Archive for August, 2008

GM, Ford and Chrysler’s begging bowl.

August 31, 2008

John Naughton posted this thought to his online diary this morning.

Help the Aged

I first became interested in economics through reading John Kenneth Galbraith, one of whose great insights was that the strongest advocates of state aid in hard times were the big corporations who, in good times, were the strongest opponents of ‘big government’. Well, here we go again.

The three major US car manufacturers, GM, Ford and Chrysler, are working with the United Automobile Workers union to lobby Congress for a further $3.75bn on top of the $25bn in loans authorised for the industry last year…

A leading General Motors executive has called for government loans of up to $50bn to help American car markers build more fuel-efficient cars.

Bob Lutz, GM’s vice-chairman, warned that major US car manufacturers need the money to re-tool their factories and are unlikely to be able to raise enough capital alone due to tight credit markets.

Mr Lutz’s comments come against background of ongoing talks between leading US car makers and politicians in recent weeks over enhanced government backing to enable a shift to greener production.

This is the crowd who’ve been gleefully making and marketing SUVs — and investing accordingly — instead of paying attention to the looming crisis in oil costs and global warming.

Galbraith also remarked that “those who benefit from the status quo resist change”. I myself think that this “crowd” are actually asking the government to help them to resist change. 

05/02/2005 I just spotted a typo


Sloppy journalism or a crime?

August 31, 2008

In an edited extract from his forthcoming book, Bad Science, published in the 30th of August 2008 edition of The Guardian, Ben Goldacre tells readers that “Dr Andrew Wakefield is in front of the General Medical Council on charges of serious professional misconduct, his paper on 12 children with autism and bowel problems is described as “debunked” – although it never supported the conclusions ascribed to it – and journalists have convinced themselves that his £435,643 fee from legal aid proves that his research was flawed. I will now defend the heretic Dr Andrew Wakefield.”


His defence, the Guardian version of which can be found here, is that is that the media got the story wrong and, for a variety of less than complicated reasons continued to get it wrong for over a decade.

British journalists have done their job extremely well. People make health decisions based on what they read in the newspapers, and MMR uptake has plummeted from 92% to 73%: there can be no doubt that the appalling state of health reporting is now a serious public health issue. We have already seen a mumps epidemic in 2005, and measles cases are at their highest levels for a decade. But these are not the most chilling consequences of their hoax, because the media are now queueing up to blame one man, Wakefield, for their own crimes.


It is madness to imagine that one single man can create a 10-year scare story. It is also dangerous to imply – even in passing – that academics should be policed not to speak their minds, no matter how poorly evidenced their claims. Individuals like Wakefield must be free to have bad ideas. The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years. Their failure to recognise that fact demonstrates that they have learned nothing, and until they do, journalists and editors will continue to perpetrate the very same crimes, repeatedly, with increasingly grave consequences.



Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin”

August 31, 2008

If someone had told me that it was a good idea for a girl singer to record an album full of songs that had been hits for the late great Dusty Springfield, I’d have thought them mad. So it’s a good thing that Barry Manilow did not consult with yours truly when, a few years, he put that very idea to the country-rock singer Shelby Lynne

The resulting album, Just A Little Lovin, recorded in early 2007 with producer Phil Ramone at the helm ( Manilow, it appears, was not available), is not just better than expected, it is an unqualified success.


Lynne, who, it appears, recorded the songs live, and in the exact order they appear on the CD makes what many admiringly think of as “Springfield’s songs”  her very own by turning her back on everything that Springfield had done to them. Springfield’s  readings of the songs was always on a grand scale, dramatic and emphatic. Lynne has gone for quietly detailed, emotionally precise  performances, and it’s as though songs such as Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s  Anyone Who Had a Heart and Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde’s I Only Want to Be With You have taken on a life the listener never suspected they had.


To suggest that his album is a homage to Dusty Springfield is not to do it the justice it deserves. It is a very thoughtful reworking of material which Springfield used to sing, and deserves to be judged on its own merits, which are considerable. 


Anyone Who Has a Heart sung by Shelby Lynne







Bill Clinton @ DNC 2008

August 29, 2008
I have yet to see Bill Clinton deliver his speech to the Democratic National Convention 2008  but I’m putting it on my must-see list because John Naughton says that it has much to recommend it.

I’ve heard heard Clinton speak before (and was impressed by him) but this was a truly masterful effort. It reminded me of Aristotle’s identification of the three elements of rhetoric: what is said; who is saying it; and the occasion on which it is being said. Clinton’s speech worked on all three levels.

 What’s been amazing about this presidential election is the amount of raw energy it reveals in the American system. I cannot imagine a single British politican capable of engaging at this level with ideas and passion. And it makes one depressed to think of what lies in store for us over here as the political conference season approaches


31/08/08 12:45

It is indeed an impressive display of oratory.  

“Who owns your body?” asks Donna Dickenson

August 29, 2008

In an engrossing, but nevertheless easy-to-read, essay, published in the English Language Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, ( and already appearing recently in Project Syndicate & and the Journal of Turkish Weekly), Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities at the University of London and 2006 winner of the International Spinoza Lens Award, Donna Dickenson,  reminds the general reader that though we may think otherwise, we do not own as much of our own body as we think. She argues that, as the American law professor, James Boyle, has already suggested, “things previously outside the market — once thought to be impossible to commodify — are becoming routinely privatised”

…..In biomedicine, a series of legal cases have generated powerful momentum toward the transfer of rights over the body and its component parts from the individual “owner” to corporations and research institutions. So the body has entered the market, becoming capital, just as land did, though not everyone benefits, any more than the dispossessed commoners grew wealthy during the agricultural enclosures

Most people are shocked when they learn that one-fifth of the human genome has been patented, mostly by private firms. But why be so surprised? After all, female bodies have been subject to various forms of property-holding over many centuries and in many societies.Women’s bodies are used to sell everything from cars to pop music, of course.

But female tissue has been objectified and commodified in much more profound ways, in legal systems from Athens onwards. While men were also made into objects of ownership and trade, as slaves, in general women were much more likely to be treated as commodities in non-slave-owning systems. Once a woman had given her initial consent to the marriage “contract”, she had no right to retract her consent to sexual relations — ever.


The fact that a feminist perspective is very much to the fore in Dr Dickenson’s argument, or that she is suggesting that we men ahve taken along time to realise “commodification” of the body has long been accepted because it did not until now affect us, should give us an excuse to the arguments that there is what she describes is going on and that we (all) should be seriously considering whether or not we should be putting a stop to it before it’s too late.



New Books by Donna Dickenson


 Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh & Blood It’s been said that we are witnessing nothing less than a new Gold Rush, where the territory is the human body. Human eggs are used in huge numbers for the stem cell technologies—over 2,000 in one recent case. Roughly one-fifth of all human genes have been patented by biotechnology companies. Women’s tissue is worth more than men’s, but both sexes are vulnerable. The fact is, we don’t own our bodies in law.
Some people may shrug, ‘We live in a consumer society, so what do you expect?’. Others might reply, ‘Yes, we live in a consumer society, which will bring us great medical and scientific progress– if we just leave well enough alone.’ Both responses are far too simple. Donna has just published a popular science book which will show why. Written for a general audience, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood aims to bring these important questions out of commercial secrecy and into public debate.


29.08.2008 7:15

Dickenson’s essay, under the title My Body, My Capital has now found its way into the Daily News (Egypt)



See My Body, My Capital in The Malta Independent 30.08.2008


David Hammond(Oct. 5 1928 – Aug. 25 2008)

August 28, 2008

In an Obituary published in today’s issue of The Guardian, the Nobel Prizewinning  poet Seamus Heaney writes of his late friend, the singer, film-maker and broadcaster, David Hammond.

David, who has died aged 79, was a singer, film-maker and broadcaster whose unique combination of passion and insouciance made him a force for good in Irish life, public and private, north and south, for the past 50 years. He was in the widest sense an educator, an Ulsterman who was at ease with being an Irishman, a lifelong resident of Belfast immune to its constricting ideologies, free from its sectarianism, exultantly and resolutely his egalitarian self

 This brings to mind Act, Scene 2 of Hamlet in which Hamlet, talking about his late father, says: 


He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.


Kel Elliott – coming of age or what?

August 27, 2008


 It’s been five of six years since I first saw the young Kel Elliott perform, but I can still recall clearly thinking then her approach to making music suggested that she was had all that was needed to make a very competent performer who, though crowd pleasing, would never command crowds big enough for her to depend on them for a living.


In the intervening years, either she’s grown up, or I’ve come to realise that I underestimated her in the first place. She has certainly now got a lot more to her than than I thought.  if the tracks I’ve listened to from her recent album, How Can I Resist, are anthing to go by. They (see myspace link below) are written and performed by someone who cannnot be easily dismissed as merely  competent. She is, I now believe, the real deal, maybe not a first or second division player, but almost certainly at the top of her game in the third division.


Elliott, as a lyricist, may,as she says,  have learned her craft by going out “armed with a notebook, pen, digital dictaphone, thesaurus and rhyming dictionary” and writing about what she sees and hears, but already she’s producing songs that suggest that she has a much more sophisticated set of tools to hand than either that her own evidence suggests, or, than she realises


I can’t wait to get hold of the album. It’s quite a while since I said that about a singer new to me.  



Kel Elliott @




Clive James’ “Cultural Amnesia” (continued)

August 26, 2008

Last year, the critic Peter Conrad wrote what many of us considered an unnecessarily catty review of Clive James’ book  Cultural Amnesia.  Many who read the Conrad piece felt that while it was perfectly acceptable find flaws with the book or disagree with what James had to say on the many subjects he deals with in it, it was altogether another thing write as though the critic were settling of some old scores with the book’s author. As far as I know, nobody has said so out loud until now.  
 Now the Australian writer and blogger David Free has posted a piece to his online diary, In Defence of Clive James, in which Conrad is taken to task for some of the things he wrote.


Monday, August 25, 2008

In defence of Clive James

One day soon I’ll publish a long-projected post arguing that Clive James ought to win the Nobel Prize. He never will, but he ought to. I mean this quite seriously. I think he’s an outrageously underrated man: a great critic who is also a great writer, with the rare ability to be deeply serious and deeply funny at the same time. Rare – and also problematic, in that it permits cretins to conclude that he isn’t serious at all.
Anyway, a lot of Clive’s vast output is available for free on his exemplary website. His most recent book, Cultural Amnesia, you’ll have to buy, although generous extracts from it are available online at Slate. On the whole I thought the book deserved not just much better reviews, but much better reviewers. Peter Conrad, in The Monthly, wrote a reprehensible attack on it that really got under my skin. Here’s how it kicks off:
Let me begin with a digressive excursion into the fast-retreating past. It concerns memory, which is not only the ligature that holds civilisation together, as Clive James contends in Cultural Amnesia (Picador, 900pp; $49.95), but also the medium in which we conduct our personal moral reckonings.
Thirty years ago, shortly after meeting James for the first time, I reviewed a volume of his matey doggerel, Fan-mail – verse letters addressed to friends, one of whom was Martin Amis who, as literary editor of the New Statesman, commissioned the review. “I don’t like a lot of what Clive writes,” Amis muttered as he handed the book over, “but of course he’s a friend and I can’t say so myself.” I took the point, and signed on as a hired killer.

As long as he was conducting a personal moral reckoning, couldn’t Conrad have weighed the ethics of repeating what Martin Amis said, about a friend, in a private conversation thirty years ago? It strikes me as a pretty shabby move, and a good indicator of how shamelessly hostile the whole review is going to be.

 I won’t bore you or myself by going into the thing in any more detail. But I can’t finish without querying, very strenuously, Conrad’s credentials as an arbiter of wit. At one point he complains about

how studied James’s … witticisms are: his description of the bags under Duke Ellington’s eyes as “sets of matched luggage” sounds prepared, as packaged as the sagging suitcases.

Doesn’t sound so bad to me. A bit better, in fact, than that would-be coup about the sagging suitcases. But what is Conrad’s idea of the authentic, the unprepared witticism? Well – here, from the same review, is his own attempt at a gag:

James, whose smallest room is an annex of his library, advises that “all four volumes [of de Gaulle’s memoirs] can be kept easily on the bathroom shelf in the neat little Pocket Presse boxed set from Plon”. I’m grateful for the tip, but worry that the neat little boxed set might constipate me. Sooner a comforting plop than the company of Plon.

 Man that’s off.

This is not necessarily the best defence in the world, but it does serve to show just how just bad-mannered ever a good critic like Conrad can be when he forgets that it’s a book rather than an author he is dealing with. It also goes to show that the bad manners does not go unnoticed

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum



Cromwell in Ireland 2

August 25, 2008

Of Micheál Ó Siochrú’s God’s Executioner: Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland, which I mentioned yesterday, Martin Mansergh* had this to say  in his Irish Times review on Saturday the 23rd of August


Transcending conflict requires a deeper understanding of the past, warts and all, and lifting ourselves with difficulty over it, not a glib or complacent revisionism. Ó Siochrú’s book, and his forthcoming TV series**, will be of considerable assistance in that.


*Dr Martin Mansergh, TD, is Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and for the arts, and author of The Legacy of History for Making Peace in Ireland (Mercier, 2003)



**Cromwell in Ireland, starting on September the 9th on RTE1,  directed by Maurice Sweeney and starting on September the 9th on RTE1  , is a 2 X 52 minute documentary that examines the history of Oliver Cromwell’s mid 17th century conquest of Ireland. Produced by Rachel Towell, the series is presented by Irish historian Dr. Micheál Ó Siochrú, and combines drama re-enactments with CGI graphics to recreate 17th century Ireland on screen. ‘romwell in Ireland’ will air on RTE this September



Oliver Cromwell in Ireland

August 24, 2008

Fintan O’Toole, writing in today’s Review pages of The Observer, says that you might, give that the current tendency in Irish historiography is towards revisionism, expect that  Micheál Ó Siochrú’s* recently published God’s Executioner: Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland, would conclude that Oliver Cromwell “really had a heart of gold” and that the Irish have in fact spent the last three centuries turning him into the mythical criminal he never was.


The fascination of the book is that, even when it is put through the wringer of low-key, unemotional and carefully documented analysis, the myth turns out to be mostly true.


Hype certainly did play a part in the terrible events of the 1640s and early 1650s that killed a fifth of the Irish population. But the hype was mostly on Cromwell’s side. In strict military terms, his conquest of Ireland was relatively easy and could have been accomplished without atrocities. When he landed in Dublin in August 1649, the Puritan revolution was at its height. Already that year Charles I had been executed, the Leveller mutiny crushed, and the Commonwealth declared. Cromwell’s New Model Army had proved itself a virtually unbeatable force – highly disciplined, superbly equipped and very well funded.



Had he been so inclined, Cromwell could probably have pacified Catholic Ireland with minimal violence. The most powerful native military leader, Owen Roe O’Neill, and the Marquis of Antrim, Randal MacDonnell, were actually standing aloof from the Catholic rebellion and looking to cut a deal with the parliamentary forces on the basis of religious toleration and the preservation of their lands. For poorer Catholics, who had already endured a decade of war, early talk by Cromwell’s soldiers that they were ‘for the liberty of commoners’ was rather alluring. Yet none of this really mattered. Cromwell’s resort to extreme violence was not a reaction to the conditions of the actual conflict he was engaged in, but a predetermined exercise in religious and ethnic vengeance.



………In his first engagement, at Drogheda, he personally supervised the slaughter of about 2,500 soldiers and an indeterminate number of civilians. The arguments of apologists that this was within the laws of war at the time are contradicted by the evidence in Cromwell’s own account that he himself understood the scale of the massacre to be exceptional. It would, he admitted, have prompted ‘remorse and regret’ were it not intended to have exemplary effect as both collective punishment and a warning for the future. Contemporaries fully understood the atrocity, and its repetition at Wexford a month later, to be shocking, terrible events.


Does Ó Siochrú’s 316 page book help us to understand what lies behind the Cromwell myth. For the most part it does.


O Siochrú is so anxious to be unemotional that he often forgets to be vivid (he makes poor use of Cromwell’s remarkable letters from Ireland) and writes in a style too flat to do full justice to the human tragedy of these events. But this is a price worth paying for the scrupulousness that makes this by far the most authoritative account yet written of an episode that reminds us of the barbarism that is inflicted in wars against the ‘barbarians’


*Dr Micheál Ó Siochrú [link]