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Favourite quote:

"Adam Smith identified the 'division of labour' as the great advance of the factory age. Even before machinery substituted for motive, industry increased human effort many times over, just by sub-dividing complex tasks among many. Where craftsmen were Jacks-of-all trades, the factory hand mastered one. Just by putting men under the same roof, great economies of scale were made, and human industry released from the endless reproduction of effort that came with domestic production. Instead of being dissipated, effort was concentrated. Specialised businesses for making shoes, engines, even power itself, were bound to be more efficient than attempts to achieve the same on the basis of domestic industry.

Green economics takes us backwards, reinventing cottage industry. The 'self-sufficiency' prejudice of course is the very opposite of saving, but leads to a tremendous waste of energies and raw materials. But that does not stop greens embracing self-sufficiency. Domestic recycling reverses the division of labour. The job of rubbish that was undertaken by refuse departments is put back in the home. Instead of one sorting depot, millions of kitchens and living rooms are given over to the job of sorting paper from tin, kitchen waste from paper. The reproduction of effort is astonishing. And being a cottage industry, domestic recycling's output is multiform, rendering it useless without further sorting, in a centralised depot.

We thought that Margaret Thatcher was testing the limits of market decentralisation when she privatised the ownership of electricity utilities. But Mrs Thatcher would never have dreamt of dispersing electricity production...The Conservative Party would encourage homeowners to supply their own energy from renewable sources by installing wind turbines and solar panels. Reversing the division of labour in energy production is embraced as a policy goal across the developed world".

James Heartfield, 'Green Capitalism, manufacturing scarcity in an age of abundance' 2008


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Drink, smoke, eat: prohibition today

I am producing and chairing this discussion on our changing attitudes towards personal pleasure as part of the Battle of Ideas Festival at the Barbican Centre, London.

Drink, smoke, eat: prohibition today
Sunday 21 October, 5.00pm until 6.15pm, Garden Room Under the Spotlight

Are we entering a new prohibitionist era? Drinking and even smoking are still perfectly legal, but there is a palpable sense that they are less acceptable than they once were. Cigarettes have become far more expensive thanks to punitive taxes, and the authorities would like to do something similar with alcohol. The spread of ‘no drinking’ zones in public places also seems to follow the pattern of smoking bans, which now cover every indoor public space and many outdoor ones too. So are we witnessing prohibition by stealth? Instead of banning certain activities, is the state trying render them socially unacceptable?

Putting smokers beyond the social pale certainly seemed to be health secretary Andrew Lansley’s obje…

Life is a Dream by Birmingham Opera Co.

Two members of Birmingham Salon are taking part in Birmingham Opera Company's next production, the world premiere of Life is a Dream by composer, Jonathan Dove and writer, Alasdair Middleton. They have created a brand new, full length opera and they've used a legendary play by 17th century Spanish Playwright, Calderón. Artistic Director, Graham Vick, designer Samal Blak, and William Lacey from Leipzig Opera are in charge. Singers include British tenor, Paul Nilon as the King, Wendy Dawn Thompson (mezzo), Keel Watson (bass), Donna Bateman (soprano). They'll be joined by American tenor, Joseph Guyton who played Cassio in Othello and is a finalist in Germany's X Factor. Playing the role of Segismund is American baritone, Eric Greene.
One member of the chorus, Niall Crowley, wrote this piece 
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Opera for the masses, by the masses?
By Niall Crowley In a disused tin-plate factory in a backstreet of Digbeth in Birmingham, an extra…

Have we got copyright wrong?

Next Birmingham Salon: Have we got copyright wrong? 7.30pm Thursday 13th September at The Ropewalk, 15-20 St Paul’s Square, Birmingham B3 1QU

Is copyright a principle that is impossible to maintain in the modern world where reproduction is almost effortless? Should we take a pragmatic line and formulate alternative licensing and business models that are adaptive to the new realities of the digital age? Or should we, make a stand against the devaluation of works of art and entertainment as freebies, and defend the notion of social creations deserving of reward and accreditation? And as the British government prepares to make publicly available scientific research for everyone to read for free, are there separate principles involved in research literature on the one hand and artistic works on the other?