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Wikileaks and the Pope's Hat

Just about sums up the popular response to the latest Wikileaks revelations. Diplomats and politicians are liars? Tell us something we didn't know - which is missing the point by a mile, whether from deliberate stupidity or just the usual kind.
 The main point of Wikileaks is that it ensures anonymity for the source. It reduces the risk to any whistleblower and therefore breaches an entire level of state and corporate secrecy. All of a sudden they have no trousers. The revelations of past actions and attitudes by those who run our lives are significant enough, but the it's the way they behave from now on which will show the real significance of being able to monitor their machine from the inside. It's an extension of the phenomenon of 'counter-veillance' which shed light on the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests.
In effect, Wikileaks has lifted the burkha of mystery from the comely maiden of diplomacy to reveal the gurning Anne Wiiddicombe beneath. Of course the parents and the potential in-laws are going to be annoyed. The question now is how much states will feed misinformation into the archive, and how much more paranoid and secretive and insular and removed from reality they become. But in that case, Wikileaks is calling their bluff. It offers them the choice of genuine openness and democracy, or of abandoning all pretence and retreating behind Russian (or even Chinese) curtains of secrecy and paranoia. But they have to remember that the bride in the Burkha is still more marriagable than one in a suit of armour.

Wikileaks also reveals the hypocrisy of all the media corporations which refuse to publish it, and which try to smear this new freedom as old fashioned Treason. These are largely the same corporations which killed to publish the MP's Expenses information, and will eventually publish the choice titbits of Wikileaks. And which, incidentally, are also in favour of turning a blind eye to FIFA corruption as long as England's bid wins, and they get to make vast amounts of money.
The other ridiculous accusation is that Wikileaks are not a 'democratic' organisation. Wikileaks is just as 'democratic' as nay other form of journalism. In fact, since it does not rely on advertising revenue, it is approximately 27.63 times more democratic than NewsCorp, which would suppress this information and Wikileaks and the entire internet if it could. Just as it has suppressed every piece of politically inconvenient information it has ever known. By its opposition to Wikileaks, it is in fact admitting that it would have suppressed the revelations which led to the MP's Expenses Scandal.
The BBC is doing its job by giving these revelations the space they deserve, as it is in publishing the truth about FIFA. If journalism has a future, it is through working with the consequences of the internet, not by trying to deny or vilify them.


By The Right - Wait for it! - LEARN!!

Michael Gove's latest wheeze for slapping Britain's students into shape is to militarise schools. After all it never did him any harm. Take a drill-sergeant who has terrified his last Orrible Little Man, give him some basic training, and put him in front of a class of rowdy teenagers and see how they like that!
Of course he is right. Convicted murderers who have served their sentence would make great teachers, with suitable training. Their broad experience of life, and the insight into society they might gain from being detached from it would be invaluable in making a subject like History come alive, to name just one. Their lives would give them a certain presence in class. So why not soldiers?


Charity Deficit Housing. The Poor Law Amendment Act Of 2010

Social Housing is now effectively a Charity Hostel service. To be allocated on the basis of a Means Test. The 're-assessment' will involve an unprecedented level of intrusion into personal finances, and will create the greatest poverty trap since the Victorian era which inspired it. To use the dialect, it is a 'positive disincentive' with nobs on. Why take that part-time, underpaid menial job when all it will do is dump you at the bottom of the greasy property pole with all your family and trappings. And don't dilly-dally on the way.
The greater damage to British society is almost unmeasurable but will make the government into an even bigger enemy than it already is, and will therefore increase crime and anti-social behaviour in general. Should it remain un-repealed, it will decimate already fragile communities, and nip any budding neighbourliness in the bud. Even if your Charity Tenancy overlaps with that of your neighbour, what is the point of forming a relationship with someone who will be gone in less than 2 years? In today's busy working schedule, it can often take almost a year to establish any sort of relationship, based on the kind of casual interaction which normally happens in crowded council flats with no community centre or well-planned garden space. So any sense of community will be a thing of the past, and any fantasies of a Cameronian Big Society will recede even further into the fog.

The great lie is that social housing is a rescue service for the poor. A necessary evil which, in the capitalist utopia to come, will wither away, like the rest of the welfare state, and even the state itself. The reality is that it is a vital part of the social infrastructure of any advanced, industrial state.  As necessary as the road network or the national grid, providing the bedrock of local identity via stability and affordability of tenure. And requiring the same degree of investment and maintenance, not the open-season sabotage of the last twenty years.
As much as anything, it once offered genuine 'Choice' (remember that one?) of housing lifestyle. Those more interested in living their lives than chasing a mortgage, and who saw the buildings they lived in as homes, not machines for investment, were able to form strong links within their neighbourhoods, and the longer they stayed, the deeper the store of local knowledge and experience became. When responsibly managed the result is a strong community with all the benefits, all of which result in lower costs for other social services.
The teenager minister for housing Grant Schapps is claiming with some pride that the rolling bi-ennial wave of evictions, combined with a punitive increase in rents will pay to build more new social housing, which he says he believes is necessary. This is the biggest lie of all. If the New Poor law Amendment Act delivers any revenue at all, which is doubtful, it will immediately find its way into the pockets of grateful cowboy speculators, who will bang up their usual tacky boxes, and vanish overnight. The only real benefit to the government will be as another bulwark against local action and organisation. It is another shackle to genuine progress.
The Whig Poor Law Amendment Act Of 1834 decreed that external relief for the poor was to be stopped within two years, leaving them with the choice of the workhouse or starvation. No able-bodied person was to receive money or any other help from the poor law authorities except in a workhouse. The legislation was designed to root out the "undeserving poor". 
Some things never change. The act, passed by a combination of the predecessors of the Liberal Party and the Tories of the day, had exactly the same contempt for those who had no property, and was just as fearful of them.
The other effect of the 1834 act was to create a huge interventionist state machine to imprison or evict the 'undeserving poor' and safeguard its political dogma. The same thing will happen this time. As Cameron should have grasped from his holiday reading ('The Spirit Level', Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett) enforcing inequality always creates a bigger state. 
The default slogan of the Condems now appears to be 'You've Never Had it So Good', whether sanctioned by Number 10 or not. Which in a government is always a sure sign of being divorced form reality. It was predictable in the latter days of the Eden/Macmillan tory reign, and even excusable. But barely six months into a new administration must be some kind of record.
On our 
decrepit little South London estate in the late 70's there used to be 2 accountants, a doctor, 2 architects and even an executive from a city pensions fund. Along with various graduates in a range of scientific and clerical jobs, including one very well-paid person at the Home Office. As well as a range of plumbers, electricians, chippies and other tradesmen.
In general, people were quite happy not owning their homes. It was so much less worry. And people had more time to spend getting to know their neighbours and working with them to make all their lives better. 
That community is now a wasteland of strangers thanks to the wonder of the property ladder. Furthermore, our collective efforts in renovating and managing the block have made it so desirable to the property market that our reward will be excessive market-led rent increases, and the danger to or tenancies from the new housing benefit limit of £400. So the message is obviously 'Only Suckers Make An Effort'.


No Honeymoon In Paris

The royal wedding announced. William Windsor and Kate Middleton to marry in the spring, so that hubby can go to the Rugby World Cup. Does she have the X-Factor? Will Simon Cowell produce the ceremony? Only time will tell, but either way it will be a publicity plague of all plagues. The deficit crisis can only sell papers for so long, whereas a Walt Disney dream of courtly love shifts advertising space like nothing else. Because they have a schedule, a 'narrative arc', they're much better news than disasters where thousands are killed overnight.
Incredibly, we still have a fairytale royal family. An ultra-celebrity, media-magnetic elite, pumping out tacit endorsement for the concept of exclusion and hierarchy. One reason this is such a potent media cocktail is because we still allow royalty to retain some power, and lots of wealth, of course.
Were they like some of the continental cycling day-job royals, their media rating would fall, and they would not be worth much as a franchise. But Diana Spencer would probably still be alive, and even happy.
You pays your money and you takes your choice. If we were responsible custodians of our royal family, and their children, we would de-sanctify them as much as possible. But they are a profitable industry, so we are told. And so we must expect to incurr a few business expenses along the way at the hands of the baying media. Some collateral damage.

Guardian letters. 1/9/1997
"Surely it is now time to reassess the validity of the royal family. The powerless European monarchies are evidence that without political power the fairytale disappears, leaving those families in relative peace to pursue fulfilling real lives.
The press has instantly been cast as the baddies in this sad incident. This misses the point entirely. The British people pay those who photograph royalty. But now the royal fantasy must end, and we must face up to the real world unaided.
There is justifiable concern for the future well-being of the two princes. A responsible nation which really cared about them would now start to examine the possibility that tourist dollars and cosmetic pageantry do not justify the torment which waits these tow boys as they grow older."
"...We should ask whether it is reasonable to expect one family to make this sacrifice simply for the convenience of providing us with a head of state. Princes William and Harry deserve an early answer to this question and one which respects their needs as children rather than their role as servants of an institution."
Meanwhile, the internet forums and messageboards are crammed with Monarchists praising the bargain price of Royalty to the taxpayer. Roughly £1 a week for all that foreign tourism, they claim. These are often the same people who froth at paying the same for the BBC. They are willing to be forced to pay for an institution which enshrines the values of privilege and inequality and the lie of elitism, but fume at the idea of one dedicated to broadening the scope of human achievement and enlightenment. Not to mention bringing in vast amounts of revenue in merchandising and franchise sales overseas, and acting as a catalyst for much of British culture.
It's as if the Civil War never happened. But then, some people stay children for life, and will always need a nanny to guide them. The same people, again, who rail against the 'Nanny State' (i.e. the N.H.S, Housing Benefit etc) Their political correctness simply won't allow them to think beyond their own inhibitions and childhood traumas. Sad.


Deficit Happiness

A month ago it was 'Fairness'. November's 'Virtue of the Month' sees the Idiot Cameron  trying to find out what Happiness is, in order to 'measure' it.
Garbage. The object of society is not happiness. Happiness is just a bi-product of people working together and trusting each other, not trying to trample all over each other in pursuit of ever-receding material security and job-supremacy.
The reason so many people are unhappy to the point of mental illness is because our society is gladiatorially sick. Less a case of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' than Everyone is My Enemy.
People can never be happy with that deal. The millions of dead we just remembered on scraps of red paper did not die to make us all blissfully happy and content, they died, if anything, to bring us together. In the name of human brotherhood, not the Rat Race. Happiness is the result of the endorphins and dopamine released when we are most in communion with our innate Human natures. When we are in a state of natural empathy with other people. When we don't see them as threats or obstacles to our security and advancement.
As Orwell puts it (best):
 I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.
But what are the chances of Cameron even being able to read the words of a committed socialist without retching with pain?
'It Burns! It Burns!
Apologists for the destruction of the welfare state often point to Sweden, with its legendary high social provision and high suicide rates. The link is obvious. People who do not have to fight each other to survive kill themselves from boredom or frustration of some primeval, undeniable instinct. In fact, the high Swedish suicide rate is a total myth. But even if it weren't, there is a very reasonable explanation of why a 'happy' society might have the highest suicide rate. If people reach old age and feel they have fulfilled their lives, why wouldn't they feel, like Hancock in The Blood Donor, that they 'could go tomorrow.'?
The real Hancock had all the money anyone could spend, but was intensely frustrated, and ended it all because it could only get worse. People who think they have fulfilled their lives might end them for exactly the same reason.

In Twain's words:
"The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time."
Red Dave Cameron has a real problem. If he is sincere in his belief that happiness is more important than prosperity, then he will have to abandon competition as the prime mover of the economy and put the brakes on Consumerism and ditch the entire tory dogma of total competition. In effect, he will have say goodbye to the Rat Race theory of society and surrender to socialism in one form or another.
If he is not sincere, then he is just another Tony Blair and should not be stoned to death, but should be laughed out of office.
The likely truth is that he is just a moron who hasn't got the faintest idea what society is, how it works, or who it's for.

Deficit Democracy

By cutting the number of MP's by 50, The Electoral Reform Bill will cut the amount of democracy per voter at a time when the electorate is better informed and more vocal than ever, and when they are about to suffer the worst attack on their communities since the Blitz. There should be twice as many MPs, not 50 fewer.
The twin effects of this de-democratisation will be to make the government seem like they are saving money, when in fact it will cost huge amounts; and to vastly increase the workloads of MP surgeries when people are being evicted because their street has become interesting to the property speculators, or their streets are overrun with gangs of unemployed youths raging against anything to hand in Cameron's wonderful Bog Society.  It will also be the biggest act of sheer Gerrymandering on the British mainland since the achievement of Universal Suffrage, making Lady Porter's shenanigans in Westminster look like a rehearsal.
The depressing, ridiculous public attitude at the moment is that All MPs Are Bastards. So speaks the voice of well-engineered apathy. In a Britain which boasts one of the highest rate of online social networking in the world we still retain a quota of  MPs which is more a result of the C19th rail network than the demands of democracy. More MPs - more representation. Cameron thinks we have too much democracy. And is exploiting knee-jerk reactions to the Expenses Scandal to impose his social vandalism on us all.
Each British MP now has to deal with far more constituents than ever before. That means we should have more of them, not fewer. We deserve as much representation as it takes, and at the moment, MPs are far too important because they are so rare. And we certainly don't need to follow the US further into the Land of Millionaire politicians.
And if there were enough MPs to cope with the burden of the people's everyday needs, politics might not be in the quagmire it is now. Making parliament even more of an elite will cause far more problems than it solves. And the only problem it will solve is a PR job for the Condems.


Ian and the Sweet F.A.

There's a little seaside team called Blackpool.
What's noted for football and fun.
And young Master Ian Holloway
Went there with a job to be done.

He didn't think much to the stadium.
The stands was all piddlin and small.
There was no riots and nobody trampled.
In fact nothing to laugh at at all.

So seeking for further amusement
They got promoted a division or two
Where there was United and Chelsea and Arsenal.
Not Scunthorpe and Barnsley and Crewe.

They caused quite a stir in le League Premiere
They'd forgot they were not mean to win.
In their shirts as orange as stewards
On a day out to sunny King's Lynn.

There were one great big team called the Villa
In claret and blue they were dressed.
And since a big match were on at weekend
Ian gave ten of his lads a quick rest.

Now Ian had heard about Villa.
How they was all nervous and tame.
And seeing as how he'd got nothing to lose
Told his lads: 'Play your usual game'.

It were a right proper upper and downer.
That wednesday night clash there's no doubt.
The crowd cheered and clapped their endorsement.
And some paid again on't way out!

But the lads at the football headquarters
Were watching and said 'What's to do?
There's far too much fun here for comfort.
We'll stop that - or they'll all want some too!'

So they fined little Blackpool a fortune
For playing the game with some zip.
While United and City were walking the park
Like pensioners on a day trip.

The F.A. were quite nice about it,
Saying 'No-one was really to blame.'
And hoped that Ian and Blackpool
Had enough money to play one one more game.

At this Ian got proper blazing.
'And thank you sirs kindly' said he.
'Run our legs off each week playing football
To feed Rupert Murdoch - not me!'

(apologies to Marriot Edgar)

The Premier League's line is that they are the Quality Control department for each game. So any sub-standard product must be rejected, and the standard is the 'quality' of the line-up on the day. The game is the product on the conveyor belt.
They don't specify 'standards' for the players. They do leave that to the manager, who is the only person in a position to assess the fitness of every player in the squad. Better a fit sub than a crocked star. So the PL does accept the principle of manager quality control. They just can't accept that he might use it in the long term interest of the club rather than to provide a constant parade of star players for the benefit of the Skysports subscribers.
The game would undoubtedly benefit from greater, or even compulsory, rotation of squads. And even Sky's reliance on the superstars would be fed more regularly if they were rested more often. But that's not the Murdoch way. And there's always some new Wonderkid on the chopping block, willing to wear himself out in two years for the glory and the Ferrari. So what does Murdoch care how many broken bodies, and how much sidelined talent he leaves in his wake? As long as there's a story to print.

And we do love a good narrative 'arc'. From youthful hope and talent to despicable corruption. It's a primeval need as old as the first time we noticed the sun moving across the sky. But most important of all it sells papers. It doesn't matter if, as with John Terry, it wrecks the moral and preparation of the England team steaming through qualification for the world cup. The disaster in South Africa sold papers too.

By Moral Force If We May. By Physical Force If We Must.

The broken windows at Millbank Towers on yesterday's demonstration by students against the government's policy on tuition fees has triggered the usual dreary monotone of deadness from the usual media poltroons, and calls for 'clampdowns' on future protests, which are now seen as a universal threat to public order, which they will be. See any protest in the last 200 years for identical defeatist quotes. The calls for clampdowns will be counter-productive. The more they crack down, the more violence there will be. If the Condems wanted nice protest, they should have made nice cuts. In other words, they deserve everything they get because they are the cause of it.
One particular snide-issue is the accusation that these demonstrations are expressions of pure self-interest, and not to be mentioned in the same breath as the campaigns of the 60's against Vietnam or Apartheid. That 'it is all about money'. This is the attitude of those who only see life in terns of money, and is therefore irrelevant. But the points it misses therefore need airing. 
The student campaign is not just about the Sword of Damocles of tuition fees. It is essentially about the nature of education itself, and therefore the kind of society we want. The bureaucrats and Gradgrinds want a future of obedient cannon-fodder to carry on fighting the war of Consumerism, whatever the cost. An education system churning out little turtles every three years to carry the next generation of turtles on their backs for all eternity.
Turtles all the way.
While a growing number of students refuse to see why they should not be granted the same mental freedom as the generation which demonstrated against Vietnam and Apartheid. A generation which knew full well that those crimes were all about money.
This is a moral argument. And in spite of a few broken windows yesterday, the government does not hold the high ground. And many will be encouraged by yesterday's scenes. So there will be more demonstrations of anger, and more violence. And while the students alone are no Chartists or Suffragettes, together with the many other blameless victims of free-market madness they constitute a coherent single case against the atomisation of society and community, and for progressive change. And so the Chartist position is a perfectly valid one to adopt, as it is for all opposition to the excesses or idiocies of government.
'By moral force if we may. By physical force if we must.'


Sandy and Sam. The Beginning of Jazz.

In his 'new' autobiography, Mark Twain tells the story of the Maryland slave, Sandy, who wouldn't stop singing. The boy Sam Clemens asks his mother to get Sandy to 'Shut up'. But she won't:
"When he sings, it shows he is not remembering, and that comforts me, but when he is still, I'm afraid he is thinking, and I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again. If he can sing, I must not hinder it, but be thankful for it. If you were older you would understand me then that friendless child's noise would make you glad."
This is probably as close to the origins and appeal of jazz and blues (and therefore most popular music today) as it's possible to get.
It's a simple insight into the real attitudes of ordinary people to the inhumanity of slavery. But she is merely being prophetic when she says that 'when we grow up' we 'will be glad of the 'noise'. That's exactly what happened when 'the noise' became jazz, and it became the soundtrack to the western world. Congo Square may be the Plymouth Rock of black music in America, but the music clearly fed on the daily life of every  50 acre farm, and was vital to ease the pain of slavery.
Apparently, there have been criticisms of this first edition for its small print, and of the work for its formlessness. If it's all as crammed with gold as the first extract broadcast on BBC, none of that will matter. It's just a shame that earlier generations of Americans didn't have the benefit of Mrs Clemens humanity. If authors have something to say, they shouldn't keep everyone waiting 100 years. But Twain was notoriously timid about some things, while still managing to constantly get in trouble because of his big mouth. It's hard to be annoyed with someone that contradictory for long. Just like America itself.


ActionFutureWorkPlan People 1993

Ian Duncan Smith's American welfare reforms will certainly mean that more unemployed are created than "experience the workplace environment" as the Department for Work and Pensions puts it. So there will be many more to chain to the work-gang, and more pressure on workers to surrender to management demands, whatever they might be.
Sometime in the early 90's I was unemployed for over six months, along with millions of others. The government of the time benevolently decided to help us by delivering us into the hands of ActionFutureWorkPlan, a right bunch of contractors paid a lot of taxpayers money to make the unemployed go away. I wrote this at the time. I've corrected most of the spelling.

“Right” said Annette, our Actionfutureworkplan leader. “What are your hobbies? What do you really like to do?” It was 10 o’clock on the first morning of the Actionfutureworkplanweek and already we knew our names. Now we were going to find out what we enjoyed. At this rate we’d all be brain surgeons by Thursday. This week wasn’t going to be quite as strenuous as I’d feared. Nobody resented the question, they merely resented being there.  “Let’s get one thing clear,” Annette had said earlier, “you’re all here voluntarily. Yes? You all had a choice.” ...“Yeah, Hobson’s Choice” someone said. The truth was that we’d all been told ‘Be there or lose your benefit.’ Annette passed round a form. It told her our skills, where we used them, and any experience which would help us get work. We talked about the ‘Hurdles and Barriers’ to getting work. We talked about the pluses and minuses of being out of work and in work. All of us had been out of work for more than a year, most for longer, some much longer. In the middle of a fractured discussion about age discrimination, we discovered that the average age of the group was about 35. Two people were under 30. There were 12 men and 3 women.
The discussion rambled from one point to another. As a chairperson, Annette was not a great success. After 20 minutes talking about motivation and how to hold the attention of a potential employer she was losing our attention and we were more discouraged than ever. Conversations were breaking out on every table corner. While she was stressing the importance of training I realised that she had no training in how to run a group discussion. It was obvious to everyone. In the tea break, the large handsome Jamaican said “I’ve got a terrific idea. Instead of looking for work again, let’s never look for work again.”  After one morning of the Actionfutureworkplan we all knew what he meant.

This, according to Annette, was our ‘Digdeepday.’ There was a silent groan, something I had never come across before. We started to examine our hopes and aspirations. Among the group were an ex-lorry driver, an ex-forestry worker who couldn’t speak English and had to be informed what an aspiration was, an ex-secretary, an ex-shelf-filler, and an ex-labourer. All 35 or over, and all of whom had taken twenty minutes to fill in a simple form. This was therefore the most depressing part of the week. Asking someone in that situation about their ‘aspirations’ became tantamount to saying 'Your life is absolutely meaningless and pathetic.' Some simply didn’t know what they wanted to do, and were being forced to say so in open court. They just wanted a job. In fact, they didn't want anything, they just didn't want to be un-employed. The double negative at the heart of capitalism.
 It was not a pretty sight. And when the ex-businessman (greatest fault “too trusting”) made his contribution: “Some people just want to sit on their arses in front of the telly. They don’t deserve help” it took a swift change of tack to avoid real trouble. Maybe we’d dug a little too deep. Annette decided we could take an early lunch.

Babylon Sandwich
Lunch, promptly dubbed the 'Babylon Sandwich', was never the highlight of the day. It wasn’t Spam, but ten years ago it would have been. Processed White and cheese or soggy lettuce or ‘seafood’ which tasted like 
Margate beach only pink. Afterwards we roamed the lovely streets of North-Nunhead for an hour and a half and smoked. So this was what work was like. We could get used to this. In fact we were used to this. It was no different to being unemployed for a year - and all in one week. The afternoon brought us Ron from the Quick Hands Agency, who organise ‘training courses designed to provide skills tailored to the demands of today’s high-tech marketplace.’ 
These turned out to be: a two day first aid course, two weeks of Child Care and Baby Maintenance, and How to be a Security Guard. So we could learn how to change nappies and wear a shiny hat with confidence. There was general disgust and outrage. Our faith in the Actionfutureworkplan was completely dead. Every day after lunch, Annette’s sidekick Beverly would take over. If anything, she was even less accomplished than Annette. In fact, after the farce of Tuesday afternoon, the ‘course’ had run out of steam. “What do you want to do tomorrow?” Beverly had asked. Out of the embarrassed silence came the noise: “Mumble mumble. Interviews? Mumble.” So interviews it was.

Day 3
 Beverly entered with a video cassette. “Anyone know how to work this thing?”. The woman did not know how to operate a VHS. Two people simply got up and left the room. The Smart Alec Troublemaker confronted her with the inconsistency of her not being able to show us a training video because she wasn’t trained to operate a VHS. “Not me. It’s not my job. No way.” Mere disillusionment was rapidly turning to mass incredulity. 
With professional supervision and direction, and a lot of editing, the video could probably have been of some use. But there was none. We drifted in and out, discussed hot lottery numbers, and made cups of institutional tea. One or two did ‘heads on desks’, which brought back memories.

Hobson' Choice
Things got more bizarre. Nimbly evading the pros and cons of successful interview technique, someone suggested we “Do a building society. HO-HO.” We plotted the heist in some detail for the next half hour, with Beverly leading the discussion. “But what about the security cameras? Aren’t they connected to the police station?” got pitying looks from around the room. This woman obviously knew nothing. It finally dawned on her that this particular small business idea was not exactly within her brief, and she ended the heist plan and the day with her favourite line: “What do you want to do tomorrow?” The trouble was, someone had an idea. “I’ve got a video.” he said. “It’s sort of about how to set up in business..... It’s a movie.... By the guy that did ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’....'Hobson’s Choice’.” The joke was completely lost on Beverly, but not on the group, who laughed like drains. But it wasn’t a joke. We watched it the next day, complete with Charles Laughton, John Mills and “Ee by gum!” - without any guidance, preamble or review, naturally - but at least it was a recognisable way of passing the time. In fact, it did prompt a detailed discussion about ‘capital’, and there was some pun fun on the virtues of boot sales. It was a start, but it had come too late.  During one of these supervision-free afternoons we speculated about the future.
“We’re surrounded by supermarkets. In six months we’ll all be stacking shelves. And not for pay - for benefit.” This was frightening to hear, even if it was bollocks. 
“Nah, how they going to do that? They can’t make you.” 
“They made you come here didn’t they?” 
“No-one takes away my money. They do that they gonna have big trouble. We torch that Job Centre to ashes. They can put me inside. When I come out I’ll be a hero.” 
That may have been bollocks too, but it was bollocks born out of bitter resentment and frustration. This was someone with nothing to lose: for whom prison was no deterrent because liberty was no better. At least it was someone who had discovered what they’d ‘really like to do’.

DAY 4 
And so the farcical week dragged on. Running the gamut from insulting to bizarre. To be fair, some did benefit from the week. Dave the lorry driver got a job driving a van. Marcos the ex-plasterer was last seen grimly swapping notes about his driving licence points in preparation for an interview for driving a bus. But these were the result of the fabled ‘one-to-one’ sessions with Annette, and could have been provided six months earlier by the Job Centre. During my ‘one-to-one’ it became obvious that no-one in the building had the first idea about operating a computer, and I offered my help with the basics. “Thanks, but no thanks.” said Annette, touching my knee. What did she mean? I escaped flattered but confused. 
I returned un-helped to the main room, into the middle of a discussion about prospects. Someone was loudly stressing the importance of “not seeing the world through rose-coloured scepticals.” It seemed the perfect strategy to me. 

This was a story from the Major administration. Spiteful and stupid though they were, they never stooped to the depths of Cameron and Clegg. And so escaped major collective punishment - more by luck and sleaze than any humanity. The Condem Alliance has learned neither honesty nor humanity. What hope for them when the British people get teachy?

No Scab Labour

As they have threatened, the government is to use forced-labour to destroy jobs, and destabilise the labour market even further. At the same time, this will turn neighbour against neighbour. So that the unemployed nurse working for nothing at the local school will feel compelled to inform on the long-term unemployed husband of the unemployed teacher doing voluntary work at the hospital. This is the Big Society in action.
Given that this measure is totally immoral and insane, all unions should declare strike action in any borough which uses it. There will be no bins collected. No streets swept.
Along with its Enforced Eviction Policy, this further vicous attack on those least responsible for the recession surrenders the 'moral high ground' as effectively as the Israeli Air Force, and delivers a clear chance for decisive, collective, moral  action. A golden opportunity not to be missed if the Condem sabotage of society and social values is to be mitigated in any way, and if we are to learn the lessons of history.


Instant Radicalisation

The popular theory of 'radicalisation' just seems to amount to 'Monkey See - Monkey Do'. Roshonara Choudhry saw a video on YouTube telling her to murder Stephen Timms - so she tried to. So all we have to do is stop anyone seeing the same video, or any video telling anyone to do bad things, and there will be no 'radicalisation'.
This is a wicked perversion of language and politics. The word 'radical' means 'root'. The 'root' of Choudhry's political attitude was not a public video-sermon by a religious micro-sect, but a series of political and economic decisions taken over decades and effecting millions of real lives. It is the world which 'radicalised' Choudhry, not words or pictures. The roots of her anger were real, not imposed. Whatever her crime, she is not a monkey. And neither is any genuine radical who ever saw the root cause of a problem and decided to take effective, rather than cosmetic action. This abuse of the word is an insult to every radical in history. The people who are the founders of those freedoms we do have.

It just so happens that Choudry was not a radical. In fact, the opposite. Her solution does not address the root causes of injustice, merely the symptoms. Stephen Timms being one. Her brand of religious hysteria is fervently reactionary. That is, it seeks to replace one form of injustice with another, relying completely on a mythical past for its idols and preferred power-structure. If it happened, she would not like it. 

The Redness of the Poppy

The memorial bloodstain of the poppy is undoubtedly one of the most powerful single images of the C20th. Effortlessly evoking both the waste of war, and the irresistibility of life. The frail red bloom fluttering over the devastated battlefield sums up our innate hatred of war. A yellow or white poppy would not pull the same strings. It has to be the colour of blood to work. Red is the colour of sacrifice. The same colour as the flag of socialism, and chosen for much the same reason.

The needless slaughter of the trenches was just another sacrifice by the people. Alongside active working class resistance and industrial deaths it is part of a growing down-payment on a decent, fair, humane future. The balance in this transaction with history has long been paid, but we are still waiting for delivery while our investment gathers interest for others. And we continue to make the payments not realising that we are now well in credit, ignorant that change and progress are a birthright, earned by generations of injustice. There is no practical or ethical reason why we cannot be paid what we are owed in full. It is not a matter of granting or dispensing justice, it is ours already. It is for the people only to decide on the nature of the payment.
The poppy has recently been ruthlessly and cynically hijacked by the forces of war and nationalism. The shiny new front-men of military-chic, the glorifiers of military service who peddle pre-historic Hero Worship in the name of corporate profit. All guaranteed to nauseate every soldier who was in the trenches of Flanders or on the Normandy beaches.
But the abuse of the poppy does not change the reality, that the red flower should not merely represent the military casualties of war, but should acknowledge the economic reality of total war, and therefore war's contribution to the larger, genuinely heroic payment by the people towards a genuinely secure and peaceful future. And since this will by definition be a society which does not need wars, it will be some form of socialism or other. Whatever it will be, the general direction will be away from the gory bestiality of the past, and towards some kind of civilisation. The poppy is redder than it seems. 

I'm Dreaming of a Quiet Christmas


All proceeds to charity. Stuff Si-Co and all his agents.


In Defence of Total and Utter Drivelling Idiotic Illiterate Stupid Moronic Etcetetra

Quite soon, for the first time in history, an actual majority of British people (at least) will be regularly using the written word for fun. As a form of entertainment. Their written words, produced by them. And all thanks to texting, online forums, blogs, and the prefabricated convenience mini-websites of Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and the rest. All the names reeled out by the print media (especially) as examples either of our decline into some semi-human swamp of narcissistic sloppy self-indulgence, or as examples of a rising tide of Barbarism which will destroy everything fine and decent. Exactly the same hysteria which has greeted every surge in mass literacy since Gutenberg.
But the shift from being mere consumers of information to producers and distributors of information is something which has never happened before, and will obviously have massive implications for the way people marshal and present their arguments, and even for the way people think. Which is why the gutter press and the sneering classes hate the very idea of the social media which make this revolution possible, and will do everything they can to demean it and stigmatize it as a Vale of Fools.
In fact Facebook and Twitter are only representing the standard level of discourse throughout human history. 99% of every word ever spoken or written has probably been inconsequential trivia. Why forecast the end of civilisation just because we can see it and hear it for the first time?

Tea Party People

Like all other media outlets, the BBC is blithely reporting the US mid-term elections like any other political tournament. A bit like Final Score on a saturday afternoon with all the latest results from all the grounds across the country and their implications for league positions and the title race.
I don't think it quite understands the kind of mental turmoil the US is going through, which isn't that very different from the kind of social hysteria of Stalin's Terror, with logic and reason being bent out of shape in the hands of reactionary fear, and communities tearing themselves apart in a race to be the most ideologically pure. In this case the ideology being any means to prevent a democratically elected government executing its duties and pledges to the people.
The Tea Party and its accomplices do represent an attempt to subvert what there is left of US democracy. And it has the receipts to prove it. No movement with that amount of financial and media backing can be written off, and no movement with their policy of total negativism and denial and pure paranoid hatred can ever qualify as a genuine political ideology. They are a collection of the diseased. And so we are left with the only place for them, as the first modern fascist party - although perhaps Berlusconi, like his idol Mussolini, would claim to have been there first.
There are the usual assorted cranks who believe that the Tea Party are just cranks. That this is just business as usual then. Like in Munich in 1923, for instance. The kind of dear souls who believes that fascism was exterminated forever in 1945.
Apart from the darker possibilities, the immediate effects on millions of American lives, who face 2 years of administrative sabotage and inertia are enough to be alarmist about. But the truth about fascism is that it will always re-emerge at times of crisis, and always adapt the most applicable tools at its disposal. It is emerging now, and Fox News is its single main propaganda tool. Which puts it under the wing of one of the most powerful corporations in the most powerful economic sector of the prevailing technology of the day.
They are not cranks to be written off like some religious sect (though they are one) but a clear and severe symptom of a deep decay in american society, one which has cultural roots in America's origins, and in its testing of capitalism to destruction two years ago.


Shithole, USA.

The collective mental collapse of US society is sad to watch, but not surprising.
The mere fact that the timid Obama can be even lightly scented by the word 'socialism' shows the depth of their psychosis and fear. Not to mention their unfathomable ignorance. All desirable skills for a resurgent fascist movement, which of course is what we are seeing in the US, in a classic form, if updated and remodelled by its time and technology into the 'Tea Party' and Fox News. The jackboots are gone, but the same raving paranoia and fantasy utopias (past and future) are still there.
It's for sane America to sort out these casualties of Consumerism, but not by electing them to office to paralyse government for two years, which is what they seem to be doing. And the last thing America needs, of course, is more of the same Consumerist medicine which made it sick in the first place. That would also be insane. At the moment, America has its head in the gas oven.
All the world can hope is that the US can somehow reconcile its traumatic, crippling past with the crisis it is now undergoing, and come out a healed society, where everyone counts. If America can manage it, there are no excuses for any other country.
As the T-Shirt says

Bonfire Not

Municipal fireworks displays are drab affairs. And the biggest and safest are the bleakest and most unfriendly.
The missing ingredient of all of them is the bonfire. No bonfire on Bonfire Night - no point. Watching expensive whizzbangs in the freezing cold and dark is not an activity, it is a procedure. Without the focus and unique light of a fire, there is no social activity to speak of, just a series of co-ordinated OOH's and AAH's with occasional incontinence.
Bonfire night always used to be a chance for a community to gather outdoors in the warm for the last time before the real winter closed in. And a chance to assess the past year and the chances for the next. Fireworks were a part of the fun, but the real business would be the preparation of the sacred fire. So much so that bonfire rustling was a regular community offence. Any bonfire built too big too soon was liable to be snatched the night before by rival estates or even villages. So timing was important.
The night itself saw extra fuel arrive, sometimes by the lorryload. The architecture was critical, and the unofficial office of bonfire-lighter was jealously guarded from year to year and even handed down from father to son. Etecetera when I were a lad etcetera (see Appendix 101B).. The point is that the culture of Bonfire night runs deep and fast, but is killed stone dead by the current showbiz packaging.
Unsurprisingly, bonfires are now banned in most cities (except Belfast?). And fireworks are the only way to celebrate the event, such as it is. And since fireworks are meant to be dangerous, and are definitely expensive, the council Bang-Flash Fest was born.
If the authorities say that releasing massive amounts of deadly, carcinogenic poisons into the atmosphere is Healthier and Safer than burning rotten wood then I suppose they know best. Now I love smell of Dioxins in the morning as much as anyone. Smells like - childhood. The school walk to school on November 6th was always a bit magical because of it. Xmas didn't leave a smell the day after.
But if I had to choose, I'd go for a pile of glowing embers, some ash-burnt potatoes with butter, and the leisurely shared hipflask every time. And given the chance, so would most people. Bonfires are the fireworks that keep on giving.


Resistance is Useful

The response to the immediate problem of the attack on the housing budget should be as broad-based as possible, which calls to mind the Anti-Polltax Alliance, which crossed political and income barriers, and worked.
Before asking people to solve the fundamental problems of the markets, there are urgent, achievable goals which need to be met, such as preventing the destruction of communities and lives by the housing benefit cap.
Only by a practical demonstration of resistance can people ever be convinced of their own power. And so there will have to be a mass funeral of hatchets if life is not to be made even harder for yet another generation of property market slaves.

Candyman Get Well Soon

I don't know why Danny Baker (the Thinking Man's Stephen Fry) deserves more sympathy than other cancer sufferers. Obviously he doesn't. Perhaps he could represent them all. But it doesn't matter. It isn't happening. 'I don't have to believe it if I don't want to.'