Archive for September, 2008

Bush lets Wall Street off the hook.

September 25, 2008

Andrew Leonard, in a Salon article analysing George Bush’s speech explaining to Americans  why  the United States is in such dire straits that it has to immediately implement the Paulson plan up to spend as much $700 billion “so banks and other financial institutions can avoid collapse”, noted that Bush fails to blame the Wall Street bankers (his good freinds?) for the state of the economy.

..(he) placed more blame on homeowners taking on loans that they couldn’t afford than on Wall Street bankers for their concoction of exotic financial instruments that put everyone at risk.

Well, at least he prepared the way for his successor’s allowing the Wall Street shysters to go back to business as usual.


On Ruth Kelly’s bowing out speech.

September 25, 2008

Simon Hoggart‘s reporting ,in today’s edition The Guardian, of transport minister Ruth Kelly’s final speech as a cabinet minister at the Labour party conference in Manchester throws up this little nugget:


..When an Olivier finally leaves the stage we sense the passing of a great era.

When someone who played Peaseblossom in rep goes, it’s hard to work up the same sense of occasion.

Almost priceless 


Gordon Brown’s change

September 24, 2008
Polly Toynbee , commenting in The Guardian, September 23 2008, on Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party in Manchester  yesterday, claims that  gave it his “utmost and it was his best speech  – as it needed to be”. There are probably two sets of voters listening to him. One set can hardly believe its ears that Labour, after all this time, has begun to tealise that it’s been refused for over a decade to consider “active intervention”
His call for “a new settlement” in this changed era helps him draw a line under his own recklessness in the days when he boasted of his “light regulation” of the City. Best was his strong red line between laissez-faire Toryism and Labour’s active intervention in the current crash. Good for aficionados – but the party now holds its breath to see if voters are still listening to anything he says.

It’s not easy for people to believe that, after a decade of toadying up to big finance, and claiming that it was something we should be proud of, Mr Brown has had his road to Damascus moment. Is he now saying that almost everything he lived by, and would have us believe in, turns out to have been wrong?

And if he is, then how does he go about convincing us that he’s got things right now?

Clive James talks to… Sir. Tom Stoppard

September 24, 2008

The new series of Talking in the Library, Clive James’ thirty minute video-taped interviews with people from the arts and media, begins with a conversation between Clive and  the playwright Sir Tom Stoppard whose translation of a minor Chekhov, Ivanov, starring  Kenneth Branagh and Gina McKee, is running to gathering critical acclaim in the West End. 

This interview is being broadcast by Times Online as an “exclusive”, but, in the fullness of time, will no doubt be available Mr. James’s own website, .


Extract from Times Online article by Ben Hoyle, Arts Reporter.

“I think in a way that theatre is essentially a recreation,” he tells Clive James in the first of a series of conversations recorded at the London flat of the Australian writer and broadcaster. “I am very, very lowbrow about it. When I consider what I wish it to do, I wish it to give people a good time on one level or another.”


Sir Salman Rushdie, Germaine Greer and Will Self are lined up for this new series.


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Government of the people, for the rich, by the rich.

September 23, 2008

In a recent entry to his blog John Naughton points to what he calls “a terrific post by Dave Winer”. Winer, the pioneer in the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software, has indeed written an excellent piece about the American government’s handling of the recent financial turmoil.

Flash back to the United Nations on 2/5/03. An impressive almost Presidential Secretary of State, Colin Powell, delivering some chilling news, not coming right out and saying it, but definitely leading you to believe that Saddam has nukes and chemical weapons and stuff even more horrible and is getting ready to use all of it in some unspecified horrible way. It’s the lack of specificity that makes it so chilling.

Consider the whole scenario. Powell can’t tell us what the danger is because that would violate some security that he can’t violate. Well, I did what a lot of Americans did that day, I sucked it up and got behind my government. And they suckered me. And I’ll never forget it. I got fooled, and used, and a lot of people died, in the name of freedom, and it was all a lie.

We all paid a huge price that day, and the bill may be coming due today, because they’re presenting us with the same scenario, this time about the economy. And we’re not going for it. You can see it in the way things flipped around overnight. A lot of people woke up this morning, like I did, and realized — wait I’ve seen this movie before.

Now we have another impressive Almost Presidential secretary, Henry Paulson, who says there’s impending doom, but he can’t say exactly what it is, it’s not security this time, but fear of starting another level of bank runs. Senators and Representatives come out of a Thursday night meeting with the secretary (would they have believed the President) won’t say exactly what he said, but they are stunned. The next day buried in a sea of press about this event is an almost innocuous paragraph in a NYT piece that talks about a flight to safety from the US Treasury money market. OMG. A point made by the secretary to the Congresspeople, a lot of your constituents have their savings in money markets. The Senators think to themselves, Fuck the constituents, that’s where my retirement savings are! (And by the way, mine.)

I have cut Winer’s piece here to make room for a not unrelated commentry by Glenn Greenwald that appeared in Salon late hast week. Greenwald thinks that the support of the bankers and banking is motivated by Washington’s need to cosy up to the rich on whom it depends for its very existence.

…the beneficiaries of this week’s extraordinary Government schemes aren’t just the coincidental recipients of largesse due to some random stroke of good luck. The people on whose behalf these schemes are being implemented — the true beneficiaries — are the very same people who have been running and owning our Government — both parties — for decades, which is why they have been able to do what they’ve been doing without interference. They were able to gamble without limit because they control the Government, and now they’re having others bear the brunt of their collapse for the same reason — because the Government is largely run for their benefit.   

 I’m no expert in these matters, but I have to say that Greenwald’s the more persuasive of the two explanations. Yes, I’m sure that Senetors dof want to prevent their savings and pensions fro disappearing before their very eyes, and yes I’m sure that part of their motivation for shoring up the whole financial ediface is to protect those savings and pensions. But I, like Greenwald, thing that they might be even more worried about seeing a whole system collapse on top of them.

Those pesky sats again.

September 23, 2008

Yes it is those pesky sats again. The do keep cropping up whereever one goes. Hot on the heels of the just-published Ofsted report, which says that while more children may be getting good marks in sats and examinations, they are being drilled to pass tests rather than  equipped with the mathematical skills or understanding of concepts which they need for later life, Dr Tony Gardiner, reader in maths and maths education at the University of Birmingham, is reported in last Friday’s   Education Guardian as saying that “maths teachers from primary through to secondary school have been teaching children to pass tests for the past 10-15 years”.

He said: “This isn’t education. It’s training people to do mindless tasks.

“You can train people to to do a task but, because there is no soil for it to grow in, they forget the knowledge and it evaporates.”

The 200 top-scoring 14- to 15-year-olds in Birmingham recently attended a maths festival at the university earlier this month. They struggled to find the answers to more challenging maths problems, said Gardiner, because they had not been taught to think about maths.

He said: “We are creating a nation of experts in what I call “one-piece jigsaws”. Give them a three-piece jigsaw and they’re screwed. It’s an utter tragedy.”

The tragedy is that no matter how often, of by whom, it is said that all this concentration or sats, exams and league tables is damaging, nobody – or at least nobody that counts –  appears to be paying too much attention.

Standard assessment tasks (Sats) again!!!!.

September 23, 2008

A report, Perspectives on Education: Primary Science, compiled by researchers from Bristol and Durham Universities and published today  by Welcome Trust, will , according to Jessica Shepherd ‘s  account in today’s edition of The Guardian show that children’s interest in science and their understanding of it are being crushed by the compulsory tests they sit at primary school

Pupils in England are being taught to perform well in the tests, rather than having their “natural curiosity of science cultivated and harnessed”, researchers from Bristol and Durham Universities will say in a report.

All 11-year-olds in state schools are examined in science as part of their standard assessment tasks (Sats). The results are used to compile league tables, on which parents and the government judge how good schools and teachers are.

The compilers of the report, Professor Wynne Harlen and Professor Peter Tymms, “argue that despite a rise in the number of passes in Sats science tests between 1995 and 2000, children’s understanding of science has decreased since the 1970s”

Tymms said: “Despite the pass rates, research suggests few students acquire a proper understanding of the science curriculum.

“The purpose of science in primary schools should be to foster a sense of curiosity and positive attitudes in the young child. We suspect that the current national approach to science in primary schools is not impacting on children’s scientific thought and curiosity.”

Now, where have I heard all this, or something very like it  before?

Is John McCain environmentally friendly?

September 21, 2008

An interesting essay in today’s issue of Salon by the American author, lecturer and scientist, Joseph Romm, claims that John McCain’s environmental record, which McCain himself is  repeatedly claiming is one of  caring for the environment,  is “every bit as dirty as that of Sen. James “global warming is a hoax” Inhofe”


The facts are clear. All you have to do is look at his voting record. It reveals that McCain has long been one of the strongest opponents of clean energy in Congress, with a record matching that of James Inhofe, the most hardcore global-warming denier in the Senate, who comes from the heart of the oil patch in Oklahoma.

Recently the Associated Press noted that “McCain has not shown up for eight Senate votes last year and this year to extend [renewable energy] tax credits, which expire at the end of this year. The last such vote was July 30.” Yet at an Aspen Institute meeting in August, when McCain was asked about those missed votes, he simply lied to the audience.

“I have a long record of that support of energy,” McCain said. “I come from a state where we have sunshine 360 days a year … I’ve always been for all of those and I have not missed any crucial vote.”

In fact, on Dec. 13, 2007, the Senate was considering a bill to spend $13 billion on renewable power over five years. The cloture vote to allow the amendment to be brought to the Senate floor required 60 votes;  it received 59 for, 40 against, and one senator absent Yes , you guessed it: No McCain. A spokesman later said he would have voted to block the bill.

There is a lot more, but we get the point.

So the man the Americans may vote in as their next President cares as little about the environment as the serving President does. Do they care? It’s a rhetorical question.

Donna Dickenson is a ……….. (fill the blank)?

September 21, 2008

All too often people who when they want to make arguments they like sound more convincing do so by claiming that the people first put them are somehow more qualified than they are. For instance, if they want to convince the general public that a statement about medical issues has come from an expert, they will claim, without a second thought, that that the person in question is a “distinguished scientist” as if this automatically bestowed on that person an infallibility lesser mortals have not got.

This thought occurred to me while reading an entry  which Julia Manning, Director of, made on the blog, which modestly describes itself as “a high quality, multiple-authored blog written by some of the best conservative thinkers and commentators around.”

But Woman’s Hour yesterday featured the thought provoking scientist Professor Donna Dickenson who reminds us that not just our money but our bodies are vulnerable. In her new book Body Shopping: The economy fuelled by flesh and blood she reminds us of the dangers of applying consumerism and commodification to the human body.It is no longer the domain of fiction, and whereas the common concerns of social intrusion and privacy are well aired here on CR, we ignore at our peril the loss of the ownership of all our public and [not so any more!] private parts. Professor Dickinson is one of several distinguished scientists who has agreed to help 2020health consider policy implications for technologies in health, but where billions have already be staked e.g. on genetic patents, can any Government be strong enough to resist this tempting source of revenue?

Manning, given her position, should know that Professor Dickenson is not in the accepted sense of the word a “scientist”, let alone a “distinguished” one. She is, as far as I know, a philosopher, with as special interest in ethics (particularly medical ethics) and politics.You have to wonder why Manning, who, being a graduate in Optometry and Visual Science at City University, is entitled to refer to herself as a scientist, should call Dickenson a scientist. Is it because bandying about the word philosopher would not go down all that well in circles? You imagine that this as a group that has more respect for good old-fashioned hard science than for that namby-pamby (probably left-leaning) philosophy.

It could be that Manning did not bother checking on Professor Dickenson’s credentials before writing, in which the casual reader, if he or she has some sense, is forced to wonder if there are inaccuracies in her reporting.

Clive James @ Cheltenham Festival 2008

September 21, 2008

Those hoping to catch up wth Clive James at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival are, I’m sorry to say, out of luck.

However, Angles Over Elsinore  (ISBN 9780330457408), the collection of poetry James will be discussing at Cheltenham is due to be published By Picador on the 7th of November this year

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The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2008

Clive James

The TLS Event

Event 12 at Cheltenham Town Hall (unreserved seating)


 more info/book online

Friday 10 Oct, 6.30 – 7.30pm

Tickets: £7

Clive James – poet, polymath, literary critic and broadcaster – has won legions of devoted fans with his hilarious memoirs, witty essays and trenchant TV criticism. He joins TLS Deputy Editor Alan Jenkins to discuss his life and writing, including his new book Angels over Elsinore, and share his unique view on the world.

If you like Clive James you might also be interested in…

Andrew Motion
Tom Paulin
Edward de Bono

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Collected Verse 2003 - 2008

Angles Over Elsinore: Collected Verse 2003 - 2008