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Beware the Rides of March, Boris

Pretend London Mayor Boris Johnson launched Ken Livingstone's cycle hire project this week. 
We needn't worry about him for very long if the interview with BBC London is anything to go by.
According to Boris, cycling is a great time to plan meetings, and stimulates all kinds of ideas and free-thinking as you peddle merrily along the with the breeze in your helmet.
However much of a prat he is, I wouldn't want Boris to get killed by one of his new Routemaster buses, if they ever appear, or by a Bendybus, nomatter how delicious the irony. But I feel less concern for him than for any naiive newcomer who adopts his Dolly Daydream attitude.

As anyone who cycles in London knows, riding traffic demands 100% concentration all the time. It is not a time for relaxation, or listening to music, and to give that impression is almost criminally irresponsible.

All Lies are True, But Some Lies are More Truthful than Others.

Elton John is in the planning stages of a musical version of Orwell's Animal Farm. .
God save us. As if Orwell hasn't been trivialised and distorted and hijacked enough.
It doesn't suggest that Sir Elton has read much more of Orwell than the farmyard fable, or he would have felt Orwell glowering in appalled silence at the idea of yet another anti-socialist tract cobbled together from his work. So I  don't suppose for a second that there's a chance in hell that the show might reclaim the actual conclusion of the book, which is that there is nothing to distinguish the pigs from the farmers. Between Stalin and Churchill, essentially. If it were to undo the myths and lies spun around Orwell's politics, that would be literally fabulous.

In the conclusive great peace conference between businessmen and pigs, Mr Pilkington of Foxwood farm makes a long and significant speech to unanimous approval:
"Their struggles and their difficulties were one. Was not the labour problem the same everywhere? ... "If you have your lower animals to contend with," he said, "we have our lower classes!" This bon mot set the table in a roar; and Mr. Pilkington once again congratulated the pigs on the low rations, the long working hours, and the general absence of pampering which he had observed on Animal Farm..And now, he said finally, he would ask the company to rise to their feet and make certain that their glasses were full. "Gentlemen," concluded Mr. Pilkington, "gentlemen, I give you a toast: To the prosperity of Animal Farm!"
Immediately after the peace conference, they all start fighting again. War will continue, and only the rulers will benefit.
Orwell was certainly criticising Stalinist communism in Animal Farm, but more for its betrayal of socialism and its collusion with capitalism than for any ideals or aspirations it might once have had. And whatever generations of misled children of all ages have been told, Orwell was most definitely not attacking socialism for being either unworkable or undesirable. Elton John's vanity project will certainly be both if he fails to appreciate this fact of the text. 

Only weeks ago, George Galloway announced his plans for a musical of the life of Dusty Springfield. Has the world gone mad? Surely the scripts were sent to the wrong addresses. 


The Internet and Your Head

Political change happens largely because enough people change their minds about something to see the stupidity of doing it the old way. On their own, halls to have meetings in, or money to pay for propaganda, or any of the other crude implements of the political machine - even printing presses for pamphlets and the telephone, are of no use until the perception of power and identity alters in enough people to make a difference. Until the lightbulb wants to be changed.
'On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres' by Copernicus went almost unnoticed by the most people in its day, whatever its effect among the scientific and religious communities. And whatever its faults, it undoubtedly undermined the perception of Man's role at the centre of God's universe, with Jerusalem at the centre of the world. Over the succeeding generations, and in the light of subsequent discoveries, enough people shared this new view of man as a relatively insignificant sideshow in God's cosmos, and not central at all. This shifted the emphasis from a cosmically centralised power structure, with its HQ in Rome, to something far more susceptible to personal interpretation, people started to ask 'What about me? What do I get out of this?' and the modern Individual was born. The printing press threw gasoline on this bonfire of feudal submissiveness. It is no accident that there were no Hamlets or Rembrandt self-portraits before the Reformation.
The entire political change we call the Reformation was empowered partly by the bumbling, timid Copernicus and his meanderings around Europe avoiding his creditors. People did not use his discovery to achieve political change - like a soapbox or TV station. They were simply allowed to see that another interpretation of the world was possible, and that they could be part of implementing that interpretation in their own interest, not the interest of any Oligarchy or orthodoxy. They could, possibly, decide the course of their own lives.
The parallels with the growth of internet use are obvious. People ask,  'How can people use the internet for political change? It's full of porn and teenagers scribbling nonsense?' Which is to entirely miss the point. The same people might have asked: 'What political use is a science book by an old crank. And one which got it wrong, anyway?' The discovery wasn't used to make change happen, it was the change. By altering the psychological perspective it altered the world.
The shift from consumer to producer changes everything. A world of photographers is more likely to be visually literate and therefore less susceptible to advertising and propaganda. And when a society reaches a stage when almost a majority are regularly using written words for pleasure, not out of duty or business, but because of the basic fun instinct, then something's got to give. People learn fast when they are taught by personal trial and error. And as producers they not only learn to see the tricks being played on them, but also experience a shift in their own self-worth. They feel that their word is just as much as a college professor or prime minister or Pope. In the words of Oscar Hammerstein:"I'd like to teach you all a little sayin'`And learn the words by heart the way you should. I don't say I'm no better than anybody else. But I'll be danged if I ain't just as good!"
- which seems to be applicable to most frontier situations. And as with previous new frontiers and unmapped wildernesses,  the internet will alter people's perceptions of their own worth and power enough for them to want to fufill the new potential they discover.
Clay Shirky seems at first sight to be someone who understands the relationship between fun and awareness and political change, and is not prepared to sacrifice his idealism to the clunky misreadings of the reactionary press and TV, to whom the internet is merely a licence for paedophiliacs. The more his optimism and faith in human decency infects the mainstream media in their damp sulky caves, the better.
'We have a set of tools for aggregating things people care about... Those tools turn love into a renewable building material.'
'Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age'


Wikileaks And The Trouserless United Nations

A single typical file from the Wikileaks hoard would at one point have easily cost one life, directly or indirectly, given the number of operatives and contacts and the Byzantine convolution of deception and human bungling required to deposit each file under its park bench on Hampstead Heath.
Now it is possible for anyone to anonymously submit any classified or Dark Information to Wikileaks, and via them to the world. The great fear is that this will eventually uncover the genuine political and economic policies of states, and reveal how little democratic control the people actually enjoy. That the knowledge of the existence of another universe of policies and strategems and treachery will expose the modern nation state for the massive Lie Machine it is. However, a trouserless United Nations would in fact be a Very Good Thing indeed. If the mighty US has lost its trousers, how many other countries can guarantee their modesty? If any dissident can now publish to the world in relative confidence, what price state secrecy? Governments might even have to live by their manifesto commitments. And where would we be then?
A previous generation of political thought would have called this a revolution. The fact that there are no barricades or Molotov cocktails does not prevent it from being one.



So now your friendly family doctor is going to be an accountant as well.
I was under the impression that vital public servants, such as doctors and police officers, were to be relieved of the burden of paperwork, got out from behind their desks, and put back 'on the front line', doing what they were trained for.
Now I find that as well as doctor-ccountants, parents are now even expected to run schools for the local authority. What other services are going to be run by amateurs, like during the General Strike? How many more chinless bungling twits will be able to boast "I drove a bus!"
If this madness does manage to survive, it will naturally and inevitably lead to the pre-NHS market in the most profitable practices, which will be in the most salubrious postcode areas, and again the level of universal health care will suffer. The recent studies* which showed the NHS to be one of the most efficient and effective healthcare systems in the world will show a different picture when they report in 4 or 5 years time.


English Fritzophilia - World Cup 2010 Political Revolution

I never thought I'd live to see the day. The English seem to actually like the Germans. This is a seismic cultural shift. And happened in spite of, or even because of, being beaten by them in a game in which they were cheated out of a critical goal!
It's as if, in this case, English Spitfire nationalism was inflated so much this time that when it was punctured, it could never be repaired again. Are we now entering a the Post post-war period of relations with Germany? Something a bit less cartoonish and a bit more grownup? Here's hoping.
All the interviews with the weary, swindled English fans plodding home through the streets and departure lounges spoke of willing respect and resignation, not resentment. In an era not so long ago, this would have been the trigger for trouble. But this time it really wasn't worth it, the whole thing was so obviously a fraud - spiritually, financially, and in sporting terms that the only conclusion for the worldy-wise Engand supporter was 'We Won't get Fooled Again'. 'Peace and Reconciliation'?
And all turning on the actions of 22 men for 90 minutes on a couple of acres of grass in Africa. Who says football is just 'kicking a ball about'?


The Price of Peace

David Miliband outlines his call for a settlement for "the vanquished as well as the victors in Afghanistan.
This can only mean a massive Marshall Plan style investment. Like the plans promised by the liars Reagan and Bush in the twin treacheries which gave birth to Al Qaida and the Taliban in the first place.
But these grand schemes never happen because that would mean that nuclear families in the status-chasing, consumption-addicted West would have to endure their current car for another year, or make do with only 4 giant-super-double-double cheeseburgers a week.
There is a limit to how much people will pay for peace. The West was unwilling to pay it after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the attacks on the Twin Towers. There is no reason to assume it is willing to pay it now.

Music Exposed. Religion and Music

The Herbert Morrison Primary School in Lambeth, south London, says it has seen up to 22 children removed from music lessons. This has caused a furore among music lovers and Muslim-haters alike.
All religion have to make their minds up about music. Either to harness it or demonise it. The fact that Christianity decided to harness it is no reason to condemn Islam for demonising it. After all, they are only trying to make a living too.And before Christians and the like get into the pulpit as defenders of the crotchet, they should examine the church's record on artistic persecution. They even outlawed a mathematical interval. How paranoid is that?
All authoritarian tyrannies have to either shackle or eradicate music because it is such a powerful medium, capable of conveying emotions and changing opinions across the centuries, and of codifying an incredibly broad and subtle spectrum of information.
Allowing free access to such a weapon of freedom would be suicide to any doctrine with one message which must be obeyed. Islam (according to the few puritan freaks who spew out this garbage) just chooses to do without music altogether rather than mangle it to their purposes.
There is an honestly about that. At least it saves us another  ''Oh Lord Our help in Ages Past'.