphlet to which I wrote part of a ‘postface’ is at: http://libcom.org/library/fresh-look-lenin-andy-brown  

Great article by Will Hutton: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/07/hungary-poland-had-enough-of-liberal-democracy-eu-must-act - criticisms of Hungary and Poland for moving away from liberal values. Includes the view that ‘the EU needs to allay its populations’ fears about freedom of movement. Every member state should have the right to implement an emergency lock on immigration. The presumption should be openness, but not without limit.’ ‘we are in the grip of an anti-Enlightenment populist right...’ Hungary and Poland back each other up because the EU can only take action against a country with unanimous support from the other members. Both say they are fighting for ‘the people’s will’, and an idea of national community.

And another excellent article from the same issue of the Observer: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/07/british-education-failure-white-working-class   I especially like the point that it is dangerous to separate out the ‘white working class’ and complain about how they are left behind. This can only back up racist attitudes. Class is the problem.’ The Ofsted report of 2000 demonstrated that the impact of social class on school performance was more than twice as great as that of ethnicity.’

World War I, Lenin  etc. Ian Walker has a piece on 1918: the year that failed the future, in the New European (Jan 4 – 10 2018), which makes some interesting points. Woodrow Wilson drew up 14 points for peace in a speech to Congress in 1918; Lenin also issued a Decree on Peace (for a truce, and the European powers to discuss the terms of peace). Wilson’s vision was derived from late 18th century ideas (national self-determination, free trade), and Lenin’s was new (emancipation of the working class, internationalism). Of course, both failed, and this was one reason the end of the war failed to bring about a new settlement.

The Bolsheviks were expecting revolution in Germany – and after the 1917 revolution they were fighting counter-revolutionaries, rival political factions, foreign soldiers (including Americans). This, says Walker, led to the strengthening of the Military Revolutionary Committee, which became the Cheka, then the KGB.  ‘whose job was to ‘police’ political opponents (this included torture and murder)... By February 1918 it was murdering political opponents. By the summer it was responsible for the ‘red terror’... In August 1918, Lenin sent the following telegram: ‘Hang (I mean hang publicly, so that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers.’

[This quote reinforces my almost instinctive dislike of Lenin – I wish I had known about it when we in Solidarity were discussing Lenin...]

Along with the failure of both Wilson and Lenin’s plans – and the subsequent revolution in Russia, with Lenin (as Walker argues – and I must agree) paving the way for Stalin, Walker identifies other events that led to the disastrous mass slaughter of the early 20th century:

Throughout this period, and after of course, peace and stability were undermined by the continuation of imperial interests (especially France and Britain in the Sykes-Picot treaty, to carve up the Middle East – which contributed to the collapse of the League of Nations, an institution proposed [?] by Wilson).

 The Versailles treaty which emphasised punishing the Germans was a ‘second corner stone’. Then Hitler himself, who had only taken part in the final phase of the war (he was in the List regiment, which took part in an assault (the last ‘pointless, stupid offensive) in March 1918 – when American troops were pouring into Europe, and the Prussians were lacking in equipment and food). 

 The rise of Hitler, who – as Walker sees him – was an inadequate who longed for war, and who, of course, blamed the Jews and communists for everything. He was in a part of Germany which was ‘the heart of European political turmoil – there was a socialist revolution taking place in Munich – but he did so just to cling to a job [working as a guard in a prison camp] that no-one else really wanted’. [How he came to power, and what this says about the devastation caused by the war and the state of German politics and culture, is another story of course]. 

What to make of Dr Jordan Peterson...

https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jan/21/jordan-peterson-self-help-author-12-steps-interview - the emphasis seems to be on individualism, and against ‘ideologies’.


https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/putting-monsterpaint-onjordan-peterson/550859/ worrying how the interviewer distorts what Peterson is saying...

He has had to hit back at misogynists who attacked the interviewer, and he has a strong following among the ‘alt-right’ – but I’m not entirely clear why they think he is saying things they believe. 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/21/banning-jordan-peterson-causing-offence-cathy-newman-free-speech Matthew D’Ancona...

Brilliant review by Hari Kunzru (Guardian Review Sat 20 Jan 2018:

He has no truck with a range of ideas associated with social justice movements, e.g. white privilege, cultural appropriation. He is reluctant to use the personal pronouns that trans people want. He regards political correctness as a pathology. He seeks to understand political and religious belief in terms of the so-called ‘big five’ personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism.’

Gender is not fluid. Chaos is the realm of lies, of the language of persuasion, of Derrida and ethnic studies and boys who think they’re girls. A lot of the language is theological (Christian viz. the devil).

 ‘What makes the book so irritating is Peterson’s failure to follow many of the rules he sets out with such sententiousness. He does not ‘assume that the person he is listening to might know something he doesn’t’. He is far from ‘precise in his speech’, allowing his own foundational concepts (like ‘being’ and ‘chaos’) to slide around until they lose any clear meaning. He is happy to dish out stern injunctions against straw-manning, but his ‘Postmodernists’ and Marxists are the flimsiest of scarecrows, so his chest-thumping intellectual victories seem hollow. He appears sincere, and in some ways admirable in his fierce desire for truth, but he is much less far along his journey than he thinks, and one ends his oppressive, hectoring book relieved to be free of him.’ Enough said!!!


Excellent article by George Monbiot – have we reached a point where society is so complex it is unstable, and no-one can control it?


Brilliant review by my Facebook Friend Sandy Irvine of the new film about Churchill:

Yesterday, we went to see the movie 'The Darkest Hour' about Churchill's battle to keep Britain in the war against Nazis. It is not as good as the two previous films we saw, 'Three Billboards…" and 'Hostiles' but is still worth seeing. The main reason is the quite outstanding performance as Churchill by that great actor Gary Oldman. [Apparently he had to have surgery because of all the cigars he had to smoke during filming]

The movie has been cited as yet more proof (films such as 'Dunkirk' etc) of Britain's unhealthy obsession with World War Two and of a deluded faith that we Britons were exceptionally great and, post-Brexit' can be really great again, a veritable world class big hitter. The reality is rather different.

We live on a grossly overcrowded island, with limited resources and even less real influence in the world. It would be far better to have a much more modest but actually more secure and worthwhile vision, learning from small countries such as Denmark and Norway. There could be a 'happy ending' but it would involve far greater honesty about the real world, past and present.

Much though there is to enjoy in the film (and there is far more humour than I expected), it is worrying that it plays so fast and loose with the actual historical record. Indeed, it thereby diminishes Churchill's very real achievement. Contrary to the plot, there is no evidence that he was wobbling over whether to sue for peace with Hitler. It is risible as well as false to suggest that Churchill's backbone had to be stiffened by what he happened to hear from members of the public on a mythical tube ride.

Though Churchill did at times go out for walks and presumably conversed with members of the public, his mind had long been made up: Nazism had to be fought and destroyed. By contrast, in May 1940 large sections of the public were confused and dismayed. Churchill persevered nonetheless. Indeed, throughout the war, a fair few people skived and/or used the opportunities provided by air raids and by rationing to commit crime (TV's 'Foyle's War' is quite frank about 'bolt holes', racketeering, bureaucratic incompetence, and so forth)

As in 'Dunkirk', the myth of the 'small boats' rescuing the BEF is recycled whereas, in reality, it was the navy's destroyers that evacuated the bulk of the troops (including many French soldiers, again contrary to mythology). Also recycled in the myth that the British, Belgians and French faced a far superior foe, whereas, in terms of both numbers and weaponry, the allied forces were both stronger and better armed than the Germans (James Holland's 'War in the West' is very readable example of a new crop of 'revisionist' histories of the German war machine and Blitzkrieg).

The film follows the fashion of damning Chamberlain. To be sure, Churchill's assessment of Hitler was far sounder than that of both Chamberlain and Halifax. Yet 'appeasement' in 1938 did buy time to rearm the RAF with Spitfires and strengthen Britain's real ace, a coordinated air defence system without equal in the world at that time.

Quite contrary to the film's narrative, Labour would have served in an administration led by Halifax. The film repeats Churchill's sneering dismissal of Labour leader Attlee. Yet most serious histories suggest that the solid spadework done by Attlee and other Labour ministers in the new coalition really kept things going, Churchill not being a man of details.

Without belittling what was achieved in the summer of 1940 (with Britain removed, Hitler could perhaps have actually beaten Stalin, ushering in a new and truly dark age), 'The Darkest Hour' perpetuates the illusion of Britain 'standing alone' (a particular Brexiteer fantasy). In reality, the country had powerful naval and merchant fleets connecting it to the combined resources of Canada, the West Indies, various African colonies, India and Australasia, all then, of course, part of the British Empire.

In its depiction of Churchill as defender of democracy, the film rather overlooks the fact that he was a militant imperialist (something that subsequently made the alliance with the USA rocky). Indeed, in some ways Churchill was a ruling class Arthur Scargill (the film alludes to his role during the 1926 General Strike but nothing is made of it)

Churchill's 'back story' underline how misleading is the final on-screen text. To say Churchill was ejected from office is, of course, factually correct but the impression is given that British voters were ungrateful. Yet many people remembered his track record in the inter-war years, a militant enemy of the trade unions and a financial incompetent (something actually mentioned in the film with reference to the Gold Standard). Many service personnel and their families also had cause to remember Churchill's many blunders during the war (and, for that matter, World War One).

Despite various mistakes (Norway, Greece, Singapore, the mythical 'soft underbelly of Europe and equally mythical 'Llubjana Gap', etc), Churchill certainly played a leading role in winning the war. But there was widespread awareness that he would be no good 'winning' the peace'. That is why Labour won in 1945.

So, 'The Darkest Hour' deserves a viewing but take its story with a big pinch of salt. I have to be report that most of the audience at the Tyneside Cinema when we saw it appeared to be buying into the myths that it endorses. Ukip may be in terminal decline and the Tories in trouble but faith in Britannia and British Lion still lives on. For all their merits, films such as 'The Darkest Hour' and 'Dunkirk' still feed some dangerous delusions.


From earlier notes:

Dec. 2017

A new kind of totalitarianism? Review by Stuart Jeffries, Guardian 30th Dec 2017:

Byung-Chul Han, in Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power, describes how Apple promised us freedom – the antithesis of 1984 – but in fact we have voluntarily surrendered/confessed by allowing all our personal information to be collected and used by these giant corporations. We have gone beyond Bentham’s panopticon, and Foucault’s biopolitics (the body disciplined as the means of social control) – big data now is a vast commercial enterprise, with personal data monetised and commercialised. People are treated as packages of data for economic use. Human beings have become a commodity.

[Not sure this is completely original?]

In Hegelian terms we have become master and slave in one. ‘Unbounded freedom and communication are switching over into total control and surveillance.’ [See a later entry about Facebook...] All our information has been put onto the internet without our knowing who can see it or use it, or how.

Perhaps more worrying to me: politics has become impossible as a communal activity because we have become habituated to being consumers not citizens.  Neoliberalism is the capitalism of Like (as on FB). All this has amplified the compulsion to conform – idiotisms are being suppressed.

29/5/15: Home ownership.

Letter from Rev Paul Nicholson (Taxpayers Against Poverty) says we are reaching ‘government of the owners, by the owners, for the owners’. 36% of households rent their homes. They are treated with the same disdain that crofters were in the clearances. Reducing the cap on benefits (from 26,000 to 23,000) shows this indifference. And a recent leaked memo (sent as advice to Iain Duncan Smith) that there will be 40,000 children pushed into poverty by this move makes me very angry. (Guardian front page 30/5/15):



27/5/15: Cameron government: blue-collar Tories?

I agree with Patrick Wintour (front page Guardian today): by pledging that people working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will not pay income tax (future tax increases will reflect changes in the minimum wage) all Cameron is doing is providing a ‘blue-collar tinge’ to the Queen’s speech. In reality there will also be £12 billion welfare cuts, changes to union strike ballots, a new right to buy for 1.3 million housing association tenants (again reducing the amount of housing for those in need)... The likely targets for cuts according to the IFS: tax credits, housing benefit, disability and incapacity benefits, and child care.

We seem to be led by Tories who say they believe in ‘working people’ while they use this term to exclude many others.

Those excluded must include NEETs (Richard Adams p 10) – UK now has more than 130,000 youngsters between 16 & 18 who are NEETs – and though the number is down, it is still one in eight of the age group, and this group lags far behind their employed peers in terms of literacy and numeracy – a greater gap than in any other of 19 developed countries according to the OECD. Legislation to make 18 year olds get into work has reduced the numbers but not solved the problem, and the legislation lacks teeth.

The legislation to stop exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts (employers are supposed to let such employees work elsewhere as well if they want to) is ‘the very definition of toothless’ (David Martin, employment lawyer) since there is no right for workers to do anything about it if they are not employed, or their hours are cut, because they are working elsewhere. (Sarah Butler p 22).

Meanwhile, landlords are raking it in (p 2 David Pegg): HM Revenue and Customs has released figures showing they had £14 bn in subsidies/tax breaks in 2012 – 13. Returns on their investment (according to Wriglesworth Consultancy for lender Landbay) have increase by 1,400% since 1996... Landlords can claim tax breaks for: insurance, maintenance and repairs, utility bills, cleaning and gardening – as well as straight mortgage tax relief (cf. MIRAS which was dropped by Gordon Brown for private individuals, but not for businesses.

Landlords are therefore seen as running a business, when surely their position in the supply of housing is what matters. And the more people acquire property to let, the less is available for would-be home owners; and prices go up as landlords seek better returns.



0/5/15 George Monbiot on the horrifying things that go on in mass production of chickens:


20/5/15: The Rohingya tragedy:


6/5/15: [after a break including a week in Australia]

1. Tax: George Monbiot points out (6/5/15 in Guardian) that whilst the rich may pay a higher proportion of their income tax than the poor, if you include VAT and council tax then the poor pay more:

the poorest tenth pay 43% of their income in taxes, and the richest tenth pay 35%. Income tax only accounts for 27% of the total taxation.

2. Public Schools: Peter Wilby (NS 20-26 March 2015) reviews ‘The Old Boys... by David Turner, Yale). Public schools educate 7-8% of children, and yet: ‘Public school alumni account for:

71% of senior judges

62% of senior officers in the armed forces

60% of senior people in the financial services

55% of top civil servants

54% of leading journalists (editors, columnists and broadcast presenters0

54% of chief execs of FTSE-100 companies

53% of senior diplomats

51% of top medics

half of the House of Lords

more than a third of the Cabinet.

They are over-represented amongst successful actors and sports personalities (though not footballers) – and it’s only among local government CEOs that their representation roughly matches the proportion of children educated in public schools i.e. between 7 and 8%.

3. Food for Thought? ‘The world beyond your head – how to flourish in an age of distraction’ by Matthew Crawford (Reviewed Observer 3/5/15 by Iain Morris).

Our inability to concentrate and avoid distractions is blamed on the Enlightenment theory of the individual, originating in Kant: ‘experience must not guide reason’. (Morris) Thus we are cut off from reality and prey to advertising, computer games etc. We need to re-engage with reality by learning practical skills that bring us into contact with the physical world and with people. Thus we can reclaim the ‘attentional commons’ says Crawford.  The book is a ‘full-blown philosophical enquiry’ says Morris. [I really wonder if this is fair on Kant...]  {copied to enl6humannature...}

To follow up: Independent Working Class Education (IWCE). There is now a network: iwceducation.co.uk – and note the Plebs League which was founded at Ruskin College after a ‘strike’ in 1909, which ‘fought against education meant to get the workers to sing the bosses’ tune’ (Keith Venables, in Post-16 Educator, issue 78, Jan – March 2015) – they ‘insisted they should be able to learn about economics philosophy and history from the workers’ side’.

Ulrich Beck – Obituary Guardian Wed 7th Jan 2015. The risks that come from technological change...

We seem to live in an unhinged world, and it’s difficult to make sense of it. ‘What is the meaning of the global events unfolding before our eyes?’ (The result of environmental crisis, new technology, and inadequacy of national institutions). A new conception and language are needed, so: The world is ‘metamorphosing’

We live in ‘reflexive modernisation’ (Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, 1986) – needing to examine ourselves because of the unintended consequences of industrialisation. We also experience ‘cosmopolitanisation (Cosmpolitan Vision 2004) in the sense of ‘enmeshed worlds’. To identify merely with the nation state is irresponsible. (The idea of cosmopolitanisation came from being married into a part-Jewish family)

Neat summary of the situation in the Middle East (interview with Patrick Cockburn, author of The Rise of the Islamic State): a genuine revolt in Syria becomes intertwined with a broader sectarian struggle; the problem is compounded by interventions from western powers, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia et al; Turkey refuses to shut its borders to extremist adventurers; the Iraqi army (corrupt) disintegrates in face of its first test. But we should not say ‘everyone’s to blame’. Central problems: the Turkish border, the decision to turn a blind eye to whether support for anti-Assed rebels went to jihadists or non-jihadists; the insistence at the Geneva II peace conference that any solution must involve Assad’s exit.

Finally, six wars in the Middle East and North AfricaIraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya – make a perfect breeding ground for terrorists (such as those that struck in Paris against Charlie Hebdo and the kosher shop. (Guardian 24th Jan 2015)

22nd Jan 2015 Guardian – John Harris on the Green Surge: https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/21/green-surge-party-that-will-decide-election&sa=U&ei=DdjIVLSFGoHcggTMiIL4Dg&ved=0CAkQFjAC&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNEEjMTozDhZHu48xJq5BgWmCWAvVA  {copied to protecting10}

(what a long url!!! Due to new Guardian website as I see it: no easy-to-access archive, but a Google search instead!)

Several interesting book reviews in Guardian Saturday 24th Jan:

24th Jan 2015: The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer.

On the excessive individualism of our own culture – e.g. ‘wellness’ and ‘mindfulness’ see Steven Poole’s review:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/22/the-wellness-syndro me-carl-cederstrom-andre-spicer-persuasive-diagnosis - people who fail to look after their bodies are demonized as lazy, feeble or weak-willed.

This has a simply amazing similarity to things that Robert Owen (see Political Philosophy notes: socialism before Marx) said in his Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark (see Ideals and Ideologies, a Reader, by T. Ball and R. Dagger, Longman 1999) – and: http://infed.org/archives/e-texts/owen_new_lanark.htm#address

‘Every society which exists at present, as well as every society; which history records, has been formed and governed on a belief in the following notions, assumed as first principles:

First,—That it is in the power of every individual to form his own character. Hence the various systems called by the name of religion, codes of law, and punishments. Hence also the angry passions entertained by individuals and nations towards each other.

Second,—That the affections are at the command of the individual. Hence insincerity and degradation of character. Hence the miseries of domestic life, and more than one-half of all the crimes of mankind.

Third,—That it is necessary that a large portion of mankind should exist in ignorance and poverty, in order to secure to the remaining part such a degree of happiness as they now enjoy.

Hence a system of counteraction in the pursuits of men, a general opposition among individuals to the interests of each other, and the necessary effects of such a system,—ignorance, poverty, and vice.

Facts prove, however—

First,—That character is universally formed for, and not by, the individual.

Second,—That any habits and sentiments may be given to mankind.’

In other words, it is wrong to believe that individuals have complete freedom over their feelings and behaviour: rather it is their upbringing and surroundings that are responsible. The former view leads to us criticising each other for their ‘weaknesses’.

Similar point made (over the page!) by Jonathan Ree, in a review of The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge:


‘The neuroplastic revolution is part of a contemporary stampede towards the moralization of medicine: patients are encouraged to blame themselves for their sufferings, and to think that their chances of recovery depend not on the luck or good judgement of their doctors, but on their own will power.’

See also what is imagining other?   {copied to pp15socialismbeforemarx}

The Sixth Extinction? In the 24th Jan 2015 issue of Big Issue, Sylvia Patterson, profiling David Attenborough, reminds us that the WWF and Zoological Society of London has recently announced that the ‘number of creatures across land, rivers and seas has halved in 40 years. This is not connected to climate change but pollution, plastics etc, and destroyed habitats, due to the unsustainable level of consumption by humans. ‘This damage is not inevitable but the consequence of the way we choose to live’ says Prof. Ken Norris of the Zoological Society. {copied to protecting8}

Dealing with ISIS fighters when they return home. In Denmark, which has ‘produced more fighters per head of its population than any other western European country’ there is an approach that involves re-integration. After all (Jon Henley G2 13.11.14): the profile of those who go to fight shows that they have in common experience of low-level racism, of being caught between two cultures, even when they appear integrated and educated says Preben Bertelson, psychology professor at Aarhus University and expert on the Aarhus approach. In other times they might have joined a gang, but instead they turn to religion to help themselves with their existential difficulties. The key is not to criticise this but to try to persuade them that violence and illegality is not the right way to go.


What is a Good Country? Simon Anholt has a way of answering the question: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/30/simon-anholt-good-country-party-global-superpower-public-opinion using an index based on positive contributions in: science and technology; culture; international peace and security; world order; planet and climate; prosperity and equality; health and wellbeing.

Modern art...  I hesitate to take the pee, as too many people don’t even try to understand contemporary art, but sometimes... Here is a quote from a Metamodernist Manifesto, written by Shia Labeouf (who was raped during an art installation in which he waited in a room for visitors to the installation who were told to come in and do whatever they wanted...): ‘it must be art’s role to explore the promise of its own paradoxical excess towards presence... Thus postmodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt.’  (Article by David Batty, Guardian 6th Dec 2014). http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/dec/06/shia-labeouf-art-show-collaborators-first-interview {copied to pp23postmodernism}

NGOs: New Internationalist, Dec 2014 has several interesting pieces.

While Ian Brown writes of a ‘love-in between the big charities and transnational corporations (CARE USA – Coca-Cola, General Electric and Boeing, Nike and Gap are donors...) and even Oxfam says it is in favour of partnerships between the business sector \and the NGO community. Save the Children advertises its ability to help companies sell their products if they associate with the NGO; Dionne Bunsha writes of NGOs in India where a right-wing government works against NGOs like Greenpeace. The IB (Intelligence Bureau) says NGOs are trying to stop development (e.g. opposition to nuclear power, dams etc). Amazingly, there are some 3.3 million NGOs in India according to a government study. One criticism of the government position is that it ignores money given to extreme Hindu organisations.

A different critique of NGOs comes from Arundhati Roy, who says they ‘turn people into dependent victims and blunt political resistance. NGOs form a buffer between the sarkar (government) and public. Between empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.’ Dionne Bunsha agrees that some corporate-funded NGOs use Corporate Social Responsibility to obscure dissent against their projects...

On a positive note, the former chief minister of Bihar praised Greenpeace’s renewable energy projects in Bihar. It was also an alliance of NGOs that led to the Right to Information Act 2005 – used to tackle corruption. And in Andra Pradesh NGOs helped farmers get away from dependence on pesticides and debt.

Book: NGOization: Complicity, contradictions and prospects, ed. Aziz Choudhry and Dip Kapoor, Zed Books 2013.

Also in this issue an article on ‘development pornography’ – the use of images of starving children to get donations, by John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want. His book: The Poverty of Capitalism: economic meltdown and the struggle for what comes next, Pluto.

Poppies... Jonathan Jones has caused a stir with his piece that is critical of the poppies around the Tower.


‘Bandaid’ is back – for the ebola crisis, but is it doing any good? http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/19/turn-down-band-aid-bob-geldof-africa-fuse-odg  Fuse ODG (though I don’t know who he is!) hits one nail on the head: the negative portrayal of Africa is not good.

Poverty: from an article by Linda Tirado, in G2, 17.11.14:

A reminder that welfare should indicate the level below which we believe people should not sink (it’s become a negative, pejorative concept), and the amazing statistic from the last Living Standards survey from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Unit: 30 million people in the UK are financially insecure. In other words, almost half the population cannot afford to save £5 a week, meaning they can’t afford to pay an unexpected bill of £500. Tirado is the author of Hand to Mouth: the truth about being poor in a wealthy world.

Public Mourning by Will Self (New Statesman, 14 - 20 Nov 2014):

The 888,246 poppies at the Tower of London – representing British soldiers killed in the First World War - have drawn more than 4 million visitors. But what exactly are they commemorating? (And what about the 5,120 lost since 1945? Or the 453 British lives lost in Afghanistan since 2001?)

‘...what matters with these very public acts of “remembrance” is precisely that they be public: to be seen to be mourning the fallen is the loyalty oath of the contemporary British state, and if you take it you’re helping to ensure that no matter what your personal cavil may be about this or that “illegal” war, overall you’re still prepared to back our government’s use of lethal force in the prosecution of its foreign policy.’

And is it just a coincidence that in the same week as Remembrance Day, the government decided to send troops to Iraq? (Again!) The government is surely trying to point to some equivalence between the First World War and the current conflict with ISIS? Are ISIS, like our enemies in 1914, an ‘existential threat’? And we are pursuing military means of dealing with ISIS despite the number of top soldiers who have said the best thing to do about ISIS is to leave it alone.

The poppies will be ‘flogged off to raise money for ex-servicemen and women’s charities, but what sort of a state is it that doesn’t make adequate provision for those wounded, or the dependents of those killed in its service, out of the public purse?’

Finally, how ironic that there is now more heroin than ever before coming out of Afghanistan – a drug made from poppies, so called because it made its users feel ‘heroic’!! {copied to sm4peace6updates}

Representation of women in British politics: (G2 29.10.14)

UK is 74th of 186 in terms of female representation in parliament.

This is below Sudan (sharia law), China, Belarus (patriarchal dictatorship), Iraq (stoning for being raped).

Labour is best with 86 female MPs.

41% of MEPs are female, against 23% of MPs and 23% of Lords. This is because the parties have less control over who stands for MEP. {copied to sm6womenupdates}

Michael Meacher on a proper Labour programme: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/27/people-need-hope-not-tory-austerity-fairytale. So good it is worth copying here:

Ha-Joon Chang (Opinion, 20 October) is right that “the country is in desperate need of a counter narrative” to the Tory story on the economy. I believe it should go like this.

First, Labour did not leave behind an economic mess; the bankers did. Labour was not profligate: the biggest Labour deficit in the pre-crash years was 3.3% of GDP; the Thatcher-Major governments racked up deficits bigger than that in 10 of their 18 years. So who was the profligate? It’s a no-brainer.

Second, the Tories have claimed that the reason for enforced austerity is to pay down the deficit. Yet, after six years of falling wages, private investment flat, productivity on the floor, and fast-rising trade deficits, the deficit is £100bn, when Osborne promised in 2010 it would now be next to zero. To cap it all, the deficit will almost certainly rise this year because income from taxes has sharply fallen as wages are increasingly squeezed. Austerity is now a busted policy that has turned toxic. It should be dropped.

Third, Osborne’s so-called recovery is bogus because it is too dependent on a housing asset bubble, too dependent on financial services rather than manufacturing, and has no demand to sustain it. It is already fading as growth slows.

Fourth, the only way now to get the deficit down is by public investment to kickstart sustainable growth via housebuilding, upgrading infrastructure, and greening the economy. Funding a £30bn package at interest rates of £150m a year would create 1.5m jobs within two/three years. Or it could be financed without any increase in public borrowing by printing money, or instructing the publicly owned banks to concentrate lending on British industry, or taxing the 0.1% ultra-rich whose wealth has doubled since the crash.

People need hope. The Tories are continuing with austerity because their real motive is to shrink the state and public services, not to cut the deficit. The alternative offers investment desperately needed, growth in the real economy, genuine jobs, rising wages – and really will pay down the deficit.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton


John Gray on our innate tendency to evil: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/oct/21/-sp-the-truth-about-evil-john-gray

Blair is at one with most western leaders. It’s not that they are obsessed with evil. Rather, they don’t really believe in evil as an enduring reality in human life. If their feverish rhetoric means anything, it is that evil can be vanquished... [Rather, as the Greeks and Romans knew] destructive human conflict is rooted in flaws within human beings themselves... The restraints of morality exist to curb this innate human frailty; but morality is a fragile artifice that regularly breaks down. Dealing with evil requires an acceptance that it never goes away.

[our leaders hold to] some version of the melioristic liberalism that is the west’s default creed, which teaches that human civilisation is advancing – however falteringly – to a point at which the worst forms of human destructiveness can be left behind. According to this view, evil, if any such thing exists, is not an inbuilt human flaw, but a product of defective social institutions, which can over time be permanently improved.

[western leaders’ simplistic view of ‘evil’ may be what stops them from learning from experience...] They cannot accept that by removing one kind of evil they may succeed only in bringing about another – anarchy instead of tyranny, Islamist popular theocracy instead of secular dictatorship.

public discourse about good and evil continues to be rooted in religion. Yet the idea of evil that is invoked is not one that features in the central religious traditions of the west. The belief that evil can be finally overcome has more in common with the dualistic heresies of ancient and medieval times [Zoroastrianism, Manicheism] than it does with any western religious orthodoxy. [There were many different Christian views on evil]:

[St Augustine’s role]: Reflecting Augustine’s own conflicts, the idea of original sin that he developed would play a part in the unhealthy preoccupation with sexuality that appears throughout most of Christianity’s history. Yet in placing the source of evil within human beings, Augustine’s account is more humane than myths in which evil is a sinister force that acts to subvert human goodness. Those who believe that evil can be eradicated tend to identify themselves with the good and attack anyone they believe stands in the way of its triumph.

[Pelagius]: A rival heresy was promoted by the fourth century theologian Pelagius, an opponent of Augustine who denied original sin while strongly affirming free will, and believed that human beings could be good without divine intervention. More than any of the ancient Greek philosophers, Pelagius put an idea of human autonomy at the centre of his thinking. Though he is now almost forgotten, this heretical Christian theologian has a good claim to be seen as the true father of modern liberal humanism.

[But when so many people turn to or accept evil, then ‘liberal humanists’ turn to ‘dark forces’ etc to explain it... and] the result is a more primitive version of Manichean myth. When humankind proves resistant to improvement, it is because forces of darkness – wicked priests, demagogic politicians, predatory corporations and the like – are working to thwart the universal struggle for freedom and enlightenment. There is a lesson here. Sooner or later anyone who believes in innate human goodness is bound to reinvent the idea of evil in a cruder form.

[Gray then rejects Arendt’s view of the banality of evil: Eichmann did what he did because he wanted to...]

Liberal meliorists like to think that human life contains many things that are bad, some of which may never be entirely eliminated; but there is nothing that is intrinsically destructive or malevolent in human beings themselves – nothing, in other words, that corresponds to a traditional idea of evil.

[There is another view, though, which escapes the influence of religion]: What has been described as evil in the past can be understood as a natural tendency to animosity and destruction, co-existing in human beings alongside tendencies to sympathy and cooperation. [See Freud et al]

[violent beliefs are on the resurgence, and this is partly to do with societies under stress, but] Toxic ideologies express and reinforce responses to social conflict that are generically human. ..

The weakness of faith-based liberalism is that it contains nothing that helps in the choices that must be made between different kinds and degrees of evil... [Gray has just argued that there are some evils e.g. Nazism that are truly radical – and those that deny humanity to some group of people are also in this camp. Churchill chose the lesser of two evils when he sided with Staling against the Nazis... But ]Our leaders have helped create a situation that their view of the world claims cannot exist: an intractable conflict in which there are no good outcomes.

And my response: response to john gray concerning evil.htm (a brief version of this was published in the Guardian...) {copied to pp24 other contemporary thinkers}

A review to re-read? http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/01/world-order-by-henry-kissinger-review-account

‘Corporate welfare handouts’ by Aditya Chakrabortty:


On milk production in UK: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/oct/02/-sp-battle-soul-british-milk – with comparison of large-scale vs. small organic producers. Frightening the scale of large operations!!

Sep 28th 2014. Self Portrait as Picture Window by John Burnside (born 1955). From All One Breath (Jonathan Cape).

(The Sunday Times Published: 28 September 2014).

A poem that matched my experience on visiting the spring at Ashwell – [published on the day I was there!]. I had a very strong sense that others had been here before me and made use of the water, and the ash grove – had given it meaning... whilst for me there was something missing, some inability to fully identify with, and experience the full reality of, the spring.

First day of snow, the low sun

glinting on the gate post where a single

Teviot ewe is licking

frost-melt from the bars, the other sheep

away in the lower field, the light on the crusted

meadow grass that makes me think

of unripe plums so local an event

it seems, for one long breath,

that time might stop;

or, better, that it isn’t me at all

who stands here, at this window, gazing out,

not me who woke up late, when everyone

had gone to work or school, but someone else,

a man so like myself that nobody

would spot the difference — same eyes, same mouth —

but gifted with a knowledge I can scarcely

register in words, unless I call it

graceful and nomadic, some lost art

of finding home in sheep trails, lines of flight,

the feel of distance singing in the flesh

and happiness-as-forage, bedding in,

declining, making sense of what it finds.

29th Sep: one to watch;

Poet Kei Miller (from Jamaica) – winner of 2014 Forward Prize. (Claire Armistead piece Guardian p9)

27th Sep: groups taking action against the cost of housing:

Zoe Williams, Guardian p 15, on Focus E15 mothers are occupying an empty flat on the Carpenters estate in Newham. The 29 mothers were evicted from a hostel because of funding cuts. 600 homes are empty on the Carpenters estate, which council wanted to empty so it could sell the land. The families would be moved to Birmingham or Manchester where the rents are cheaper!!!

Another group is New Era 4 All: mothers living in social housing in Hoxton that has just been bought by a consortium part-owned by Tory MP Richard Benyon. Rents are likely to go up to market rates i.e. 400 – 600 a week.

Cluster of things contribute: developers buying out social housing, councils trying to get rid of stock, ‘affordability’ criteria that don’t even cover social rents, thousands of homes empty, awaiting demolition for new development...

See also Aditya Chakrabortty: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/23/real-politics-empty-london-housing-estate Newham mayor wants to bring in 3,000 more private houses, when the real need is for more public housing.

24th Sep 2014 – reviews of, and extracts from, Owen Jones’s book The Establishment: and how they get away with it:



http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/01/the-establishment-how-get-away-with-it-review-owen-jones {copied to csr8inequalityupdates}

21st Sep 2014: book: Sapiens: a brief history of mankind, Yuval Noah Harari.


Interesting section: Harari organises humankind around four different milestones. About 70,000 years ago, the cognitive revolution kickstarted our history, and about 12,000 years ago the agricultural revolution speeded it up. Then came a long process of unifying mankind and colonising the Earth until, finally, the scientific revolution began about 500 years ago. It is still in progress and may yet finish us all off.

The first of these – the cognitive revolution – was the real game-changer; a genetic mutation that altered the inner wiring of Homo sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate in an altogether new type of language which could not only convey information but also create imagined worlds. It was this ability to forge common myths that enabled H sapiens to cooperate flexibly in large numbers, and thus to see off rivals such as the Neanderthals, wipe out hostile animals and cultivate crops. Similarly, says Harari, it was by building pyramids – in the mind as much as on the ground; imagined orders and hierarchies – that humanity advanced.

The philosophy that emerges, however, is not what you’d necessarily expect from an Israeli with a background in medieval military history. History, for Harari, is largely made up of accidents; and his real theme is the price that the planet and its other inhabitants have paid for humankind’s triumphant progress. There are indicators of this in an elegiac passage on the destruction of the megafauna of Australasia and South America and a rapturous account of the life of Buddha, but it is only when he reaches the modern era that Harari brings his own views to the fore. He sees modern agriculture’s treatment of animals as one of the worst crimes in history, doubts whether our extraordinary material advances have made us any happier than we were in the past, and regards modern capitalism as an ugly prison. What is more, current developments in biology may soon lead to the replacement of H sapiens by completely different beings, enjoying godlike qualities and abilities - copied to 'what is imagining other?'

22nd Sep 2014: Low Pay: Zoe Williams, in an article on the film Pride, asks how Gordon Brown (in 2006) could have predicted there would only be 600,000 low-paid jobs in the country by 2020, when there are now between 8m and 11m. This is what happens when unionisation has been written off...

21st Sep 2014: collective memory – why have we entrusted it to Google? By Lauren Laverne.

Refers to ‘symbolic capacity’ of humans which sounds to me very much like Castoriadis’s contention.


- reference to radical anthropology group (Chris Knight, Nina Power!!): http://radicalanthropologygroup.org/pub_knight_power_watts_big.pdf 

- copied to 'what is imagining other?'

15th Sep 2014: Top 1% in Britain – article by Danny Dorling: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/15/how-super-rich-got-richer-10-shocking-facts-inequality

To be in the top 1% of earners in Britain today, a couple with no children would need a minimum income of £160,000. A single person can enter the 1% with a little less, while a couple with children would need more.

Per head, there are more so-called ultra-high net-worth individuals (UHNWI) in London than anywhere else on the planet. These are defined as people with $30m (£21m) or more in assets apart from their main home. The estate agents Knight Frank recently reported that 4,224 “Ultra” families were living in London, with the number expected to reach 5,000 by 2024. The attraction is not just London’s history, nightlife or its convenient time zone; it is Britain’s lax tax regime.

London’s wealthy elite also includes the largest concentration of Russian millionaires found outside of Moscowat least 2,000, many of whom are also “Ultras”. It is impossible to accurately assess their wealth because so much of it is hidden. But the donations from many of them to the Conservative party suggest that they have a direct interest in maintaining the low tax – especially wealth tax – policies of that party. It is not just property that the Russians are buying.

17th Sep. Scotland again: Linda Colley: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/16/scottish-independence-catalogue-errors-union-uk: The litany of miscalculations and unforced errors is a depressing one. Margaret Thatcher's decision to use Scotland as a testing ground for the poll tax was arguably the most disastrous attempt at fiscal engineering since London slapped the stamp tax on the American colonies in the 1760s. Thatcher did not understand that the union with Scotland had in practice always been a limited one. From the outset, Scots retained their own legal, educational, and religious systems, and were traditionally governed by way of their own indigenous grandees and operators. It was sadly ironic that the arch-prophetess of a limited state appeared to want to rip up this formula for indirect rule and to impose on Scotland in radically new ways, one reason why so many people there still detest Thatcher's memory.

As for the present prime minister, David Cameron, some of the strikes against him in regard to the current crisis are well known. He refused to include a third, devo max option in the referendum ballot, and thus failed to win credit in Scotland for a policy that he has now belatedly felt compelled to espouse. He allowed Alex Salmond to draft the referendum question and shape the timetable. And by his own admission, he believed that a protracted referendum campaign would somehow be cathartic. Yet nationalism has historically been one of the most inflammatory and volatile human passions. Expecting that protracted arguments over the future and identity of Scotland would clear the air and help foster consensus and a renewal of sweet reason was like lighting a fire in the hope that it will burn out.

London is not just an international financial centre, it is also one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth. Three hundred languages are represented within its boundaries, and – as is true of some other English cities – more than half of London's inhabitants describe themselves as non-white. By contrast, only 8% of Edinburgh's population is non-white, and that is twice the average for Scotland as a whole. It is therefore hardly surprising that some (by no means all) Scots espouse a degree of cultural and ethnic nationalism that seems incomprehensible to many at Westminster, or that the latter sometimes gets the former wrong. [so far, not terribly inflammatory, but then:]

If it secedes, a future division of the spoils is likely to cost the English, Welsh, and Northern Irish money, time, influence and face, and yet they will have had no democratic say in this outcome. It is hard to think of a better recipe for future resentments and divisions.


As we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, this referendum campaign may be yet another example of how easily fierce ideologies, tribal passions, longstanding grievances, undue optimism and political cock-ups can take hold, with consequences that go on to affect and afflict the lives of millions. [What a ridiculous comparison!!!]

A much better article, Tom Devine (Prof of Scottish history and palaeography, Edinburgh University):

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/14/history-turned-on-tory-voting-scotland-thatcher-1980s - especially interesting is the history of religious beliefs

Little more than a generation ago, in the 1950s and early 60s, the union could not have been more secure. The Scottish Unionist party (only becoming the Conservative party in Scotland in 1965) had won a famous and overwhelming victory in the general election of 1955. The SNP at the time was but an irrelevant and eccentric sect rather than a mainstream political party. Indeed, despite the mythology of Red Clydeside, Scotland had voted mainly for the Tories in the 1920s and 1930s. The Labour landslide victory of 1945 can be seen as an aberration in that context....

The crucial historic importance for Scotland of maintaining free access to English markets ceased to be of such importance when the UK joined the European common market in 1973...

A shared English and Scottish commitment to Protestantism in the past had provided much of the ideological glue of union. This is no longer so in the age of secularisation. The Church of Scotland has lost two-thirds of its membership since the 1960s. That working-class Protestant culture of the Kirk, the Boys’ Brigade and Rangers Football Club, long a bulwark of unionism and the Tory vote, is in decay. With that has withered the old sectarian voting patterns, of Protestants supporting the Conservatives and Catholics giving automatic allegiance to Labour...

The experience of Scotland in the 1980s is a critical factor in this narrative. Between 1976 and 1987 the nation lost nearly a third of its manufacturing capacity. The great heavy industries that had made Scotland’s global economic reputation over more than a century disappeared in a matter of a few years. A post-industrial economy did emerge in the 1990s, but the crisis left behind a legacy of social dislocation in many working class communities and created a political agenda north of the border in marked contrast to that of the south of England. Rightly or wrongly, the devastation was blamed on the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher. Scotland soon became a Tory-free zone in electoral terms. Another bastion of the union passed into history.

Equally fundamentally, state involvement and public spending became even more important to many Scots, in some parts of the west, accounting for as much as three-quarters of the local economy...

If the yes campaign wins, Britain will never be the same. Three centuries and more of political union between England and Scotland will be consigned to history. It’s the possible end of an old political union rightly thought by many Scots to be no longer fit for purpose.

11th Sep 2014:

On Scottish Independence Referendum – very helpful notes in Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/09/-sp-if-scotland-votes-for-independence-key-questions – I particularly notes the ‘cards’ that Salmond has in his hand, e.g. if he says an independent Scotland is a ‘new state’ he will have to adopt the euro, but if he does, then UK would lose their seat on the Security Council. It seems that it is not impossible for the Scots to keep the pound, but there are questions over how this would work. Salmond is likely to bargain that he will not pay their share of the national debt (public sector net debt) unless they can keep the pound!! Other key points: oil revenues - there is agreement on both sides as to how much of the fields belongs to which country – the only dispute is over how much oil there is. On only a few occasions since the war have Scotland’s votes affected the outcome of UK elections (1964, 1974 and 2010) – and if Westminster loses 51 MPs then the majority needed to form the government also shrinks...

I also like Michael White’s clarification in G2 of the likelihood of British elections returning more Tory governments:


‘...the fear that Labour may never win power again at Westminster without those vital Scottish votes. “Permanent Tory rule” in rUK, as George Galloway warns.

But is the fear justified? Not necessarily. As with much of the yes/no debate that has engrossed (some) Scots for decades, those who speak with exaggerated confidence on both sides are bluffing. All we do know is that much will change throughout Scotland and rUK – and in ways few will have predicted. The Tory-Labour duopoly – 97% of the votes cast in 1951, just 65.1% in 2010 – has been crumbing for 30 years. The looming breakup might finally trigger radical realignment and sweeping constitutional reform.

Only two post-war British elections would have had different outcomes if Scotland had been a separate state as well as nation. In 1964, Labour’s hair’s-breadth win after 13 years of Conservative government culminating in the Profumo affair would have been wiped out, leaving Scottish PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home clinging on, frail and exhausted. He was lucky to lose.

Something similar happened in the double-election year of 1974. In February, Labour’s Harold Wilson won but Ted Heath actually got more votes and, discounting the Scottish MPs, would have had 15 more seats, but no majority. In October, Wilson failed to win a working majority; even without Scotland Labour would have been the largest party.

Taking out the 59 Scottish seats, of course, lowers the majority bar, and in 2010 David Cameron would have got an outright majority of nine instead of a coalition.’

And from Sep 8th, Owen Jones:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/07/scotland-decides-union-tories - how Conservative and New Labour governments paved the way by the damage they did to the economy and to Scotland.

Only Gorge Monbiot could put the point even more strongly!

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/09/yes-vote-in-scotland-most-dangerous-thing-of-all-hope Here, to Wilson and his fellow flinchers, is what solidarity meant while they were in office. It meant voting for the Iraq war, for Trident, for identity cards, for 3,500 new criminal offences, including the criminalisation of most forms of peaceful protest. It meant being drafted in as political mercenaries to impose on the English policies to which the Scots were not subject, such as university top-up fees and foundation hospitals. It meant supporting every destructive and unjust proposition advanced by their leaders: the brood parasites who hatched in the Labour nest then flicked its dearest principles over the edge. It’s no surprise that the more the Scots see of their former Labour ministers, the more inclined they are to vote for independence.

So now Better Together has brought in Gordon Brown, scattering bribes in a desperate, last-ditch effort at containment. They must hope the Scots have forgotten that he boasted of setting “the lowest rate in the history of British corporation tax, the lowest rate of any major country in Europe and the lowest rate of any major industrialised country anywhere”. That he pledged to the City of London “in budget after budget, I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers”. That, after 13 years of Labour government, the UK had higher levels of inequality than after 18 years of Tory government. That his government colluded in kidnapping and torture. That he helped cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands through his support for the illegal war on Iraq.


NHS: Michael Meacher replies to Polly Toynbee, arguing there is a way of keeping the NHS without bringing in privatisation or high taxes:

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/09/going-long-way-to-save-nhs I especially like the point that ‘Continued spending cuts, particularly in the NHS, in the sixth year of austerity with unemployment still over 2 million, is plain crackers, given the feedback effects that contract both incomes and government tax revenues. It isn’t even cutting the deficit. Alistair Darling’s two stimulatory budgets in 2009-10 brought the deficit down sharply from £157bn in 2009 to £118bn in 2011 – a reduction of nearly £40bn in just two years. Osborne’s austerity budgets have slowed the reduction to a trickle, down to £108bn now – a reduction of £10bn in three years. So which is more effective – public investment or spending cuts? It’s a no-brainer.’

Meacher’s solution:

A £30bn investment package that could be funded for £150m at current interest rates would generate a million jobs within two years, increase incomes and cut the deficit far faster than the current prolonged austerity. It could even be funded without any increase in public borrowing at all, either by mandating the publicly owned banks RBS and Lloyds to prioritise lending for British industry, or by electronic printing of money (QE) targeted directly on industrial investment, or by a super-tax on the 1% ultra-rich.

Aug. 2014. Owen Jones on ‘Pride’: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/18/solidarity-pride-film-british-tradition and the solidarity that Thatcherism could not destroy.

July 2014:


Good to read a piece by Margaret Heffernan, author of ‘A Bigger Prize: why competition isn’t everything and how we do better’ (Simon and Schuster) – in New Statesman 20 – 26 June. She covers competition in science, business and politics and shows its harmful effects. She even illustrates the effect on sport. When Travis Tygart (head of the US anti-doping agency, who brought down Lance Armstrong) researched attitudes to sport: ‘although people still valued sport for the lessons of fair play, collaboration, integrity and discipline it could teach, in reality they believed that all that really mattered was winning.’ (Ah, yes, learning how to lose...).

She also points to companies like Ove Arup and WL Gore (makers of Gore-tex) which are both owned by the workers and value collaboration. Shared respect and commitment are drivers of success. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/06/fishing-dynamite-big-competition-myth {copied to csr1definitions}

Aid: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/07/aid-corporations-clothing-compassion-msf-charities-south-sudan-syria

A worrying piece, which says that Medecins sans Frontieres is alarmed at the behaviour of other aid agencies that avoid the real suffering and withdrawing from emergency work, especially in dangerous conflict zones, in favour of lucrative work on modish concepts such as conflict resolution, capacity building and governance’.

However, here is one comment in response: A week or so ago the Guardian carried an article which explained why charities working in war zones, particularly where there were Islamist insurgencies, were withdrawing because of anti-terror legislation enacted by Britain and the USA, in contravention of international conventions, made them liable to prosecution by aiding terrorism. It showed how a hospital in Aleppo was being forced to close because the sponsor (presumably MSF) was being threatened under the legislation.

And now this populist and ill-informed rant worthy of the Daily Rail. Shame.


Good piece by Chris Huhne: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/06/andy-coulson-jail-term-prison-obsession

It costs some 40,000 a year to keep someone in jail (he’ writing about the recent conviction of Andy Coulson for phone hacking); we look back on previous regimes and punishments with horror e.g. the Black Act of 1723 which introduced 50 new hanging offences, including one for hiding in a forest while disguised!!  Will we look back on current practices in the same way? The tabloids, however, bray for punishment – just like the people Dickens describes watching a public hanging (with their ‘atrocious bearing, looks, and language’). 30% of English and Welsh men have a criminal conviction by the age of 40... We lock up 149 of every 100,000 people, compared with 103 in France and 78 in Germany. That equals 85,684 prisoners. If our rates were the same as in Sweden we would only have 35,000 and save 2 bn a year. There are also some 6,000 on indeterminate sentences – brought in by Labour, and abolished in 2012.

Trade Unions:

Owen Jones states the case for strengthening the unions: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/06/celebrate-strikers-media-opposed-trade-unions

We are suffering the longest fall in wages for generations, pay packets for many public sector workers are down by a fifth in real terms, most of the poor are actually at work in low-paid jobs – not to mention zero hour contracts, and most new jobs paying less than 7.95 an hour.

Trade unions are the largest democratic organisations in the country: 6.5 million members – more than nine times the combined membership of the main political parties.

To argue that private sector workers are worse off but don’t go on strike is to support a race to the bottom.

Union leaders are trusted to tell the truth by 41% of the population – as against only 18% trusting politicians.

78% believe that unions are essential to protect workers’ interests.

49% believe that big business poses more of a threat than unions (and only 13% disagree).

He notes that the squeeze on workers wages began before the crash, from 2004 onwards – which led to more spending on tax credits and more debt...  and which contributed to the crash!!

Stronger unions would prevent the slide into greater inequality and debt.

And a further word from Aditya Chakrabortty: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/07/tories-should-defend-union-rights-capitalism-depends-on-them

- which actually refers back to JK Galbraith and his idea of ‘countervailing power’ (an idea I used to teach about). His main point is that there is inequality in power as well as earnings etc, and this imbalance of power (employers and financiers etc vs. workers – or the 1% vs the 99%) is actually bad for capitalism!

June 2014:

Caring for the environment:

George Monbiot hits the nail on the head again: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/16/saving-the-world-promise-not-fear-nature-environmentalism - and expresses ideas drawn (in part – I guess) from Graham Music’s book The Good Life. Insecurity breads materialism and self-centredness, whilst love and security help our altruistic and caring feelings.

{copied to protecting10themovement}

Education policy and the current government:

An excellent piece by Simon Jenkins (11th June) – I couldn’t have put it better!!


7th June: World War I.

A review of a new production of Britten’s opera Owen Wingrave – a study of opposition to war – contains a sentence that moved me: ‘In this year crowded with official commemorations, everybody needs a space in which to let their feelings about war escape.’

Owen Wingrave, says Neil Bartlett, describes that space, and dares us to enter it – whilst everyone in Owen’s family is trapped by their inability to look at anything afresh, and like so many commemorations now ‘recycling ... the same images, the same feelings, the same laments,’ and the family tries to turn these feelings as weapons against Owen, Britten steps outside this circle and offers a vision of peace. ‘One of the most moving passages Britten ever wrote.’


May 2014:

The world order (May 6th):

Slavoj Zizek has a provocative piece on the current world (dis-)order: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/superpower-capitalist-world-order-ukraine - I am not entirely convinced by his starting-point, that there are a number of centres of power in the world, but they are all capitalist: US = liberal capitalism, Europe = what remains of the welfare state, China = authoritarian capitalism, Latin America for populist capitalism. But if we accept this view, then it seems to follow that for the world to act together (to have some idea of world citizenship as Kant put it) there needs to be a set of unwritten rules underlying capitalism. Yet by definition capitalism fragments and divides in the market (my words) and the free circulation of commodities has been accompanied by ‘growing separations in the social sphere’ and the return to ‘age-old fixations, and particular, substantial ethnic, religious and cultural identities.’

If, on the other hand, we can identify world-wide counter-tendencies within the different varieties of capitalism (what I call ‘alternatives’ – see my notes at

'imagining other part 3 - alternatives) - and link them up - then there is hope!


Have been away for a week – while we were away a teacher, Ann Maguire, was stabbed to death at her school (probably by a 15 year old boy). Yvonne Roberts has a thoughtful piece in Observer 4th May, saying how important good teachers are, and yet how teachers generally are being slagged off by leading politicians (notably Gove’s former advisor Dominic Cummings: ‘Real talent is rare and mediocrity is ubiquitous’). There are more than 428,000 teachers, she says and most are on modest salaries and work long hours. According to the NUT 40% leave within 5 years of joining the profession, and morale is rock bottom. Constructive criticism has its place, [but] what works far better is acknowledgement, validation and praise.

Max Clifford and our macho culture:

Carole Cadwalladr writes on Observer 4th may that our ‘media landscape [typified by Max Clifford] has bequeathed to us: the idea that public life is a testing ground for whoever has the most testosterone; that everybody is out for whatever they can get; that distrust and betrayal and contempt are everyday aspects of the human condition.’ How true, and how sad!

In contrast: our natural instinct for altruism:

Graham Music (consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Tavistock and Portman clinics in London) has written a book: The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, in which he argues that our culture – and especially the rewarding of altruistic acts extrinsically (which undermines our natural intrinsic pleasure at doing things for others) – is making us more selfish cold-hearted and mean. ‘A very monetised western world is going to make us more and more lose touch with our social obligations.’ http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/may/04/how-babies-turn-into-selfish-monsters

Tanya Gold (Guardian 7th May) quotes more points: ‘The higher up the social class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behaved... consistently those who were less rich showed more empathy and more of a wish to help others.’ And: ‘Those with more materialistic values consistently have worse relationships, with more conflict... This is significant if the perceived shift towards more materialistic values in the west is accurate.’

Tanya Gold also points out (based on work by Tim Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College Illinois), that if you love material objects you are less likely to love people and the planet.

See also: new ways of seeing #babies (how babies become selfish). 

Cameron and Christianity:

There has been a lot of fuss about Cameron’s comment about this being a Christian country... However, I think when we look at what he said I am more concerned that he is not saying anything at all (quotes form a piece by philosopher Julian Baggini, Guardian 23rd April 2014):

People underestimate, he said, ‘the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code’ but he then added: ‘Of course, faith is neither necessary nor sufficient for morality.’ (Hey ho, so why should we have this faith?)

He also declared that ‘the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none’. Derr?


Baggini adds that there are more serious issues concerning the linking of Christianity and the state that we (non-Christians especially) should be concerned about...

Weds 16th April 2014 – rape and sexual assault.

The scale of the problem of rape and sexual assault is alarming: according to Owen Jones (Guardian Mon 14th) ‘Official statistics suggest that 907,000 people are raped a year. On average, only 15,670 of these become recorded crimes, and in 2012 – 13 there were just 2,333 convictions.

A CPS review last year found that, over a 17-month period, prosecutions for false allegations made up just 0.6% of rape cases.

Sunday 13th April 2014. Thomas Piketty: Capital in the 21st Century.

There have been a good many reviews of this work recently, and I have read the following with great interest:




                - and all agree that the book is highly significant, especially in the way that he backs up his thesis (that when capital grows faster than output then inequality increases – and this is the norm for capitalism) with hard data. The decrease in inequality in the 20th century was due to exceptional factors (slow reconstruction of capital after the war, welfare state expenditure, redistributive taxation) – which no longer play a part in our economies.

So those who hold capital, as distinct from those who actually make things, get wealthier... along with the managers and others who are paid enormous salaries, which they believe they deserve (‘meritocratic extremism’ Piketty calls it) and who see themselves as being in competition with the wealth-holders.

Piketty’s solution? A high level of tax on wealth.

See my notes at: notes on inequality - updates (follow the link to ‘Capital’).

Two more books that seem to go with Piketty’s:

The People: The rise and fall of the Working Class 1910 – 2010, by Selina Todd, John Murray £25 – looks like an excellent book... Reviewed by Suzanne Moore:


A Precariat Charter: from denizens to citizens, by Guy Standing, also reviewed Apr 12th by John Harris:


I particularly like his quote from Tony Blair, when as Labour Prime Minister he was trying to galvanise workers he thought were stuck in the past: “The character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition. Unforgiving of frailty. No respecter of past reputations. It has no custom and practice. It is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change." And we have to keep up with this!!?

Standing’s mooted solutions to the existence of a precariat (outside the workplace, insecure, victimized by this government) in Harris’s words: ‘an end to the punitive aspects of the modern welfare state, and the creation of new organisations that are rooted outside any single workplace (and might follow the lead of the US's International Workers of the World, or "Wobblies", who were founded "to organise the workers, not the job"). By way of addressing security beyond the workplace... a basic citizen's income, payable to all, which would increase the bargaining power of people at the low end, and by cutting across the orthodox benefit systems' serial poverty traps, actually increase the incentive to work.’

9th April 2014: a note to myself:

The best thing we can do in life is to try to help other people to feel good about themselves.

9th April 2014: Britain’s Empire...
Currently reading Richard Gott’s book subtitled Resistance, Repression and Revolt (published 2011 I believe). Retrieved an old cutting with a review by Richard Drayton, (and here is the link http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/dec/07/britains-empire-richard-gott-review) – the opening quote from David Lloyd George, in 1932 at the World Disarmament Conference is worth putting here: ‘We insisted on the right to bomb niggers’ for ‘police purposes in outlying places.’

Plus ca change! (brief notes on colonialism and war/peace are here).

Richard Drayton is Rhodes professor of imperial history at King’s College London.

7th April 2014: foodbanks and welfare cuts:

Catching up with old emails and blogs, here are some points from 3rd March, in the Mirror Online (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/food-banks-explosion-we-were-3204631) – which quotes Newcastle project leader Michael Nixon as saying that whereas 11 weeks ago they were feeding 30 people a week, now it’s 1,600.

The article also states that in the last year 900,000 have faced benefit sanctions – but 58% had the decisions overturned on appeal!! (Before 2010 the rate of successful appeals was 20%...).

3rd April 2014. (i) Cap on welfare spending.

Good piece by George Eaton, quoting Diane Abbott (New Statesman 28 March – 3 April):

- the new limit, for 2015 – 2016 is £119bn ( this includes all benefits except state pension and cyclical unemployment benefits); there is a constant demonising of scroungers etc, but half of welfare claimants are pensioners, and a quarter are in work. Why is the government not trying to reduce the need for people to resort to welfare, by such measures as house-building, or a rise in the minimum wage?

If you take the figures for overall spending, again it is clear the problem is not to do with unjustified claims:


This shows that:

- the DWP is the biggest spending department in the UK - spending £166.98bn in 2011-12.

- of that, £159bn was spent on benefits - an increase of 1.1% on the previous year.

- 47% of UK benefit spending goes on state pensions of £74.22bn a year

- this is more than the £48.2bn the UK spends on servicing its debt.

- this is followed by housing benefit of £16.94bn (+5.2%) and Disability living allowance of £12.57bn (+3.3%).

- jobseekers' allowance is actually one of the smaller benefits - £4.91bn in 2011-12, and although this shows an increase of 7.6% on the previous year it still amounts to only around 3% of the total spent on benefits. And, by the way, tax avoidance costs the Treasury almost £70bn a year...

See: http://www.scriptonitedaily.com/2014/01/06/osborne-to-axe-welfare-state-with-25bn-of-new-cuts-whats-he-coming-for-next/ for more shocking details!

(ii) What are the Tories really doing?

The editorial in the same issue argues that the recent announcements: that the state pension will still rise in line with whichever is highest of inflation, earnings, or 2.5% for the entirety of the next parliament – and that people with annuities will be able to spend the money instead of leaving it to accrue interest – and that the inheritance tax threshold will be raised to £1 million – and that there will not be means tests for the wealthy elderly on universal benefits... all this is designed to pander to the older part of the population which, surprise, surprise is the most likely to vote. 76% of those over 65 voted at the last general election, while only 44% of 18 – 24 year-olds did (a smaller percentage than any other age group).

The further significance of this, NS points out, is that the division between old and young is worsening. (See ‘Intergenerational and Intragenerational Equity’ by Jonathan Portes). The UK ranks 23rd out of 27 European countries in poverty of the elderly: 17% of over 65s are in poverty – even though under the last Labour government 900,000 were lifted out of poverty. Child poverty, which fell by 800,000 between 1997 and 2010, is forecast to rise by 600,000 by 2015.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns: ‘Despite the impact of universal credit, the overall impact of reforms introduced since April 2010 is to increase the level of income poverty in each and every year from 2010 to 2020.’

April 1st 2014: Everyday Sexism:

Several extracts from Laura Bates’s forthcoming book with this title have appeared recently:

Guardian Weekend 29th March: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/29/everyday-sexism-women-encounter-laura-bates 

and G2 1st April: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2014/mar/31/laura-bates-everyday-sexism-double-discrimination-intersectionality

– and they show appalling examples of sexist and abusive behaviour to women. In the second piece, double discrimination against women who are black, disabled or have any other ‘difference’ is also described. Disturbing evidence is piled up. The book is a ‘must read’ for anyone who thinks we treat women fairly and equally these days. {copied to sm6womenupdates}

March 30th 2014: the NSA and others collecting data on everyone:

Excellent piece by John Naughton, Observer, Discover section, which points out that Obama’s announcement, that the NSA would end ‘bulk collection’ of telephone records, and would have to seek a court order to search data held by phone companies, is not what it seems.  It left out surveillance of the internet (as distinct from phone activity) and it only covers Americans, so the rest of the world is still open to spying.

The spy agencies are able, without a warrant, to collect such information as: where you went, who you emailed or texted, the URL of every website you visited, a list of every web search you ever made. ‘It’s the kind of data that in a civilised world would only be accessible to state authorities under very strict conditions.’ But it’s actually available to NSA and its overseas franchises.

He goes on to say: to argue that ‘collection’ is not the same as reading is ‘either breathtaking casuistry or evidence of startling official ignorance of current capabilities in machine learning and pattern recognition.’

‘Currently NSA/GCHQ practice effectively turns every citizen into a suspect to be surveilled.’

March 27th 2014: Immigration.

From the blog: ‘shiraz socialist’ – originally by Adam Blienkov at politics.co.uk: 

The prime minister has suppressed a report on EU migration after it found overwhelming evidence that immigration has been good for the British economy. The report, commissioned by Theresa May, was due to be published at the end of last year but was shelved "indefinitely" by David Cameron after it failed to find evidence to support cutting immigration. Officials say they were inundated with evidence from experts and businesses arguing that EU migration has been positive for the UK. "They can’t bring themselves to publish the report before the European elections because they would have to admit that freedom of movement is a good thing," one official told the Financial Times...

The revelation follows an intervention by the Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday claiming that the coalition's immigration cap would make it much harder to cut Britain's budget deficit. "Because [immigrants] are more likely to be working age, they're more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare, for pension expenditure," OBR chairman Robert Chote told MPs. Higher net migration allowed a "more beneficial picture" for public finances than would otherwise be the case, he added.

March 21st 2014: Ukraine.

What seems to me to be a well-balanced and well-informed article on the situation – by Marina Lewycka, in G2 11th March. The only thing is, she doesn’t foresee what actually happened, i.e. the referendum in Crimea to join Russia... http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/10/ukraine-and-west-hot-air-hypocrisy-crimea-russia

March 21st 2014. Squeezed middle?

So many misconceptions around as to how the ‘middle class’ is faring today. Chris Huhne points out (Guardian, Mon 17th March) that when Lawson and Lamont want to cut the number of people in the 40% tax bracket this would only affect the top 15% of taxpayers, who earn 41,866 or above – and then of course they only pay 40% on whatever they earn above the starting level.

This leaves 85% who don’t earn top rates – and includes the vast majority of the middle class.

Rest of article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/16/low-earners-out-of-tax-lift-personal-allowance

March 10th 2014.

Interesting piece by Razmig Keucheyan, on the ability of capitalism to survive. Predictions that the environmental crisis or the (2008) financial crisis will destroy capitalism are wide of the mark, since it can resort to (i) financialisation’ and (ii) ‘militarisation.’  That is, (i) carbon markets, weather or biodiversity derivatives, catastrophe bonds etc are ways of cashing in on the environmental crisis – with the aim of providing cash to save the environment. Similarly, the military are very aware of the dangers to peace caused by the environmental crisis, so will take steps, adapting its tactics and equipment, to deal with e.g. wars over resources:


But, he argues, and I agree, these ‘solutions’ might save ‘the system’ but they will not produce a good life for the people living in it (if they survive!).

Feb 27th 2014. Catching up!

(i) I like the tributes to Pete Seeger that acknowledge his commitments to peace and to the rights of working people. For example (Guardian G2, 29.01.14, by Richard Williams): ‘He was on the side of working people, refugees from fascist regimes, nuclear disarmament and the earth’s threatened natural resources, and against segregationists, Stalinists and the military-industrial complex.’ At age 92 ‘he recorded Dylan’s Forever Young with the Rivertown Choir, a group of deprived kids he had been mentoring for the previous five years.’ At a ceremony after the killing of Norwegians at Utoya island, ‘they sang My Rainbow Race which he had written in 1972’ when America was involved in the Vietnam war:

‘Some want to take the easy way

Poison, bombs – they think we need ‘em

Don’t they know you can’t kill all the unbelievers

There’s no short cut to freedom.’

(ii) ‘Small is Beautiful’ see http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/01/perils-thinking-too-big (see also my notes at: imagining alternatives).

(iii) Simon Jenkins was his old provocative self (it is nonsense to claim the Green Party is a ‘pawn of the tycoons of Big Renewables’) in an article on the council run by the Greens (in a minority) in Brighton.


The Greens are resisting the government’s attempt to keep local authorities in place and to cut their budgets mercilessly. Brighton intends to hold a referendum on increasing the council tax, rather than bringing in more cuts to services.

150,000 jobs have been taken out of local government in the past year alone.

It’s great that Jenkins notes how the council tax cap was brought in by Margaret Thatcher – opposed at the time by Labour, who then kept it when they got into power – at the time they were opposed by Cameron (‘capping, he said ‘takes the power of decision about local spending and local taxation out of the hands of local voters and hands it to remote central bureaucracies’!!) – and then Cameron kept it when the coalition took over!! What a joke.

Now councils can raise the tax by more than 2% provided they get a vote in favour from the public. Most councils have kept rises below 2% - except Brighton, who want to raise it further – hence the referendum.

Meanwhile Eric Pickles has managed to bribe Brighton council by offering them £2.4 million over two years if they don’t have a referendum! As Jenkins says: ‘Money being splurged by the centre just so Pickles can say he has held down council tax!!’ 


15th Feb 2014:

Floods: at last people are listening to the climate scientists who have been saying that one consequence of global warming is more frequent exceptional weather... (see especially Nicholas Stern’s long piece, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/13/storms-floods-climate-change-upon-us-lord-stern (Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE and president of the British Academy)...

In one respect it’s simple: a warmer atmosphere holds more water, and will offload it as rain, especially if the oceans’ temperatures change. Other effects are less clear-cut, but it is agreed that the jet stream has shifted its position over the UK (further south) and is weaker than normal, meaning that colder air from further north is affecting us.

I only hope that the following additional points are going to be generally accepted in future:

- as Stern says, the government ‘should resist calls from some politicians and parts of media to fund adaptation to climate change by cutting overseas aid. It would be deeply immoral to penalise the 1.2 billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty. In fact, the UK should be increasing aid to poor countries to help them develop economically in a climate that is becoming more hostile largely because of past emissions by rich countries.’

- public spending is needed to deal with these emergencies, not ‘the market’

- alternatively we could follow the pattern in the Netherlands, where large areas are actually below sea-level and flood defences are of course fantastic, and where regional water management boards (set up in around 1200) levy their own taxes so there is no competition with other parts of the budget

- Cameron has put his foot in it by seeming to acknowledge the state would step in - saying ‘money is no object’ to deal with the costs of flooding (the likely costs are £1 billion according to Damian Carrington): if we can find money for this, why not for the homeless, the poor, benefit claimants, and all the others suffering from the ‘necessity’ of ‘austerity’?

- back in 2010 when the coalition was formed and the austerity agenda launched, Caroline Spelman’s environment department was cut more severely than any other, with spending on flood defences losing almost £100 million a year. She was sacked at the end of 1012, to be replaced by Owen Paterson

- Paterson slashed his department’s spending on adaptation to climate change by 40% - though he changed his mind and got a top-up in May 2013 (too little too late)

- Owen Paterson and other leading figures in the government are sceptical about climate change, and this is, some have argued, part of a general ignorance about science, so other problematic areas such as nuclear power and fracking are not seriously discussed

- public demands for dredging are misplaced: the Somerset Drainage Board Consortium (SBDC) and others argue that it isn’t (it simply pushes the surplus water somewhere else) – and whereas in the past farmers lived in areas prone to flooding and were prepared for it, now there are ‘very nice country homes’ that people want to protect (Nick Stevens, SBDC chief executive)

- blaming the Environment Agency is also pointless: for one thing, its budget is constrained by government; thus Richard Benyon, previously environment minister, rejected a grant to dredge rivers on the Somerset Levels, because the government insisted on savings being at least eight times the cost. This rule has now been scrapped! The formula also benefits urban areas (higher value of property) against rural/farming areas. Dredging all the affected rivers would cost around a quarter of the UK’s GDP.

- Benyon also spoke out against politicians seeking to become ‘armchair hydrologists’

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/13/richard-benyon-hits-back-armchair-hydrologists {copied to protecting7effects}

31st Jan 2014:

The world currently produces enough food for 11 billion people – but so much is wasted that we cannot even feed the 7 billion people on the planet at present. (From: Farmaggedon: the true cost of cheap meat – by Philip Lynbery and Isobel Oakeshott. Reviewed in New Statesman 24 – 30 Jan.) Two thirds of the world’s 70 billion farm animals are factory farmed – with bad consequences for our food (if we eat meat!) and our environment, let alone the welfare of the animals. {copied to protecting3cases}

November – December 2013 and January 2014:

Tues 28th Jan: from The New Statesman 10 – 16 Jan: according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in the UK ‘more than half of all children and adults living in poverty are now from working households.’ Shocking!

Fri 24th Jan:

Food poverty: Big Issue magazine for Jan 13th – 19th has a powerful feature on how a Community Shop is selling food to people on benefits at reduced prices, because it is selling ‘surplus food’ passed on by supermarkets i.e. it’s slightly damaged, mis-labelled etc. People become a member for 6 months (so as not to create dependency) and up to 500 will be able to join. The article is particularly good because it stresses how poverty is not usually a single issue – people often have other problems such as payday lending issues, problems accessing benefits, addiction. There are now 350 food banks across the country supplying food to people who are on benefits and hungry. The Trussell Trust estimates it will open another 100 this year. Even the Red Cross has stepped in to help!!

The story is positive and encouraging, by Adam Forrest: http://www.bigissue.com/features/3442/how-the-goldthorpe-community-shop-is-changing-britain-for-good.

See also my notes on: imagining alternatives. 

Inequality continued: and in Britain (Ed Miliband’s response to Cameron as jobless figures fall): ‘13 million people are living in poverty, and the majority are working families.’ Wage growth was flat at 0.9% between September and November – less than half the current rate of inflation which is 2% (Angela Monaghan, Guardian 23rd Jan). 

Employment is now at 30.15 million (after the biggest quarterly rise since records began in 1971), and the number claiming jobless benefits was 1.25 million in December (having fallen by 24,000 to a near five-year low).

Mon 20th Jan: (Where is time going? Already several weeks into the new year!!) Inequality:

Shocking statistics from Oxfam (quoted by Larry Elliott in today’s Guardian): the richest 85 people in the world have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population – i.e. as 3.5 billion people. In America, after the 2008 crisis, 95% of the growth since 2009 has gone to the wealthiest 1% - while the bottom 90% have got poorer. http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2014/jan/19/davos-inequality-world-economic-forum {copied to csr8inequalityupdates}


From time to time I recall my time with the libertarian socialist organisation Solidarity. Perhaps I should write something along the lines of the piece by Bob Potter (I never knew him, although I have some of his writings): http://libcom.org/history/account-my-involvement-solidarity-bob-potter

I find much of what he says chimes with my experience, though I came from a different background (CND etc rather than radical left political groups). I also feel that Solidarity – perhaps about the time of Chris’s death – began to fade away (left us, rather than any of us leaving it!). (16th Jan 2014)  {copied to biographicalbackground}

Mon 6th Jan 2014:

Hugh Muir in G2 today deals with the hostility his parents encountered to people of non-white origin. He quotes a recent book – Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century by Paul Collier (former World Bank economist). Especially appalling is the quote that ‘The 2011 census revealed that the indigenous British had become a minority in their own capital.’ The Daily Mail emphasised this in its coverage of the book (a ‘love-bomb coverage’ says Muir). Yet ‘There is no such census category and Britons through birth or citizenship are still the majority in London. So it’s white British.’ And what does ‘their own capital’ mean? How long does someone need to stay, and what proof of parentage do they need, to feel that London is ‘their’ city?

How I hate this use of the word indigenous!!

I also liked John Harris’s piece on the ‘clunking fist of state power’ (p 24)...

23rd Dec:

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/22/middle-class-on-top letter showing we now have a middle class in the original sense i.e. between the very top (plutocrats whose wealth is largely hidden and whose income avoids tax) and the rest of us (90% of earners). This top 10% of earners takes home 27% of all income. And according to Polly Toynbee (20th Dec) the top 1% take 14% (so 9/10 of top tenth takes 11%...) The next tenth down takes 16% - a 70% gap compared to the top tenth.

Food Banks: in London in 2009 – 2010 there were only just over 400 users. In 2012 – 2013 there were 42,000!!!

21st Dec: the old vs the young:

Chris Huhne has a provocative piece in the Guardian today, arguing that government is biased towards the old (because they have more votes – being both numerous and more likely to vote). The piece includes some interesting figures about Britons abroad (especially since it is the old who most strongly oppose freedom of movement in the EU): over 100,000 British people live in Germany, some 150,000 in France, and 390,000 in Spain. (Elsewhere he refers to winter fuel payments for 33,000 living on the Costa del Sol!!). More than half of welfare benefits go on pensioners – but the government wants to protect them – so more cuts will hit the young. Housing: the old need values to rise to protect their investments – the young need cheap housing. Protecting the NHS means more spending on the old (in the US 30% of the Medicare budget goes on 1% of the population – those in the last year of their life). The elderly do not, however, care so much about climate change – after all, they (we!) won’t be here to suffer the worst effects.

17th Dec: cutting welfare:

This morning I was thinking: we haven’t recently heard much about the effects on recipients of benefits of the current cuts. And along comes a thorough piece by Amelia Gentleman on exactly this: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/16/welfare-cuts-government-coalition-benefits

Along with distressing individual testimony, she points out: (i) when the coalition came to power the amount spent by the DWP (Dept of Work and Pensions) was £135.7bn – more than the £95bn for the NHS, of the £42bn for schools. However, this figure includes pensions - £70bn. (ii) spending has increased, but much of the growth comes from the rising cost of housing benefit (because house prices have been going up), and spending on people working for low pay, and increased pensions due to an ageing population. (iii) much is made of the jobseekers’ allowance, but this is only 3% of the departmental total.

George Monbiot’s 17th Dec. article on coal vs nuclear power is also worth reading – though I don’t agree with him that we have to choose nuclear!


I have incorporated an extract from this in: the environment: climate change.

16th Dec: the Pope and Marxism

Pope Francis has spoken out against the way that capitalism fails the poor. I particularly like his comment on ‘trickle-down’ economics, that ‘There was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it’s full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor. (Guardian Mon 16th Dec 2013) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/15/pope-francis-defends-criticism-of-capitalism-not-marxist

16th Dec; Mandela: I like also Gary Younge’s points in the same issue, p 27 – that Mandela was not the only brilliant mind in South Africa, that he could not have achieved what he did without the support of the mass of the black population, and that ‘It’s simply not tenable to praise him as a negotiator and reconciler without also claiming him as a military chief and a radical.’  When Mandela died I felt irritated by all the publicity and couldn’t understand why – until I realised it’s the hypocrisy of people like Cameron, who would have opposed the ANC were he in government at the time...

17th Nov: immigration

Along with (I hope!) many others, I was appalled at Jack Straw’s view that it was a mistake to let in migrants from Eastern Europe in 2004, when the EU was enlarged. Stephen Moss gives a good response (Guardian G2 14.11.13):

- migrants coming to the UK after 2000 were 45% less likely than the indigenous population to claim benefits, tax credits etc. (University College London report)

- immigrants from EU countries plus Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland paid 34% more in taxes than they received in benefits, and their net contribution to the treasury was £25 billion

- migrants are less likely to go to A & E – half as likely as for native people of the same age

- crime fell significantly in areas that had received large numbers of Eastern European migrants (LSE study)

- such migrants are mainly young, and so the age-profile of the UK has shifted downwards (Office of National Statistics) – there are also tax benefits that can help pay for the aged etc

- if there were no immigration, GDP would not grow as quickly: 2.3% in a decade with high migration, 2.1% if zero migration (Office for Budget Responsibility)

- larger working population would mean greater decrease in national debt: by 2062 it would be 50% of GDP with high migration, 90% of GDP with low migration.

Kristallnacht: 10th November 1938 saw the Nazis systematically attack Jewish homes and property. This year marks the 75th anniversary.

The Observer (10th Nov 2013) has a story of how the cellist Raphael Wallfisch’s mother, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who was 12 at the time, recalls the events.

She went on to found the English Chamber Orchestra. She was in Birkenau concentration camp, where she was a member of the women’s orchestra.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/10/kristallnacht-vienna-concert Raphael and his mother will be performing in Vienna together to commemorate the event, and to remember a non-Jewish friend who helped them during the night of terror.

October 2013:

The media and its lies:

Aditya Chakrabortty makes some good points about press freedom... Why should papers such as the Sun, Express and Mail distort their readers’ picture of the world?

Between 1995 and 2011 between 37% and 39% of 6,000 articles published about welfare dealt with ‘benefit fraud’ – and yet benefit fraud (whichever benefit is being talked about) is never more than 3% of cases.

Over one 31-day period in 2003, the Express ran 22 front-page splashes about a supposed flood of refugees. The Sun at the same time ran a campaign ‘Stop asylum madness’ and the Mail’s articles on the subject were peppered with abusive terms such as ‘parasites’ and ‘scroungers’ – just as in the Sun you could read of ‘asylum cheats’ and ‘illegals’ even when those concerned were coming here with government approval. A poll from 2003 showed British people believe we are taking some 23% of the world’s refugees – when in fact we take 2%.

The Tory press obsess over crime even when it is falling, so that most people believe it is rising, etc.

See: Democracy Under Attack by Malcolm Dean, says Aditya. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/07/press-freedom-asylum-seekers-ed-miliband

Is Osborne mad?

Even though the budget has only been in ‘absolute surplus’ [i.e. a surplus on the current and capital account combined] during 7 years of the past 50, Osborne is determined to work back towards absolute surplus over the next seven years. As William Keegan points out, because capital expenditure is long-term, it is usually kept separate from current expenditure – and it can be funded by long-term borrowing...


The Costs of Austerity – according to the Red Cross:

How extraordinary that it has come to this! An extensive study by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies shows that Europe is ‘sinking into a period of increasing poverty, mass unemployment, social exclusion, greater inequality and collective despair’ according to today’s Guardian:


- 11 million of the 26 million unemployed in Europe have been out of work for over a year (almost double the amount five years ago)

- youth unemployment in a quarter of the countries surveyed varied between 33% and 60%

- even in Germany, many more have fallen out of the middle class and into low-income jobs (5.5 million) over the last 10 years – as against half a million improving their income status.

What next for Labour?

I like Jonathan Friedland’s piece in the Guardian Saturday 28th Sep. 2013: after Miliband’s proposals to freeze energy bills, how about:

- renationalize the energy companies (68% of the public support this)

- ditto the railways (ditto)

- action on petrol prices?

- 50% top rate of tax (68% support)

- tax on properties worth £2m-plus

- and most people would welcome these things being paid for by a levy on bankers, and tackling tax evasion by Starbucks, Amazon and Google.

Denying Climate Change:

Mehdi Hasan has a brilliant piece in new Statesman (27th Sep – 3 Oct 2013)


Deniers are ‘merchants of doubt’, whose ‘doubts’ cost lives, and they are conspiracy theorists. To doubt the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed articles, when of 928 articles produced between 1993 and 2003 not one rejected the consensus, and when 97% of climate scientists are in agreement, you have to believe the unbelievable (‘the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people’, according to US Republican senator James Inhofe).

Hasan quotes an interview with Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at MIT, who when asked why the national academies of 34 different countries all signed the IPCC consensus position, suggested they are ‘dependent on the goodwill of the government. And if they’re told ‘sign on’ they’ll sign on.’

According to the WHO ‘climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.’

The Observer Editorial, 29th Sep 2013, points out: deniers claim the global temperature is no longer rising, when the rate of increase has only slowed down (and is expected to dramatically increase in future), others say Arctic ice is not shrinking when it reached its sixth lowest extent this year; one national newspaper claims the Arctic loss is balanced by the Antarctic gain, when the Arctic loss is 3m sq km of ice in the last 30 years, and the Antarctic has gained 0.3m (probably just year-to-year variability). More worrying is the presence in Cameron’s government of such people as: Peter Lilley (who voted against the climate change act of 2008), and Owen Paterson, a sceptic as environment secretary(!).  {moved to protecting7effects}

6th Sep 2013.  Prince Charles:

There has been a lot of sniping, including by the Guardian, at the prince because of his alleged interference in politics. Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at king’s, points out (in the Guardian!) that the prince is in a different position to the queen, and is free to act and speak on issues – provided he doesn’t embarrass the queen and provided he doesn’t take a party-political line. If he speaks or writes on issues which are not party-political but which then become tied to a particular party, then he stops expressing his view. Bogdanor goes further and says that the heir to the throne should be informed of important issues... would we rather he was a playboy? http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/04/prince-charles-make-monarchy-matter

3rd Sep 2013. Bradley/Chelsea Manning:

Reporter Alexa O’Brien has made sure his speech is available to the public, despite the press not reporting it: www.alexaobrien.com

(See John Pilger, NS 9 – 15 Aug 2013.)

Weds 28th August 2013.

Steve Richards, Guardian 24th Aug. makes the case that Scotland is separating from England anyway (regardless of the upcoming referendum): Scotland’s NHS has been spared the re-organisation England has suffered; Gove cannot impose his ideas on Scottish schools. Even if the referendum comes out against devolution, the leaders of the three main parties in Scotland support ‘devo-max – more powers to Scotland.

Thurs 25th July 2013.

Stafford Scott, co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign, writes that we must not forget - while thinking about the arrest of someone for killing PC Blakelock – the full story: after the killing more than 200 people were arrested and held, most without access to families or legal advice. Scott was one, and he successfully sued for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.

Six people were charged – all were either acquitted or had guilty verdicts overturned after four years in jail: the police were proved to have fabricated evidence. During the trial the judge described a confession by one of the juveniles as ‘a make-believe account’ – one of the key witnesses admitted in court that the police gave him money and paid for bills.

So it went on: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/25/blakelock-black-people-justice-tottenham-police - involving police using ‘corrupt methods and ineptitude’.

Since the death of Cynthia Jarrett in 1985 which triggered the riots, Joy Gardiner, Roger Sylvester and Mark Duggan have all died in situations where the police were involved. Yet no police officer has yet been convicted. Officers involved in the shooting of Duggan in 2011 have refused to be interviewed by the IPCC.

Sat 27th July 2013.

Danny Dorling has a good piece in Education Guardian Tues 23rd July: A nasty little theory, and stupid too.... about how this government believes only a few children will become ‘quality’ people, and the mass have limited potential. He has also written on population...


Mon 15th July 2013.

Have put some things on Twitter and Facebook recently – e.g. about Cameron’s ill-conceived ‘Hostile Environment Working party’ (to convince potential immigrants that Britain will not welcome them). How transparent is that about this government’s attitude to immigrants?

Have also signed petition to support Malala Yousefzai (hope the spelling’s right) – she spoke on education rights for all children at the UN. She is also a believer in non-violence...

Finally, I’ve become interested in ‘Emergency’ an NGO that builds and runs hospitals and clinics for people injured in war, or by landmines etc; and it fights for Equal rights to health and treatment for all, Quality health care, not whatever the health industry/commercial interests think is good enough, and Social Responsibility – especially to urge governments to provide free treatment for all. Gino Strada (one of the founders, interviewed in the Observer) is also totally opposed to war... http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/jul/14/gino-strada-emergency-giles-duley? 

Weds 10th July 2013: snippets...

Back from 4 days or so away, trying to catch up with reading the paper... Guardian has short piece on ‘lifers’ and LWPs – lifers without parole.(Erwin James, G2, 08.07.13) asking ‘what’s the point’ in life for someone who may never be released from prison? In 2007 18 life-sentence prisoners in the UK took their own lives. The same year 310 Italian lifers wrote to the president asking for their life sentences to be commuted to death sentences....

On sexism in reporting the Wimbledon finals, the figure of 77 years since a Brit won at Wimbledon is very wrong: Dorothy Round Little won the women’s singles in 1937, (one year after Fred Perry); Angela Mortimer (partially deaf) won in 1961, and Ann Haydon-Jones beat Billie-Jean King in 1969. Chloe Angyal has tweeted ‘Murray is indeed the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years unless you think women are people.’

June 24th 2013: Mary Robinson on what makes us human:

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/culture/2013/06/what-makes-us-human-each-other%E2%80%99s-shadow {copied to io1whatis}

June 13th 2013.

‘The world is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings’

So said Robert Louis Stephenson.  This resonates with me, and I probably came across it when a child in A Children’s Garden of Verses (at least, I recognise this title, so it could have been the source).

According to novelist Ian Samson, in a review of Stephenson’s collected poems (Dec 2003 – I keep some old cuttings!) this is ‘a little piece of upsetting inconsequence, like a riddle, or lines of nonsense.’

(He finds ‘a number of’ and ‘I’m sure we should’ to be ‘all very uncertain’). Yet I would take it on face value, and perhaps I did when a child, because the world is full of many different things, and this richness and variety is at the same time immensely enjoyable, a source of wonder, and the very basis of the survival of the world ecosystem!!  {copied to protecting1introduction}

June 11th 2013. (1) The role of the state:

Polly Toynbee cites The Entrepreneurial State by Prof. Mariana Mazzucato (Sussex Uni.) ‘the state is a prime investor and creator of most great innovations’ it provides legal security, education of staff, roads for trucks etc. The internet and other new technologies sprung from state investment such as GPS, touch screens, biotech and nanotech, ‘where the state took the risk but others took the profit.’ ‘Apple and Google rode on the back of state research’; and US pharmaceuticals depend on state funding for research which underpins 75% of the drugs produced.

The green revolution is the next area where state investment is needed – though, as Toynbee says, in the UK ‘the neo-liberal ascendancy... brands climate change a socialist plot.’

Ideally I believe we should aim at a world where there is no need for the state – but in the meantime, there are injustices which it can put right, and essential functions it must fulfil, as Mazzucato points out, and the right-wing hostility to the state must be fought!!

June 11th – (2) how can we trust this government?

Look at what promises Cameron made (says Polly Toynbee); ‘the most family-friendly’ and ‘the greenest’ government ever; ‘no NHS re-organisation’; no VAT rise; no cuts to education maintenance allowance or child trust fund; three more army battalions; 3,000 more police; rail fares to be pegged; a post office bank... ‘none of it was intended to be true’.


June 3rd 2013.  News is Bad for you, by Ralf Dobelli – extract in Guardian 13th April 2013:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli - agree with this, except that ‘news’ should be interpreted as what is broadcast on ‘The News’ and what is ‘headline news’ in the papers. It is important – these notes show I mean this! – to read in-depth and background articles to understand/de-mystify the ‘news’.

June 1st 2013. Jeffrey Sachs (in a book on JFK, To Move the World – a bit sycophantic by the sounds of it!) says: ‘We live in an age where the media rules and the politicians follow. That age is becoming dangerous indeed, an echo-chamber of sound bites an politics as the art of the trivial.’ I would only add: who/what influences the media? The wealthy play their part, and large corporations, along with the ‘echo-chamber’ 

May 30th New Statesman article by Mehdi Hasan – a common-sense response to idiots like Boris Johnson who try to argue that the recent killing of a British soldier in Woolwich was nothing to do with this government’s foreign policy:


May 27th 2013. Raymond Tallis has an article in today’s Guardian - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/27/physics-philosophy-quantum-relativity-einstein?INTCMP=SRCH – which I find very sensible. There are several threads of comments on it, most of which seem to me to be simply abusive and/or based on distorting the ideas behind the article. It does not claim that philosophy can answer every question or replace science, nor does it say that science is bunk. My interpretation of Tallis is that he believes we need a new paradigm, since science cannot explain certain fundamental features of our experience, and even some aspects of science seem to be inexplicable. {copied to enlscience}

May 22nd 2013. (1) We are becoming more and more a ‘two nation’ country: Polly Toynbee points out (21st May) that in Camden, house prices average 1 million – while there are also 40% of children living under the poverty line!! http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/21/mervyn-king-housing-warning-fannie-mae Also has frightening statistics on rise in house prices in London rising by £530 a day... If a loaf of bread had risen at the same rate in the past 40 years it would cost £4.36, and a chicken would cost £51.18.

                                   (2) Excellent articles on Rwanda, by Chris McGreal in two issues of The Observer Magazine 12th and 19th May. Focuses on Kigame, but explains the regional issues very well:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/12/rwanda-genocide-20-years-on?INTCMP=SRCH and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/19/kagame-africa-rwanda?INTCMP=SRCH

                                   (3) Guardian G2 16th May 2013 has disturbing article on how austerity is affecting our health – and how other countries are avoiding this state of affairs:


April 29th 2013.  Back from a week on a Rhine cruise. How good to miss a whole week’s ‘news’!! Today some good news: the European commission decision to suspend the use of three neonicotinoids.

(See article by Damian Carrington  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/29/bee-harming-pesticides-banned-europe ).

Powerful piece by John Pilger on Australia: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/28/australia-boom-aboriginal-story-despair?INTCMP=SRCH

An interview with Tony Garnett – with whom I pretty well totally agree!! http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/apr/28/tony-garnett-mother-backstreet-abortion-death

And finally a frightening piece on Spain by Katherine Ainger: there have been 14 suicides in the past three months where economic hardship has been a factor. Unemployment is at 27%. But there are a few signs of courageous fighting back – The Mortgage Victims Platform (PAH) has collected 1.4 million signatures (not that the government listened) in a bid to get rid of a law that says that even if you lose your house you still have the burden of the mortgage... and groups are setting up workers’ co-operatives... http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/28/spain-indignados-protests-state-of-mind.

A wealth of pieces that are on my wavelength, after a week when I had to keep mum to avoid rows with family members who almost certainly would reject all of the above.

April 6th 2013. Charles Shaar Murray (former NME journalist) also writes about attacking ‘the other’ (Guardian 05.04.13) and ‘hate crime’ – quoting Frank Zappa’s late 1960s song: “We are the other people”... at the time, supporters of the Vietnam war “routinely repressed and intimidated [...] war protesters, radicals and the visibly identifiable cultural dissidents then classified as ‘freaks’ or ‘hippies.’” In Britain today Goths and emos are attacked (a goth teenager Sophie Lancaster was murdered in 2007 – this is the 5th anniversary of the murder: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/aug/03/ukcrime.sophielancaster).

The real issue, says Murray, is how governments in trouble and their media allies focus discontent onto convenient scapegoats – while trying to convince us that we are part of the same ‘us’ as the government and its media supporters. He describes the “backdrop of a government whose entire domestic policy represents one monumental hate crime against the most vulnerable members of an increasingly fractured and unstable society.” And he says “the day we collectively realise how many of us are now the other people will be the day that we start the journey towards rendering the very notion of hate crime obsolete.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/05/goths-emos-punks-we-all-same?INTCMP=SRCH {copied to io1whatis}

March 2013 – budget and the disabled, and activism. I like the comment made by a disabled activist, that while she was not herself prepared to chain herself to any railings, it was good for some people to do this, as the government would then say this direct action seems to be not likely to stop – let’s talk to the moderates!!

March 30th/31st 2013. Cameron warned on ‘xenophobia’. The European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, Laszlo Andor warns Cameron that his speech about restricting access to housing benefit for those coming to the UK from the EU, made misleading and very unfortunate claims. ‘There is a serious risk of pandering to knee-jerk xenophobia. Blaming poor people or migrants for hardship at the time of economic crisis is... not intelligent politics in my view. I think it would be more responsible to confront mistaken perceptions about immigration... and so-called ‘benefit tourism.’  ‘The reality is that migrants from other EU countries are very beneficial to the UK economy... they pay more tax and social security contributions per head, and get fewer benefits than UK workers.’


March 31st 2013 Big Tech joins Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco and Big Banking as threats to our health and well-being! Paul Harris in the Observer notes the political ambitions of the heads of large ‘tech’ companies such as Facebook. I find it very disturbing that Mark Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook) is organising a political advocacy group to lobby for reform on such issues as immigration (there should be less unskilled workers immigrating, but more qualified personnel who can work for Facebook et al), education and scientific research. Sadly his politics are right-wing: pro free-market economics (though socially liberal). Harris says ‘It [Silicon Valley] is a world where people are happy with ethnic diversity and sexual freedoms but distrustful of big government and see the ‘heroic entrepreneur’ as an aspirational ideal. It is a political culture that owes a debt to libertarian novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand’. Rand believed in the pursuit of self-interest as the basis of a free society. What is particularly disconcerting is that Facebook and other such companies have penetrated the lives of so many people through social media, Google etc – this gives them the potential for enormous influence.

25th March 2013. Regulation of the press. The best explanation I have found so far, of where we are at with this, and what to do, is by Alan Rusbridger in today’s Guardian:


I particularly take his point that by objecting to powers being given to parliament to alter the proposed royal charter, those papers who are objecting are saying they prefer an unaccountable minister to be able to alter the charter. His other suggestions seem reasonable, but it is all complicated when it comes to the detail. But ast least this article has some detail – unlike other papers who seem to be shouting and distorting things...

25th March 2013. Sorting through old notes I found:

These quotations, which, as an amateur singer and pianist, I really love:

1. “It is better to do something badly than to watch somebody else doing it well.”

According to Tom Hodgkinson, editor of the Idler, and author of How To Be Idle (published by Penguin), Guardian Work section, 25/3/06,

Bertrand Russell said this!!

In answer to the question (interview with Natalie Hanman, Guardian 12/12/06): Does an artist need to suffer to create? Corinne Bailey Rae, singer, said:

2. “You always suffer because of the gap between how you want something to be and how it turns out.”

24th March 2013: Avaaz – I have just added my ‘story’ to the ‘global story hub’, at http://www.avaaz.org/en/20mm_story_page/?tgKUVbb&story_id=4804 – there are now 20 million supporters of Avaaz!

24th March 2013: Hacked Off? I like a couple of statements by Brian Cathcart, the professor of journalism who is also executive director of Hacked Off in today’s Observer: ‘All my working life I have written critically about various police forces and government departments and other institutions. And yet when I am part of a challenge to News International, Trinity Mirror, the Telegraph Media Group and Associated Newspapers, then I am no longer someone trying to expose wrongdoing. I am suddenly a traitor. These are big, powerful rich organisations that offend and abuse members of the public in ways that should outrage good journalists... It is an inconvenient truth that the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and News International are making hundreds of millions of pounds. We should not forget there were journalists who believed it was their job to destroy lives. It went beyond the law, it’s a moral and ethical failure.’ (Observer 24th March 2013).


24th March 2013: the ‘budget’ – so-called (Andrew Rawnsley, Observer today argues he has not done anything about the economy: all he has given is a few gestures to win political support): the national debt will be £1.4 trillion in 2015, nearly double the £800 billion Labour bequeathed in 2010.

He has hit the poorest harder again, this time over childcare: the much-vaunted extra money for this (*) will go to families where two people are working (so a woman in the home is worth less than one at work), and where they are earning at least £10,000 a year (i.e. enough to pay income tax). This means that the number of families eligible in each quintile (20% by income distribution):

- in the poorest 20% of families (bottom quintile), 5,000 are eligible

- in the next quintile: 155,000

- in the next: 705,000

- in the next: 950,000

- in the richest: 785,000.

Cameron said, at a south London nursery last Tuesday: ‘we are introducing tax-free childcare, saving a typical family with two children £2,400 a year’.

Finally a fascinating piece by Will Hutton, showing that Osborne has in fact quietly implemented Keynesian policies:


- not only is public borrowing higher than he said it would be – currently (and last year and next) £120 billion, but in 2014/15 it will be £70 billion more than he said it would be in 2010... and he is likely (according to the Dept of Business website) to recoup this by higher taxes after 2015 (so much for shrinking the state!)

- in addition, he has found £2 billion for aerospace, including a new Aerospace Technology Institute, and a new business bank which will intervene to help business to lend more

- then there is the Help to Buy scheme (though this has been criticised as possible leading to more ‘bad’ mortgages, and rising house prices) – Hutton describes this as ‘smart Keynesianism’ that worked in America in the ‘30s etc etc!

I like the point Hutton makes, that a paradigm is shifting, but covertly – and he reminds us that it was Healey, not Thatcher, who first introduced monetarist ideas (monetary targeting), and the first scrapping of exchange and monetary controls.

13th March 2013: Beppe Grillo – what I fail to understand is that there is hardly any statement, let alone analysis, of his/the 5 star movement’s ideas. Guardian’s Pass Notes (of all places!!!) for 27th Feb had this summary of the meaning of the 5 stars (the party’s core principles):

publicly owned water,

better transport,


internet access


On the web you can also find that he/M5S advocates increased use of modern communications (‘internet access’) to facilitate direct democracy, and that by ‘development’ he means ‘green jobs’ and ‘de-growth’. Transport should be sustainable. He has campaigned against incinerators, and publicised the number of MPs in Italy who have been convicted of crimes...

11th March 2013: according to John Markoff in New York Times (distributed with The Observer) Sun March 10th, scientists are trying to ‘map’ the human brain. I agree with those cited in the article that this would seem impossible given our poor understanding of the brain, and that we need a new technology or science to map something as complex as the brain. To illustrate, the article points out that ‘it would require three petabytes of storage capacity to capture the information generated by just one million neurons in a year... There are one million gigabytes in a petabyte. The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva generates about 10 petabytes of data annually. If the brain contains 100 billion neurons, that means the complete brain generates about 300,000 petabytes of data each year.’ [So the equivalent of 30,000 LHCs would be needed to store all the data?]

7th March 2013: Hugo Chavez.  I liked Tariq Ali’s piece ‘My memories of the Commandante’:


Two points from this article stuck in my mind: first, how Chavez and Castro both read a lot of books, and talked to each other about them. History, fiction and poetry were what Chavez most loved. “Like me [he said], Fidel is an insomniac. Sometimes we’re reading the same novel. He rings at 3 am and asks: ‘Well, have you finished? What did you think?’ And we argue for another hour.”

And secondly, Ali’s tentative answer to the question of what kind of a man was Chavez (‘the inner reality of his life’): “For anyone with a certain level of intelligence, of character, of culture, his or her natural leanings, emotional and intellectual, hang together, constitute a whole not always visible to everyone.”

He leaves behind a society, says Ali, in which the poor felt they had an important stake in the government. He fought for the poor, for their social rights, against heavy odds – and won.

For background to read on Chavez:


5th Feb 2013: independence for Scotland? I like the points made by the poet Kathleen Jamie (New Statesman 1 – 7 Feb) – one pro-independence view is that this is the only way ‘to preserve the vestiges of our collectivism, and our cherished public services. We want to vote for common decency and our own maturity.’ Later in the same piece she says that Scotland’s artists ‘are not so keen [as artists in England] to be national cheerleaders, or to be treated as means to economic ends.’

26th Jan 2013: Prince Harry: what I object to in this story is not whether it is OK for Royals, who join the army, to kill (of course they do!). Just listen to the language Harry used: “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.”  Reminds me of how I used to teach about the degradation of language during the Vietnam war – using Chomsky’s essay on intellectuals and the Vietnam war... when ‘pacification offensives’ (!!) meant destroying Vietnamese villages.

At least Harry did then say “Take a life to save a life...” but I hate the euphemisms that try to make it all more acceptable. (Source, Guardian 22nd Jan).

24th Jan. 2013: Unemployment... Britain is heading for a fifth year of falling living standards, as average earning last year only grew by 1.4% (compared to 1.7% the year before) and inflation is at 2.7% and likely to stay above 2%. Despite this, unemployment is falling, to 7.7% in the three months to November, and the employment rate is 71%, the highest since records began in 1971. (Phillip Inman, Guardian 24th Jan).

BUT: there are 2.49 million people unemployed. (Scroungers? Where are the jobs for this number of people?)

20th Jan 2013: excellent article about Barbara Stocking, soon to retire as chief executive of Oxfam:


Oxfam is 70 years old – what has it achieved? She says that ‘Make Poverty History’ got significant debt relief for some poor countries – Africa has changed for the better – thanks to Oxfam’s campaigning there have been shifts in policies on e.g. the rich world’s agricultural subsidies, access to drugs – they helped beat the pharmaceutical companies over cheap drugs for HIV in Africa. Oxfam in 2012 reached 7 million people, and she says that countries such as Malawi, Kenya, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma) have improved.

On the other hand, climate change means things are going to get more difficult: ‘It is like we are sleepwalking into some horrible trap, really.’ For example, around 10 million people are likely to lose their land and livelihoods in Bangladesh due to the river delta flooding.

She also regrets that they Oxfam has unable to improve women’s lot in Afghanistan... nor have they been able to help the situation in Israel/Palestine. Oxfam called for a ceasefire in Afghanistan, and opposed the Iraq war and wouldn’t take British government money for reconstruction. 

Also, attitude change is needed, but ‘It’s hard to get across the message that it’s us lot, who are actually using all the global goods, who need to change. Not poor people...’ ‘...we recognise that poverty is more about power and politics... the rules of the game have to be changes if anything’s going to happen.’

She has – controversially – encouraged working with private enterprise, e.g. insurance against floods in Bangladesh, and microfinance, and direct cash transfer (grants to stricken households).

Oxfam has nearly half a million regular donors in Britain. It is a multinational agency, with more than 5,000 employees and an annual income of £385 million.  There are 700 shops in Britain, and Oxfam GB works in 52 countries - an improvement over the 80 they used to work in, and there are also 16 other Oxfams internationally..

See also: www.guardian.co.uk/global-development

7th Jan 2013: over the last week or so the news has been all about the proposed limiting of benefit increases to 1%. The Mail had a front-page headline while we were away with family in Woodbridge arguing that benefits were rising faster than wages – another contribution to the demonisation of welfare recipients.

There have been some excellent articles and letters in the papers I read (Observer, Guardian) – but how can anyone reach the Mail readers?!

I intend compiling some points on ‘skivers vs. strivers’ for these pages but am in some despair over it all.

Meanwhile here is a summary/paraphrase of points made by some Guardian letter-writers today:

- a 1% rise in benefits is derisory – because 1% of little is even more little! – especially when the cost of basics is going up

- inflation (Consumer Prices Index) is currently 2.7% (http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-kingdom/inflation-cpi) so a cap at 1% is a cut – and it will be held over 3 years! During 2011 inflation was around 4% by the way

- meals on wheels in one area is going up from £2.40 per meal to £3.80, an increase of 56% (monthly increase: £56) [these points from Chris Morris]

- in the long run wages tend to outstrip benefits, and benefit and pension levels have been falling (until recently) as a proportion of wages, and now the UK has among the lowest benefits etc in Europe [from Michael Miller]

- jobseeker’s allowance costs £4.9 bn a year in a budget of £700 bn, i.e. a fraction of 1% of national spending

- a 1% increase in jobseeker’s allowance would give 70p, a 3% increase £2.10

- 1% of £49 bn is £49 million: how is this going to help (cut the deficit or) save the NHS? [Alan Sharples]

- a single job-seeker has seen a rise of about £14, while a single average wage-earner the rise has been £71. Comparisons using percentages that do not reveal percentage of what are mendacious. [Eric D Farlie]

- basic unemployment pay is £71 a week; average weekly earnings are just under £500.  Why is it unfair to raise the former at a greater rate than the rise in the latter? [Robin Wendt]

- Labour is not helping by contrasting ‘skivers’ with ‘strivers’: the problem is that ‘skivers’ are ‘strivers’ who have lost their jobs – when is labour going to argue for the unemployed? [Arthur Gould]

20th Dec. 2012: here is a link to the letter mentioned below (19th Dec), which The Guardian kindly printed!


The reference to the law on rape of men is unclear (I was phoned by the paper because I originally referred to an article, but they couldn’t find it – nor, when they phoned, could I!) However, once I found it: there was an article in The Observer last Sunday about a woman in America who had to fight to get her accusation of rape taken seriously, but as a result of her persistence the law was changed there to cover both oral rape and rape of men. I did find the article, but too late to clarify the letter:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/15/sara-reedy-rape-victim-wins-police-payout?INTCMP=SRCH  I’m not sure about the legal position on this in UK... but I think the point in the letter was clear, i.e. who is Timothy Radcliffe to say what is the ‘difference’ between heterosexual and homosexual love? How can he claim to be listening to the other when he decides for himself that the other is different in a particular way that means he/she must be excluded from the right to marry?

Timothy Radcliffe could benefit from looking into some of the thinkers and writers I mention elsewhere on my website e.g. at 'imagining other - new ways of seeing', not to mention Emmanuel Levinas and others. See especially: Modern Jewish Philosophy edited by Michael Morgan and Peter Eli Gordon (Cambridge UP 2007). [I must read and write something on this...] 

19th Dec. 2012: sent a letter to the Guardian today in response to an appalling article by one Timothy Radcliffe (an English Dominican, Master of the Order of Preachers 1992 -2001) –

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/16/tolerance-is-not-enough?INTCMP=SRCH – accusing him of covering a lack of logic in a veneer of academic references... Gay love is ‘different’ to heterosexual love, so it would be demeaning to gays to ‘tolerate’ their desire to be able to marry. At one time there was no such crime as gay rape – does Radcliffe want to disallow gay rape because it is ‘different’?

Should have signed my letter ‘Outraged of Upminster’!!!

7th Dec. 2012: an excellent piece on squatting by Steve Rose in Guardian for 4th Dec: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/03/squatters-criminalised-not-home-stealers making such points as:

- the very few examples of ‘squatters’ taking people’s homes are unrepresentative of the 20,000 – 50,000 people in the UK who are squatting;

- there was widespread opposition to changing the law (Section 144 was ‘sneaked’ through parliament recently) e.g. Met Police, Criminal Bar Association, Law Society and most homeless charities

- there is a ‘revanchist’ mood coming from the right, targeting changes made in the ‘60s and ‘70s, e.g. on squatting, migration etc

- UN estimates that 10% of the world population are ‘squatters’ – some 800 – 900 million people

- world-wide many people live in shanty towns, favelas, bidonvilles – e.g. 60% of the population of Mumbai, 20% of Brazilian cities – see Robert Neuwirth: Shadow Cities: a billion squatters

Climate Talks in Doha? Where Qataris produce 50 tonnes of CO2 each per year (this compares to 17 for the US, 1.4 for India, and 0.1 for Uganda) – also all their water is desalinated seawater, which is very expensive to produce, and Qatar gets its most of its money (GDP £106 bn a year) from selling oil and gas. From Fiona Harvey, G2, 29.11.12. {copied to protecting4strategies}

21st Nov 2012: tidying up my copious and disorganized notes... I found this great little piece (originally sent me by Vicky Balkam):

-----  Life would be much better lived backwards

You'd start out dead and get it out of the way. Then, wake up in an old age home feeling better every day.
You get kicked out for being too healthy; go collect your Pension, then when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day.
You work 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your Retirement.
You drink alcohol, you party, you're generally promiscuous, and you get ready for High School.
You go to primary school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a baby, and then
You spend your last 9 months floating peacefully in luxury,
In spa-like conditions; central heating, room service on Tap, larger quarters everyday and then, you finish off as an Orgasm.
I rest my case.

30th Oct 2012: ‘American exceptionalism’ (from New York Times International Weekly, Sunday Oct 28th by Scott Shane): is a myth with regard to many aspects e.g. child poverty – US is 34th of the 35 most developed countries, with only Romania worse; 28th in the percentage of 4-year olds enrolled in pre-school; in infant mortality US ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories; and the US is behind most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility. US is ‘number one’ in some things: its incarceration rate is higher than Russia, Cuba, Iran or China; in obesity it is well ahead of Mexico; in energy use per person it is double Germany.

9th Oct. 2012: (i) while there is understandable public concern over the missing girl in Wales, and I too find it very sad, I do wish it was more widely understood that for children to be taken by a stranger is very rare; the vast majority of assaults on and murder of children occurs in the home or (as in this case) is carried out by someone known to the victim. Thus while since the ‘70s approx. 6 children have been taken and killed by strangers, no fewer than 2 children every week are killed by someone in their own family. It is also appalling to know that children are more often murdered than are adults. What kind of society do we live in?

                                (ii) While on the question of statistics, George Osborne the Chancellor declared it was not fair for working families to see unemployed people on benefits getting more than they do financially. Polly Toynbee points out that this is only true if you make the comparison using the income from wages alone, and ignore the fact that those on low pay are also getting benefits!! In an excellent riposte to the Tories at their conference she also points out that there are ‘6 million people looking for full-time jobs’, [unemployment stands at 2.67 million, but could be much more or even less depending on how you calculate it ...see, for a number of pieces on this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/unemployment-and-employment-statistics] and when recently Jaguar Land Rover motors advertised for 1,100 jobs there were over 20,000 applications! Are the 19,000 who didn’t get a job with jaguar all lazy scroungers?! http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/08/osborne-one-term-tories-shrunken-state

27th Sep. 2012: (retrieved from earlier notes) I like the quote from R.D. Laing, in Ecologist April 2009: ‘the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain’ (quoted by Editor Pat Thomas, who adds ‘our own and others’).

19th Sep 2012: how appalling that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of food banks (run by the Trussell Trust – see today’s Society Guardian interview with the Trust’s director Chris Mould):

in 2004 Trussell had one food bank – by April 2012 it had 201 and now there are 255 (though so far 168 are providing food, the rest are being set up). The Trust expects to feed 200,000 people this year – people who have been hit by government cuts, or have lost jobs and not yet got government support... the Trust feeds such people for three weeks maximum, while they get support from the state (though the length of time it takes to get things sorted out is increasing). http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/18/chris-mould-social-entrepreneur-responsibility

18th Sep 2012: sure enough, now there is a television series on Keynes Hayek and Marx – Stephanie Flanders’ Masters of Money on BBC2. She it is who was accused by Iain Duncan Smith of ‘pissing all over British industry’...

11th Sep 2012: found two articles that hark back to stuff I was teaching at UEL on my ‘Capitalism, Bureaucracy, Democracy’ course back in the ‘80s –

(i) Matthew Taylor (chief executive of the RSA) in Observer 09.09.12, writing about ‘three fundamental ways of thinking about and pursuing social change: hierarchical authority, solidarity, and individual aspiration.’ See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/09/matthew-taylor-big-problems-big-solutions?INTCMP=SRCH  This framework seems to correspond to the ‘three levels of analysis’ I used to talk about, viz: state/system, organisation/structure, individual/situation – and this linked up with three sociological models class, managerial and pluralist/individualist...

These were taken from Alford and Friedland’s 1985 book Powers of Theory: Capitalism, the State and Democracy. Questions I would now ask are: the ‘middle level’ seems to cover both managerial and communitarian viewpoints – though the former is presumably closer to ‘elite’ theory than is communitarianism. I’ve now also uploaded some notes on this teaching, since it was linked to Castoriadis:

Teaching Castoriadis. Other notes on teaching Castoriadis are at http://www.agorainternational.org/teaching.html.

In my comments on the article by Matthew Taylor I argued that the three ‘ways of thinking and pursuing’ cannot be reconciled. I would love to see something like Porto Alegre developed here, but what hope of that? http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/10/participatory-democracy-in-porto-alegre?INTCMP=SRCH

(ii) Recent (Dec 2012) book by Nicholas Wapshott: Keynes Hayek – the Clash that Defined Modern Economics. Interesting how under Blair these issues were never raised, and now the Keynes/Hayek dichotomy is back under discussion!

Sat. 8th Sep. 2012: Edward and Robert Skidelsky have produced the best short article I have yet read on the current financial crisis – putting the lie to the claim that the British don’t work hard enough, and showing the link between de-regulation, growing inequality, and the mysterious disappearance of the ‘increased leisure time’ we were all promised in the ‘70s: working hours rose (especially among the rich) during the ‘70s and ‘80s. In this system, hard work and economic booms bring most benefits to the better-off – and as the gap widens we are all driven to work harder in a desperate and pointless attempt to ‘catch up’. Sickening!!  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/07/west-work-ethic-social-ideal?INTCMP=SRCH

Tuesday 14th Aug. 2012: two very useful pieces in the Guardian today (i) George Monbiot on biofuels (40% of the US’s production of maize goes on biofuels – and if you take into account land clearance and use of nitrogen fertilizers then biofuels account for more CO2 than oil-derived fuels...), and climate change (James Hansen says that the increased frequency of very hot summers, affecting 10% of the world’s land surface each year – up from 0.1 - 0.2% between 1951 and 1980 – is most likely to be due to global warming). OECD says that by 2021 14% of the world’s maize, 16% of its vegetables and 34% of its sugarcane will go on fuels. World cereal prices rose by 17% last month as a result of the US crop failures, and there is a land-grab going on for land to grow these crops, with the result that poor are going hungry so that the rich can drive:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/13/poor-hungry-rich-drive-mo-farah-biofuels?INTCMP=SRCH {copied to protecting9energypolicies}

(ii) Polly Toynbee points out that sponsors of the Olympics only paid 6% of the cost, and the public paid the rest...

Sat 11th Aug. 2012: Ry Cooder puts his finger on an important point about the way music – specifically songwriting – has lost any political/social content: ‘The whole idea of lifestyle has corrupted everything... It’s more about the person and what they seem to be, rather than what they think of what they’ve experienced.’ (G2 10.08.12).

And (on another topic entirely!): Tim Spector’s new book ‘Identically different: Why You Can Change Your Genes’ sounds fascinating (review by Peter Forbes, Saturday Guardian review section) – the old nature/nurture argument is superceded, and genetic determinism is out of date, since we now know that only a small proportion of genes (about 2% of the genome) are ‘for something’ – ‘gene expression’ is the term for how the genes produce proteins primarily, and thence the phenotype (I looked this up online); only a very few ‘single-gene disorders’ exist (e.g. muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis) and ‘the genetic component of some multi-factorial diseases is exceptionally low’; and as Ken Weller used to say (perhaps he still does!) “It’s more complicated than that!” Spector points out not only that ‘personal experience can change our genes’ but also that genetic acquired characteristics can be inherited although the characteristics only last a few generations. All this is down to epigenetics...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/08/identically-different-genes-spector-review {copied to io1whatis}

Mon 23rd July. 2012: I like Joseph Harker’s article in G2 on racism: whilst the group of men who groomed young girls for sex in Rochdale hit the headlines because they were Asian (an ‘Asian sex gang’), and the episode was followed up by questions about Asian culture and sexual assault on girls, another incident occurred in Derby earlier in July, but was hardly reported – perhaps because the men involved were white? See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/22/how-racism-takes-root?INTCMP=SRCH 

Tues 3rd July 2012:

Peter Wilby (New Statesman 2 July): ‘someone once calculated how to bring every state school up to the standards, in acreage per pupil, of the top fee-charging schools. The conclusion was that it would be necessary to demolish the nation’s entire housing stock.’

Sunday 1st July 2012:

The Observer (Toby Helm) reports that the independent think-tank Transport for Quality of Life has reported in ‘Rebuilding Rail’ that the existing system costs the tax-payer £1.2 billion a year as a direct result of privatisation. Public money amounting to £4 billion a year goes into the railways according to Maria Eagle, Labour’s transport spokeswoman. The money lost to the private owners could be used to reduce fares by 18%. Moreover, since large parts of our railways are foreign-owned, the profit goes to help reduce the costs of travel on German, French and Dutch railways, since the companies that own our railways are subsidiaries of these countries’ state-owned rail companies!!!

Labour could re-nationalise the railways...

See also www.bettertransport.org.uk

Thurs 28th June:

A letter from Michael Meacher in today’s Guardian set out five things the government should do if (!) it is serious about the ‘morally repugnant’ tax avoidance schemes indulged in by Jimmy Carr, Gary Barlow et al: (i) pass a ‘general anti-avoidance principle bill’ (ii) seek new international financial standard requiring reporting by transnational companies to block ‘transfer mispricing’ (iii) strengthen EU savings tax directive to include offshore trusts (iv) abolish the British non-domicile rule (v) close down tax havens. The UK crown colonies hold hundreds of billions of sterling deposits, dodging some 30 bn in tax. Total tax revenues lost last year, according to HMRC: 42 billion.... Easy enough?

Friday 22nd June:

Letters in today’s Guardian (reacting to Alastair Campbell’s memoirs, and Chris Mullin’s comments on them) remind me of the reality of the Blair/Brown era: to those who question whether Blair lied, here are the gist of his statements to parliament in 2002 Iraq’s ‘WMD programme is active, detailed and growing.’ This was, he said, based on intelligence that was ‘extensive, detailed and authoritative.’

Another letter points out: ‘In 2002 – 3 Gordon Brown was against foundation hospitals. He was against anything that looked like private-sector provision of public services. He was agains university top-up fees... He was against joining the Euro. And Tony Blair thought he was bonkers.’

Weds. 6th June 2012:

Sorting out some files today, I found these quotations, which, as an amateur singer and pianist, I really love:

1. “It is better to do something badly than to watch somebody else doing it well.”

According to Tom Hodgkinson, editor of the Idler, and author of How To Be Idle (published by Penguin), Guardian Work section, 25/3/06,

Bertrand Russell said this!!

In answer to the question (interview with Natalie Hanman, Guardian 12/12/06): Does an artist need to suffer to create? Corinne Bailey Rae, singer, said:

2. “You always suffer because of the gap between how you want something to be and how it turns out.”

Mon 4th June 2012: avoiding the Jubilee

Who are the remaining kings and queens? See the Guardian article Sat 19th May: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/may/18/human-rights-queen-lunch-monarchs?INTCMP=SRCH

Also interesting to read of the origins of the word jubilee: Jewish tradition of ‘sabbatical years’ every 50 (or 7 x 7 = 49) at which time there was ‘equalisation of land, property and ownership rights’ – debts were annulled if they could not be repaid, slaves were set free (you cannot serve both YWH and man) – see Simon Barrow of Ekklesia

1st June 2012: John McDonnell MP

His blog mentioned in a letter in Guardian – article by him at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/28/ed-miliband-bold-progressive-politics?newsfeed=true Yes, we need a ‘climate’ of public opinion that is confident there is an alternative to the austerity measures being pushed by this government and by Europe... but how to get this, especially in the face of right-wing media bias?

See also: www.johnmcdonnell.org.uk

His article is on his blog at: http://www.speakerschair.com/a-radical-alternative-to-austerity/ : I agree with his calls for simple measures to begin redistributing wealth (as he says, there are enough resources in this country to get us out of recession, but we need redistribution to release them) –

- wealth tax on richest 10%,

- Robin Hood tax on financial transactions,

- land value tax,

- restoration of 60% tax on incomes over £100,000 and

- clamp down on tax evasion that is costing us £95 billion a year.

30th May: Monarchy:

Liked the Guardian’s breakdown of the costs of the monarchy: £32m total official spending by the queen which was paid for by the state in grants and civil list 2011. See:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/datablog/interactive/2012/may/30/queen-elizabeth-diamond-jubilee-interactive?INTCMP=SRCH ... Not to mention her property portfolio: £7 bn worth of crown estate property, including Regent Street... and £1.05 bn of rural land; an art collection which could be worth up to £10 bn.  Note the page also has data on how things have changed since 1952.

29th May: Gove

His comments on the inappropriateness of a school exam question asking why people might become anti-semitic raised anger in correspondents to the Guardian (and in me!! How could he be so stupid?). Jenny Hartland: ‘doesn’t he know the difference between explanation and justification? ...Why should I not want to understand why my grandparents were murdered by the Third Reich?’ And Ivor Morgan: ‘Gove could reflect on the possibility that one of the reasons why some people are prejudiced against Jews is that during their education they were never asked to think critically about why some people are prejudiced against Jews.’ Bravo!!

26th May: luck etc

Ed Smith’s book Luck: What It Means and Why It Matters argues that we now underestimate the role of luck and believe that hard work is all that’s needed to succeed. He believes in innate genius, but also quotes Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers theory (it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be successful even for a Mozart), and Bounce... by Matthew Syed: geniuses are made not born... (reviewed Observer 18.03.12)

16th May 2012 (a morning for reflection!!!):

Good to read a letter in yesterday’s Guardian pointing out that there has been work done on alternative economic policies, by e.g. Hugh Wilmott (Cardiff Business School), Prem Sikka, Ha-Joon Chang and the team at Cresc. Also Massimo de Angelis (UEL) and Guy Standing (Bath). In fact Prem was also at UEL for a while – so: well done my old place of work!

16th May 2012: Sally Vickers.

Heard Salley briefly talking on Radio 3 and was intrigued by her view that ‘we don’t own our lives’ – we travel, and should open ourselves up to chance, because when we do life becomes more rich.

I’ve always puzzled over the notion of ‘ownership’ – and not just in relation to capitalism, ‘possessive individualism’ etc... Do we ‘own’ our bodies, for example? Doesn’t this formulation express some kind of separation or alienation? Don’t we ‘live’ our bodies rather?

Anyway, Salley is an ex- therapist, with sympathy for Jung rather than Freud, and in an interview in the Independent she talks about how Freud got Oedipus all wrong. One of her novels – Where Three Roads Meet – addresses this. She also talks about how therapy has become ‘codified’.

In the novel Tiresias (‘the blind seer who witnessed the original tragedy’) meets Freud and they have a ‘Socratic dialogue.’ She argues that Freud got the story wrong in several respects: Oedipus’s parents had tried to kill him – they put pins through his feet (oedi-pous = swollen feet) – and it was when he was adult that he fell in love with his mother (not as a child); he also did not know it was his father he killed...

I like her account of analysis – in the process you don’t know who is the analyst and who the analysand – there are ‘mirrors’ at work...

16th May 2012: prisons.

I’ve always opposed prison as a supposed way of dealing with crime – now a book by a former governor of both Brixton and Belmarsh prisons, John Podmore, has published: Out of Sight, Out of Mind: why Britain’s prisons are failing. Peter Stanford’s review, Observer 29.01.12 notes there are 88,000 inmates, costing £41,000 a year to keep each of them, and of whom two thirds will re-offend.

How nonsensical is this situation?!

He urges more emphasis on rehabilitation, more support on release, more power to individual governors (also is against privatizing jails and warned about the extent of drug use – but no-one is listening)

1st May 2012: thoughts on May Day...

Noam Chomsky has an interview in the Guardian today, taken from his forthcoming book: Occupy (Penguin). He argues that the occupy demonstrators achieved something remarkable in getting inequality onto the agenda.  I’ve subsequently decided to upload notes on this topic, at: Inequality updates.  Chomsky also makes the point that we need to extend the Occupy idea, and reach out to the public so that they feel they can do something... not sure if this isn’t idealistic, and his use of examples from poor areas in Brazil is hardly relevant given the differences in culture etc. He also suggests we need new forms of community – I couldn’t agree more, and this is why I have so many references in these pages to ‘alternatives’ (from workers’ co-operatives to social enterprises – though the latter seem to have been taken over by some on the Right to avoid the state doing anything about unemployment, poverty and ill health). See for instance: Imagining alternatives, CSR Chapter 1, and CSR Chapter 8 - inequalities.

Chomsky’s piece is at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/30/noam-chomsky-what-next-occupy?INTCMP=SRCH.

31st Dec 2011: on the last day of the year I want to remember the victims of the harsh treatment by the courts of those caught during the August riots... Amelia Gentleman’s article in Guardian Weekend (26.11.2011) deals with the personal cost to some youngsters - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/nov/25/england-riots-personal-cost-youngsters-sentenced?INTCMP=SRCH

18.12.11: (taken from the Observer New Review of this date): from Christopher Hitchens’s speech on receiving from Richard Dawkins the Atheist Alliance of America’s Richard Dawkins Award:

‘.. we have the same job we always had, to say, as thinking people and as humans, that there are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution that says that if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss can be yours. We have to begin by repudiating all such claims – grand rabbis, chief ayatollahs, infallible popes, the peddlers of mutant quasi-political worship, the dear leader, great leader, we have no need of any of this. ... And looking at them and their record I realise that it is they who are the grand imposters...’

- as good a statement as any of the task of the writer and intellectual, I think.

Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/dec/18/christopher-hitchens-atheism-dawkins-award-speech


Spending Sunday afternoon browsing the papers (listening to Beethoven quartets on radio 3)... Reminiscing over a recent significant event to do with poetry: the death of Christopher Logue – see:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/dec/03/poet-christopher-logue-dies or: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/christopher-logue?INTCMP=SRCH.

I loved his Red Bird when I was a student, in the good old ‘60s (still have the EP). I enjoyed Craig Rainer’s reminiscences:


and noted with pleasure that Albert Beale reminded Guardian readers that Christopher was a member of the Direct Action Committee (Against Nuclear War)...:


Other pieces in the 10.12.11 Review section of the Guardian that I noted:

- an article on Simon Armitage - http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/dec/09/life-in-writing-simon-armitage?INTCMP=SRCH – and one of his poems...  Zoom! (link: Poetry I Like)

- a piece by Ruth Padel on poetry and science, where she deals with metaphor, and knowledge (issues I’ve touched on with my WEA class recently – that is, the question has science taken the poetry out of the universe?): http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/dec/09/ruth-padel-science-poetry. I like the way she talks about not only metaphor, but poetry as a kind of knowledge, based on the particular (just as science is) and that has to be precise, not woolly (just as science should be). Especially, poetry is ‘about’ ... ‘relationships – between word and sound, word and thing, word and thought, word and meaning, words and other words. So is science.’ And both are a struggle towards ‘truth’ – ‘a scientist goes forward towards truth but never gets there’, or as Donne said:

“On a huge hill,

Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will

Reach her, about must, and about must go.”

Guess I’ve decided to put more of me into these ‘imagining other’ notes... hence the uploading of ‘poetry I like.’  But I also recently read two pieces on related aspects of the theme of violence/non-violence the other (from


Hard to believe it’s been so long since I last wrote anything here!!  Time flies – guess I’ve spent a lot of it on my current WEA course (How Enlightened was the ‘Enlightenment’? at Rayleigh.... pleased that I seem to be getting more interaction with the class members now [since week 7/8 out of 10: better late than never!].

Two thoughts for the day:

1. Couldn’t agree more with a couple of letters in Friday (9th Dec) Guardian:

(Neil Wallis): the coalition’s spending so much time telling us how bad a state the economy is in (so as to blame the previous government) – was ‘good politics but very bad economics’. How can the economy grow when pessimism is encouraged so strongly? 

Also (Martin Longdon): during the 20-year boom the last two governments presided over, ‘The rich got incredibly richer, the middle went into debt, and the poor were unsustainably supported by the state.’ ‘The main problems are the massively unequal distribution of national income and far too little financially relevant employment.’ A Keynesian stimulus would not solve anything and is a way of avoiding talking about the underlying problems. Labour stands little chance of getting re-elected while the ‘squeezed middle’ (what I call the moaning middle!) fears it will be squeezed more by Labour to assist the poor.

A further letter (David Murray) quotes Jared Bernstein (‘US Disease,’ in Society, 7th Dec): ‘the bottom half of British society has seen its share of prosperity drop from 16% to 12% of national income since 1977. During the same time, the tiny elite – the 1% composed of bankers and entrepreneurs – have seen their share of the economy double from 2% to more than 4%.’

2. Today the headlines are all about Cameron’s use of the veto at the EU talks – to avoid our being part of a treaty renegotiation to tighten the fiscal rules in Europe. Hey Ho - the Tory party showing its true colours: working in the interests of the City, and pandering to his right-wing and the opinion of the general public. The latter, of course, have been suitably ‘informed’ by the media to be anti-Europe and to believe that the City actually makes us wealthy... On the other hand it has been claimed that the proposed EU treaty will not allow expansionary/Keynesian policies (see NS blog). The enemy of my enemy (Eu opposed to Cameron) is not necessarily my friend!!

7.12.11 (written 10.12):

I really like Hugh Muir’s piece in the Guardian today – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/06/why-is-britain-becoming-intolerant - asking what’s making us increasingly angry and rude to our fellow citizens. He puts a lot of the blame on the undermining of ‘political correctness’ – as he says (quoting a previous article he wrote): ‘Political correctness has become the complaint of choice for those who don’t like their world: for men who fear their positions are being eroded by women, white people who fear too much attention is being paid to non-white people, minorities jealous of other minorities, non-disabled folk who can’t see why buses should have wheelchair ramps, tall people who fear short people. It embraces everything. It means nothing.’

A wonderful summary of the appalling situation we’re in: how can anybody think the world would be better if we didn’t stop to think about possible hurtful effects of what we say or write?


Two amazing graphs that have come out of the recent crisis:

1. in David Blanchflower’s New Statesman Economics Column for 24th Oct. showing how UK’s GDP fell and rose again in a number of recessions since the ‘big one’ in the 1930s. In the ‘30s GDP fell

further than in any of he other recessions, but was dramatically going up after 30 months. GDP in the current crisis fell to its lowest point 12 months after the start, but has only very slowly been climbing

- so slowly that, 42 months after it has only gone back up a few percentage points.

2. (I’ve lost this!) shows the share of GDP?/wealth of the top 10% compared to the rest, and reveals that the gap is worse than it has been since the ‘30s.


The Berkeley Earth project has compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s, and found the earth is warming – and has warmed by around 1C since the mid-1950s. This report should put an end to the queries from some sceptics (probably only from the more serious ones – others will remain in denial). In particular the report shows that several issues that sceptics claim can cause global warming have no meaningful effect. (Ian Sample 21.10.11)


Important quote from Paulo Freire in Post-16 Educator 65: “The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, inauthentic human beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be the ‘hosts’ of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality where to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization.”

Liberation means the humanization of all. It is not enough for the oppressed to realize their dialectical relationship with the oppressor, but they must enlist “in the struggle to free themselves.” 


Two interesting pieces on education in today’s Guardian:

(i) Mike Baker makes the point that “despite what many people believe, local authorities have not controlled schools for many years” – what they have been needed to do is the “strategic functions that individual schools cannot easily or efficiently do themselves: admissions, attendance, special needs provision, and…” meeting “fluctuating demographic demand” by ensuring there is the right number of schools in an area. A crucial problem with ‘free schools’, ‘academies’ etc that they will affect the situation in a local area (especially in regard to supply of places) without there being any overall body to deal with problems.

I have always maintained that what is needed for a number of issues in this country is more democracy – control (or at least oversight) by local people over the above issues is needed. I’m not sure that local authorities are the best way of bringing about democratic control – at least, not in the form they have taken up to now. Not sure how to bring about changes to ensure they are more democratic, however!!

(ii) Neal Lawson and Ken Spours argue that neither the old bureaucratic model (i.e. comprehensives) nor the market model can work. We need to go back to first principles, and ask what education is for. Their answer (and I agree) is that we need to base the system on the following principles:

- everyone can be educated

- those who have the least get the most resources and focus

- education for togetherness not social separation

- a broad, creative curriculum that develops knowledge and skill, and nurtures innovation.

However, they have nothing to say (at least in this article) about governance etc and the issues raised by Mike Baker, except a pretty vacuous couple of paragraphs about “a new comprehensive paradigm that embraces the ethics of education, the curriculum, workplace and lifelong learning, and a strong sense of community and place.” Within this “framework” of “equity and quality”, “teachers, parents, pupils and communities [can] decide how we can learn to live together by being as equal and free as possible.”  (See Education for the Good Society at www.compassonline.org.uk). 

Perhaps this is an attempt to deal with issues of fairness in the system as a whole, and what I call ‘democracy’ – but it’s pretty unclear what it means in practice!!

Both pieces have other good points… 


So pleased that Avaaz has now reached 10 million members!!  Good luck to this pioneering organisation!!

Interlude: was at Southend Jazz Festival for the weekend, which was set up by Liz Lincoln, with some help from Jill. A brilliant experience – many outstanding musicians, and Cleo Laine, Buddy Greco and Paul Jones!!

Read a fascinating piece by Alice Oswald on Homer in the New Statesman, and I must write some notes about it, as it got me thinking…


Interesting piece by Robert Skidelsky in last week’s New Statesman: The Next Great Depression?  Rehearses the contrasting interpretations of the current financial crisis of Hayekians and Keynesians…

I only hope my old students from University of East London are following this kind of discussion, as way back in the 1980s I taught a course I called ‘Capitalism Bureaucracy Democracy’ where I spent some time on contrasting these two economists… See part 5 of UEL course outlines.

December 2008: (from earlier notes) – we have to do the things we are good at...

(i) What is it about Milton’s sonnet on his blindness that made the last line - “They also serve who only stand and wait” - so resonant for me (heard on the radio the other day)? Apart from (? or because of) the fact that my parents used to say it – probably my Mum in a humorous fashion, and my Dad with some deeper meaning attached!?

                Especially as, says Simon Jenkins (G 121208), Milton ascribes his blindness, his affliction, to God’s will… I guess it’s this permanent feeling that I’ve not done with my life what I could have – that I’ve wasted opportunities to do something worthwhile… and that odd (i.e. peculiar!) feeling of a ‘calling’ that I’ve not responded to. So, some self-justification if God also looks kindly on those who only stand and wait!!!

(ii) from the Nobel prize acceptance speech of JMG Le Clezio (G Review 131208): “For some time now, writers have no longer been so presumptuous as to believe that they can change the world, and that they will, through their stories and novels, give birth to a better example of how life should be. Simply, they would like to bear witness…

To act: that is what the writer would like to be able to do, above all. To act, rather than to bear witness. To write, imagine, and dream in such a way that his words and inventions and dreams will have an impact upon reality, will change people’s minds and hearts, will prepare them for a better world. And yet, at that very moment, a voice is whispering to him that it will not be possible, that words are words that are taken away on the winds of society, and dreams are mere illusions. What right has he to wish he were better? Is it really up to the writer to try to find solutions? How can the writer act, when all he knows is how to remember?

(iii) the rock star (from Big Issue?) who gave up music when he felt he was too old, and to raise a family, but returned to it as “we have to do the things we are good at”…


The Cappella Singers of Upminster.jpg