Friday, March 14, 2014

On a day like this...

To say “I once met Tony Benn and I saw him speak dozens of times and thought he was wonderful” is not to say much. I met and saw Tony Benn during his golden age, after parliament. He spoke to millions of people in this time the vast majority of them, I’m sure, were moved and inspired by him like I was.
His willingness to travel up and down the land, to speak to anyone and everyone, from army officers to far-left activists, helped popularise the socialist idea and keep it in public life at a time when there has been no mass party willing to do the job. No man can substitute for an organisation and we are where we are as a society today. Despite Benn’s best efforts the vestiges of the post-war consensus, that society, through the state, would ensure the well-being of all its members, are being torn apart pitilessly. This consensus was the closest thing we have ever known to socialism.
Tony Benn’s public life begs the question what is power for? When he observed last year that all political careers end in failure but that his ended earlier than most I got a sense of sadness and self-reproach behind his charm and tenacity.
He was a large part of the labour movement for fifty years. Despite being a ‘reformist’ he was worth as much if not more than the untold numbers of Lenin wannabes. His final years away from parliament saw him marginalised from power, no longer the ‘most dangerous man in Britain’. Those years were a reckoning. Tony Benn’s road did not lead to a lasting egalitarian democracy either. He went back to the start and he began again, which, I suppose is the greatest example he set. While he may have been marginalised from power he was right in the midst of the people.
The only tribute worthy of Tony Benn would be to take his vision of socialist democracy and make it real and permanent, sooner rather than later.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What makes a man turn centrist?

Gold...? Lust for power...? Or were you just born with a heart full of centrality?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Back, for a short while... here's some stuff about stuff

I remember a time before the current Golden Age of Television. It was a time when TV was largely embarrassing and terrible. The age of Mr Blobby and Jim Davidson.

That said it was also a time when BBC2 wasn't just BBC1 with slippers on. Friday night you could watch anything from Johnathan Meades to Ren and Stimpy... that's if you were allowed the second TV.

If we are in a Golden Age it's because multi-channel TV helps viewers pan through the river of excrement (or Channel Four as it's now known) for those priceless nuggets. It's channels like BBC3 that do the work. Not much of it's output is great, some of it is brilliant though and lots of it is unique within public broadcasting. For example, there would be no Mighty Boosh without BBC3, what mainstream commissioner would have given that the green light?

Taking BBC3 off air will diminish popular culture. It's small beer compared to service cuts and food bank queues, but it is austerity in action, bitter and pernicious. Sign this, if you like.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Small irony

The Slender Man was created online in 2009 as part of a contest to manufacture paranormal images. Many people will have seen the original thread with the original pictures and stories. I have, and they were great. I say 'were' because some time last year they began to be taken down. 
It turns out someone has bought the rights to the Slender Man. Not his creator, the well-known Victor Surge, but an unknown third party. A small irony: private property in ideas means a mysterious entity has bought the rights to a mysterious entity. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

RMT London Underground Strike - day 1

My experience

The first day of this strike has been very effective. My own personal experience is that my commute, normally one and a half hours and two buses (practically door-to-door), managed to take three hours both ways with long stretches of walking.

What's at stake?

The tube staff have right on their side. Boris Johnson promised in election material not to close ticket offices, in fact he said he'd have a "manned ticket office in every station." Boris Johnson has no mandate to do what he's doing. He has also not met with RMT representatives since taking office. He's more likely to encounter to Bob Crowe on a radio show than in an official negotiation. Little wonder then that the RMT does not take vague promises of job reallocation within TFL at face value.

But, more than that, ticket offices not only make for better customer service but also better health and safety. After the 7/7 bombings station staff were regarded as heroes who risked their lives to help save passengers. Why aren't they being treated as heroes now?

What's likely to happen?

This is transparent union-busting going on if you ask me. But so far it has backfired on Boris Johnson. Johnson is a bully but he's a complacent bully that never expects his victim to fight back. The longer this strike holds the harder it will get for him. This strike will already have had a measurable economic impact. The longer it can hold on the greater the pressure will be to find a solution that satisfies the underground workers.

If the RMT succeeds it will not only have defended its members terms and conditions the union will have destroyed Boris Johnson. His political career will be over. The Tory Party will lose a key electoral asset. If Boris Johnson loses this contest the Tory Party will lose most of London at the general election.

So, there will be huge pressure coming down on the RMT leadership now, and don't bank on them to hold firm. This is British trade unionism we're talking about, more masochist than militant. Don't be surprised if Johnson runs to the courts, and, if Johnson wins don't be surprised if the Tories make us all pay with new anti-union laws.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Thoughts for the Brain

Here’s a nice little blog post about intellectual property, open government, resource management and democracy. California is the largest state in the American union, both demographically and economically. It has a number of large, world-cities and could quite easily exist as a country in its own right.

The majority of the state has either a Mediterranean or desert climate. The upshot of this is the climate/landscape is dominated by low frequency high intensity events. It is difficult to project a reliable average for, say, sunlight, wind or rainfall, when most years fall way outside that average.

A non-profit organisation in California has been taking data from the state water board and using it to produce a water atlas. The fact that data was shared, rather than regarded as private property, means it is practically possible 1) to see how reliable the water supply is and how much it actually costs to get it to the user 2) it makes it possible to plan for future shortages, and dry periods are quite regular in California.

It also shows how open information taps into greater human resources. The California water board either did not have the time, the resources or the staff or the institutional prerogative to use its data in this manner. Open source projects are, by their nature, anti-capitalist, because they break down ideas as private property. Of course in themselves they don’t overthrow capitalism. The remaining question is how to sustain open source projects as campaigns. The answer is with great difficulty.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

William Burroughs is One Hundred

One hundred years old this Wednesday, though, unless he is somewhere, liberating The Western Lands, he's not going to notice. In my opinion William Burroughs is the most important author of the twentieth century. James Joyce is the obvious candidate, but Joyce is a very different type of writer. Ulysses (and perhaps Finnegans Wake) are an endpoint. They are the last stop of a journey taken by fiction (starting arguably with Jane Austen), where the author takes the reader deeper and deeper into the psychology of the characters. 

Burroughs work is anti-psychological. He was a remarkable man, for someone very intelligent and outwardly rational, he believed in a magical universe. He began writing in the middle of the twentieth century, a period, Marshall McLuhan argued, when culture and consciousness changed, from linear and sequential to non-linear and mythical; non-linear and mythical perhaps best sums up when Burroughs wrote.

Some observations:

1) William Burroughs was a man of contradictions, many of which people miss. That's normally not saying much.  He was a counter cultural figure who dressed like a banker. He was a man who advocated freedom and self-reliance, who lived on a trust fund until his fifties. Will Self I think slightly over-eggs the pudding calling Burroughs a down the line libertarian. Nonetheless it is an irony that a man who stood foursquare against hierarchical control died in 1997, addicted to methadone, doled out on a government programme (methadone, which invented by nazi chemists).
2) His description of modern control is spot on. He probably wasn't looking to generalise from his Algebra of Need to the rest of society. Even so modern control subject is a debtor/addict, much less the traditional soldier/prisoner. His theories of power and subservience are undoubtedly anti-capitalist, even if he did not see them as such. Modern rebellion has to be much more about breaking the spell nestled in people's minds, and that means more than pointing out to them the fact of their exploitation and oppression. William Burroughs is an ally. 
3) He is not often referred to as a gay writer, despite large swathes of his writing being gay fantasy. I suppose one reason is that much of you read of his is an uneasy balance between humour and horror, and not exactly erotic. 
I might come up with something a touch more polished in the next couple of days, I might not as nothing written here really matters.