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Showing posts from 2010

Higher Education is not a right it's a privilege

Brendan O'Neill hitting the nail on the head, as usual.
One idea that exploded on to the UK political scene towards the end of 2010 is that ‘Education is a right not a privilege’. Policemen were literally beaten around the head with those words, by students protesting against the Lib-Cons’ hike in tuition fees, while at the same time similar phrases were being spouted by the Lib-Con metrosexuals and white-haired old duffers in the Commons and the Lords. The only disagreement between the rowdy students and their supposed betters was over the question of whether tuition fees will improve or hamper young people’s ability to exercise their right to education.

This meant that the whole debate was pretty much a non-starter. Because when you mash together the language of rights with the pursuit of higher education, you end up sullying both. There is no ‘right to be a scholar’. There is no ‘right to be a pursuer of excellence’. By t…

When the state and anarchists fought gun battles in London

The centenary of the Siege of Sidney Street is a reminder of a rather different age of radicalism.
By Mick Hume
This week marks the centenary of the bloody events that led to a blazing political gun battle in London’s East End, known as the Siege of Sidney Street. The coincidence puts the current hysteria about protests in the capital in some historical context.

It is a reminder of a time when ‘anarchy in London’ meant much more than some ‘A’ for anarchist symbols painted on walls with broken windows; when the London authorities sought to crush their opponents with guns and real artillery rather than kettles and water-cannons; and when the Liberal government’s home secretary – Winston Churchill – appeared at the barricades to supervise the siege rather than at press conferences to fire soundbites at the media.
One hundred years ago, on 16 December 1910, a group of Latvian anarchists and radicals were disturbed during an attempted …

Is economic growth feasible or desirable?

Next Birmingham Salon meeting on Tuesday 11 January 2011 
Daniel Ben Ami, author of 'Ferrari's for All', will outline his arguments for unfettered economic growth. Somnath Sen, University of Birmingham Dept of economics, will defend 'growth scepticism' as a way of defending the welfare of the poorest in society. Since the start of the first Industrial Revolution, economic growth has generally been seen as good and desirable. However, over the last forty years, the growth of the economy and the spread of prosperity have increasingly been seen as problematic rather than positive. While some are still willing to defend economic growth, highlighting the gains to humanity it has brought in terms of material wealth, technological progress, increased life expectancy and personal consumption, others accuse prosperity of encouraging greed, damaging the environment, causing unhappiness and widening social inequalities. So, does economic growth offer solutions to the problems of …

Are humans unique or are we 'just another ape'? podcasts

Recordings from the Birmingham Salon meeting on Wednesday 8 December 2010

Helene Guldberg's introduction to Birmingham Salon

Jeremy Taylor's introduction to Birmingham Salon

Comment on modern childhood.


I've just found


Brendan O'Neill latest piece on the problems with the student protests.

Brendan is editor of

Britain’s lively student protests against the government’s plans to raise university tuition fees show us one thing for sure: you can’t take young people, or institutions for that matter, for granted. Ours may be a politically anaemic era, in which daring, future-oriented movements are notable by their absence, but that doesn’t mean the Lib-Cons should automatically expect compliance with their cuts agenda. The demos, which culminate in a mass action in London today, confirm that both young people and higher education staff will not meekly play the political roles fashioned for them by Cameron and Clegg.
One of the most striking things about the demonstrations is their leaderlessness. At the protest in Trafalgar Square last week, I was amazed by the utter confusion that prevailed, the gathering in the square of various, seemingly unrelated pockets of protesters, some of whom were chanting about education cuts, others of w…

I have a chapter in this book which I'm told is now available to buy.

"Big Brother Watch: The state of civil liberties in Britain"Author(s): Alex Deane (Ed)Format: paperbackISBN: 978-1-84954-044-5Publication date: 29/11/2010Price: £9.99 We now live in a state that takes a disturbingly close interest in our everyday lives. The government enjoys an array of powers over individual freedoms unprecedented in a democratic nation and inconceivable to our forebears.
Britain has the largest DNA database per capita in the world, more CCTV cameras than any other country, an Intercept Modernisation Programme to record details of everyone’s phone calls and emails, Stop-and-Search powers under the Terrorism Act and even data chips in bins to monitor our rubbish.
Big Brother Watchcharts the encroachment of a surveillance culture and the erosion of civil liberties in the UK. The aim of its expert contributors is to highlight the increasingly illiberal nature of life in modern Britain, and the terrible consequences this could have for us all.

Contributors includ…

Student protests, packed lunches and pushy parents. Brendan O'neill on contemporary protest.

It has become de rigueur in recent years to look down one’s nose at pushy parents. To be snobby about those mums (it’s mostly mums) who make little Olivia do 20 hours of tap a week in the hope that she’ll grow up to be a twenty-first century Ginger Rogers or at least the new Bonnie Langford.
But those parents with stars in their eyes don’t have a patch on a far more respectable breed of pushy parent: the political pushy parent, who sends their kids on anti-government demonstrations, complete with packed lunches, in the hope that they’ll grow up to be a twenty-first century Sylvia Pankhurst or at least a new Tariq Ali. These mums and dads are ‘living through their kids’ in a far more serious and sad way than the showbiz ones.
Probably the most striking thing about last week’s student demo against the Lib-Con government’s cuts and tuition fees agenda was not the protest itself – which, like all youth protests, was loud, bracing and had some good points as well as bad ones – but rather the…

Participate by not participating!

National buy nothing day, because doing nothing is doing something.

Saturday 27 November was National buy nothing Day. A chance to switch off from shopping and tune into life, according to the organisers, So how to tune into life? There are suggestions: “Re-live those childhood tantrum moments - except this time you’re all grown up and should know better. Sit on the floor in any shop with a friend and throw a tantrum. Shout things like ‘I don’t want anything anymore!’ or ‘You’ve got more shopping than me!’ Anything really - just act like a BIG kid”. Ironically the first thing you are invited to do on their website is to buy posters, but be careful ‘fly-posting can get you in trouble’. There is a need in our modern fast paced society for a space for reflection and contemplation. My problem, is that following reflection, I want more stuff. I must be hopelessly addicted to consumer culture. A day of doing nothing, as a political act, is more than refl…

Good articles I've read this week

Bernard Matthews (Classic UK ad 1980's)

Prince Charles Foundation for the Built Environment is "lobbying to co-ordinate community groups that would set the planning vision for local areas, including what housing and public facilities should be built and how they should look". Doesn't he know no one is building anything?

We are increasingly policed by Community Support Officers, Street Wardens, private security firms with 'accredited individuals', park wardens and shopping centre patrols. These plastic police "cannot arrest somebody or investigate a crime: they wander around telling people off for doing whatever it is they are doing, and deliver state-issued tellings off in the form of on the spot fines". Meanwhile the actual police have become embarrassingly inept at dealing with public order situations like student protests. Is this institutional collapse?

Birmingham Opera Company "The Wedding" by Igor Stravinsky

The Wedding                                                     Music and Words by Igor Stravinsky It's an ancient rite, a tribal event- the handing over of the bride. A piece of livestock moving from one owner to another, sacrificed in return for cash...and days of alcohol fuelled partying....wild...intense....passionate abandon. The Wedding is a screaming, shrieking, flat out masterpiece with its rhythmic drive and unique sound world- 4 virtuoso pianists on grand pianos, a dazzling array of percussion, 4 soloists and a chorus. Written as a ballet in 1923 for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, Stravinsky drew on Russian traditions to conjure up a vivid and intense depiction of the old ways, and the not so old! Director Graham Vick and Choreographer Ron Howell collaborate on this experimental half hour work and place the Chorus and Dance Company  of Birmingham Opera Company at the centre of the action. Conducted by Jonathan Laird with soloists Maureen Brathwaite, Antonia Sotgiu, Jeffrey L…

Helene Guldberg's Independent blog. The issues raised will be discussed at the next Birmingham Salon on 8 Dec

Are we just another ape? By Dr Helene GuldbergBattle of IdeasThursday, 18 November 2010 at 6:00 am
Today human beings are constantly denigrated. Prominent philosophers, scientists, social scientists, novelists and aristocrats have gone so far as to call for the mass culling – or even elimination – of humans. Orange-prize winning author Lionel Shriver recently wrote ‘if we [were to] disappear, another form of life will take our place – creatures beautiful, not so self-destructive, or simply weird. That’s cheerful news, really’. Sadly, this notion of the human race as a problem is increasingly mainstream. Today’s misanthropic cultural outlook – one that continually denigrates humans and blurs the differences between humans and other animals – needs to be challenged. The main challenge we face today is to uphold a human-centred morality – one that always considers the interest of humans over and above those of animals. Since life began several billion years ago, 99.999 percent of all species…