Google+ A Tangled Rope: 03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Labour Isn’t Working

Enoch Powell once said, "All political lives end in failure", and what is true of individual politicians seems to be true of governments as it is also often said that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. We all know how the Callaghan government lost power for Labour the last time ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ back in the 70s. We also know that Labour has lost the next election too, alienating so much of its support, people like me – for example – who can now never vote for them again, despite having voted for them at every election (local and national) since I became old enough to vote back in 1977.

However, what has surprised me was reading this:

The root trouble was really the wider disaffection of middle opinion (not necessarily middle-class opinion) against a programme of ‘consolidation’ which at best was drab and puritanical, and at worst illiberal and restrictive of individual choice.*

This quote doesn’t refer to the current government, although it could well, do, nor does it refer to the Wilson/Callaghan era of Labour governments either; it does in fact refer to the infamous post-war Labour government just before it lost the 1951 election.

So, what I think is interesting about this is not the fact that the Labour governments end up losing an election at some point (as – I suppose all governments must do eventually), but the fact that they seem to end up losing them for the same reason each time.

It seems the world over (except the USA for some reason) people are constantly seduced by the left-wing ideal of fairness, justice, equality and so forth. However, they always end up with something ‘drab and puritanical, and at worst illiberal and restrictive of individual choice’ every single time. It has happened so often throughout history, it seems that we can no longer escape the conclusion that this… this ill-liberality is inherent in the left, that it cannot exist without this enforcement of people into the right shape for its ideology.

If the people are lucky, though, they can – like the UK – vote them out… eventually. Others, like Cuba and North Korea are not so lucky, like the Russians and East Europeans earlier, and the Chinese soon – we hope – they have to wait for the regime to collapse.

*Pge:104 Britain Since 1945: The People’s Peace – Kenneth O. Morgan OUP.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Notes and Comments: 27/03/2008


A very good article by Rodger Kimball about how the wonderful 1960s, especially that ‘very good year’ 1968, weren’t. An edited version of it appears at The Grauniad’s CiF where I added this comment:

My comment:

Excellent article!
Right on the spot, expect for this 'the authority of churches and other repositories of moral wisdom', when everyone knows that religion has nothing meaningful to say about morality. It is - at best - amoral, but more usually is the very antithesis of morality as the current hoo-ha about the embryology bill proves.

There are several points in the article concerning the mythology of the 60s and the disasters that the mistakes form that period caused that I want to get back to some time in future pieces here. However, this will have to do for now.

Here’s one I’ve had hanging around for a while:

The joy of boredom, link from Arts Journal:

Paradoxically, as cures for boredom have proliferated, people do not seem to feel less bored; they simply flee it with more energy, flitting from one activity to the next. Ralley has noticed a kind of placid look among his students over the past few years, a "laptop culture" that he finds perplexing. They have more channels to be social; there are always things to do. And yet people seem oddly numb. They are not quite bored, but not really interested either.’

A long piece, but interesting about how we seem to be losing the space to be ourselves to technology.


Low voter turnout in an article at The Grauniad’s CiF by James Ball

My comment:

I think most 'non-voters' are like me in having no-one on the ballot paper they want to vote for.

I have always voted Labour in the past (latterly in spite of Blair, not because of him), but now my conscience will no longer allow me to vote for them any longer. I don't see the point of the Lib Dems, let alone any of the even smaller parties and I don't envisage myself ever being capable of voting Tory (let alone with the odious Cameron in charge).

So what can I do?

The only option in future elections that would get me into the voting booth would be a 'none of the above' option with severe penalties for candidates and parties whose share of the vote falls below the total for the 'none of the above' option.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Celebrity World Meta-Fiction

Here’s an interesting article by Marina Hyde at The Grauniad’s CiF site on the McCartney and Mills show. I believe she has only touched on the most important aspect of the thing and so I added this comment:

Well, Marina, you have hinted at it in your piece, but what many people do not seem to realise is that the whole of - what we might call - the 'celebrity world' is a form of fiction, a sort of 'reality' show played out in the various media. It is a mistake to regard any of it as really real in much the same way as only the extremely gullible believe that so-called 'reality TV shows have anything at all real about them.

The 'celebrities' who understand it is all a game - a performance, a role to be played in the spotlight, like McCartney himself are the ones that get through the whole experience relatively unscathed while those who believe it is somehow real, like Mills, Britney Spears and so on become damaged by it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Old Gang

"Well, I suppose we all like to think something like that, from time to time," he said. "But, on the whole, none of us around here have much time for that sort of thing. Not as a rule, anyway." He sighed, got to his feet slowly and picked up his glass, looking around at each of the others.

Norman nodded, but the others, in various ways, indicated that they were, for the time being at least, all right as far as refills were concerned anyway. They all glanced around at each other, sighing and shrugging.

Arnold, who, for some reason, everyone deferred to, usually had the last word in each situation they found themselves, for one reason or another, involved in. He was not their leader, they were not a gang. All that kind of stuff was long in the past of their lives. But, having assured everyone they were a bunch of blokes, mates even, who occasionally went out drinking, or fishing, or just anything, together quite often, or 'all the bloody time' as Norman's wife often insisted, was neither here nor there.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Moving Image

Like a film speeded up, like a film slowed down?

Reality is nothing at all like a film. Film makes everything unreal, turning the oceans of the world into a fish tank. It turns the world into a zoo. We watch from the other side of the barrier. But, unlike a zoo, there is no living entity behind the screen. We could not step through that screen into the world that lies behind it like some religious nutter stepping into the lion enclosure.

So, film and its bastard offspring TV are nothing like the real. A moving - and it always has to be moving - constantly shifting image. We can't step into the frame and take the Mona Lisa by the hand. Nor can we touch someone in a photograph.

What is real in the image? What is the image in the real?

These are questions - television, film, and photographs show events - actual moments - unless manipulated - that happened, whether real or fictional. A painting may have never happened, probably didn't.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In the Beginning

The road snakes off into the distance.
She stands, waiting for life to begin
now that her old world is gone,
left behind over a train ride ago,
when all was green hills and valleys,
and now she sees shoreline and sea.
The hotels lined up behind the road,
and this could be her new found land
where she could invent a new life.

[Please note: as with all the pieces marked as Fragments these poems are unfinished and abandoned early drafts.]

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Folly Of Youth

A while ago, in an article about the resignation of Peter Hain, Andrew Rawnsley wrote this:

Mr Brown did move quickly to reconfigure his cabinet to fill the Hain-shaped hole. By promoting a trio of thirtysomethings, he evidently hoped that a younger-looking top table will make this look like a government with plenty of tomorrows.

It seems that those at the top in British politics still haven’t learnt the most important lesson from the time of Tony Blair – ‘the folly of youth’. It was – arguably - the inadequate immaturity of Tony Blair, his ignorance of history and the world - in short his ‘youth’ - that led to the many, many mistakes of his premiership, most notably of course his disastrous Iraq adventure.

Rather than learn from this mistake, both the Conservatives and the Liberals have tried to repeat it, going for young men: Cameron and Clegg respectively, in the hope that they too can get some thing out of what seems like society’s unhealthy obsession with youth.

However, the political parties are merely reflecting a trend seen through the rest of society. The media itself seems always to be chasing a more youthful demographic, in part, driven by advertising, which regards the young as the ideal catch as they are seen as protean, still unfixed by habit and familiarity. Consequently, as advertising spending drives so much of the media – the rest of the media has to follow.

At the same time, there has been a loss of confidence in what can be called ‘Western values’, which means that there has also been a loss of confidence within the education system. A system that is no longer sure about what it should be teaching, or even how to go about teaching it. An education system that panders to youth’s immaturity by being ‘relevant’, making uniforms fashionable, even changing the PE kit. I would have thought that one of the defining features of being young – immature - is not knowing what is ‘relevant’ to you, almost by definition. But the real danger here is that children’s already narrow horizons, by dint of them being children, will remain narrow, if not get narrower if they are not constantly allowed to experience things that lie outside what they already know.

It seems fairly obvious to me that the current epidemic of what are called in glib marketing-like terms ‘adulescents’ or ‘kidults’, people like this, are the result of this narrowing down of children’s horizons while they are at school, leaving them unaware that there is a bigger, wider, world out there.

Friday, March 14, 2008


He saw the expression on her face and wondered: was it him, was it all his fault? Her face seemed to say so, seemed to accuse him of some crime he could not recall ever committing.

Whatever it was he knew he was to blame. That was the lesson he had learnt from their ten years together. He had learnt that she was always the victim of his insensitivity. No matter what it was he had done (or could be presumed to have done), or - of course - omitted to do, he was the guilty party and she was the victim.

Over the years he had learnt that, like the speed of light, he could only ever get close to pleasing her, giving her the kind of life she knew was her due. It seemed that, just as approaching the speed of light, where mass increases the closer one approaches it, the mass of his failings also increased the closer he got to giving her the life she wanted and - of course - deserved.

He glanced across the room at her. She was reading the newspaper, her mouth pursed in her general disapproval of the world. He had once thought her beautiful. Now he wondered where that beauty had gone. Her hard life, which he had brought about for her and her struggle to cope with the consequences of his failings, had taken it from her.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Sense of Wonder

Orion Nebula (from here)
This universe we live in - it makes you wonder. I suppose wonder is at the heart of it. Wonder pushes us forward. We have an inbuilt need to know. I suppose that is one of my major antipathies towards religion. The way all the religions chop off whole areas of life, the universe and everything and puts responsibility for them down to this mystical creation.

It seems like an abdication from thought, from life even. A weakness, a lack of courage, an inability to take that one step further that will set them free. It becomes a sort of self-imposed blindness.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

There Is No Alternative

It is time to bring to an – ignominious – end the cod-Romanticism of the ‘1960s’. All this ‘alternative society’ nonsense, once the province of befuddled hippies has dragged on far too long and seeped into the mainstream where it has almost become respectable. Indeed, to a certain sub-category of Guardian left(ish) leaning middle-class mindset, it has almost become the conventional wisdom it once set itself up as the alternative to.

Such things as:

  • Alternative medicine & therapies.
  • Alternative ‘ways of knowing’ as opposed to science, reason and logic.
  • All cultures are equally valid in their own way and on their own terms.
  • Alternative religions, both mainstream and ‘new age’, as long as they are not the terminally unhip Western churches.
  • Alternative ways of everything else really, as long as it has something that can set it apart and above the hoi polloi.

In fact, it has for a certain set of the middle classes who like to feel they are not of the common herd it has become just another form of one-upmanship.

It began – back in that period of frantic experimentation that became known as The Sixties - by questioning the conventional wisdom of the time, which is often a good thing to do. They believed they could imagine better ways of doing things than the old tried and trusted conventional way that had been – and still was – slowly evolving over time. Then they made the jump from imagining ‘better things’ to believing that these other ways were better because – like Blair later imagined himself to be – they were ‘the good guys’ compared to those who stuck to the old outmoded ways; the reactionaries, the ‘squares’, the bourgeoisie and all those other demeaning caricatures. Then their alternatives themselves became just another conventional wisdom.

Since then, though, we have seen how various 1960s ‘experiments’ have all come to naught, either through their own failure, or because of the law of unintended consequences caused more problems than they solved. So, it is time to dump all of them into the dustbin of history and to move on.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spoilt For Choice

I never did get around to using Napster back in its heyday, although I did use something called Audiogalaxy, a broadly similar sort of thing, for a while – until my (by today’s standard miniscule 3GB) HD was filled up with songs. This short period of almost anarchic free downloading happened to coincide with a time when I was feeling a bit nostalgic for my long-lost youth and I ended up downloading all the tunes I could remember from when rock music used to really matter to me.

Of course, once I’d downloaded them I realised just why I hadn’t played or heard so many of them in such a long time. Putting to one side the atrocious audio quality of the MP3 format, especially in the low bit-rates preferred by such downloaders, I realised that few of the tracks ever lived up to my rose-tinted memories of them.

I found myself constantly skipping through the tracks, after as little as a few seconds or as much as a minute or so, vainly searching for that one song that would again mean as much to me as it once did. Eventually I gave up on the search and, a few weeks or so later, deleted them all.

More interestingly though, while I had them I found I was both paralysed and – at the same time – made impatient by the amount of choice I had. For, back in those old younger days when I had a limited budget, I could only afford a handful of singles or a couple of albums a month. Often, therefore, I had to work – sometimes quite hard – to make myself like my purchases enough to justify to myself (let alone my often disparaging mates) why I had paid good money for them.

Nowadays, I find the same applies in the multi-channel TV universe where the multiplicity of choice can be just as frustrating, and – in a seemingly perverse way limiting. This morning I came across this:

The explosion of choice in past decades has conclusively demonstrated that competition brings you more of absolutely everything, including public service content: more news, more reality, more arts, more game shows, more documentaries, more cookery, more quizzes, more sport, more films and so on.

This Financial Times article, written by Martin Le Jeune, who, I discovered at the end of it, ‘is a former head of public affairs for BSkyB’. So, his bias should be fairly obvious. The trouble is that this ‘explosion of choice’ has been no such thing. The more new TV channels appear the worse the rest of it gets.

What we do have instead is:

  • Instant gratification. We seem to have less patience now there is always an easier alternative just a click of the mouse or of the remote away.
  • Programmes made shallower to get wider appeal. Programmes like Horizon, The Money Programme, Panorama for example are pale shadows of their original selves, whereas serious documentary and current affairs programmes on the commercial channels have more or less disappeared.
  • The current seeming obsession with ‘celebrities’ and their ever-tedious doings. However, this obsession is not much to do with their (obvious lack of any discernable) talents, more that their names and foibles have become a sort of common currency, even a lingua franca, around which ‘ordinary people’ can communicate. This could easily explain why celebrities have become so famous for no apparent reason; they are common ground where people these days have such individualistic and individual lifestyles.
  • The new style programmes such as Hustle, Spooks and so on, have become more like American TV - more about surface rather than substance, just empty eye-candy.

· Old classic TV programmes – for example – are rarely as good as nostalgia remembers them to be, but I do find things like Minder, The Professionals, The Sweeny for example, currently re-running on ITV4, to be far more watchable than what the main channels are offering.

  • Just as with having a shed load of songs on the computer, the fact of having so many TV channels, even things like web sites and so forth for that matter, often means it is easier to chose none rather than one.
  • A report on how the ease of acquiring porn on the net has changed youngsters attitude and expectations towards sex may not initially seem to have much in common with my theme, but this too shows that too much ‘choice’ even here can have some negative effects.

I never got time to use much of what I'd downloaded anyway. Instead, it almost turned into a sort of obsessive collector type thing, rather than anything useful. There is a tendency to get things just because you can, because they are there, for the sake of some notion of completeness, rather for any other reason, such as any intrinsic worth.

It gets very hard to resist the amount of choice. There is the knowledge that out there, somewhere, there will be something you have not got… yet. A remoter possibility that there is something out there you’ve always wanted, something you feel you’ve always lacked. More likely though it will be something you once had a vague, passing interest in, but it will be something that makes the – nowadays minimal - effort of getting it seem worthwhile.

In a way, it is like the advertising promise - the promise that this one material good, this particular thing will bring salvation; it will cure all your wants, needs and assuage all your fears and insecurities. It will make you whole again. There is, though, the implicit corollary, that without it you are somehow incomplete, that you are not the whole person you like to believe you are. That you can never be someone - or even anyone - until you own this thing. You know it is all nonsense, and yet you still desire. You still want this stuff even though you know deep down that want is not a need and the thing itself will not fill that hole that advertising tells you is there.

If you have read this far then you will be expecting an answer, something neat and tidy to sum it all up.

Well, here it is.

The answer is not that choice is wrong, rather that you must make sure you are choosing the right thing. Not choosing between the promises held up by competing brands because one appeals to some aspiration of yours, but choosing because it is the one you really, truly, like the taste of or whatever, no matter what the advertising promises. That you know the only real choice with modern TV is whether it is turned on or off. All the programmes are virtually the same variations on a few done-to-death themes. So, turn it off and read a book instead. Rather than trying in vain to recapture your lost youth through a vain search through the back catalogue of the soundtrack of your memory, try a little grown up music instead and get some depth into your life.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Close Enough

I have dreamt this life sometime before.
I have haunted these rooms many times.
I have walked these carpets with you,
always only one step behind, close
enough to taste the dust of your skin
and to feel the weight of your shadow
as it flows over my body to embrace
the places where you once had been.

[Please note: as with all the pieces marked as Fragments these poems are unfinished and abandoned early drafts.]

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Salt Of The Earth

An article by Tim Lott in The Independent on the BBC’s sudden realisation that there is still – just about – such a thing as the white working class. Coming from the working class myself, as Lott does, there is a great deal I recognise, and agree with, in his article, especially his remarks about how the abolishing of the Grammar schools has caused more damage to the working class. This is – of course – the exact opposite to the claims made by Labour and the left. Of course, the real reason why the Grammar schools were abolished was because too many working class pupils were getting into them, displacing those middle class kids whose parents regarded ‘a proper education’ as their birthright.

Middle class left-wing anti-elitism has also done far more damage to the working class, than is usually realised too. The destruction of aspiration – bettering oneself – killed off through anti-elitism is probably a major contributor to things like the ‘binge drinking epidemic’ that currently has the WLMC (using Lott’s abbreviation) wringing its hands too.

All in all, it is an unusually perceptive article for The Independent. However, I cannot go all the way with Lott, like him I doubt if I could ever bring myself to vote Conservative, and agree that the Lib Dems are a waste of space, but I no believe that I could ever vote Labour again either. Consequently, I still feel that the only thing I could put my cross next to on a ballot paper would be: None of the Above.

Watching The Defectives

An article by Will Hutton in The Grauniad on the woeful state of British TV.

My Comment:

Back in the 60s/70s you could quite seriously claim that British TV, especially the BBC, was the best in the world. US TV was - quite rightly - widely derided as probably the worst.

Recently American TV has not got any better, despite the current trendy fashion for a mere handful of its better efforts - just more slickly produced and marketed. It is still bland over-written and over-produced eye-candy made to fill the gaps between the adverts.

So for British TV to be regarded as poor compared to the US, it must have fallen a very long way indeed. As other comments above say the BBC in particular is crippled by political correctness and a stagnating 'liberal-left' world view, and the commercial channels no longer have the will, let alone the money to make good programmes.

It is not just Drama though, factual TV goes from bad to woeful with programmes dumbed-down and jazzed-up to the point where they too are unwatchable like the now moronic Horizon. The same applies to current affairs TV too, just look at what a travesty Panorama has become.

A solution?

The only answer I've found is to give up on TV for anything worthwhile, luckily, though, Radio 4 and - to a lesser extent - Radio 3 still manage to come up with the goods, and the picture quality is always much better on the radio.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Notes and Comments: 08/03/2008


An excellent, thought-provoking article by Christopher Caldwell in the FT. on the current crop of ‘memoir frauds’, which is outraging those who want to be outraged by such things.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Echoes Of Herself

I thought of her all the time, at the time. She haunted my life. You know that thing where when you think about someone a lot, you catch glimpses of them in any vaguely similar person who happens to cross your path? There is a strange flutter in your heartbeat, a brief shock of excitement as you see that all too familiar hair cut or colour, or style of clothing in the distant crowd ahead, or a typical body movement or gesture. A style of walk or manner of dress that you thought was hers alone. It seems she leaves traces and echoes of herself throughout your world. Everywhere you go you find spaces she could fill and gaps where she isn't.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Land Fit For Zeroes

Roughly, it all began - maybe during the WWII itself - when there was talk of a desire to build a better society, which probably led to the post-war Labour election victory, the beginnings of the NHS and welfare programmes, the destruction of the slums and so on. In fact, a start on creating the ‘land fit for heroes’ that had been promised at the end of WWI, but had never really materialised.

However, by the end of the 1970s it became apparent that bureaucratic socialism was a disaster for the UK economy. Nationalisation, incomes policies and all that management from the centre had failed. There were many and various reasons for this, including a belief that politicians could only "manage decline gracefully", but what it all boiled down to in the end is that a modern industrial economy is just too complex for central control*. This was – and still is for some – a very hard lesson for those of us from the left to take and to learn.

The destruction of the post-war consensus by the Thatcher government was a shock to us, which took me personally long time to get over.

I grew up here in the Black Country, one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution and still in the 1970s very much an area dominated by heavy industry. Consequently, I grew up surrounded by - and immersed in - left-wing politics, almost to the exclusion of all else. So, it wasn’t until fairly recently that I was able to view it dispassionately, and – even now – still find it difficult to acknowledge the necessity of the ‘Thatcherite’ changes. Still, though, I do not believe that it was the only way of doing it, and certainly not the best way. However, the change did happen and there are very, very few who would seriously wish to go back to how it was then, economically at least.

However, despite this reshaping of the economy the ‘Thatcherite revolution’ left social policy – mostly – alone, moving in this - mostly again – leftward way which saw the state taking over more and more control. So, now we wait for such a realisation in the field of social policy. A realisation that what once was a challenge to the conventional wisdom has now become the conventional wisdom itself, more often than not causing more problems than the original way of doing things it was meant to rectify.

Labour policies betrayed civic society and British values, but Cameron isn't offering any remedy

*The same thing happened, but much more disastrously in the communist countries of Eastern Europe too, of course. However, more recently China has shown exactly how to recover from too much central control and free up the economy. Not that China is perfect though, of course.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

All The Hype In Popular Culture

These days it seems any popular culture ‘event’, like a big film, gig, TV programme or whathaveyou has been hyped-up so much that any real response to it is now impossible. I want to see it on my terms. I do not want to be sold 'the experience'.

I grow even more distrustful of all the hype in popular culture. The selling of the thing is now far more important than the thing sold. The thing, the commodity, the product, is now almost incidental. Sometimes, it can seem almost irrelevant. What matters is the media attention, the frenzy of the public response. It is the pictures of the crowd, of the size of the crowd, which matters. It is a notion of democracy as the greatest good taken to an ultimate absurdity. The numbers mean, and are, the validation.

Can so many people be wrong?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Sticks And Stones

'Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.' The whole point of the old saying is that 'names will never harm me', because I WILL NOT allow them to.

What all the over-sensitive 'victims' in the race to be the most sensitive and the easiest to be 'offended' never seem to realise that you do have to 'take offence' at or with something. That is, 'the offensiveness' is not inherent in the alleged insult, but it is your own reaction to it. This becomes obvious when - for example - it is deemed acceptable for gays to call one another 'queer', but not for a heterosexual to do the same, and many other such examples for each 'victim' group. The word has not changed, the act of uttering it is no different, all that has changed is the context. Therefore, you have to choose the 'offensive' version in order to be offended by it.

That is what the old saying actually means: I will not let words harm me, because I have power over what they mean to me, and I do not let the words have any power over me.

Monday, March 03, 2008

It's All Right

The way she came back to me
across a summer-filled bedroom.
She wore only lime green knickers,
pale pink roses and white-laced edges.
She smiled and her hair flowing free
like thick black shadow around her head.
I was there lying, waiting, naked
on her so narrow single bed.
I did not have to wait for long.
I did not have to wait to feel her tongue.
She had only been gone for a while,
just to turn the record over. It was Free,
I remember Mr Big and It's Alright Now
And it was, it was all right
as right as any memory ought to be
and who am I to forget?

[Please note: as with all the pieces marked as Fragments these poems are unfinished and abandoned early drafts.]