Month: October 2015

Reading the Booker Short List

Joshua Ferris: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Kindle Edition)

Well I finished the book but that is about all I can say. It’s quite long, the dentist is clearly unhappy (like most dentists I expect) and these bizarre intrusions into his life appear grindingly slowly to change it so at the end he might be a better person, or maybe not. The Ulms sounded like something from Dr Who and I’ve no idea after reading the book whether they are real or fictional or in any way remotely important. Is it about self discovery, religion or dentistry? I don’t really know. Should you read it? Probably not. Should it win the Booker? Definitely not!

Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings (Kindle Edition)

This is a really hard book to review without a load more research! Is it fact? How true? Who knows? So some thoughts…

The Jamaican patois/slang is a bit wearing and it is hard to tell the characters apart by what they say. The book is woman hating to a horrendous degree and maybe that is Jamaican gang culture but it isn’t nice. There are lots of murders, graphically described, bits of people blown off, everyone wets and poos themselves on the way so it is messy.

Bob Marley, the Singer, is peripheral to it all. So is the CIA, trying to run various shows. I liked that bit, sleazy whites working to undermine the politics of the time but then the political culture seems beyond redemption anyway.

The writer bigs himself up at the end and gets drawn into the narrative, warned off saying some things by the gangsters. Not sure that works.

Sum up? I don’t buy this picture of deprived and depraved humanity. I think gang members have some fun, nice to their wives and kids. Maybe this book is quite racist deep down and maybe offensive? I should read a Jamaican review.

Nathan Filer: The Shock of the Fall (Kindle Edition)

The main thing about this book is that it is so insightful. Nothing gets pushed onto the reader, this is just how mental illness is, and you get drawn in deeper and deeper as it goes on. I like the way this book unfolds, the way so many of the characters are a bit mad, the kindness in it and the slow burn. It’s very sad in places. I recommend it.

Tom McCarthy: Satin Island (Kindle Edition)

The book arrived maybe on a Friday. It might have been a Thursday. I couldn’t be sure with a digital transmission who or what pressed the button that clicked massive interstices of electronic switches in some heavy functional building located in somewhere empty and motionless like Nevada or neutrally grey like Finland to sustain the sense that Amazon delivered it in a presence that contained the past of its ordering and the future of its reading. The rituals of this delivery were lost. No one carried the text from a warehouse shelf to a despatch area where supernumeraries anonymised it in brown paper while lightly brushing their DNA across the glossy cover. The production took place in the software, a place uncompromising in its refusal to engage with either time or space where once some insubstantial keyboard tap created the means and the possibility of the event of its arrival and the ritualised exploration of the pixels which embraced its significance and the codes that stalked elusively under its surface.

I hadn’t slept well. The emerging symptoms of laryngitis, nasal passages unusually bright, a faint soreness merged in dreams that were websites which I was endeavouring to connect. They spawned out in front of me manifested in pipe work and wires, growing as I tried to link them. I awoke tired to coffee made bitter by my sandpaper throat and the shifting digital pages of the kindle landscape where an altered font stretched out the pages and given my reading speed threatened to disrupt even time itself.

As an ethnographic anthropologist I prepared myself. A long flight, a rackety drive and the last stages in a primitive dug out canoe might have cleared my landscape of misconceptions, created the blind observer perspective as Wankinofski once described it in challenging a denim clad Levi Strauss to public debate before the embarrassment and professional ruin as it materialised that he was approaching the lead singer of a soul quartet. I was well aware of the dangers so I took a long shower and thought briefly of the curve of Kylie Minogue’s buttocks as I flannelled. Then I began to read.

I found out about the project but then again I failed as the project proved constantly elusive slipping over the digital surface of the page so that just as it seemed to connect and appear the activity of page turning drew it away. But then there was the other project, the creation of this digital inability to define which represented the very act of textual exploration, the darkness at the heart of reading and then the impossibility of exploring life itself where the present is actually the past reaching consciousness but otherwise unknowable and the future is simply chimerical where that glimpse of Kylie can be premeditated in as intense detail as tomorrow’s trip to work.

Things connected. The dead parachutist, the oil slicks but the warp and the weft never touched so that the connections were tenuous, slippery and evasivelike the touch of satin. Then, even those fragmentary links faded. The girlfriend, Madison, told a long and inconsequential story, the narrator went to Staten Island but never visited and I took another paracetamol and pondered the impossibility of ever telling anyone, anything about anything and whether you could have a Booker Prize for thinking about that. Probably not but you might enjoy the ride.

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Computers in Schools – Are We Really Half Way to 2020

There has been a lot of negative reporting on the use of technology in classroom recently as if something was taking place wasn’t working very well. Of course, that’s nonsense. What is happening at the moment is fragmentary, peripheral, un-embedded and rarely sustained. The dominant message for society as promoted by the Daily Mail and the right-wing media is that kids in school just use computers to watch rubbish whenever they have a chance, worse still they watch bad stuff and, finally, they waste time with them when they should be ‘learning’. Meanwhile, schools accidentally reinforce all this stuff by banning mobile technology to break times or even banning it altogether. They fret about being accountable for teenagers’ browsing habits most of which allegedly involves sending naked selfies to one another without helping them learn to do something better. There’s a lot to turn round here but there is nothing to suggest that computers in education have somehow failed!

We can’t skate around it but OFSTED is part of the problem. Enquiry-based lessons using technology don’t look like the model OFSTED lesson and most teachers are scared to do anything different – perfectly understandably. Next, the teaching profession is increasingly risk averse and given the bad press that computerised learning receives there is little encouragement for teachers to change. And, of course, there are issues to do with resourcing, equity and accessibility.

What could be done differently? Firstly, I’d like to see all secondary lessons as an online programme of work. If universities can do this for complex work streams then I’m sure schools should be able to. This online programme should, as a matter of good practice, embed Internet research, make use of a wide range of Internet resources, require strategies to evaluate and incorporate resources, teach strategies for linking and handling them and encourage interesting ways to reflect the learning. Then you can have topic learning which is teacher driven but not teacher led and where pupils interact and talk. Note that this is different from an ICT lesson because you teach technology as required and as applied. Really unintelligent people don’t have any problem with Evernote, Instagram, Periscope and Twitter and if teachers go all flustered about it they need to get a life and sort themselves out!

What do you think?

I think I’m a Fan of Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has to put up with a lot. It’s bad enough having Eamonn Holmes asking about your tie, The Daily Mail wanting to know if you screwed Diane Abbott in a field and the BBC asking puerile questions about nuclear buttons and sandals when the more left-leaning media is intent on creating divisions between you and Tom Watson, between unilateralists and multilateralists, between everybody over Syria and anything else they can manufacture a story from. I’m coming to the conclusion that people in the politics business simply don’t get Jeremy Corbyn, where he has come from, what gives him the appeal and what is possible.

First off, that was a populist election victory. It wasn’t expected and it wasn’t well-managed by the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn won because a lot of people, a huge majority actually, liked what he stood for. They liked his ideals, his appropriation of the moral high ground and an appeal to human values where austerity is concerned, and they liked his critique of modern politics and politicians. I think it’s fair to say they didn’t particularly focus on personality and in politics we do far too much of that although some people who ought to know better are still doing it. That is going to bemuse the electorate who supported him. How bizarre to go on about him being unelectable when he’s just been elected?

A lot of people gave him a week once the Labour Party split apart and the conservative press dumped on him. It didn’t happen and that’s because the Jeremy Corbyn who people think is unelectable proved himself to be a canny leader. Offered a succession of absurd baits, he ignored the lot and focused on the issues. He hasn’t not addressed the will I push the button question but he has capably defused it and John Humphrys is not untypical when he sounds increasingly weedy and desperate and, possibly, a little perplexed. It has to be said that Jeremy Corbyn is beginning to sound like an astute politician confirming what he stands for, marshalling his allies, offering invitations to those who perceive him as a threat and maintaining his persona as honest and inclusive. We haven’t seen these unnamed shadow cabinet members or anyone else for that matter rushing off to join the Lib Dems!

Everyone reckoned that the Labour Party conference would involve a lot of people tearing each other apart. It didn’t happen. The unions played the sensible card because they like what is being said about workplace rights, poverty and business. The party did well too in focusing on issues like poverty and welfare which not only unite people but are currently more important than our ageing nuclear deterrent. In the end, we saw the beginnings of a new politics in practice and people like that too. It seems that Jeremy Corbyn is able to deliver.

So, where do we go from here? It’s hard to see Jeremy Corbyn being unpopular in making a remorseless attack on austerity and supporting the poor. Another thing that people ‘in politics’ have missed is that there are a lot of middle-aged people in middle England who feel a bit guilty about their current levels of prosperity and are well aware of the wealth gap every time they go to Waitrose. They may not have the answers but they didn’t like the xenophobic tone the government encouraged about refugees and migrants or the pictures of the food banks. Most people are a bit more decent than the Daily Mail imagines and that can create a groundswell of support beyond the Labour Party.

Then, all we need are a couple of by-elections in the right places and I think – although you can disagree with me on this – there will be a significant swing towards Labour. I also think Sadiq Khan will stroll to victory in London next year because he is another excellent candidate who ‘the party’ might not have wanted.

Meanwhile, it will be good to watch the Conservatives fighting over Europe which is another place where Jeremy Corbyn has neatly positioned himself in ways which Gordon Brown or Ed Balls could never have done. Then, we need a few tight votes on issues where the SNP really has no choice and this government will start to look, as it is, unelected by the majority and out of touch with the people. Murdoch won’t stop having a go and there will be more muck and division thrown around but it’s time now for the BBC, The New Statesman and, even perhaps, the Guardian to be a bit more positive. We don’t need to see somebody who once used to be an adviser and has never been elected to anything being given space to snipe and we don’t need old Blairites mouthing off about back to the bad old days because that isn’t what the current offer is. The Labour Party, given the extent of its crushing defeat only a few months ago, should be delighted to be on a roll and in a position to do so much more and that is largely down to Jeremy Corbyn.