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Showing posts from November, 2010

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…

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

Birmingham Salon - Wednesday 8 December 6.30pm The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham B2 5EP

Birmingham Salon welcomes Helene Guldberg, author 'Just Another Ape?' and Jeremy Taylor, author 'Not a Chimp' to discuss the notion of human uniqueness, rights for apes, and the role of language in human development.

Today, the belief that human beings are special is distinctly out of
fashion. Almost everyday we are presented with new revelations about how animals are so much more like us than we ever imagined. The argument is at its most powerful when it comes to our closest living relatives - the great apes.

Should we extend the concept of "rights" to apes and, perhaps, other primates? The philosopher Peter Singer argued from a strictly utilitarian perspective that any animal for which there was proof they could feel pain should have the right not to endure cruelty and torture, nor be the subject of animal experimentation. More recently allied activist groups have campa…

Next Birmingham Salon: Just Another Ape?

Wednesday 8 December
6.30 - 8.15pm The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham B2 5EP

Helene Guldberg will introduce her latest book 'Just Another Ape?'
Imprint Academic (2010)

Today, the belief that human beings are special is distinctly out of
fashion. Almost everyday we are presented with new revelations about
how animals are so much more like us than we ever imagined. The
argument is at its most powerful when it comes to our closest living
relatives - the great apes.

The book up for discussion argues that whatever first impressions
might tell us, apes are really not 'just like us'. Science has
provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other
species are vast.

Unless we hold on to the belief in our exceptional abilities we will
never be able to envision or build a better future - in which case we
might as well all be monkeys.

All welcome.

My piece on Universities, the NUS and 'Nudging'.

published by

At the Battle of Ideas festival, held last weekend at the Royal College of Art, I attended a session called ‘What are universities for?’ This is a pertinent question given the current cuts, the transformation over the last few years of students into consumers of higher education and, most fundamentally, the replacement of the idea of “knowledge for its own sake” with “skills” deemed beneficial to the economy. Given such fundamental issues are at stake it is surprising that the National Union of Students (NUS), an organisation charged with defending the interests of students, seems to have as one of its main priorities trying to change freshers’ behaviour in all manner of ways. This latest initiative that students are being encouraged to sign up to in  Gloucester, Kent, Royal Holloway, Bristol, Leeds, Bradford and Liverpool Guild of Students is the Allotment Society.  Ian Pain, General Manager of the students’ union at Gloucestershire, explained

How the Green Belt pushes up the price of renting.

I really like this article from Tim Black. I think it goes with my factory farming article well - with farming becoming more efficient every year less land is needed for agriculture. The Green Belt is swallowing up new land that would be better being given over to new housing - bringing rents and house prices down by building more homes.

Why the housing industry is in ruins
Instead of squabbling over housing benefits, how about building some new homes and unbuckling the Green Belt?
Tim Black  Like just about every other quasi-public debate about the Lib-Con government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the current squabble over the proposed cuts in housing benefit has made for a typically unedifying spectacle.
On one side we have the government justifying the proposed caps on housing benefit using the political class’ discourse of choice: ‘fairness’. Why should those working, argues Prime Minister David Cameron, be able to afford less in the way of housing than those who are not working? We’…