Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Yes, I Am Cooler Than You

Another blinking meme has been kicked my way. Thanks John [grits teeth].

1. The total volume of music on my pc:

I don't have any music on my PC. I don't have an iPod, or an iTunes thing or nuffink. This is because I am very, very, very poor and can't afford all that sort of stuff [affects holier than thou look of smug self satisfaction].

2. Song playing right now:

I have got a stereo, however, so I'll answer this question.

CD in stereo at the moment is the self titled album by The Bravery. It's really good. Except the last track which is pants.

3. Last album I bought:

The last album I bought was Suede's 'Singles' album. I got it over Amazon for about five quid [Yesss! I am the CD bargains King].

4. Five songs I've been listening to a lot:

'Long Time Coming' - Delays - (Mop top blond haired tykes get a bit emotional with jangly guitars)

'No Brakes' - The Bravery - (Pretty boys with eyeliner - this track sounds a bit like Adam and the Ants, but in a good way)

'Metal Mickey' - Suede - (The best Suede track in the world, that they ever did, ever)

'Crystalline Green' - Goldfrapp - (Spikey, sexualised electro - and scarily attractive singer)

'Triple Trouble' - Beastie Boys - (Very 80's sounding track from shouty, Bugs Bunny voiced rappers now a bit too old for this sort of thing)

5. Passing this along to:


That was quite easy wasn't it?

Friday, June 17, 2005


I've been lassoed into the Superhero 'meme' (yuck) by Doug. Unfortunately, I have about as much knowledge about superheroes and supervillains as I do about the Nicaraguan Pocket Gopher (which is not very much). However, I shall endeavour to please.

1) If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? (Assume you also get baseline superhero enhancements like moderately increased strength, endurance and agility.)

A number of infantile super-abilities spring to my infantile mind - jet fart power, or the ability to make bad guys poo their pants with a special laxative ESP mind-ray. But I shall avoid the temptation. I suppose, I would like the ability to read other people's minds - which is very sinister, I know. I have a dark heart.

2) Which, if any, 'existing' superhero(es) do you fancy, and why?

A difficult one. The one superhero I remember vaguely fancying as a child was that 'Firestar' from 80's cartoon Spiderman and His Amazing Friends. Actually, having just looked at that site, yes, I still fancy Firestar. Although, she could probably ditch the Dame Edna Everidge specs.

Why do I fancy her? Well, it's got something to do with chromosomes, hormones and the in-built animal desire to copulate emerging from the functional necessity for any species to reproduce - or something like that.

3) Which, if any, 'existing' superhero(es) do you hate?

I hate no-one, fictional or otherwise. Ohhhmmmmm.

Although I've never liked that Incredible Hulk - such an uncouth thug, don't you think? He's always knocking things over, breaking stuff and generally going around making a nuisance of himself. He's just a big show off really. Ooh look at me!! I'm big and green and I'm really angry!! Watch me stamp my big green feet!!! Grrrr!!

Wanker. I hate him.

4) OK, here's the tough one. What would your superhero name be? (No prefab porn-name formulas here, you have to make up the name you think you'd be proud to mask under.)

All the good names have been taken. Still, I suppose I could be Y-Fronts Man or Farto-Man - but, again, that's childish. I must take this seriously.

I would be Dark Angel, if that pesky Jessica Alba hadn't got there first. So it's got to be The Dark Avenger... or something. That's probably the name of a popular brand of dildo, but never mind.

5) For extra credit: Is there an 'existing' superhero with whom you identify/whom you would like to be?

Not really. You see, we have to throw off our childish and (gasp) reactionary fantasies of superheroes, great individuals, who can descend from on high to save us - the grateful, passive majority. The great task of human liberation can only be undertaken by the mass of people, acting together to emancipate themselves, collectively, from the chains of bondage and oppression - chains not created by some 'super-villain' or evil force, but constituted by the social structures into which we have all been inserted.... blah de blah etc etc. Yawn. I almost got carried away there.

Although, I would quite like to be Spiderman.

6) Pass it on. Three people please, and why they're the wind beneath your wings.

No. Don't want to.

Anyway, after a quick check of my links, I think most people in my little sphere of blogland have already done it.

Of course, if any reader with a blog, wants to take it on, then let me know and I'll change this last section - as if I was always going to pass it to you all along.

Now I'm off to ogle Firestar.


I was actually always going to pass it on to Planeshift, cos he's ace.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Shove off, Ma'am

Oh joy! It's Royal Ascot week in York, which means that the streets of this city will be filled with braying half-wits in morning suits and silly hats for the next few days. There's something about this ritual which I instinctively detest. Lying somewhere submerged in my mind, lurking beneath the various conscious political reasons I might have for disliking it, I wonder if my inherited Methodist blood in some way predisposes me towards a (holier than thou?) contempt for the whole thing. You see, I've never really liked drunks and I've never liked gamblers. This is not to say that I don't drink or that I never get drunk - I do (but on the few occasions when I do get drunk I do it in dignified way you see - honest!*). However, increasingly as I get older I view drunkenness as, at best silly, and at worst, sickening (for me, the onlooker I mean - it is literally sickening, of course, for the drunk) . Drunks used to be funny, cool even, when I was 17 or 18, now they usually strike me as simply pathetic and boorish.

When I walk home late at night and pass small groups of dribbling oafs, stumbling around aimlessly while munching at kebabs in the same semi-conscious way that cows absent-mindedly chew the cud, I am always reminded of George Romero's satirical zombie film, Dawn of the Dead. Now, I like getting pleasantly merry on a few drinks as much as the next person, but why do people, consistently, weekend in weekend out, get completely plastered - I don't understand it? What possible pleasure is there in drinking so much that you become a gurning, gurgling lobotomised creature - a sub-human driven by the primal urge, located somewhere in the reptilian recesses of those still functioning areas of your mind, to fill your slavering mouth with various forms of unidentified meat, dripping with fat and (chilli sauce flavoured) gore? I'm afraid I'm even curling my lip as I write.

I don't think I've ever gambled (I may, once, have bought a lottery ticket), and again this ludicrous ritualised practice strikes me as completely absurd - and for some reason it, too, pisses me off. Why on earth should you want to piss your money up against the wall while watching a bunch of horses, ridden by midgets in fancy-dress, run around in circles? Ooh, that horse is running slightly faster than that other horse - how incredibly exciting - excuse me while I jump and down!!! I don't get it. Plus, of course, the practice strikes me, in some ill-defined way, as morally contemptible - it's the pass-time of weak willed, poo-brained, half-wits**.

Now during York races, these two abominable practices come together in one big detestable whole. York city centre will be a no-go area for anyone who is not particularly impressed by hordes of boorish people loudly telling each other what wonderful fun they've had in losing £200 on a horse, pausing only in their half-conscious, circular discussions to spew in the gutter or to piss in a bus shelter. And to cap it all, this time the whole primitive social spectacle will be overseen by Her Royal Majesty - so the tourist areas of the city (most of it, in other words) will be festooned with plastic union jack flags and the roads will be crawling with sinister looking men with ear pieces and suspicious bulges in their jackets, in black Range Rovers.

On the occasion of Royal Ascot, my inherited Methodist prejucice (misanthropy?) dovetails with that other strand of non-conformist thinking - republicanism. I think, if I had to choose another period of history in which to live, I would probably choose the time of Cromwell's Republic. I'd have made a rather good stern, dour-faced Roundhead***. Off with the King's head! Close down the alehouses! Shut the gambling dens! Smash the theatres!! Sorry - I lost it for a second there.

I had a surge of anti-royalism this morning, in fact. I was walking into town along Bishopsthorpe Road when I saw two police motorbikes closing off the road to traffic, closely followed by 4 or 5 horse-drawn carriages with red-costumed attendants, tailed by a large black Range Rover and a couple of police vans. What I should I do in this situation? I imagine similar thoughts flashed across Princeps' mind when he saw that open topped car containing Archduke Ferdinand and his wife turn the corner of the street where he happened to be standing (ha, ha only joking). I thought about flipping the finger to the Queen as she passed, but unfortunately, I don't think that her Majesty**** was in any of the vehicles - the windows of the carriages were all shuttered. Anyway that would, of course, have been very childish. So I thought the best thing to do would be to keep walking as if I wasn't in the slightest bit impressed by the sight of this Royal procession (while sneaking glances at the carriages). I remembered I had a red flag badge on my bag, so I slid the bag around so that the badge faced the splendid procession of chinless charlies, royal hangers-on, brown-nosed servants and trained thugs. A great victory for socialism then!

I was pleased to see that the road was not packed with cheering crowds (though this may, of course, have had something to do with the fact that the procession wasn't an official one and that the Queen wasn't there - no flies on me). Instead there were a few small clusters of shoppers standing on the pavements with the occasional camera phone trained on the carriages. I expect the pomp and ceremony came later in the day as the Queen arrived in splendour to sit her Royal arse in the royal box and watch a bunch of horses run round and round, fritter away thousands of pounds of our tax payers' money on idle bets, and gaze down with maternal satisfaction as hundreds of her loyal subjects pour gallons of lager, Pimms and white wine down their miserable necks before being let loose on the city to spew up in the streets and punch each other in the face. Rule Britannia!

* Apart from that time when I threw up all over my friend's house and that time when I threatened to break someone's legs.
** I exaggerate - slightly.
*** In fact R--- legend has it that one of us lot was a Captain in the New Model Army (Killed at Naseby I think).
**** It is imperative, while reading this, that you pronounce 'Her Majesty' with a Jonny Rotten style sneer*****.
***** Hmm, this asterisks fad is getting rather out of hand.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Peter Hitchens

If there's one person more hateful than Christopher Hitchens, it's his brother. Peter Hitchens - that oily, bombastic, pompous, smirking, chinless-wonder - appeared on Question Time last night and really came across as a poisonous creep. He spent much of his time mocking the Make Poverty History campaign and sneering at Bob Geldof and other 'do-gooders' in the Live8 campaign. 'Rock stars', you see, are ignorant little oiks who aren't fit to lecture the rest of us (or - and this was, perhaps, what PH was really getting at - aren't fit to lecture the great and vastly clever Peter Hitchens) about things 'they know little of' - or something like that. Anyone who goes along to the demonstration in Edinburgh, smirked the chinless one, is 'a fool'. Moreover, the puffed-up uber-Tory continued, African poverty is caused, exclusively, by African mismanagement and government corruption, and (I seem to remember - though I could be wrong - maybe this was someone in the audience - though PH almost certainly agreed) Africa was never in trouble when it was under colonial administration.*

The man really is a contemptible little shit.

What about the crippling debt that has devastated Africa and lined the pockets of the Western banks since the early 80s (when the easy money of the low interest rates/high inflation 50s and 60s was dropped and monetarism set in in the creditor nations, condemning developing borrower countries in the developing world to miserable levels of debt)? What about the hugely unfair trade rules** which function to protect western farmers at the expense of third world producers? What about the practices of piratical multinationals which have pilaged their way across much of Africa and beyond? What about the civil wars which have swept across the continent, in many cases encouraged and fuelled by the geopolitical machinations of first world countries? Africa does have many extremely corrupt and nasty leaders - but can this be explained in terms of 'cultural factors' (for cultural of course, read 'racial') as PH seems to suggest - are Africans, somehow, socially or genetically prone to 'bad government'? Could it be that government corruption, nepotism and mismanagement has something (just a little?) to do with the historical conditions of the continent - the fact that it was ravaged by centuries of colonial plunder, held down in a condition of economic backwardness because of the way in which it was inserted into the world economy under imperialism (producers of cheap primary produce for first world masters and captive markets for first world manufactured goods), and, later, ravaged by spiralling debt (induced by first world financial centres) and by the Imperialism mark 2 of structural adjustment and neo-liberalism. It seems to me that had Europe been systematically plundered for centuries by some other continent, we would not, today, be living in stable, relatively efficient liberal democracies.*

*astoundingly, Jenny Tonge (Lib Dem) suggested something quite similar. She said the Africans 'weren't ready' for self-government when their continent was decolonised! They needed more education you see, and the Brits and French should have stuck around a bit longer to civilise the natives. Fucking Lib Dems.
** Socialist qualification needed here - no capitalist trade is 'fair trade', but even so, some forms of capitalist trade is more exploitative than others.
*** And this is one of the great, dirty secrets of liberal democracy, of course - that for all its self-satisfied bombast about how wonderful it is, it's founded (in part) on the systematic plunder of great swathes of the globe.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


“. . . the close to monopoly position of neoclassical economics is not compatible with normal ideas about democracy. Economics is science in some senses, but is at the same time ideology. Limiting economics to the neoclassical paradigm means imposing a serious ideological limitation. Departments of economics become political propaganda centers . . .”

So fumes Peter Söderbaum in a choice quotation on the excellent 'Post-Autistic Economics Network'. In fact most on the Left would go further than Söderbaum and claim that neo-classical economics has very little to do with science - in fact, it has very little to do with reality itself - it is ideological discourse to its very core. The famous phrase here is, I suppose, 'ideology masquerading as science'.

I teach 1st year seminars in 'Economic and Social History' and am regularly shocked by the narrow understanding of economics on the part of many of the students. The other day, I mentioned the difference between neo-classical accounts of value and those of the classical political economists, thinking that the students would have, at least, some vague grasp of it. They didn't - none of them (in 8 groups of about 12-15 students) could tell me what Adam Smith's or David Ricardo's approach to value was (let alone Marx's!) Now this is staggering. Even allowing for the fact that they are mostly 18 year olds and are only in their first year of university study, you would have thought that, at some stage, they would have been introduced to classical political economy - surely Adam Smith (Adam Smith, for fuck's sakes) should get a mention somewhere in A-level Economics courses or in the 'Introduction to Economics' module of their undegraduate degree - apparently not. I had to sit there and explain that not every economist believes that the value/prices of commodities are determined subjectively through consumer/buyer judgements of marginal utility in the marketplace and then give a potted account of the labour theory of value. I was met with a fair few bewildered looks - like I was arguing that the moon was made of cheese.

I shouldn't really have been surprised I suppose. Over the two years that I've taught seminars in this course, it's been very apparent that the students tend to think that neo-classical economics is the only game in town - that in fact it is economics. There does seem to be an understanding of Keynes amongst the most advanced of the students - but I get the sense that Keynesianism is understood as something of a historical curiosity (an interesting blip in economic orthodoxy) which has now been discredited and replaced by neo-classical truth (which eternal truth was revealed/rediscovered sometime around 1979). All of the full time teachers I've met in the ESH department are very good and some seem vaguely leftish and there are a few social democratic writers (such as Pollard) on the course reading list - but this does not seem to have rubbed off on many of the students. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that Economic History lecturers are unusual in the Economics dept in that they tend to have something of a social conscience - the unworldly Friedmanite high priests (those mathematical equation invokers and graph gazers) tend not to penetrate into this sub-discipline in which the messy actuality of social reality constitutes the primary focus of study (so hard to explain the motivations of the Jarrow Crusaders by means of plotting points on a graph). Dealing with politics, class, hardship, material inequality etc does, after all, tend to dirty one's invisible hands quite disagreeably. The high priests, however, appear to occupy the main centres of the department.

It is probably for this reason that I am regularly told by students in my seminars that the trade unions were/are, or labour inflexibilty was/is, to blame for Britain's persistent low-productivity problem because they/it distorts the naturally self-regulating 'free market' and leads to 'disequilibrium'. It is also why I am informed very regularly that the welfare state was/is unstainable and that welfare benefits 'retard economic efficiency'. It is probably also why I often hear that privatisation is self-evidently a good thing and that the post-war Atlee reforms led inexorably to international 'uncompetitiveness'. These ideas are not usually presented as contestable opinions - but as settled truths.

Of course, I try to present as 'balanced' a view as possible (although, I admit, I'm not quite sure what 'balance' means here) and attempt to advance views which run counter to the prevailing orthodoxy - but there's only so much I am able and willing to do. I have to teach within the perameters of the course and must teach with a view to preparing the students for their exams - if I don't stay within 'mainstream' economics the likelihood is that I might fuck things up for some of them when it comes to their assessments. I should also point out, of course, that I am just not knowledgeable or competent enough to roll back neo-classical orthodoxy in the seminar room - I am not trained in Economics. The other factor, here, is that if I do more than mention Marxist economics in passing here and there, there is, it seems to me, a real possibility that I might not get this teaching work again next year. I am not employed to teach them Marxist economics and it might not go down very well. I need the teaching, because I desperately need the money.

The students I teach are throroughly pleasant and very bright. There's no problem here. But it does sometimes frustrate me that they often seem to have undergone an extremely narrow education. In the 1st year Politics seminars I teach there will usually be animated disagreements and a real plurality of opinion amongst the students. In Economics, there doesn't often seem to be any potential for debate between the students (admittedly it's a lot easier to debate political theory than it is to debate British inter-war exchange rate policy - and, let's face it, political theory is a lot more fucking interesting!!) . They approach economic history as, in some way, straight-forward, settled and uncontested - it's something they can simply be 'told' with no real interpretative problems involved. They seem to feel they can simply learn 'what happened', in the same way that you learn how to do long multiplication.

There is, by the way, an excellent essay on the web by Duncan Folley, entitled 'Notes on Ideology and Methodology' (or html version here). It covers related issues.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Androgenous Pirates, Cats and a Nice Kitchen.

In the past couple of weeks I've discovered the joys of shopping for used CDs on Amazon. I've bought a couple of CDs which I always meant to get, but never got round to - and I've done it on the cheap. Very nice. I'm very proud of myself.

This week I have been mostly listening to Marion and Ultrasound. I 've been indulging in a bit of late 90s nostalgia you see - ahh yes, back when I was a trainee teacher and everything was...well, it was a bit crap actually... but the music, THE MUSIC, they don't make 'em like that anymore... well, actually they do, but even so, etc etc.

Marion were a two hit wonder band between 1996 and 1998 - but were, in fact, rather good. They made poppy but melancholic music - imagine a depressed Shed Seven. They were too good to leap onto the Britpop wagon (whereas lesser bands such as Sleeper jumped right on and rode it for all they were worth like the shameless things they were) and got rather left behind. So anyway, I got 'Mikayo Hideaway' over Amazon 'cos it reminds me of Cambridge - in fact, for some bizarre reason it reminds me of the kitchen in the house where I used to live in Cambridge - must have first heard the song over the radio there or something. It's strange how a tune can bring back very vivid memories. I listen to the tune and I'm there in that kitchen in 1998 making my dinner - why would I get nostalgic about a kitchen you ask? I don't know - although it was a rather nice kitchen.

Ultrasound (another two hit wonder guitar-pop band) were fronted by a sexually ambiguous, and rather impressively portly, gentleman, who dressed up like a pirate. Quite inexplicably they never made it big - you'd have thought a large androgenous pirate singing indie-pop would have gone down a storm. Some people just have no taste. Now, Ultrasound reminds me of the charmingly named Trumpington Street in Cambridge where I used to have me PGCE seminars. It also reminds me of a black and white cat. No idea why.

So anyway that's what I've been doing. Where was I going with this? Can't remember. Something about pirates and cats and nostalgia and the unreliablity of memory and stuff - it was very clever. Never mind.

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