Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The de-valuation of people : the process of privatisation

In these dark, dank times of recession the United Kingdom government has decided we must cut our costs. To serve these cuts people who have worked as public servants in local and national institutions lose their jobs. Of course the work that they do is necessary and very soon after putting these people out of their reasonably but not highly paid jobs with their good but not extravagant pension rights, their work is tendered to the private sector. In this way the work is done less expensively by reducing the pay and removing the right of a permanent job and a pension to those who are now carrying out this work.
Maybe this is the price of profligacy : the de-valuation of people.
The question left hanging in the cold damp twilight is "Whose profligacy is being paid for?"

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Camden to Islington, 2008

The weekend went well for the celebrations:
long boat, snacks, prosecco and the nice;
the young middle-aged do duty
to the early-aged as they dice.
Good to be with people,
a couple of kids but no pets.
There were genuines and superficials
but they weren't making any bets.
So polite to,
could be wrong to,
could be right to
worry about who it upsets.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Thinking about Machiavelli

One thing you can say about Machiavelli was that he made it clear that seeking wealth, and power does not canter along harmoniously with humility, self-sacrifice, honesty, generosity and other virtues.
This was and is an awkward truth. First expressed in The Prince which was written in 1513 but not published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli's death, this idea was condemned by the church and now, as then, no one likes to be thought of as ruthless, unscrupulous and self-centred - even if they are.

Monday, 29 November 2010

And I also shot the deputy

Would I create a paradigm shift if I were to sing "I shot the sheriff and I also shot the deputy."?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The poor are such an embarrassment

Our economic system like our sport is based upon competition. Competition explicitly demands that there should be losers as well as winners in business,in sport, in education, in work, in fact in life in general. That's why it has always puzzled me when victorious sports individuals and teams are so triumphant. It's as if they can't acknowledge that in order to win someone else must be prepared to lose. The way we have allowed our society to develop there are some people who always seem to be the losers.

We rail against them : the losers, the poor. They don't try hard enough. They are shirkers and undeserving. They are not a pretty sight. They are an embarrassment to us. We should not associate ourselves with losers. They are a poor reflection upon us. Indeed, they are.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The wrath of Roth

Can anyone write an outraged, outrageous and yet lucid tirade better than Philip Roth ?

This excerpt from the novel The Human Stain is a mild, for Roth that is, declamation of the summer of 1998. There are two places in it where you can stop for breath.

'It was the summer in America when the nausea returned, when the joking didn't stop, when the speculation and the theorizing and the hyperbole didn't stop, when the moral obligation to explain to one's children about adult life was abrogated in favor of maintaining in them every illusion of adult life, when the smallness of people was simply crushing, when some kind of demon had been unleashed in the nation, and on both sides, people wondered "Why are we so crazy?," when men and women alike, upon wakening up in the morning, discovered that during the night, in a state of sleep that transported them beyond envy or loathing, they had dreamed of Bill Clinton. I myself dreamed of a mammoth banner, draped dadaistically like a Christo wrapping from one end of the White House to the other and bearing the legend A HUMAN BEING LIVES HERE. It was the summer when - for the billionth time - the jumble, the mayhem, the mess proved itself more subtle than this one's theology and that one's morality. It was the summer when a president's penis was on everyone's mind, and life, in all its shameless impurity, once again confounded America.'

(From page three of The Human Stain by Philip Roth, published in London by Vintage in 2000).

Monday, 15 November 2010


Earlier this year at the age of 59 years, a man called Chris Haney died from kidney and circulatory diseases. “Who was he ?” you may well ask. Well he was a tired looking, rather average Canadian newspaper reporter who, on December 15th, 1979, with his friend Scott Abbott was playing Scrabble in his house. The two men found that some of the letters were missing. At a loss as to what to do they set about creating a new game based on remembering inconsequential facts. Trivial Pursuit had been born. So when members of my family play our annual game of Trivial Pursuit this Christmas we will offer up a toast to his memory for his gift to us of two hours of mainly enjoyable evening entertainment on Christmas Day.
Chris Haney may have died at a relatively early age but he had begun to live the life of Reilly soon after Trivial Pursuit was put on sale in the shops. The game had made him and his friend very wealthy.
If you’ve found this post of no import, accept my anorakial apologies.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Wistfulness, milk and Liff Road School

When I was a wee boy in the early 1950s, every morning at school playtime we were all given a free one third of a pint bottle of milk which we took from square metal crates that held 36 bottles.  The  Labour government had arranged that this milk would be provided to make sure all of us, whether we from poor or less poor backgrounds   - though all of us kids at Liff Road School,  rich in many ways, could never be described as well-moneyed  -  were provided with the essential nutrients which milk gave. 

The teacher on playground duty would distribute straws through which we sooked the milk. Some of the older boys - who I thought were rougher, tougher boys - would drink it direct from the bottle without the use of the straw. This naughtiness was very worrying for me because although I knew our teachers frowned upon such behaviour I was secretly impressed by it.  

Every morning one of the boys brought to school an old empty babies' dried milk can to which he attached, through two small holes he had punched near the rim, a long loop of string. He would ask those kids  - and they were, as I remember, usually girls -  who had not drunk all their milk to pour the remains into his can. When it was about a half full of milk, he began to swing it around rather in the way a hammer thrower swings the hammer before he releases it. Not a drop of milk was ever spilled from the can as it rotated around him and got up to such a speed that it could only be seen as a blur like an aeroplane propellor. Later I discovered the science going on was centrifugal force. Yet, it is the magic of unspilt milk which makes me wistful, and is at the core of me, not the science.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Adam Phillips and personal excesses

Some time ago, Adam Phillips, the psychotherapist and essayist wrote a newspaper article about human excesses, including those concerned with food,alcohol,other drugs,sex, love and religion. Approaching it from a psychoanalytic direction he arrived at a conclusion that ultimately our excessiveness is a mask for deep-seated insecurities, fears and frustration. It occurred to me, when he proposed the idea that some of us are excessive in our relationships with others, that we also use our relationships to moderate our excesses.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Dire days at Dens

The football club which I have supported since I was a wee boy is in financial trouble. It is not the first time this has happened but there are great doubts if it will survive this crisis. Along with many others I will try to ensure that it continues to exist. I saw the team when it won the Scottish Football League Championship in the early 1960s. I was held on my Daddy's shoulders when the team played Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 1953. There was a record crowd at the match that day - 43,000 - and it stands as the record still. I saw the team when Claudio Cannigia played for it in 2001 and though he was a tremendous player, it is ironic that he and the other expensive players who were in the team at that time really signalled the current downfall. My favourite time ever of going to see my team was when Gerry Laing and I, both aged about 7 years old, walked from Clement Park in Lochee to Dens Park and were allowed in free at half time to see a reserve match against Celtic. The club I support is Dundee FC.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

To have and have not - thoughts still in progress

I often question why the resources of our world are not shared equally and why there is not an equal right of access and receipt of the good things our planet has to offer us.

I am often called an idealist, a naif and a simpleton who clearly does not examine human reality too closely. Oddly enough, I am content to accept being categorised as such ; if only I could be so good ! There is a significant part of me which accepts that I ask for the unrealisable and the unachievable. I question too whether I would really be prepared to act as altruistically as I have suggested others more wealthy than I should. I understand that when I was helping to bring up a family, there seldom seemed to be much left over that could be shared with others who did not have as much as I did. Looking back now it seems my ambition to achieve what I notionally thought of as better and greater things did not rest easily with the equality and altruism I espoused.

It is only now when I can see that in my bid to be the first to discover the wheel I had not seen that everyone needs to discover his or her own particular wheel and my ambition was an attempt to deny others this satisfaction. We gain more from the discovery of things than from being told about them so fortunately some of the time at least we ignore being told about things because we have a need to discover them ourselves.

I used to moan about what a waste of time it was that others needed to discover what I already knew about and what I could tell them. Yet I have seen the process repeated so often now, that I am prepared to accept that there is a human law which says there are some things which we must discover for ourselves.

So what does this have to do with equality of access to the world's and human society's resources? Well, among these discoveries I have been talking about may have been gaining the insight that though we cannot each have all things in equal measure, there are things that we must have. We should be fed, clothed and sheltered. We should each be cherished and loved.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Compassion before vengeance : a Scottish achievement

Last year's decision by Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish government's justice secretary to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi who had been convicted under Scottish law of the Lockerbie bombing has raised its head in the news again. The decision has been condemned by both Barak Obama and David Cameron during the British prime minister's visit to the United States of America earlier this week.

To be clear the Lockerbie aeroplane crash on Wednesday, December 21st, 1988 was the consequence of an outrageous and murderous act which demonstrated the worst of humankind. I continue to mourn the loss of each one of those innocent unique human beings who perished on that day. They are lost to us forever. They can never be brought back. My own grief is brought even more sharply to mind every time I pass by Lockerbie on the way up to Scotland from my home in Devon. They will never be forgotten.

However the Scottish government's decision to free Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi showed the terrorists the best of humankind - compassion for a sickly human being - even though he may have shown himself to be a most deadly enemy of humankind. I am not a Christian but I understand compassion is part of the Christian creed which, I am told, underpins the ethos of the governance of both the UK and USA. Even if the Scottish government's act of compassion does not influence the cruelly destructive behaviour of terrorists it certainly should make us all feel better human beings.

Just to be sure, I am, as a citizen, impressed with, and proud of, a government which exercises compassion. I feel both despair and guilt if I am served by a government that seeks vengeance anywhere it can exercise it and which in my name tortures, or condones the torture of human beings it has wrongly or even rightly apprehended. I am sad to say our United Kingdom government does this.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Cable disconnected on the question of graduate pay

Vince Cable, the government minister for Business has proposed that rather than pay for their tuition at university all graduates should pay a graduate tax once they are in work.* There may be some sympathy for Cable's view that the interests of fairness would be best served if such a tax were to be levied at a rate which reflected the graduate's capacity to pay it. It would not he says, “ be right that a teacher or care worker or research scientist should be expected to pay the same graduate contribution as a top commercial lawyer or surgeon or City analyst.”

 I fear I will be accused of exposing my naivety if I suggest that Cable fails to connect with the more important question, “Why is there such a huge salary differential between a top care worker and a top commercial lawyer ?”

*See for instance, (Cable begins universities revolution, The Guardian, 16.07.10).

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The nature of giving and receiving love : some thoughts

From the first as infants we look to be lovingly cherished. The paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott suggested that a human being could not give love to another if he had not received it himself. One of the most despairing of experiences is to receive from someone we might reasonably desire to love us (for instance our principal mothering figure) attention which is given grudgingly. Such a person shows no satisfaction in the infant's pleasure, and by refusing to acknowledge an infant's attempts at loving responses manifestly demonstrates a refusal to love. The probable and natural outcome for an infant experiencing this is a mistrust of the mutuality of love relationships. In turn a tendency develops to demand wholely unselfish love. "Love me and me alone or you will be dismissed from my life." This is to say that if this process is not interrupted, as the infant grows through childhood and then into adulthood he will look for self-sacrifice in others as the only evidence of love for him.

To give care for someone willingly and lovingly is pleasant for the giver and so it brings its own rewards. When someone who has only experienced attention which has been reluctantly given receives care which is willingly and lovingly given, he finds it unacceptable. He neither knows how, nor desires to return it. The gift of willingly given love has no value for him as a source of warmth and security. He does not trust it. Its secondary material value may stay with him but he cannot accept its spontaneity and its invitation to reciprocality because he can only demand that others should enjoy loving him to the exclusion of all else. The newborn infant may naturally demand this but not an adult.

This is not to say restorative efforts should not be made and I believe psychodynamic therapy as a group practice or a one-to-one exercise can over time help those who have been deprived of love with a feeling of their own real intrinsic value as they experience the care and concern another or others have for them. Reparation becomes possible as does the capacity to have care for others.

Updated 25.3.13