One bonobo's view of the world...and stuff.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!

So Nick Griffin has received a trouncing on Question Time. You can all YouTube it yourself. Chicago's finest Bonnie Greer was soooooooo sharp, so sexy. Agreed?

And obviously the BBC were right to let the gig go ahead, and the protesters who opposed the programme were and attempted to prevent its broadcast were 'misguided'. Right?

Wellll...let's remember our history, please. Yes, there are various aspects to The Struggle and Bonnie Greer and the other Question Time panelists were one aspect. But please, please, remember that they were only light relief in the real Struggle, the violent struggle that's paying out daily on British city streets.

Let's look at some historical examples:

The South African Anti-Apartheid Movement. My own (tiny, miniscule) contribution* was attending ANC benefit gigs (this, btw, when the ANC was a proscribed organisation whose leader was described as the UK PM as a terrorist). Hugh Masekela, Thomas Mapfumo. Mlalathini, The Bhundu Boys. On the white intellectual front, we name them. The entire South African literary elite: Fugard; Cootzee; Breytenbach (his 'Confessions of an Albino Terrorist' was my personal favourite), Gordimer. Inspirational figures, all but....None of whom (with the possible exception of Breytenbach) really drove the nail into the coffin of Apartheid. So who did? Umkonto we Sizwe. The CP-SA. COSATU. The massed children of Soweto.

The US Civil Rights Movement. I know I don't have to name the artistic and philosophical contributors to The Struggle. Taking the white side alone....Abel Meeropol, Harper Lee, Bob Dylan..none of whom freed African Americans. This was achieved by African Americans themselves. But not as non-violently as history records. Brother Malcolm; Bobbie Seale; Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis...Dr King's Southern Leaders Christian Conference itself grew out of CP-USA activism whereby white neighbourhoods were 'involuntarily integrated' by the likes of Decca Mitford and her comrades. Do you think this was done without force?

And so to...

Germany. Nobody who's seen and appreciated Berthold Brecht's 'Mother Courage' could be a Nazi. Come to think of it...neither could anyone who'd read Goethe, Schiller (see post title), Mann...where do we stop? you reckon there might have been the Jewish Intellectual equivalents of Bonnie Greer in 1930's Germany who could have wiped the floor with Hitler and his 'Director of Communications' Goebbels? You betcha there were.

So why did Hitler succeed? By the brutal supression of the elements that were Fighting The Fight on the streets of German cities. This is what the Reichstag fire was about.

So, yes, I loved Question Time. Best TV event since 'Up For Portillo' (I was up in a birthing suit of the Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital for that one, incidentally). I loved things like Greer's 'And of course Nick, as you remind us you have a 2.2' (Subtext: Whereas I, the Granddaughter of sharecroppers am Deputy Director of The British Museum. So kiss my black ass.)

BUT DO NOT TELL ME THE PROTESTERS WERE MISGUIDED. Democracy alone is not enough to defeat fascist cunts: they are simply too practised, too adept at using Democracy against us. We also need those with the courage to face them down with the only argument they have ever understood: half bricks, thrown with great force.

Quote from the CP-GB father-in-law of a good friend of mine:

'When the Blackshirts came to Glasgow, we beat them back from Glasgow Green...
by the way - I do mean 'beat'.'

Oh, by the might like to see just how successfully Bonnie trounced Griffin (these are vids 2 and 3 if you do a YT search on her name):

*That and 'Trolleys Against Apartheid' - individually or collectively taking a supermarket trolley around the aisles, filling it to the brim with SA tinned fruit, pilchards sherry....and leaving it/them tere with a suitable note attached. This was in the days before CCTV, so you could do it every shopping trip and not get banned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Women's Work

The award yesterday of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Elinor Ostrom represents something of a back-to-basics, firstly in that it is the first award to a woman, and secondly in its topic: the management of common property resources by communities.

There's a common misconception that equates economics with money. Not so. The circulation and (ultimately) accumulation of money is the topic of a rather dull subset of economics: finance.

I'm not a trained economist. But my economics teacher, Pedro, has told me a couple of interesting things:

  • The origin of the word Economy is 'household management'. (by the way...look at how recent that coinage is. It hasn't been synonymous with 'finance' for very long at all!)*
  • Quote (and I've stolen this repeatedly from him): 'Economics is about decision making. Usually we use money to keep score.'
The way I see it is this. Women, typically, have various decisions to make:
  • Do I spend money on school shoes for the kids, or can I afford to eat myself?
  • Is it more important to take the kids to the cinema to see the new Pixar or to pay the electricity bill on time?
  • Should I keep having sex with that drunken bastard who sometimes hits me but who also brings home money?
Those are micro-economic examples. Can anyone think of any macro-economic?

Isn't it amazing how ordinary women manage these complex, long-term planning decisions on a daily basis, all without the aid of the theories, spreadsheets, computer models and the like that financiers can't seem to manage without?

* This I already knew. It's the topic of 'A History Maker' by the great Glaswegian pedestrian, Alasdair Grey. The book is set in a futuristic time of plenty wherein the men occupy themselves by running around playing at Battles, while the women stay at home and TCOB. How very unlike our own time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A whole hill of Beanscenes

On my Facebook earlier today, I mentioned that I was working/chatting/whatever by Wifi. This was from a Beanscene café, a chain that’s rapidly become a Glasgow (and Edinbugger) institution.

The coffee’s pretty so-so (still way better than The Big S! But they need to learn the magic word:
Illy.), but maybe that will change with the new management. There’s certainly a better range of food now – and even wine and beer (not sure these are A Good Thing. Their previous corkage regime worked just fine). Also…while the WiFi’s cheap (an hour with every purchase), as a Moral Principle, all WiFi should be free! (or, at very least, unlimited with purchase).

So what’s so great about Beanscenes?

We first started going to the original one in Shawlands when our first two were born, twelve years ago. This is highly significant! They define the Platinum Standard in child friendliness. They actively encourage Parent and Baby groups to meet there, informally…and, of course, this is great for business. Mid morning they’re generally stowed out with buggies, babies and Yummy Mummies.

  • They’re also a great place for teens to hang out.
  • They’re the venue for Bright Young Muslim Things. No alcohol (until...)
  • They’re nice and quiet for business meetings and the like. I did all my e-mails there today. In another corner, I guy I know was sat with someone with files and laptop and briefcases all piled up.
  • There are not many places you can sit and eavesdrop on a conversation which turns out to be about managing stenosis in neonates.
  • I meet my Community Psychiatric Nurse for appointments there.
  • Their playlist is All The Good Stuff…Yusuf Islam, Blur, Van ‘The’ Morrison, Beatles, Neil Young, Dylan, Doors, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright Outkast…you get the drift. I want their playlist! (Mind you…my barista – I hope the *don’t* call them that - complained that it’s not big enough so it gets repetitive)
  • They promote/manage their own label (still? not sure)
  • They do evening gigs, readings, writers groups.
  • Their House Photographer is Ken Sharp. Today, from where I was seated, I could see Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Van, Polly Harvey. Bjork and Lou Reed were around the corner. Keef was by the toilet door.
  • Sure, it’s a mainstream commercial enterprise and I’m not saying there’s and interstitial about them. But not a hint of Central Perk, either. There’s usually one nearby. They’re an institution!

Beanscene, Clarkston Toll, Sunday.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

L'enfer, c'est les auteurs.

I went to my first ever Creative Writing class today, @ the local library as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.

One of the exercises was haikus. Proper 5-7-5 haikus, with a seasonal imagery and dynamic middle line. We were given an object to inspire our case, a lichen-covered, autumnal twig.

I wrote three thematically linked stanzas:

A brittle tree branch

snapped from its mother forest.
Fodder for writers.

Dark evenings' fun

from dry kindling. Nature

dried out for poems.

How cold these scribbles.

Wood burned, on table not hearth.

Sends out autumn warmth.

(extra points for spotting the Basho reference in the last one.)

Then we had to spend five minutes writing something - anything - about hands. Given that about 70% of the class was women over seventy...perhaps it was fortunate that I didn't have to read mine out:

Hands give great pleasure - which is why, in primates, god placed them so that they are adjacent to the genitalia when the primates are in their normal standing or resting positions. There are many other things that primates can do with their hands, but the African Ape species Homo is by far the most dexterous (or in many cases, sinistral). While the other two members of the chimpanzee subspecies, pan paniscus and pan troglodytes, are extraordinarily adept at unpeeling bananas with their feet, only the hairless chimpanzee is able to use its hands to communicate. This it achieves by tapping its fingers repeatedly against a complex arrangement of oil-based polymers.

Doris Lessing meets Douglas Adams meets Max Bygraves, I thought.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Some observations on the characterisation of societies according to their position within the historical dialectic.

Just before I went to Sweden last, I read (via a Prospect Magazine article about The Swedish Soul. 'The Scandinavian Exception' has long been a puzzle: how come they manage to do everything right, in terms of heathcare, welfare, education, social inclusion and, above all per capita GDP. (The groundbreaking 'The Spirit Level' discusses the overwhelming, unignorable correlation between societal equality and all these factors).

So how do they pull off what Hobsbawm called (long before Blair filched the term) 'Third Way', the hugely successful alternative to Anglo-Saxon Capitalism and Soviet-style Communism.'s in the blood. A Swedish Trade Union leader points out that their society moved somewhat smoothly from an egalitarian agrarian society and straight into industrialisation and modernity. Unlike in, say, Britain, there was no intervening feudalism. Accordingly, they regard they regard Social Democracy as obvious. To a large extent they didn't have to struggle for the benefits they take for granted - obvious things like the struggle for independent trade union representation which my own mother played a leading role in in the 1970's.

Now, Marx pointed out that the conditions of the previous historic age are carried over into the next phase. The British Industrial Revolution was enabled by its feudal system: landowners were able to enclose their feudal demesnes for the benefit of the mutton and wool industry. Their dispossessed serfs provided a convenient pool of labour for the Dark Satanic Mills they were investing in in the newly forged cities.

And as for America...they still bear the horrifying legacy of the agro-industrial use of human machinery.

So where does this leave us? I would argue that we can characterise societies in terms of how har along they are on the dialectical process from feudalism-capitalism-Dictatorship of the Proleriat-Emergence Into Communism.

  • Scandiwegia: Well, as readers of Stieg Larsson will know, it has a dark underbelly (and a Norwegian of my acquaintance reminds me that the same people who invited Hitler in are still around, still active in society).'d quite like to live there if you were elderly, ill or jobless, no? It's not far off 'To each according to their needs from each according to their ability' And they're all smart techno-cookies who completely get Marx's view that technology is the engine of Growth.
  • America: It is significant that America has a Liberal Left but not (to any large degree) a Socialist Left. The average, American, college-educated liberal is genuinely scared at words like 'Socialism' and 'Marx', for the obvious reason that sixty years of anti-Socialism militates against their studying them. Not if they want to hold down a job and mix in respectable company. So we are told, the Received Wisdom has it, that wheras Britain has a class problem, America has a race problem. Well...I'm sorry...but what is 'Race' other than a convenient device for colour-coding human machinery? The US of A was founded on slavery and its wealthier inhabitants continues to prosper from it. It always has been a class issue - Marxist historian Howard Zinn is excellent on this in his Peoples' History of the United States. It is no accident that the Civil Rights movement was largely instigated by the CP-USA and people like my personal hero, Trade Unionist Bayard Rustin. (J Edgar Hoover was right: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was a Commie front organisation). But...while there ave obviously been many good signs of late...America will not make progress in addressing healthcare, poverty, education, drug abuse, social exclusion, inequality or any of the general Happiness issues until they wake up to Socialism.
  • England (yes, we have to take it separately from the rest of the UK): The Class War is over and the proletariat lost. As an English emigrant whose formative years were directly shaped by English Feudalism and the stale hierarchy it implies - I believe I'm in a position to comment that it's seriously failing to fulfil its potential as a nation. England was the engine of the early Industrial Revolution...but it never quite got around to sharing its wealth (attempts to do so were crushed mercilessly, and the bitter legacy can be seen across the Northern coal towns). Indeed, it exported feudalism throughout the world in the form of colonialism, and as as A Bad Name. (An Irish friend told me that the only phrase one needs to learn in a foreign language is 'Oh, god, no! Irish!). And the great crying shame is they don't even get it. Brown is On The Side Of The Angels - but even he is still bought into the idea that Britain (read 'England') can prosper on 'Invisible Earnings'* What part of 'The Crisis of Capitalism' would you like me to explain?
  • Scotland: Now as a Scot-Of-English-Ethnic-Origin (and boy, does that phrase piss people off. It's meant to.)...I'm not going to pretend for one moment that this dreich, Irn Bru swigging, chip-guzzling, proud nation of heroes is paradise. I merely observe that our socioeconomic history is somewhat different to England's. It is unfortunate for us that, at about the time the Industrial Revolution was kicking off, England exported a vicious brand of colonial feudalism which replaced a looser-knit, more consensual Clan system. (eg.up until The Act Of Union there as never a King of Scotland Dei Gratia, but a 'King of the Scots'.) So Scotland's communitarian culture was held in check...but it's always been there. This, combined with the Scots emphasis on education as a moral duty (we have Knox to thank for this: his insistence that the lowliest crofter was able to read The Bible meant that the Scots were able to read Adam Smith, Davy Hume, Burns, McDiarmid, Irvine Welsh, Tables of Logarithms...) means that we are...different. Our greater sense of JFDI coupled with our awareness that we're 'A' Jock Tamson's Bairns' puts us, I argue, in a better position than our stale, colonial masters to cope with the fact that the historical dialectic has simply moved on.

    So what's the plan? Fuck-off big wave turbine generator in the strongest and most reliable current in the world ( Use this to power a hi-speed maglev between Edinburgh/Glasgow and the English cities, so all the people from the defunct Financials industry can commute to where the money is. Or, if they're to dumb to want to come to one of Lonely Planet's Top Ten Cities, the Holyrood government, unlike Westminster, is actively encouraging immigration. We regard asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants and their children as a valuable economic resource. (and this, children, is why, in Scotland, the BNP share of the vote in the EU election was 0.02%. Or, to quote a friend's CPGB father-in law "We beat the Blackshirts off Glasgow Green! the way, I do mean 'beat'.")

    Then...who knows? Maybe start running ourselves as though we were Scandiwegia, with free university education, free medicines, free elderly care...oh, wait. We already have those.

Tiocfaidh ár lá

* 'Earnings' is a misnomer here. The whole financial industry is a massive overhead which serves only to skim of tithes from Production Value. Even more bizarrely, Education is regarded as a 'Tax Burden', ignoring the well-established first year economics textbook teaching that $1 on education yields $1k in GDP. Teachers are the economic engines of society!