Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Nice review of Uncle Gobb from 'Readingzone'.

Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed (with Neal Layton) publ by Bloomsbury.

Malcolm is an ordinary ten year old boy who lives with his mum and her brother, Uncle Gobb. Uncle Gobb has been a very important person for many years, and as a consequence is extremely bossy, as well as being very fond of worksheets, asking questions, correct answers and telling Malcolm do more homework. One day at school, answering the questions on yet another worksheet, Malcolm discovers something interesting - at the very bottom of the piece of paper it says 'Gobb Education'. Could this have something to do with his uncle? Malcolm and his friend Crackersnackers start investigating and realise that Gobb Education is responsible for all the other things that make school boring, such as the Getting On Well Chart, the Worksheet Chart and the Behaving Sensibly at Playtime Chart. Tackling Uncle Gobb about this involves a lot of questions, two very unusual genies and the Dread Shed, in which children who do not do well at school can be locked up. Adult readers will recognise a certain, unlamented former Secretary of State for Education and a lampooning of his policies, whilst children will enjoy a zany and funny exploration of the absurdities of school life.

Unemployment figures. Not.

How to make sure

that it looks as if unemployment is going down:

Take two people who want to work 40 hours a week

and give them each a 20-hours-a-week job.

This is one 40 hour job

and one invisible, uncounted unemployed person.

Release a monthly figure telling us that unemployment

is going down.

Rely on the press and TV to say that unemployment

is going down.

Unemployment figures.

No, it doesn't.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Thyroids: a connection with Oliver Sacks

Somewhere in the late Oliver Sacks's archive is a ten page letter from me, (prompted by him) on what it felt like to come out of ten years of severe hypothyroidism. He was very interested in altered states - particular those not caused by narcotics - though he was interested in those too. I was interviewing him for the World Service about his very good book on migraine and mentioned that I had enjoyed an essay he wrote where a man with hypothyroidism faded away in the corner until it was diagnosed. They gave him substitute thyroxine (which is what I take), he recovered but he died soon after. By recovering it brought a cancer tumour to life.

(The essay by Sacks on hypothyroidism is called 'Cold Storage' and it was first published in Granta.)

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Unemployment - what is the true picture?

With hundreds of thousands of people employed in part-time and zero-hour contract jobs, along with many more registered as self-employed and others in various kinds of training schemes, the words 'employment' and 'unemployment' are misleading.

In truth, the situation in any country or locality is that there are people with various kinds of employability and needs. To calculate the real state of 'unemployment' some other system would provide a true snapshot or change across time. To do that, you have to detach 'employment' from individuals, and think of it as a total amount of hours.

I don't have the data but to do that, but you would have to

1. Calculate the total number of hours available in a given population, given present employment laws.
2. I guess that would be taken by multiplying the number of people in the population aged between 16 and 65 by 40 hours. This would give a total 'Hours'.
3. Subtract from 'Hours', the number of  those in full-time education, disabled, not needing to work because they have some other method of supporting themselves other than by being employed and multiplying that by 40 hours.
4. Take all those on part-time and zero-hour contracts who would want to work full-time and calculate the aggregate hours they are not working and subtract that from 'Hours'.
5. Take all those who are self-employed, calculate how many more earning hours they would want to work and subtract that from 'Hours'.
6. Any other hours I've left out from this list (!) and subtract that from 'Hours'.

Now you would have two figures - total theoretical number of 'Hours' that people could work. And the actual 'Hours-not-being-worked' - let's call that 'Hours nbw'.

Over time, these two figures would change but there is always a ratio between them.

A true gauge of 'unemployment' would tell us whether 'Hours nbw' was going up or down.

I notice that people like Danny Blanchflower are mocked by the Right because he predicted that unemployment would go up with austerity. 'It hasn't, it hasn't!' cry the pro-austerity folks. But they can only do that if unemployment is calculated as attached to individuals 'in work'. But hundreds of thousands of people are not 'fully' in work and want or need to work more hours.

So, perhaps - we don't know - Blanchflower et al were and are right. My 'Hours nbw' might have gone up over the last 7 years.

Does anyone know? Has anyone done these sums? Do we have a true picture of what's been going on in the last 7 years?

Sunday, 23 August 2015

2 of Corbyn's Jewish constituents offer support

Letter in the Jewish Chronicle:

Dear Letters Editor

As Jewish constituents of Jeremy Corbyn for nearly two decades we have met him many times, both through his day-to-day work supporting people in his constituency, and through his wider campaigning work, especially in support of migrants and refugees and against racism, fascism and war.

Those who know him personally cannot take seriously the campaign of smears, wild distortions and innuendo against him, through which newspapers such as the Jewish Chronicle, Daily Mail and Sunday Express are trying to paint him as an antisemite or a friend of antisemites.

Memories are depressingly short. In 2013, the Daily Mail, which regularly publishes lurid scare stories about migrants and refugees, tried to undermine the previous Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, in the minds of anti-immigrant readers, by reminding them that Miliband’s father was an East European refugee. Furthermore, it claimed that Miliband senior was disloyal and insufficiently grateful to Britain. In the late 1930s, when Miliband’s family were desperately trying to escape from Nazism, it was the Sunday Express which complained in an editorial “…just now there is a big influx of foreign Jews into Britain. They are over-running the country.”

Last weekend we stood outside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre protesting the inhuman treatment of women detained there. Jeremy Corbyn was the only leadership candidate to send a message of support.

His real crime, of course, in the eyes of the Jewish Chronicle, is that he has been a longstanding supporter of justice for the Palestinians and a negotiated peace based on an end to the occupation.

But as he said in the JW3 hustings recently: “Does questioning the behaviour of the Israeli state towards Palestinians lead to antisemitism? No, it mustn’t and shouldn’t … Whether it’s a synagogue or a mosque under attack we must all come together … as one in confronting it.”

We are proud that our MP has stood for the Labour leadership on a platform of challenging austerity, enhancing democracy, combating racism and giving support and hope to the most vulnerable members of society.

David Rosenberg and Julia Bard

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Ted Hughes, radio and Secondary Modern School children

When we were making the programme about Ted Hughes's 'Poetry in the Making' ('Poetry in the Re-making' Radio 4 Sunday) I visited the BBC written archives in Caversham. In one of the first letters that the BBC Schools producer, Moira Doolan wrote to Hughes asking him to do some poetry programmes (and a couple for children on how to write a novel) , she says that she wants them to appeal to 'secondary modern' pupils.(the assumption was that grammar schools would listen to the programmes anyway or could look after themselves). It's worth pondering a moment on this (and I know I have a vested interest in thinking that BBC School Radio was and is a good thing). A BBC producer is asking one of the finest up and coming poets of that time (it was the early 60s) to think of all children and school students and to think of them all as writers of poetry and fiction; don't 'stream' or 'select' or 'segregate' your comments. So, while the education system of the day WAS selecting and segregating with the eleven plus, Doolan and Hughes are thinking of how their broadcasts would and could not segregate.

BBC speakers sat in pretty well all state schools - they were big brown wooden things - and those few words that Moira Doolan said - and Ted Hughes responded positively to - represent an outlook to education and learning at that time. It was a commitment to a humanist and creative outlook towards all pupils.

"I aspirationally abstained…."

"As your Labour MP, I would like to say that I aspirationally abstained last night on the grounds that people have told me that they are in favour of poor people becoming poorer and I am aspirationally unable to explain to them why that might be unfair or unjust. It has been pointed out to me that 'poor people' might include some 'people' and that presumably such 'people' (if they are 'people') might not think it's OK for poor people to become poorer. Interesting point but not aspirational. Thanks for supporting me."