Guest post from Pink Prosecco
When visiting a friend who teaches at a university, I found myself looking at a printout of a strange pie chart. It looked at first glance like something produced by a cult targeting the terminally insecure, offering various paths to self-improvement and enlightenment. However it turned out to be a diagram presenting the skill sets required by postgraduate researchers.
An idle google brought up a whole website full of further documentation about this framework, produced by Vitae. It seems that there are 63 skills, each of which can be further subdivided into five levels of attainment. I was reminded of this (begins 12:30 minutes in).
Some people will leap on any opportunity to avoid what they should be doing in favour of peripheral preliminaries – and it’s very easy to imagine a certain type of student striving for perfection in all these areas, going up the levels like a Dungeon and a Dragons character – rather than actually producing a thesis.
Given the hike in student fees and the loss of the EMA – the production of this obsessively elaborate scheme and its reams of associated documentation didn’t seem like the best use of public money. My friend seemed to be drowning in grant applications, marking, publishing deadlines, research audits, and countless other still more thankless tasks. Bureaucrats have plenty of time to produce superfluous schemes, new hoops for everyone to jump through – but lecturers seem to have no time to fight back. But perhaps they – and their students – don’t want to? I’m surprised to find no critical or simply satirical comment on this – not because I think what it’s saying and promoting is particularly objectionable – simply because it seems so cumbersome and unnecessary.
Shiraz Socialist has on a number of occasions described Mr George Galloway, MP for
Blackburn Bradford West, as a “Stalinist,” a term that implies a belief in a form of socialism, characterised by state control of the means of production and opposition to private property.
Above: young Galloway while still a socialist… of sorts
In view of Mr Galloway’s inteview with Ms Decca Aitkenhead in today’s Guardian G2, in which he states:
“But my main political mistake, in retrospect, was that state ownsership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, in which I believed, and for which I campaigned, was a false God…Yes I’m not saying that everything in the private garden is rosy. There’s just more flowers than there were in the state garden. I’m sorry to say that, and, yes it is painful.”
…we accept that it was completely untrue to suggest that Mr Galloway is presently a “Stalinist” or, indeed, a believer in any ideology that could be described as in any remote way, however degenerate, as “socialist.” We unreservedly apologise to Mr Galloway for any distresss caused to himself, any of his wives, or Mr Ovenden.
We accept that Mr Galloway is a godly, religious man, perhaps a Catholic or possibly a Muslim, but either way he opposes secularism and seeks to re-introduce religiously-based communalism to British politics. As Ms Aitkenhead notes:
“We had talked a great deal about the role of religion in politics, and could not have disagreed more. I thought it outrageous to urge voters in Bradford, as he did, to vote for him or fear the wrath of judgment day. Galloway can’t see the problem at all: ‘I believe that, on judgment day, people have to answer for what they did.’ When I ask if he is troubled that many voters thought he had converted to Islam, he replies: ‘Well, I don’t think many of them are interested in my religion’ – which is pretty rich, considering he put out a leaflet all about which candidate was more of a Muslim. Contrary to every report I’ve read, he doesn’t deny writing the leaflet himself. I think he is ludicrously slippery about invoking religion, playing it both ways to suit his own purposes, but, as he says, we are never going to agree because he doesn’t think politics should be secular. ‘So it’s apples and pears, dear’.”
When experienced journalists see Rupert Murdoch and his dynasty in operation, they think,:-
Watching Murdoch’s performance reminded me a little of The Godfather. In the gangster genre, the most powerful mafiosi are often elderly, amiable and rather ineffectual-looking figures in bad clothes, who look like they should be living in old people’s homes, and sometimes are. But that belies their power.
No, I’m not saying that Rupert Murdoch is a member of the Mafia, or behaves like one, or that he has done anything improper. But he is, nevertheless, a great study in the charisma of power. When you possess this kind of aura you don’t need to throw your weight about. You don’t need to look threatening, or bark or growl. In fact, you hardly have to do anything at all, because everyone does your bidding, practically before you have even thought about it yourself. So, I’m sure Murdoch told nothing but the truth when he said, “I’ve never asked a prime minister for anything in my life”. At this level, you don’t have to ask.
While more than 30 individuals wait to hear if they will face criminal charges, reputations are in shreds and political careers on life support, Murdoch, like a Marvel Comics villain, puts on the don’s Borsalino at the end of last week’s show, flashes the re-enamelled fangs and is swept from the Royal Courts of Justice looking triumphant. Of course he has been irreparably damaged by the scandal, as he pointed out several times (like all true villains, Murdoch aspires to victimhood). It’s just that he seems to be suffering a good deal less than anyone else who became entangled with his enterprises.
I sat on a sofa, Brooks perched on the arm of another sofa, and Murdoch walked and talked. He was excitable and angry. “You’ve impugned the reputation of my family,” he said at one point. He called me “a fucking fuckwit” and became furious at my bemusement that he should find our campaign so upsetting, given that one of his newspapers famously claimed that it did indeed decide elections.
Brooks said very little, but, when her boss’s rage blew itself out, chipped in with: “We thought you were our friend”. Their use of language and the threatening nature of their approach came straight from the “Mafioso for Beginners” handbook.
His statement does, however, reveal a much wider and more significant truth: the Murdoch way of doing business. If you come to our parties, if you join us on our yachts, if you are at our cosily-arranged dinner table, we might expect something in return, but we certainly don’t expect you act in a way contrary to our interests. And if our largest-selling newspaper supports your political party … well, it’s not difficult to guess the rest.
In retrospect, that incident in the Independent newsroom was the first sign of a fissure in the edifice of News International. Little more than a footnote in newspaper history it may be, but what it betrayed was a breathtaking lack of judgment and discretion, the head of the country’s most powerful media organisation straying on to the sovereign territory of another newspaper to berate the editor over an incontestable truth in an advertising campaign. It’s the same lack of judgment, together with a monumental arrogance in the wielding of corporate power, that has led us to where we are today. Which, of course, is the eve of the appearance before Lord Justice Leveson of Rupert Murdoch, the capo di tutti capi.
(Another blogger spotted this mafia motif before I did).
I’m sorry I didn’t take my camera to the Pedal on Parliament event yesterday. It started in the Meadows, and the lines of cyclists under the avenues of cherry blossom were a splendid sight. The police estimate for numbers was 2500. Spokes estimate 3000.
There are some great copy-proof pictures on Flickr.
It was a bright day with a freezing north east wind, and the clothes you wear for cycling are not the warmest ones for standing around in waiting for the pedal march to begin. All ages there – small kids on cycles with stabilisers, smaller ones on bike seats or in buggy-trailers. Bikes of every descriptions – old roadsters, mountain bikes, racers, unicycles and tandems for three. People in smart, sponsor-logoed club clothing or in tweed suits, though of course day glo yellow cycling jackets predominated. Then through the Meadows, and down the Royal Mile. To the motorists we must have been their nightmare – the contemptible speed-impediments bunched together, in huge numbers. To me, used to being a minority on the literal fringes when cycling through the streets, it was heartening to be in the mainstream for once and part of a dominating majority.
Then down to Holyrood. The grass area below the new Scottish parliament is a good area for rallies – it’s spacious, and also sheltered from the wind.
The politicians who addressed us had won clout for their activities on behalf of cycling. One stressed that they were not talking about “funding for” but “investment in” cycling – that is, cycling is not an add on, but as an integral part of transport and the economy in general. Others (I didn’t note who said what) evoked Stockholm and Scotland’s climate change measures.
In Edinburgh cycling has increased from 1% to 7% of road use and it has been assigned 5% of the transport budget. Pressure from local groups like Spokes, along with some effective councillors, have made a great difference. My naked eye has seen far more cyclists commuting and, as a spin-off, more cycle shops opening. Near where I work two more have opened in the last year. I’d say there were six within easy pushing-your-cycle distance.
‘Don’t buy a pig in a poke’ might seem odd and archaic language. It’s true that the phrase is very old, but actually it can be taken quite literally and remains good advice.
The advice being given is ‘don’t buy a pig until you have seen it’. This is enshrined in British commercial law as ‘caveat emptor’ – Latin for ‘let the buyer beware’. This remains the guiding principle of commerce in many countries and, in essence, supports the view that if you buy something you take responsibility to make sure it is what you intended to buy.
On May 3rd, as well as the local elections, there will be refereda in 10 English cities on whether they want elected mayor instead of a leader and cabinet.
The idea of elected mayors seems to have the support of most national political leaders from the main parties. We’re told that it will revitalise local governmet, put the cities on the map, bring in investment, enthuse the electorate, etc, etc. Strange then, that the campaigns for elected mayors seem to have attracted so little interest or enthusiam from the electorate. Perhaps the unedifying Livingstone v Johnson farce in London has put people off.
The whole idea has its roots in the kind of 1980’s managerialism so favoured by the Blairites, with its emphasis on “charismatic” leaders unencumbered by the petty bureacracy of committees and cabinets…and (one suspects) democracy itself. It has never been explained how an elected mayor is going to revive local democracy or boost investment, or do any of the other wonderful things that enthusiasts for the system claim for it.
Interstingly, in Birmingham the keenest campaigners for an elected mayor (and the presently declared contenders) are all Labour politicians of the Blair/Brown era: Siôn Simon, Liam Byrne and Gisela Stuart – three of the most shameless careerists and wretched hacks to have graced the Paliamentary Labour Party in recent years (which is surely saying something). The Tories and Lib Dems in Brum are publicly opposed to an elected mayor and Tory Councillor James Hutchings is running the “Vote No to a Power Freak” campaign (that compares a future mayor with Hitler), but it is the worst kept secret in Brum that if the referedum goes in favour then Tory council leader Mike Whitby will immediately throw his hat in the ring.
The strangest thing about the entire elected mayor “debate” is that no-one knows what powers they will possess or exactly how the system will work. A recent letter to the Birmingham Mail put all the right questions:
THOSE in favour of a directly elected mayor for Birmingham have yet to address the following questions:
* How can Birmingham’s electorate vote on the creation of an office whose powers central government have yet to determine?
* How can potential mayoral candidates make credible promises over the next few months when central government will not announce the mayor’s full powers until after the election in November?
* An elected mayor will require only 40 of Birmingham’s 120 councillors to vote for their budget and strategic policies to be approved, whereas under the current system a majority of the council is required. How would this change enhance democratic accountability?
* In future it will require an Act of Parliament at Westminster rather than a referendum for Birmingham to change the mayoral system should it prove unsatisfactory. How is it more democratic for central government to remove forever the right of Birmingham’s people to trigger a referendum on how they are governed?
* Will elected mayors be able to decide for themselves to reduce the number of local councillors and the frequency of local elections?
* An elected mayor will be able to appoint an unlimited number of deputies, advisers and commissioners. What democratic scrutiny will there be of such appointments, how are their salaries decided, and can they be removed from office by anyone other than the mayor?
*Under what circumstances can a mayor be ‘recalled’ or otherwise dismissed during their term of office?
Rather than vague arguments about personalities offering ‘strong leadership’, the debate on elected mayors should address these serious questions about the future of local democracy in Birmingham
-David Parker, Hodge Hill
As far as I’m aware no-one has yet provided Mr Parker with the answers he seeks. But it’s not quite true that we have simply no idea how the system would work. Apart from the London experience, there’s also:
* Stoke, where Labour Party member Mark Meredith was elected Mayor in 2005, only to decide that the mayoral system was unsuitable for dealing with the City’s long-term financial deficits and re-forming a de-facto Cabinet model for the council (the ‘Elected Mayor and Manager’ arrangement). When the government withdrew this option and ordered a second referedum in October 2008 the position of Elected Mayor was abolished and replaced by the old council leader and cabinet set-up (albeit on a turnout of just 19%). Mr Meredith continued in his £69,000 role until being arrested in March 2009 on suspicion of misconduct in public office and complicity in corruption in public office. In the end no charges were brought due to “insufficient evidence.”
* Doncaster, where Peter Davies of the English Democrats was elected in 2009 with 22% of first preferences on a 36% turnout (ie 8% of the electorate) on a platform of “English freedom and values not multiculturalism,” withdrawal from the EU, an end to political correctness and mass immigration and “the right to enjoy and celebrate Englishness.” He has stated that Britain could learn about family values from the Taliban; perhaps unsurprisingly, his first act on election was to cut the funding to the town’s Gay Pride event. He is also on record as stating that “there is no such thing as child poverty.” In 2010 the audit commission declared that Davis “lacked the political skills to build and maintain consensus” and acknowledged that his public statements had served to “worry sections of the community who are already vulnerable.” Since then the running of Doncaster has been overseen by a team of commissioners sent in by the government.
With these inspiring precedents, it’s pretty obvious how Brummies and the others should vote in their referenda… isn’t it?
And remember: it’s elected Police Commissioners next!
*Acknowledgements to John Harris in the Guardian
* Useful factsheet here
Pedal on Parliament: a mass ride on Holyrood
Gather at the Meadows on April 28th
(2pm for a 3pm start)
Pedal on Parliament will be gathering cyclists from across the nation to cycle on Holyrood to tell our politicians that cycling matters, to show our need for safer cycling and cities fit for people. Please join us and help make a Scotland fit for cycling!
In February, up to 2000 cyclists gathered in London to cycle on the Westminster Parliament in support of safer cycling and cities fit for people. On April 28th, to coincide with a follow-up ride in London, Pedal on Parliament will be gathering cyclists from across the nation to cycle on Holyrood. We’re asking everyone who cycles in Scotland – or who would like to cycle, or would like their families to cycle, but who doesn’t feel safe – to join us for a big ride of our own – and a big picnic. Young and old, keen commuter or weekend pedaller, fit or not – you don’t even need to be on a bike. You just need to show up and add your voice to help make Scotland safe for cycling.
What do we want?
We have created an eight point manifesto to help Scotland’s devolved government reach its target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020, a target which is now also embedded in its low carbon and obesity strategies. The government’s present Cycling Action Plan [CAPS] is far too limited to achieve the target, whilst the proportion of the transport budget allocated to cycling remains wholly inadequate at under 1%. Our manifesto covers:
- Proper funding for cycling.
- Design cycling into Scotland’s roads.
- Slower speeds where people live, work and play
- Integrate cycling into local transport strategies
- Improved road traffic law and enforcement
- Reduce the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians
- A strategic and joined-up programme of road user training
- Improved statistics supporting decision-making and policy
More info here.
It’s a rare thing for anyone in the public eye to come out and simply admit they were wrong about something important. Oh yes, we’ve all heard the non-apology (“If you stupidly misunderstood me, I’m sorry about that,” as perfected by A. Blair Esq) and the “I was taken out of context”-type wriggling. But for a public figure to come out and plainly admit they were wrong on a major issue is, these days, a rare and wonderful thing.
So all credit to BBC world affairs editor John Simpson who admitted in Sunday’s Observer that he was wrong to have supported the so-called Living Marxism (LM) magazine when ITN sued it for libel in 2000:
“Vulliamy’s account of what happened in the camps is completely unanswerable; and I’m sorry now that I supported the small post-Marxist magazine Living Marxism when it was sued by ITN for questioning its reporting of the camps. It seemed to me at the time that big, well-funded organisations should not put small magazines out of business; but it’s clear that there were much bigger questions involved,” writes Simpson in the course of a review of The War is Dead, Long Live the War: Bosnia – The Reckoning by Ed Vullamy.
For those who don’t remember the case, it’s probably worth just running through the basic facts:
Early in the Bosnian war (August 1992) Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian, together with Penny Marshall of ITN and Ian Williams of Channel 4 managed to reach two Serbian prison camps, Omarska and Trnopolje, where emaciated Bosnian Muslim men were being held under conditions that looked very much like those of the Nazi’s concentration camps in WW2.
Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams witnessed the skeletal figures at Trnopolje, but, at Omarska they managed to speak to some of the men: one said, “I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth.” Later it emerged that at Omarska prisoners were forced to bite the testicles off one another and had live pigeons stuffed into their mouths as they died in agony. Prisoners were forced to load the corpses of their friends onto trucks by bulldozer.
Vulliamy later wrote “Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or had even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes.” Less satanic than Omarska perhaps, but that isn’t really saying very much, as Vulliamy would be the first to agree.
Naturally, on their return the journalists reported what they had seen and ITN’s images of the emaciated figures at Tropolje (and especially that of Fikret Alic, above) came to sybolise the barbarity of the Serb genocide of Muslims and Croatians in Bosnia. They also almost certainly played a major part in bringing to an end the British foreign office’s appeasement of the Serbs.
Fast-forward to 1997 and an article in the trendy “post-Marxist” magazine LM (as in Living Marxism, its previous name), by one Thomas Deichman: “The picture that fooled the world.”
Centred upon the Fikret Alic photo, the article claimed that there was no barbed wire around Trnopolje and that “it was not a prison, and certainly not a ‘concentration camp’, but a collection centre for refugees, many of whom went there seeking safety and could leave again if they wished.” Deichman, who turned out to be consistent supporter of Serb war criminals like Dusko Tadic and Radovan Karadzic, claimed that ITN and the other journalists had deliberately misrepresented what was going on at Trnopolje and had failed to correct the allegedly false impression they had created when other media repeated their claims. ITN believed that their journalistic integrity was at stake and sued LM for libel.
LM initially succeeded in obscuring the central issue by presenting the case as a ‘David v Goliath’ free speech issue, and persuaded some leading liberals to rally to their support: Harold Evans, Doris Lessing, Paul Theroux, Fay Weldon and John Simpson all condemned ITN’s “deplorable attack on press freedom.” To this day, the likes of Noam Chomsky, Diana Johnstone and Alexander Cockburn refuse to acknowledge that what ITN and the other journalists said and wrote was true and that Deichmann and LM were simply apologists for Serb genocide.
Professor David Campbell of Durham University studied the case and summarised it thus:
“…as strange as existing British libel law is, it had an important and surprisingly beneficial effect in the case of ITN vs LM. The LM defendants and Thomas Deichmann were properly represented at the trial and were able to lay out all the details of their claim that the ITN reporters had “deliberately misrepresented” the situation at Trnopolje. Having charged ‘deliberate misrepresentation’, they needed to prove ‘deliberate misrepresentation’. To this end, the LM defendants were able to cross-examine Penny Marshall and Ian Williams, as well as every member of the ITN crews who were at the camps, along with other witnesses. (That they didn’t take up the opportunity to cross-examine the Bosnian doctor imprisoned at Trnopolje, who featured in the ITN stories and was called to testify on the conditions and others suffered, was perhaps the moment any remaining shred of credibility for LM’s allegations evaporated). They were able to show the ITN reports to the court, including the rushes from which the final TV stories were edited, and conduct a forensic examination of the visuals they alleged were deceitful. And all of this took place in front of a jury of twelve citizens who they needed to convince about the truthfulness of their allegations. They failed. The jury found unanimously against LM and awarded the maximum possible damages. So it was not ITN that bankrupted LM. It was LM’s lies about the ITN reports that bankrupted themselves, morally and financially. Despite their failure, those who lied about the ITN reports have had no trouble obtaining regular access to the mainstream media in Britain, where they continue to make their case as though the 2000 court verdict simply didn’t exist. Their freedom of speech has thus not been permanently infringed” (quoted on Wikipedia).
Why is this important? Well, as I noted at the outset, it makes a refreshing change to read a clear-cut, unambiguous apology and admission of error from a figure like Simpson (compare and contrast Chomsky’s self-righteous evasions). Secondly, it’s important to set the record straight about the Bosnian war and Serb genocide, as vile revisionism, repeating all Deichman’s lies is still to be found on the web, as though the ITN case had never happened. Thirdly, LM has succeeded in transforming itself into first Spiked Online and then the ‘Institute of Ideas’ and their people, as George Monbiot has pointed out, have succeeded in getting themselves lucrative and high-profile employment as supposedly ‘reputable’ commentators in the mainstream media (eg Mick Hume at The Times and Claire Fox on Radio 4’s ‘ The Moral Maze’).
And one final point: it wasn’t just the degenerates of the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)/Living Marxism who were de facto apologists for Serb genocide during the Bosnian war. A lot of the left did much the same, albeit less blatantly, including those who a few years on would pose as great friends of Muslims everywhere…
The Bosnian war still holds important lessons for the left.
Miller: Get thee to Gloucester, Essex. Do thee to Wessex, Exeter.
Fair Albany to Somerset must eke his route.
And Scroop, do you to Westmoreland, where shall bold York
Enrouted now for Lancaster, with forces of our Uncle Rutland,
Enjoin his standard with sweet Norfolk’s host.
Fair Sussex, get thee to Warwicksbourne,
And there, with frowning purpose, tell our plan
To Bedford’s tilted ear, that he shall press
With most insensate speed
And join his warlike effort to bold Dorset’s side.
I most royally shall now to bed,
To sleep off all the nonsense I’ve just said.
They exit. Re-enter all four as rustics.
Miller: Is it all botched up, then, Master Puke?
Bennett: Aye, and marry is, good Master Snot.
Moore: ‘Tis said our Master, the Duke, hath contrived some naughtiness against his son, the King.
Cook: Aye, and it doth confound our merrymaking.
Miller: What say you, Master Puke? I am for Lancaster, and that’s to say for good shoe leather.
Cook: Come speak, good Master Puke, or hath the leather blocked up thy tongue?
Moore: Why then go trippingly upon thy laces, good Grit.
Cook: Art leather laces thy undoing?
Moore: They shall undo many a fair boot this day.
All: Come, let’s to our rural revel and with our song enchant our King.
Enter Cook and Miller, with swords.
Miller: Why then was this encounter nobly entertained
And so by steel shall this our contest be buckled up.
Come, sir. Let’s to it.
Cook: Let’s to it.
Good steel, thou shalt thyself in himself embowel.
Miller: Come, sir. (They fight)
Ah ha, a hit!
Cook: No, sir, no hit, a miss! Come, sir, art foppish i’ the mouth.
They fight again. Cook ‘hits’ Miller.
Miller: Oh, God, fair cousin, thou hast done me wrong. (He dies)
Now is steel twixt gut and bladder interposed.
Cook: Oh, saucy Worcester, dost thou lie so still?
Bennett: Now hath mortality her tithe collected
And sovereign Albany to the worms his corpse committed.
Yet weep we not; this fustian life is short,
Let’s on to Pontefract to sanctify our court.
Shakespeare’s birthday and death day so here’s a bit from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. This is the speech of parlay at the siege of Harfleur. I think it was left out of the Olivier version, which was made in World War II, and was colourful and patriotic.. Branagh’s take on Henry V was to make it far greyer, muddier and bloodier than Olivier’s, emphasising the horrors of war.
Henry V. How yet resolves the governor of the town?
This is the latest parle we will admit;
Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves;
Or like to men proud of destruction
Defy us to our worst: for, as I am a soldier,
A name that in my thoughts becomes me best,
If I begin the battery once again,
I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur
Till in her ashes she lie buried.
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the flesh’d soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.
What is it then to me, if impious war,
Array’d in flames like to the prince of fiends,
Do, with his smirch’d complexion, all fell feats
Enlink’d to waste and desolation?
What is’t to me, when you yourselves are cause,
If your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation?
What rein can hold licentious wickedness
When down the hill he holds his fierce career?
We may as bootless spend our vain command
Upon the enraged soldiers in their spoil
As send precepts to the leviathan
To come ashore. Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people,
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O’erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil and villany.
If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash’d to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy’d?