The Loneliest Jukebox

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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Running on empty

To deposed Liberian president Charles Taylor and his email offer of 20% of "$25,000,000.00 million (Twenty Five Million United States Dollar) ... deposited by my friend Mr. Joseph Kabila President of the DRC" - thanks but no thanks. "I beg you for love sake that if you cannot handle this transaction, just delete this proposal and never let the cat out of the bag" he concludes. OK Chuck, agreed.

And now to today's Guardian, which has a front page panic over right-wing thinktank Civitas setting up its own primary school. Opening in two weeks in London, the school proposes teaching maths, phonics-based reading, French and 'traditional culture'. Bizarrely this has caused alarm, in a storm cooked up by former immigration minister Barbara Roche and Guardian political correspondent Sarah Hall. To parents not subscribing to the Guardian's increasingly narrow and self-righteous agenda, the real issue appears to be one of exasperation that more schools don't teach these subjects.

Taking the long view, a couple of other things are apparent. One is that in the absence of the separation of church and state, religious all-comers can already make their bid for school management (including those who see evolution as just a theory). Unless the policy is to reject all creeds in favour of a universalist school system - as it should be - then unfortunately it's only right to let them all have a pop at running schools. This approach might even be consistent with the diverse, multicultural society which Civitas is accused of undermining.

Another annoying Guardian trait is the tendency to treat all centre-right thinktanks as the BNP. If you look at Civitas' output, a lot of it seems like the usual moaning from the right, with a few sensible diamonds in the dross, like Patrick West's book Conspicuous Compassion (click title to buy). Yet we are told that the titles of a couple of booklets, which the journalist does not appear to have read, 'will raise concerns that the school will promote a kind of insidious racism'. Once again the Guardian shows its conspiratorial prejudice that one can't discuss immigration in Britain without everyone going on the rampage.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Of Gulls and Glassings

Bank holiday Monday, and I almost wish I was back at work. First of all Leicester City roll over to Brighton, in a tepid home display. To add insult to injury, I only get to see the first 24 minutes, after which time the rural pub I’m in switches the TV over to horse racing. Then, for reasons decorum forbids me from discussing, I’m off to the Rochdale A & E for some hospital treatment. The treatment when it emerges is quite good, but the waiting room could leave a well person needing treatment.On a silent TV is one of those ‘magicians’ secrets exposed’ shows, where a cat-like man in what can only be described as a rapist’s hood-cum-surgical burns mask dives in and out of wrecked cars. Opposite, playing on a loop is a set of ads from the Rochdale Community Safety Partnership, which seemed designed to scare children (‘I’m being bullied’) and depress adults by spending public funds on promoting a misanthropic worldview. Particularly stupid is the anti-drinking one, which starts with the statistic that 51% of people admitted to hospital for facial injuries had been drinking within the last four hours. The accompanying video shows a bunch of actors in a pub, one of whom is eventually glassed in the face.This weird ad suggests that if you are drinking you are asking for it. The glass-ee and not the glass-er is held responsible (although in fairness, we also see the glass-er waiting in a cell at the end). I’ve seen a lot of glassings in my time – fortunately, the genius who tried it on with me was using a plastic pint pot, so I just got soaked – and I would seldom have the cheek to say that the victims were to blame. Wounding is already illegal; drinking isn’t (yet).Maybe things are looking up for any actual victims of glassing (as opposed to the jobbing thespians in this public service broadcast). Although I cut it out after The Swan and Extreme Makeover, as a reality TV pundit I often used to sign off with ‘whatever next? Cosmetic surgery live?’ Five, a.k.a. Channel 5, is launching a show with that title as part of its Autumn season.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Back to Bradford

Half a lifetime ago, between the publication of my 16+ and 'A' level results, I was hovering about whether to go into social work. In those days the procedure was a three-year sociology degree followed by a year's training for a certificate (the CQSW). My reserve choice of university was Bradford. Wisely I declined and chose a different career (although whether my subsequent career choice was wise is open to debate).

All this came back to me when I watched Edge of the City last night. Not the excellent social noir by Martin Ritt with John Cassavetes, but a documentary about a year in the life of Bradford social services. Originally scheduled for broadcast in May, the show was pulled when it became apparent that the British National Party intended to use it as a party political broadcast. The issue, taking up about 1/4 of the actual documentary, was the portrayal of Asian men 'grooming' white teenagers for sex. Strikingly when there was a conviction at the end of the film, it was of an individual not on a mother's hit list of suspects and not affiliated to either of the gangs cited.

The rest of the piece, apart from a dignified old man trying to maintain his independence at the age of 82, was typical 'spot the chav' pornography, a chance to see how the other half lives. Omar the social worker in training seemed at the end of his tether; no wonder when the camera crew hadn't got the gumption to remind young offender Matthew when he was out late being filmed in breach of his curfew time.

It's a different Bradford to the one I was investigating in the mid-1990s, both with my colleague Sally Millard and with the broadcaster Kenan Malik. At the time we found that Asian youth were organising patrols to run curb crawlers out of town. This led to conflict with the West Yorkshire constabulary, but it was reported as a generation gap where the elders were failing to control the youth. Have the uptight moralists I rowed with a decade ago turned into 21st century pimps? Or did Edge of the City find an angle for publicizing its lurid exposé that money couldn't buy?


Thursday, August 26, 2004

Prophetic or pathetic?

Time for a clear out: old stuff finds its way onto Ebay (here) or my Amazon shop (here).
Among the candidates for other people's retail therapy is Against His-story, Against Leviathan by Fredy Perlman.

Back when I was researcher on Last of the Mohicans: the Musical I skimmed the section of Against... on the legends of the Lenni Lenape. But I never got around to reading it all, even though the author's 'many thanks' to Peter Rachleff , whose labour history I quite like, was a promising sign. I was pretty sure I wouldn't buy the notion that modern alienation kicks off in the ancient world and I had 50 other priorities that week - you know the story.

Anyway, a quick google before ejecting it from the Barnfield family library turned up this fulsome praise: "Perlman left many loose ends. But his basic position has proven unanswerable. Opposition to progress, development and Civilization are part of the minimum program of revolutionaries today. " I happen to think all three of these are quite good, leading to a (very) minor dilemma. Do I ditch the book, having had my suspicions about its primitivism confirmed? Or settle down and read it, in the knowledge that it's become a manifesto for our times, even among people who have read less of it than me?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Britain's oversexed media should really organise a surreal comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival this week. First of all the Sun kindly offers a front-page appraisal of Wayne 'Shrek' Rooney's choice of prostitute with the words 'I don't fancy yours much'. Apparently prostitution is no place for 'Auld Slapper', a 48 year-old grandmother. If he must get a bunk-up in a massage parlour, he should at least have the decency to knock off women resembling his 'heartbroken fiancee' Colleen, according to tabloid reporters. They would know; it's a bit like the moment in the documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story where 'Seymore Butts' accuses Chong of making the porn industry look sleazy.

What they all need is the advice of 'super-regulator' Ofcom:

The regulator ... decided it was happy for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to turn the air blue with "fuck and its derivatives" when tormenting his contestants on Hell's Kitchen, but "fucking Jesus" was too far. While fuck and Jesus are fine on their own, running them together causes particular offence.

"Research indicates that the combination of strong swearing coupled directly with holy names is found highly offensive by believers. Like the broadcaster, we believe that the combination of a holy name and a strong expletive could not be justified in this context," Ofcom said, censuring ITV after complaints.

The key word, it seems, was fucking - because in the same set of rulings, Ofcom decided ITV did not breach its programme code when Tanya Turner, the bitchiest of the Footballers' Wives bitches, exclaimed "Jesus shitting Christ" after a love rival spiked her sunscreen with a skin irritant.

On his 25th anniversary, I'm sure none of this would trouble that sweary Viz character Paul Whicker the tall vicar.


Reports today note that applications for American Studies degrees are in sharp decline. Pundits suggest that anti-Americanism is the underlying reason.

Maybe, but I'm not convinced. For a start, there was no specific blip after 9/11, when a growing sense of anti-Americanism was noted in much of Europe, embodied somewhat perversely in the notion that the USA was 'asking for it'. In fact, a frequent theme at the 2002 British Association for American Studies conference was that recent events made the discipline more relevant.

I suspect the underlying reasons for the decline are more mundane and less political on the part of the students. Constantly pitching universities in terms of future employment has done plenty of damage to those courses which do not seem to have an immediate pay-off for job-hungry graduates. (For most, reasonable earnings start after turning age 25.) The pool of 18 year-old school leavers is shrinking. 'Clearing' has become like watching cricket/paint dry for many academics, as universities seem to be using the presence of a central nervous system in applicants as the basis for recruitment: few are turned away from their first choices. The demographic oddities of individual colleges that offer American studies - such as an early gig of mine, at a place temporarily designated 'university college', which itself deterred applicants - are insignificant compared to the combination of an ageing population with turning higher education into vocational training.

Time will tell what specifically will happen to American studies. Cheap flights have probably killed off the attractions of a year/semester abroad. But a new political consciousness among 'A' Level students? If this is the case, maybe more will sign up, to find out what the enemy thinks.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Radio silence and Village idiots

Apart from a brief appeal for funds,the Loneliest Jukebox has gone rather quiet of late, due to twin pressures of work and childcare. Contrary to rumours, my disappearance has nothing to do with the launch of the video game Doom 3. This has meant I’ve little time to blog about the debased spectacle of reality television eroding the distinction between public and private life. Maybe Big Brother 7 will be the last anyway. I’ve also had no time to pen a review entitled ‘Village Idiot’ about the new M. Night Shyamalan vehicle The Village. If you can’t see the ‘twist’ ending coming a mile off, then you’re asleep at the start as well as at the end. Never mind reviewers, Disney should put out a spoiler warning. Disney might have its hands full however, as author Margaret Peterson Haddix is threatening a lawsuit over the similarities between The Village and her 1995 book Running Out Of Time:
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan and The Walt Disney Co. are bracing themselves for legal action, after a children's author declared similarities between her book and new movie The Village. The Village, the latest thriller by Shyamalan, stars Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver and Adrien Brody and has proved to be a hit at the American office. But now that much-needed success - Disney has endured a string of flops this year - has been marred by publisher Simon & Schuster Inc's announcement it is reviewing its legal options against the company and Shyamalan. Last week, reports circulated that The Village's plot and surprise ending were parallel to Margaret Peterson Haddix's first book Running Out Of Time, published in 1995. Haddix says she heard about the similarities last week when fans - and then journalists - began calling and emailing her and her publisher to ask if she had sold the book to Shyamalan. She claims she has never spoken to Shyamalan or to Disney, adding, "It's certainly an interesting situation. I'm just examining what my options are." A joint statement from Disney and Shyamalan's Blinding Edge Pictures says: "(We) believe these claims to be meritless". Simon & Schuster spokeswoman Tracy Van Straaten adds, "This is a children's book that sold more than half a million copies and won prizes, so it's not an obscure book for us." Shyamalan has previously battled a copyright lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania screenwriter who claimed the plot from his 2002 film Signs mirrored his unpublished script Lord Of The Barrens.
(Sourced on 11 Aug).

If Rod Serling was still around he’d be suing Shyalaman too.

Talking of plagiarism and the like, the latest reassessment deadline for university coursework has come and gone, and with it a range of excuses for not handing in work. Mike North wrote wisely on this topic in a recent THES; see Mike North (2004), ‘In memory of my late mum: my late essay’, THES, 4 June, p.25. Students old and new might also want to think about lectures and what can be learned from them. This link takes you to the provocative thoughts of Professor Al Filreis. Remember him next time you are tempted to transcribe a lecture verbatim.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Short of funds

Put coins in The Loneliest Jukebox by bidding on Ebay items here or from the Amazon shop here

Friday, August 13, 2004

Is reason Doomed?

Two weeks ago I both blogged and wrote an article concerning the dubious claims made about the role of a video game in a recent teenage murder. For further info I linked to several BBC webpages. While the Beeb did not say 'ban these evil games', it did promote endless speculation on Radio 5 Live about whether the game Manhunt was partly to blame for the horrific attack.

Now, buried in an article about the impending launch of Doom 3, it is noted the "Detectives investigating the murder rejected any link with the game, saying the motive was robbery."

Where were these detectives a fortnight ago?
(Usually I would end with the rhetorical question 'And where can I get a copy of Doom 3', but the answer is here.)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Whoah, Gary Gary...

Since I moved to London, if not before, I occasionally get accused of playing up my Leicester roots professionally. Asking bakers for cobs or saying ‘eyup mi duck’ is taken as an assertion of regional identity (although it’s more to do with my slovenly speech patterns). Americans sometimes get confused when I don’t conform to the ‘British accents’ heard on US TV; I sound like neither a villainous toff nor Simon Moon in Frasier. Get over it, people.

There’s not much to be gained from performing as a professional ‘Glenny boy’ in higher education and the media. Unless you work with Derby fans, still sore after last night’s helping of stuffed ram, then projecting yourself as from Lest-uh within the city limits of Joe Orton’s hometown seems bizarre. Yet a local comedy act is based on doing exactly that:
“Playing the home advantage, Leicester lad Gary O'Donnell had the whole audience behind him as he performed probably the biggest gig of his career. An energetic performer, O'Donnell runs around the stage like an excited schoolboy, but his energy could not mask his nervousness and he seemed shocked to find himself on the stage of the vast De Montfort Hall.
O'Donnell's brand of observational in-jokes seemed to exclude those of us who weren't born in Leicester or didn't go to Gary's school. However his excitement and energy are infectious and you can't help but go along with his trip down memory lane. Though somewhat limited by his material he is a talented performer clearly loved by the partisan crowd who chanted, Jerry Springer-style, "Ga-ry, Ga-ry" as he left the stage. Hopefully this experience will spur him on to look outside Leicester for material.”

(Read on here and here)

The last time I saw Gary at De Montfort Hall it was on a May Day stall, where we argued about the class nature of the Soviet Union and tried to get Keith Vaz MP to support Irish freedom. Since then he – Gary that is, not Keith Vaz - has ditched the orthodox Trotskyism of Worker’s Power for stand-up comedy (insert your own sectarian joke here).

From transitional demands to memory lane, or is that the other way around? Whatever happened to the 1980s? The next thing you know the A-team will be getting a pardon

First Thoughts on HE Audit Culture

My Introduction to Quality Assurance

The title here is misleading. My first thoughts on HE Audit Culture tend be reactive and therefore 'unsuitable for a family newspaper', as journalists sometimes say. That said, the following 'further thoughts' start an ongoing series that will, from time to time, be appearing on this blog. As always your comments are appreciated. Designing new academic programmes has become a case of balancing three different priorities. The first of these, often forgotten in the rush to fulfil the other two criteria, is developing the content of a course or degree scheme.

Secondly, it is important to develop the student ‘learning experience’ or, to put it more specifically, to find appropriate ways to mediate the content. Thirdly, it is now important that delivery and assessment methods themselves become transparent, so that they can be measured in keeping with the present day ‘audit culture’ in higher education. [Editor's note: you decide on their 'real' importance.]

Depending on one’s perspectives (and politics), this third consideration can represent an encroachment on professional autonomy or a guarantee that public monies are used wisely (or some combination of the two). Thus Hefce’s Quality handbook introduces the purpose of self assessment exercises as being ‘to secure value from public investment’ (Hefce, 1996: 4). Under review here is some of the documentation from previous occasions when I have been involved in various review processes. By revisiting documentation I aim to perform main two tasks. The first of these is to map a developing discussion of pedagogic issues connected to accountability and audit. The second is to outline the kind of concerns which impact upon the delivery of new modules, particularly those which develop in the context of ‘critical vocationalism’ i.e. academic study which coincides with the development of professional skills.

I first encountered some of the key concerns of ‘audit culture’ when teaching in adult education. While a postgraduate student in the early 1990s I attended a conference in Sheffield which focused on educational provision for minority communities. I was struck by the claim that Britain had led the way in education in the 1960s, lost its way in the 1970s but had recently resurfaced as a world leader in educational measurement. I was unsure what it meant at the time, but when I began teaching full-time several years later the process was in full swing.

In some respects the recent invention of the term ‘audit culture’ is slightly misleading. An explicit discussion of measuring success and performance in higher education goes back to at least the 1970s (Anderson et al, 1975), in contrast to earlier accounts which take for granted the inculcation of specialist subject knowledge to students. However, when perusing the HE reference works of the 1970s, it is clear that a shift of emphasis has occurred. The contents of Anderson (ibid.) are primarily concerned with evaluating student performance, rather than that of those teaching. Even a section is headed ‘Institutional Evaluation’ (pp.202-205), it refers to setting the student a task of defining what it is that an institution does as a form of assessment. It is taken for granted that the tutor has the professional autonomy to go off and evaluate the work without external scrutiny.

Richmond Adult & Community College’s procedures seemed at first glance to be geared to registration and the associated paper trails. New staff teaching FEFC-funded courses (‘code 2’) were reminded to ensure that a completed Learning Agreement from every student; failure to do so would result in financial penalties being levied. The 1997-98 forms were used to compile information on entry level qualifications and target destinations on completion. In addition, students had to provide a signature to the effect that the tutor had adequately briefed them on educational opportunities. Such practices clearly anticipate current concerns over retention and employability, without using the terms as such. There is, however, little sense of the scope to use the Learning Agreement as an educational tool. Thus students in effect obtained a largely passive contractual arrangement from the institution, rather than using the device to develop a strategy to see through their own learning plans. This is despite the fact that in the classroom – and on field trips – they were expected to play a full role in discussions, presentations etc. Bearing in mind that much of RAC’s constituency tended to be mature learners, the bureaucratic function of learning agreements represents a missed opportunity.

The induction pack for part-time tutors helps to establish just why this was the case. On page 1 staff are reminded to obtain a signed SLA from each student in the first class; page 2 discusses the role of registers, primarily as a matter of fire safety but also their being ‘subject to inspection by LEA, OFSTED and FEFC inspectors and official audit procedures’. Much of the other advice continues in this administrative vein; new part-time tutors are assumed to know what they are doing with teaching but in need of advice on how to file a pay claim or take sick leave. As the structure of the staff handbook suggests, however, preparing to be audited properly is taken extremely seriously. (Little had changed by the time the 3rd edition of the Induction Pack appeared in September 1998.)

Aspects of my higher education career have included similar experiences, albeit in a different form. Teaching as a part-time tutor in American Studies at Middlesex University introduced me to several weeks of intensive preparation for Quality Assurance; by coincidence, a parallel process – the Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) - was taking place in my fractional appointment at Brunel University at the same time.

Middlesex made this promise to its American Studies students: ‘If this course works as it should for you, you will experience a process of unlearning preconceptions you have casually picked up through your life, while you develop your own perception of American civilisation through rigorous and critical study’ (1997: 4, emphasis in the original). Some of this development would include students designing their own degree programme through a series of options, whether through majoring in American Studies or taking the single honours BA (Hons) United States Studies. As the team discovered during the QA process, we had to demonstrate an ability to make good on the promises contained within the student handbook. We also had to get used to the idea our comments were being noted. According to Hefce (1996): ‘Emerging judgements are refined and tested against as wide a range of evidence as possible, for example, views expressed in meetings by staff or students will be checked and tested against the written documentation provided’ (21). Long-term self-consciousness became an important survival technique.

On the surface, this was the Adult and Further Education context in the mid-late 1990s. Future posts will consider how this developed in later years, and why.

Works Cited

Anderson, Scarvia B. et al (1975) Encyclopedia of Educational Evaluation (San Francisco and London: Jossey-Bass Inc.) (Buy it here from Amazon)

Hefce Quality Assessment Division (1996), Assessor’s Handbook October 1996- September 1998 (Bristol: Hefce).

Middlesex University (1997), American Studies Handbook 1997/98 (London: Middlesex University Print Unit).

Richmond Adult and Community College (1997), Part-time tutor handbook: Induction Pack for Part-time Tutors (2nd edition)

Richmond Adult and Community College (1997), Part-time tutor handbook: Induction Pack for Part-time Tutors (3rd edition)

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Truth in the doc

Right now we’re living through a documentary renaissance, apparently (1). Celebrated examples of this include Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans and Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me. After spending a lot of time distinguishing reality TV from the documentary tradition (2), it’s pleasing to be able to substantiate the existence of said tradition with reference to actual films people have heard of. Meanwhile Big Brother, the centrepiece of the reality TV genre in the UK, is glowing in praise as the ‘best BB yet’. Whereas last summer I was calling it an empty ritual, this summer it is being saluted for its role in winning acceptance for transsexuals (3).

So what’s going on? Having finally got the spare time to watch Fahrenheit and Friedmans means I can discuss movies I’ve actually seen, staying out of the company of dishonourable film critics who don’t watch the films they write about. (I’m not keen to hear about Spurlock’s Big Mac-induced penile pains; reading about them is quite enough for me.) In their different ways both docs are compelling. Moore plays dirty with Bush, in ways that don’t always stand up to logical analysis: is W a golfing skiver or an evil mastermind (or both)? Jarecki is interesting because he incorporates the debris of three strange-ish brothers recording their own family meltdown and his own aborted documentary on children’s party entertainers. It shows the mess of rumours and dubious police interview techniques that led to the jailing of two of the Friedmans, one of whom was both guilty of something and caught up in hysteria (4).

Both docs demonstrate the role of editing in creating a narrative. They distinguish their own ‘tradition’ from reality TV in that documentary ‘reality’ needs sculpting in the edit suite. Without it incoherence would reign. In contrast, reality TV’s claim to authority is that it appears to be unmediated: viewers without live 24-hour feeds are supposedly watching the highlights, a bit like Match of the Day without the football. When Channel 4 was accused of rigging BB5 in favour of housemate Nadia Almada, viewer complaints - e.g. on - hinged on biased editing.

Editing undoubtedly plays a role in both types of audio-visual non-fiction. Without it, both would produce little more than baggy monsters, akin to watching the surveillance camera tapes from a self-storage centre. But much reality TV is shaped by the rules imposed by the programme makers and by the career ambitions of the participants. Whereas some BB1 participants became famous as a by-product of being on the show, most BB5 applicants started out with a view to being famous. In contrast, several Friedmans get unhinged on camera, leading to video diaries that are as poignant as they are creepy when hindsight and editing put them in a new context. This is a world apart from the likes of Vanessa and Marco thinking through what to do to look right for the viewers.

(1) Blake Morrison, ‘Back to Reality’, Guardian G2, 5 March 2004: 4-6.
(2) See my 'Big Brother - Why Bother?', posted at Spiked, June 2003
(3) David Smith & Anushka Asthana, ‘Sexual healing’, Observer 8 August 2004: 18.
(4) Gaby Wood, ‘Once upon a time in America’, Harpers & Queen, April 2004: 160-167.

Read On:
Graham Barnfield, 'From Direct Cinema to Car-Wreck Video: Reality TV and the Crisis of Content', in Dolan Cummings (ed.), Reality TV: How Real is Real? (London: Hodder and Stoughton Debating Matters, 2002).
Louis Menand, ‘Nanook and Me: “Fahrenheit 9/11” and the documentary tradition’, The New Yorker Issue of 2004-08-09 and 16; Posted 2004-08-02.

Buy Capturing the Friedmans on DVD from Amazon here.

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Privatised Park

Among last weekend's festivities was a trip to Ellis Park in Glenfield, built by Quakers for the good of the locals. As a kid I would spend hours down there, usually unsupervised, or be off building dens in woodland nearby. The woods are now 'new estates' (i.e. streets between 20 and 30 years old) but on the surface things haven't changed too much at the park itself. Sure enough there's a long overdue wooden fence to keep dogs from extruding their turds in the kids' play area. The youth club hut in the centre of the park, which in my day had a reputation for being 'rough', has closed down because of other kids 'terrorising' the regulars. The park equipment has also been subjected to what Kate Moorcock calls 'the dangers of safety in outdoor play environments'; farewell Witch's Hat, hello Rollercoaster - a tame device that is the complete opposite of its name.

More of a problem was the strange alienation expressed by most of the parents there that day (and I suspect it is little different any other day). Whereas in the 1970s any number of us kids would pile on the available kit and ride it until it broke - cheerio horse! Goodbye roundabout! - now parents prevent this from happening. Fair enough, you might say; it certainly prolongs the life of the gear. Instead parents supervise their offspring taking turns on each piece of equipment, grudgingly vacating it when another child lines up for a go (even on the see-saw, FFS). The idea of their children learning to share spontaneously with a minimum of adult input seems to freak some parents out. Yet some of the same parents had the developmental benefits of being able to participate in park life, probably at the same park, in a way that helped them become independent human beings. Denying their own kids the same opportunities is cruel and makes for a subdued and uncomfortable morning in the summer sun.

The same scene is repeated in public parks up and down the UK, parents shuffling from one climbing frame to the next steering their little darlings away from other children. They might as well concrete just over the parks. Parents alone are not necessarily to blame*, given the endless scare stories about child safety doing the rounds. But to those who say 'I'd never forgive myself if something happened to them', I can only say that something is already happening to your kids if you make distrust a central feature of your walks in the park.
*Maybe I'm overreacting and I scared them off by looking like a prospective 'beast'; readers can judge for themselves at this link (I'm the one eating a cob). You can also check out my new review article on Jhistory here; Dane S. Claussen's book is available from Amazon here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Half right about our rights

Finally George Monbiot gets something right. In ‘A Threat to Democracy’ (Guardian, 3 August 2004) he points out that if new anti-terrorist legislation is applied to misanthropic animal rights terrorists, it would be a classic case of an anti-democratic policy which hurts us all starting life as an attack on attack on an unpopular minority. Of course, all this would be more convincing if not for commentators like Monbiot doing their bit to make animal rights a popular minority pursuit in the first place.

Johnny Got His Listserv

From time to time I receive e-mail bulletins from the HOAC network. Some mailings are helpful, others less so. At the very heart of the list, at times, is more or less an ersatz Cold War, hence finding out that Dalton Trumbo was an FBI informant and Pablo Neruda was a Bad Poet, Bad Man.*

Many of the judgments arrived at seem to lack consistency. There is ‘one rule for them, another for us' if you follow the logic of some of the postings. If true, Trumbo ratting out Trotskyists to the FBI was indeed reprehensible, but it is unlikely that those posting in this spirit would criticize other non-Communist FBI informants so harshly (if at all). Great value is placed in the conventional wisdom of the common people most of the time, until we/they do something that breaks with conservative norms. If it wasn’t for the historical scholarship, HOAC would be a bit like using the Internet to travel back in time to the 1950s.

*Stephen Schwartz, 'A hundred years of Pablo Neruda', Weekly Standard July 26, 2004 (Volume 009, Issue 43).

Monday, August 02, 2004

Pop idols

And so to the Walkers Stadium. I am pleased to report that the Pepsi Max Challenge Cup is now in the Leicester trophy room, next to the ... commemorative plate from winning the cancelled 1970s TV show It's All in the Game. On reflection, the finals were a strange use of my Sunday afternoon. First I walked past Filbert Street, now the site of en suite student flats (£60 all in, says the banner). Then I joined a miniscule crowd watching East Bengal lose to Maritimo, as the Portugese side easily outclassed the unfortunate Indian champions, whose first touch seemed very poor and whose sole tall defender struggled to deal with ariel threats. Whoever had the bright idea of giving all the kids in the ground paper trumpets deserves a migraine, if not burial in the foundations of one of the many riverside building projects springing up near there.

The tournament final was a much faster affair, with City chalking up a 4-2 victory over Real Mallorca with three great goals from new signings and one from Jordan Stewart, one of two surviving players from the Martin O'Neill era. After a despondent Summer of football it was reassuring to see us get back to winning ways, even in the context of a friendly where the multiple substitutions tend to break up any continuity in the game. With the Pepsi Max Challenge Cup out of the way, now for Coca Cola Championship (previously known as the second division). If only Irn Bru sponsored some fizzy drinks contest, we could make it a treble.