Saturday, February 18, 2006

Philosophy for life - and work

More stupidity from New Labour; this time from the Higher Education Minister !

"The newspaper reader says: this party will ruin itself if it makes errors like this. My higher politics says: a party which makes errors like this is already finished - it is no longer secure in its instincts."

Friedrich Nietzsche

A. C. Grayling, Professor of philosophy, has to teach him a few elementary lessons:

"Learning about life: What's the point of philosophy? (Discuss)"

"Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, believes there is nothing wrong with students spurning the study of Philosophy. Not so, says AC Grayling. By learning how to think, graduates can become even more valuable to employers"

The Independent, 17 February 2006

"Bill Rammell, the Education minister, said this week that it was no bad thing if students were dropping philosophy and classics in favour of more vocational courses. Here is why he is wrong.

If you train people to drive buses or operate lathes - the vocational option - you get skilled workers who can do particular jobs. But if you teach people to think, and provide them with wide horizons, they can do many things; they can train and retrain in different positions, they can be flexible and adaptable in exporting their mental skills from one job to another, and in general they can provide their employers and the country at large with the advantage of being an educated, and not merely a trained, workforce.

We are citizens, lovers, friends, parents, consumers, enjoyers of culture, travellers, and much else besides, as well as (and for many more hours a day than) being employees.

In all these respects, the idea of living a life that is satisfying and flourishing, in which we add value to our relationships and bring thoughtfulness to our civic responsibilities, is to the forefront. And it is these things that a broad liberal education fosters. Central to such an education is an opportunity to think about and debate the great questions that lie at the heart of being human.

This is what philosophy is concerned with, and the astonishing growth in recent years of philosophy A-level studies at schools across the country testifies to the intense interest felt by young people in its questions.

How little things change:

"It is necessary, according to Nietzsche, to contain this historical, scientific and professionalizing tendency in university - a tendency that demands swift teaching, deep enough only to transform individuals into efficient servants. These institutions should turn their attention to the problems of culture, or better, the essential questions posed by the human condition."

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, February 17, 2006

Design Museum/Rawsthorn comment

Someone commented on my post about Rawsthorn being fired from the Design Museum, it raises issues worth going into in another post - not that the comment is worth much in itself, no wonder they stayed anon:

Anonymous said:

"Ah there's nothing like the old boys network to get rid of a strong and challenging woman is there?"

It didn't require a network operation, Conran started the Design Museum and put in millions. He seems to have lent over backwards to try to give her a chance (and was one of those who chose her in the first place), but she was, in her own words, too "stroppy" and "stubborn" and, I would say, pig-headed to see sense and try to work with others instead of aggressively imposing her views, cf:

"Before he left, Christopher Frayling tried to negotiate an agreement that would defuse tension with the trustees, who saw themselves deprived of a role in the museum's affairs. As one eyewitness said: 'Meetings had turned into a monologue at which trustees sat listening to Alice talking about her achievements, and refusing to discuss her exhibitions programme.',11710,1318283,00.html

"What's the matter men - afraid she might take your fetishised boys toys away in favour of something more relevant to a greater number of people today's world?"

This "feminist" attack ignores the facts; it has nothing to do with "fetishised boys toys". Conran made his first fortune with furniture and household goods and decoration - hardly "boys toys". Few boys enjoy shopping for furniture, cf:

"They [Habitat] have an outlet in Ireland located in Dublin's prime shopping district near Stephen's Green, and its most frequent browsers are aggressive, fashionably dressed young women with black-rimmed glasses and blonde highlights, and timid, pleasant men with a slightly hunted expression that says "Thousands of generations of racial memory of hunting, living and dying have failed to prepare me for the decisions that seem to be important to me now."

Many women in the 60s an 70s were grateful to Conran for making good design affordable:

"Conran's guiding principle was simple: Create intelligently designed products for as large an audience as possible at a price just about anyone could afford. He built a highly successful retail chain and design consultancy on that idea. I was just as impressed with Conran himself when I interviewed him for a story for Women's Wear Daily. [Not exactly a "boys"magazine]"

Dyson was most opposed to Rawsthorn's changes and resigned. Did he make "boys toys" ? Hardly. Is he a "dinosaur", and an "out-of-touch patriarch"? - hardly. Here's a recent review of one of his vacuum cleaners - from "Hilary Magazine, North America's Most Popular Online Women's Magazine Since 1995", which is full of praise and makes clear his status as a world-class designer:

"We may not blame you if you told us you'd never thought about putting your vacuum on display. We would, however, blame you if you owned a Dyson vacuum and you'd never considered it. The question is not whether this is the best designed vaccum ever made, but whether it is the best designed appliance bar none. And it just may be!
In fact, I think we're in love. With a vacuum, you say? But wait until you hear about these vacuums! Not only are they the most modern and funky design you'll find on just about any appliance, but they suck up dirt and dust like there's no tomorrow!

For their eye-grabbing designs, Dyson has received numerous awards. For technological innovation, they won such awards as the Industrial Design Prize of America, Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Prize, the European Design Prize, the Super Good of the Year (Japan), and the L'Etoile de l'Observeur du Design (France). They were even cited as one of Time magazine's "Coolest Inventions". Now, how cool is that!

Here is some more praise from women:

"My new neighbour said, "Hmmm, let me loan you my Dyson, that will sort it." She brought it over. I revacuumed my floors. The canister filled to the topand the gaps were empty in the floor boards. OOOOOOerrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!! Suddenly, we noticed the abscence of a smell that we had not noticed before its absence. Right, that was it, we HAD to have a Dyson.

The instructions are pretty dummy proof too as this blonde bimbo easily understood the pictures. The Dyson manuals are all pictorial in colour with BIG pictures. No jargon whatsoever!"

Cf.: "After cleaning a friend's house for her after she had her baby and using her brand new Dyson, I was hooked, it had to be a Dyson for me as well." lily7star

So this attempt to present Conran and Dyson as "patriarchs" concerned only with "toys for the boys" is patently absurd.


"Alice may be a stubborn and focussed character, but the brief she was given on appointment was to raise the profile of the museum. She has achevied this and more, with her dignity in tact and should be congratulated on standing up against a few dinosaurs who really just want to play happy families with the Ken and Tony.

Surely the visitors should be the people who decide on whether her Directorship was successful, and it looks as though they're all in favour."

Of course one could "raise the profile" by focusing on celebs' bedrooms, and doubtless this would bring in more visitors. Anon sounds like the kind of person who would approve the news that the London Planeterium is going to close down and become another place for celeb worship. The point is not just to get more visitors, but to get more visitors for serious design, linked to the manufacturing process (the original aim of the museum as set up by Conran), not flower-arranging or trendy shoes.

"God forbid the Design museum returns to its former archaic engingeering driven boys school."

There's nothing "archaic" about engineering; the kind of design it should focus on is that done by Jonathon Ive, yes, a male, but designing the kind of engineering which won him the prize of designer of the year recently (Rawsthorn one of the judges) for his work with Apple. The Macs and ipods designed by him are widely used by females, not just by boys. Conran and Dyson would be happy with a focus on this kind of product - so should any intelligent female. The point is not just to increase numbers - an exhibition of porn mags would do that - but to increase the number of visitors coming for design like Ive's. This might even lead to more people like him (a Brit) working here and not in America.

Another school meals scandal

New Labour makes you sick - again. Having made a big fuss in public about supporting Jamie Oliver's campaign to improve school meals, behind the scenes they allow the food corporations to regain influence:

"... The School Food Trust has only just been established and it is supposed to help schools make the change to healthier eating. Given Kelly's promises, however, its composition is surprising: there are no nutritionists among its 16 members, nor is there anyone representing teachers, parents' groups or health charities. Only two members belong to charities working in schools.

In fact, the largest group represented on the trust is private and local-authority caterers. The government, in other words, has devolved responsibility for improving catering in schools to the very organisations responsible for serving up food condemned as "a scandal" by the Education Secretary herself.
The identity of the chair of this subcommittee may also come as a surprise. He is Paul Kelly, corporate affairs director of Compass Group plc, which is not only the largest food-service company in the world but also, incidentally, one of the biggest names in school catering and the vending-machine business.
The industry is pushing choice - always a seductive word for new Labour. But the danger is that the commercial version of choice, if it is not challenged forcefully now, will debase the whole healthy- eating initiative in schools and rob Ruth Kelly's sweeping promises of last year of much of their value for children.

Joe Harvey sums up the position: 'The major multinationals are in the business of delivering profits for the companies and dividends to shareholders. We in education and health are in the business of giving children the best possible nutrition. It's a simple divide. Don't let the companies undermine this opportunity.' "

Katharine Quarmby, New Statesman, Monday 20th February 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"Long Way Round"

The inspiring programme which I came across while channel-hopping (Feb 14th) was "Long Way Round". This is part of a series on Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman motorcycling 20,000 miles, taking them through Europe, Russia, Mongolia, Alaska, New York and back to London where they began three months earlier. This was the last episode (I'd also caught a couple of others by accident too) where they completed their ride through the US to New York.

"99% of people were friendly and generous"

Ewan said that he hoped their trip would be inspiring and so often we were put off doing things by thinking "what if...?" But it was the what ifs that made life interesting. He also said that they had found that 99% of people they'd met had been friendly and generous (not really surprising except in our cynical culture) and they agreed that it had been a life-changing experience. In the previous programme he'd said that once back in the US he'd got calls from his agent, but now multi-million dollar films didn't seem that significant.

I think I'll buy the DVD set - you don't get too many positive, inspiring and funny documentary series, cf.:

"In an era where any given day the television listings will offer 12 different reality shows about unpleasant people doing idiotic things for selfish reasons, it's easy to forget the joys of the old-school adventure documentary — the sort where reasonably prepared and intelligent folks go to exotic locales and have interesting experiences that we can enjoy vicariously. Like Long Way Round (2004), which followed actor Ewan McGregor and his pal Charley Boorman on their utterly insane attempt to take a 20,000 mile motorcycle trip from London to New York City. ring an avid love of motorcycles.

See for the special edition with extra episodes, and lots of rave reviews, e.g:

"So incredibly, butt-clenchingly good!!!"

January 31, 2006 Reviewer: Michael Sleggs from Cirencester, England

"I bought this dvd with prospects of doing my own bit of traveling in my gap year next year. I'm here to tell you.. this dvd is the greatest traveling dvd ever made.. it's the best show ever made. Charley Boorman, Ewan Mcgregor and crew provide so much great entertainment with the right amount of humour and drama to keep you hooked.. after watching this.. my mind has been made up.. Ewan Mcgregor, and Charley Boorman can do no wrong! There's also other funny characters, such as Claudio who provides most of the camera work for the show. This is the best money I have ever spent on a dvd and I've bought a lot of dvds. I recently bought the Michael Palin Travel dvd boxset, which I guess is a bit more informative.. but I much much prefer Long Way Round as it is funnier, cooler, and just, well, incredible. The only thing that could make this dvd any better is if it were longer than ten hours.. not to say I felt cheated in the slightest.. just to say that it was soo much fun to watch I would love to see more.. GO BUY IT NOW!!


Browsing through TV channels tonight brought two lucky finds, one depressing, the other inspiring.

ITV4 was showing "Outfoxed"; an excellent critique, but what it showed was very depressing, especially as Fox news is still pouring out its garbage and many Americans are still watching it and believe its absurd claim: "Professional journalism - fair and balanced". As the film showed this claim is laughable - but some argue like this (from last summer):

"Of course Fox News is biased just as CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and every other news outlet. Most are biased to the liberal side, so what is wrong with Fox News being biased to the Conservative side?"
Posted by: Tom on August 29, 2005

Some others put him right, e.g.:

"Tom, you don't understand, because you're caught in the spin-machine.
CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS have a right-wing slant when compared to any reliable news source.
Faux News is ultra-right wing propaganda. There's no other word for it.

But CNN looks suspiciously like Faux-Lite when watched in other parts of the world.

But really, that's the purpose of Faux, and the trick that's been used to slant the US into its current rush towards corporatism.
The 'balance' is between far-right wing and ultra right-wing. And you're see-sawing on the edge of a cliff."
Posted by: Kat on August 29, 2005

Newshounds/McCarthyism resurrected

At least there is now the Newshounds site: "We watch Fox so you don't have to". This shows that the Fox gang are still at it. One sickening item is about ex-marxist now neo-con David Horowitz (pal of that other turncoat, C. Hitchens) who is trying to bring back the McCarthy era ("Goodnight and Good Luck" came to cinemas here Feb 14th! hooray!) to the universities:

"February 14, 2006
Hannity & Colmes Launches New Witch Hunt Against University Professors
FOX News has a new weapon in its crusade to divide and polarize America during a time of war: a new book by admitted traitor [ ], David Horowitz, about the 101 most dangerous university professors in America. Hannity & Colmes not only showcased this latest hate-manifesto from the non-student who formed “Students for Academic Freedom,” the show will crucify a different professor from the book each night this week. And it’s not even published by a News Corp subsidiary."

"...Horowitz told Colmes it didn’t matter if the professors were liberal or conservative, the important thing was not to be “indoctrinating students” in the classrooms. But I’ll bet that every target on H&C this week, if not every professor named in the book, just happens to be liberal."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Selling obesity in France

France Battles a Problem That Grows and Grows: Fat

By ELAINE SCIOLINO January 25, 2006

While adult obesity is rising about 6 percent annually, among children the national rate of growth is 17 percent. At that rate, the French could be - quelle horreur - as fat as Americans by 2020. (More than 65 percent of the population in the United States is considered overweight or obese.)

Just a few years ago, obesity in France was a subject relegated to morning television talk shows and women's magazines. Now the issue has become political.

When Jean-Marie Le Guen, a doctor and Socialist member of Parliament, began introducing bills on how to stop what he calls France's "epidemic," some of his colleagues dismissed him as a radical fringe nuisance. Now he is considered a pioneer.

"It used to be little talked about, and when it was, it was the domain of women complaining that they had put on a little weight," said Dr. Le Guen, who has written a book, "Obesity: The New French Sickness." The sickness, he predicted, will be "one of the important themes" of the Socialists in the campaign for president next year.
Obesity kills

With its universal health care coverage, the French government is also interested in cutting medical costs associated with obesity and diabetes. A recent advertising campaign by the National Collective of Associations of the Obese, an educational and lobbying organization, shows a markedly obese nude woman under the headline "Obesity Kills." (An estimated 55,000 people in France die of obesity-related illnesses every year.)

Some of the reasons for the increase in obesity are those that plague the United States and much of Europe: the lure of fast food and prepared foods, the ubiquity of unhealthy snacks and sedentary lives.

McDonald's is more profitable in France than anywhere else in Europe. Sales have increased 42 percent over the past five years. Some 1.2 million French, or 2 percent of the population, eat there every day.
Findus, the frozen food giant best known for its breaded, frozen fish filets, filmed French people eating over a period of time and was shocked by the results.

Contrary to the myth that the French spend hours sitting around the table savoring small portions of several courses, the films showed them eating in front of their television sets, while on the telephone and even alone. In fact, the average French meal, which 25 years ago lasted 88 minutes, is just 38 minutes today..."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Confessions of an Economic Hit Man"

I fought apathy, laziness and that pessimism Trevor Eve confessed to and went into central London on Sat., despite the cold and long tube journey. I walked down from Piccadilly to the South Bank, which is more attractive these days. Even garish lighting on the National Theatre is better than the bare concrete - like a Nazi bunker. Amazing how architects persuaded themselves to believe the idea that brutalism is best. But then many can convince ourselves that robbing the poor to pay the already grossly rich is OK, cf the book I bought in the Foyles there:

"Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" which I'd read about in the Guardian:

'A hit man repents'

'John Perkins didn't wield a gun - he wasn't even a paid-up CIA agent - but he did have nefarious ways of making countries around the world bend to the will of the US. Until, he tells Gary Younge, his conscience got the better of him and he looked for other ways to change the world

'On November 24 2002, Lucio Gutierrez swept to power in Ecuador's presidential election. It was a momentous victory for the populist, leftwing leader who had pledged support for the poor indigenous Indians in a country where 60% live in poverty.
The way John Perkins tells it, within a week Gutierrez had a visitor. "An economic hit man walked into his office and said, 'Congratulations, Mr President, I just want you to know that over here I've got a couple of hundred million dollars for you and your family if you cooperate with your Uncle Sam and our oil companies. And over here I have a man with a gun in his hand and a bullet with your name on it.'"

'Within two months of his election, Gutierrez had apparently made his choice. Implementing a swingeing austerity programme that attacked the very livelihoods of the people who elected him, he raised fuel prices by more than 35% and froze public sector workers' salaries for a year.'


A credible whistle-blower

If you've read Chomsky it won't tell you anything new about the capitalist systemn, and the US in particular, but it does provide an insight into how it operated in some specific cases and is powerful evidence since it comes from an insider. Of course there have been the usual attempts to rubbish the book and attack the man, John Perkins. But Gary Younge was quite persuaded in his interview with Perkins:

'It wouldn't be the first time a powerful country such as the US has gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve its power. Tales of German and Italian nationals (to name but a few) being picked up on the street by the CIA and whisked to third countries where they are tortured, interrogated and then released months later without charge, beggar belief. But they are true. On the other hand, this wouldn't be the first time a good argument and compelling story has been embellished for effect. There is simply no way of knowing.

Softly spoken and articulate, Perkins does not talk like a braggart. You don't get the impression that he's looking for the dramatic and self-serving response to a question.

"The overall scheme is not a conspiracy," he says. "The corporatocracy is ourselves - we make it happen - which, of course, is why most of us find it difficult to stand up and oppose it. Conspiracy means doing something illegal by definition. The overall scheme is not. But within the overall schemes there are plenty of conspiracies going on."

Unlike most men of his age and generation, corporate, anticorporate or otherwise, Perkins listens and engages. In short, he is very believable...'

'9/11 is a direct result of what the economic hit men are doing.'

See also the interview with Amy Goodman for how it relates to 9/11 and why there is hostility towards the West:

'AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. You say because of bribes and other reason you didn't write this book for a long time. What do you mean? Who tried to bribe you, or who -- what are the bribes you accepted?
JOHN PERKINS: Well, I accepted a half a million dollar bribe in the nineties not to write the book.


JOHN PERKINS: From a major construction engineering company.

AMY GOODMAN: Which one?

JOHN PERKINS: Legally speaking, it wasn't -- Stoner-Webster. Legally speaking it wasn't a bribe, it was -- I was being paid as a consultant.
JOHN PERKINS: Very, very closely with the World Bank. The World Bank provides most of the money that’s used by economic hit men, it and the I.M.F. But when 9/11 struck, I had a change of heart. I knew the story had to be told because what happened at 9/11 is a direct result of what the economic hit men are doing. And the only way that we're going to feel secure in this country again and that we're going to feel good about ourselves is if we use these systems we’ve put into place to create positive change around the world.'