Intercept?

By Michael Albert
Source Z Communications

Greenwald is as quick, succinct, and clear in conversation as he appears in videos. He stuck me as likeable and certainly not the harsh fellow he is often made out to be. But some of his interview answers were troubling.

Greenwald understands the coercive possibilities of capitalist owners or the state curtailing adversarial journalism from above. That is the danger Greenwald believes will not overtake First Look/Intercept because he feels the owner, Pierre Omidyar, is sincerely committed to never imposing restrictions and, more positively, to actively establishing a journalism-friendly workplace.
Keep reading article INTERCEPT?

The Future of ZCommunications

znetZ’s Future

Times are hard for all media, and particularly for alternative media. This is due to a combination of factors including but not limited to a growing audience disinclination to pay for information. If you couple that with alternative media being unable, in many cases, to get foundation or large donor funding, and with its commitment to not selling its audience to advertisers, which would likely yield little revenue in any event, the situation becomes dire.

In the face of such trends, only a few avenues, other than surrender and dissolution, exist.

  • A project can seek to generate new income from new channels, to pay its bills.
  • A project can severely reduce its costs.
  • A project can convince its audiences that support is desirable and worth their attention.

Z is following all these paths.
Keep Reading article The Future of ZCommunications

Dancing with Systems

By Donella H. Meadows Whole Earth  Winter 2001

People who are raised in the industrial world and who get enthused about systems thinking are likely to make a terrible mistake. They are likely to assume that here, in systems analysis, in interconnection and complication, in the power of the computer, here at last, is the key to prediction and control. This mistake is likely because the mindset of the industrial world assumes that there is a key to prediction and control.

I assumed that at first too. We all assumed it, as eager systems students at the great institution called MIT. More or less innocently, enchanted by what we could see through our new lens, we did what many discoverers do. We exaggerated our own ability to change the world. We did so not with any intent to deceive others, but in the expression of our own expectations and hopes. Systems thinking for us was more than subtle, complicated mindplay. It was going to Make Systems Work.

But self-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They are not controllable. They are understandable only in the most general way. The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is unrealizable. The idea of making a complex system do just what you want it to do can be achieved only temporarily, at best. We can never fully understand our world, not in the way our reductionistic science has led us to expect. Our science itself, from quantum theory to the mathematics of chaos, leads us into irreducible uncertainty. For any objective other than the most trivial, we can’t optimize; we don’t even know what to optimize. We can’t keep track of everything. We can’t find a proper, sustainable relationship to nature, each other, or the institutions we create, if we try to do it from the role of omniscient conqueror.

For those who stake their identity on the role of omniscient conqueror, the uncertainty exposed by systems thinking is hard to take. If you can’t understand, predict, and control, what is there to do?

Systems thinking leads to another conclusion, however waiting, shining, obvious as soon as we stop being blinded by the illusion of control. It says that there is plenty to do, of a different sort of “doing.” The future can’t be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can’t be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned. We can’t surge forward with certainty into a world of no surprises, but we can expect surprises and learn from them and even profit from them. We can’t impose our will upon a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.

We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them! I already knew that, in a way before I began to study systems. I had learned about dancing with great powers from whitewater kayaking, from gardening, from playing music, from skiing. All those endeavors require one to stay wide awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback. It had never occurred to me that those same requirements might apply to intellectual work, to management, to government, to getting along with people.

But there it was, the message emerging from every computer model we made. Living successfully in a world of systems requires more of us than our ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity our rationality, our ability to sort out truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.

I will summarize the most general “systems wisdoms” I have absorbed from modeling complex systems and hanging out with modelers. These are the take-home lessons, the concepts and practices that penetrate the discipline of systems so deeply that one begins, however imperfectly, to practice them not just in one’s profession, but in all of life.

The list probably isn’t complete, because I am still a student in the school of systems. And it isn’t unique to systems thinking. There are many ways to learn to dance. But here, as a start-off dancing lesson, are the practices I see my colleagues adopting, consciously or unconsciously, as they encounter systems.

Get the beat.

Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves. If it’s a piece of music or a whitewater rapid or a fluctuation in a commodity price, study its beat. If it’s a social system, watch it work. Learn its history. Ask people who’ve been around a long time to tell you what has happened. If possible, find or make a time graph of actual data from the system. Peoples’ memories are not always reliable when it comes to timing.

Starting with the behavior of the system forces you to focus on facts, not theories. It keeps you from falling too quickly into your own beliefs or misconceptions, or those of others. It’s amazing how many misconceptions there can be. People will swear that rainfall is decreasing, say, but when you look at the data, you find that what is really happening is that variability is increasing the droughts are deeper, but the floods are greater too. I have been told with great authority that milk price was going up when it was going down, that real interest rates were falling when they were rising, that the deficit was a higher fraction of the GNP than ever before when it wasn’t.

Starting with the behavior of the system directs one’s thoughts to dynamic, not static analysis not only to “what’s wrong?” but also to “how did we get there?” and “what behavior modes are possible?” and “if we don’t change direction, where are we going to end up?”

And finally, starting with history discourages the common and distracting tendency we all have to define a problem not by the system’s actual behavior, but by the lack of our favorite solution. (The problem is, we need to find more oil. The problem is, we need to ban abortion. The problem is, how can we attract more growth to this town?)

Listen to the wisdom of the system.

Aid and encourage the forces and structures that help the system run itself. Don’t be an unthinking intervener and destroy the system’s own self-maintenance capacities. Before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there.

A friend of mine, Nathan Gray, was once an aid worker in Guatemala. He told me of his frustration with agencies that would arrive with the intention of “creating jobs” and “increasing entrepreneurial abilities” and “attracting outside investors.” They would walk right past the thriving local market, where small-scale business people of all kinds, from basket-makers to vegetable growers to butchers to candy sellers, were displaying their entrepreneurial abilities in jobs they had created for themselves. Nathan spent his time talking to the people in the market, asking about their lives and businesses, learning what was in the way of those businesses expanding and incomes rising. He concluded that what was needed was not outside investors, but inside ones. Small loans available at reasonable interest rates, and classes in literacy and accounting, would produce much more long-term good for the community than bringing in a factory or assembly plant from outside.

Expose your mental models to the open air.

Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be shot at. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own. Instead of becoming a champion for one possible explanation or hypothesis or model, collect as many as possible. Consider all of them plausible until you find some evidence that causes you to rule one out. That way you will be emotionally able to see the evidence that rules out an assumption with which you might have confused your own identity.

You don’t have to put forth your mental model with diagrams and equations, though that’s a good discipline. You can do it with words or lists or pictures or arrows showing what you think is connected to what. The more you do that, in any form, the clearer your thinking will become, the faster you will admit your uncertainties and correct your mistakes, and the more flexible you will learn to be. Mental flexibility the willingness to redraw boundaries, to notice that a system has shifted into a new mode, to see how to redesign structure is a necessity when you live in a world of flexible systems.

Stay humble. Stay a learner.

Systems thinking has taught me to trust my intuition more and my figuring-out rationality less, to lean on both as much as I can, but still to be prepared for surprises. Working with systems, on the computer, in nature, among people, in organizations, constantly reminds me of how incomplete my mental models are, how complex the world is, and how much I don’t know.

The thing to do, when you don’t know, is not to bluff and not to freeze, but to learn. The way you learn is by experiment or, as Buckminster Fuller put it, by trial and error, error, error. In a world of complex systems it is not appropriate to charge forward with rigid, undeviating directives. “Stay the course” is only a good idea if you’re sure you’re on course. Pretending you’re in control even when you aren’t is a recipe not only for mistakes, but for not learning from mistakes. What’s appropriate when you’re learning is small steps, constant monitoring, and a willingness to change course as you find out more about where it’s leading.

That’s hard. It means making mistakes and, worse, admitting them. It means what psychologist Don Michael calls “error-embracing.” It takes a lot of courage to embrace your errors.

Honor and protect information.

A decision-maker can’t respond to information he or she doesn’t have, can’t respond accurately to information that is inaccurate, can’t respond in a timely way to information that is late. I would guess that 99 percent of what goes wrong in systems goes wrong because of faulty or missing information.

If I could, I would add an Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not distort, delay, or sequester information. You can drive a system crazy by muddying its information streams. You can make a system work better with surprising ease if you can give it more timely, accurate, and complete information.

For example, in 1986 new federal legislation required US companies to report all chemical emissions from each of their plants. Through the Freedom of Information Act (from a systems point of view one of the most important laws in the nation) that information became a matter of public record. In July 1988 the first data on chemical emissions became available. The reported emissions were not illegal, but they didn’t look very good when they were published in local papers by enterprising reporters, who had a tendency to make lists of “the top ten local polluters.” That’s all that happened. There were no lawsuits, no required reductions, no fines, no penalties. But within two years chemical emissions nationwide (as least as reported, and presumably also in fact) had decreased by 40 percent. Some companies were launching policies to bring their emissions down by 90 percent, just because of the release of previously sequestered information.

Locate responsibility in the system.

Look for the ways the system creates its own behavior. Do pay attention to the triggering events, the outside influences that bring forth one kind of behavior from the system rather than another. Sometimes those outside events can be controlled (as in reducing the pathogens in drinking water to keep down incidences of infectious disease). But sometimes they can’t. And sometimes blaming or trying to control the outside influence blinds one to the easier task of increasing responsibility within the system.

“Intrinsic responsibility” means that the system is designed to send feedback about the consequences of decision-making directly and quickly and compellingly to the decision-makers.

Dartmouth College reduced intrinsic responsibility when it took thermostats out of individual offices and classrooms and put temperature-control decisions under the guidance of a central computer. That was done as an energy-saving measure. My observation from a low level in the hierarchy is that the main consequence was greater oscillations in room temperature. When my office gets overheated now, instead of turning down the thermostat, I have to call an office across campus, which gets around to making corrections over a period of hours or days, and which often overcorrects, setting up the need for another phone call. One way of making that system more, rather than less, responsible, might have been to let professors keep control of their own thermostats and charge them directly for the amount of energy they use. (Thereby privatizing a commons!)

Designing a system for intrinsic responsibility could mean, for example, requiring all towns or companies that emit wastewater into a stream to place their intake pipe downstream from their outflow pipe. It could mean that neither insurance companies nor public funds should pay for medical costs resulting from smoking or from accidents in which a motorcycle rider didn’t wear a helmet or a car rider didn’t fasten the seat belt. It could mean Congress would no longer be allowed to legislate rules from which it exempts itself.

Make feedback policies for feedback systems.

President Jimmy Carter had an unusual ability to think in feedback terms and to make feedback policies. Unfortunately he had a hard time explaining them to a press and public that didn’t understand feedback.

He suggested, at a time when oil imports were soaring, that there be a tax on gasoline proportional to the fraction of US oil consumption that had to be imported. If imports continued to rise the tax would rise, until it suppressed demand and brought forth substitutes and reduced imports. If imports fell to zero, the tax would fall to zero.

The tax never got passed.

Carter was also trying to deal with a flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico. He suggested that nothing could be done about that immigration as long as there was a great gap in opportunity and living standards between the US and Mexico. Rather than spending money on border guards and barriers, he said, we should spend money helping to build the Mexican economy, and we should continue to do so until the immigration stopped.

That never happened either.

You can imagine why a dynamic, self-adjusting system cannot be governed by a static, unbending policy. It’s easier, more effective, and usually much cheaper to design policies that change depending on the state of the system. Especially where there are great uncertainties, the best policies not only contain feedback loops, but meta-feedback loops loops that alter, correct, and expand loops. These are policies that design learning into the management process.

Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure. You can look around and make up your own mind about whether quantity or quality is the outstanding characteristic of the world in which you live.

If something is ugly, say so. If it is tacky, inappropriate, out of proportion, unsustainable, morally degrading, ecologically impoverishing, or humanly demeaning, don’t let it pass. Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can [precisely] define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can [precisely] define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.

Go for the good of the whole.

Don’t maximize parts of systems or subsystems while ignoring the whole. As Kenneth Boulding once said, don’t go to great trouble to optimize something that never should be done at all. Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as [creativity], stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability whether they are easily measured or not.

As you think about a system, spend part of your time from a vantage point that lets you see the whole system, not just the problem that may have drawn you to focus on the system to begin with. And realize that, especially in the short term, changes for the good of the whole may sometimes seem to be counter to the interests of a part of the system. It helps to remember that the parts of a system cannot survive without the whole. The long-term interests of your liver require the long-term health of your body, and the long-term interests of sawmills require the long-term health of forests.

Expand time horizons.

The official time horizon of industrial society doesn’t extend beyond what will happen after the next election or beyond the payback period of current investments. The time horizon of most families still extends farther than that through the lifetimes of children or grandchildren. Many Native American cultures actively spoke of and considered in their decisions the effects upon the seventh generation to come. The longer the operant time horizon, the better the chances for survival.

In the strict systems sense there is no long-term/short-term distinction. Phenomena at different timescales are nested within each other. Actions taken now have some immediate effects and some that radiate out for decades to come. We experience now the consequences of actions set in motion yesterday and decades ago and centuries ago.

When you’re walking along a tricky, curving, unknown, surprising, obstacle-strewn path, you’d be a fool to keep your head down and look just at the next step in front of you. You’d be equally a fool just to peer far ahead and never notice what’s immediately under your feet. You need to be watching both the short and long terms the whole system.

Expand thought horizons.

Defy the disciplines. In spite of what you majored in, or what the textbooks say, or what you think you’re an expert at, follow a system wherever it leads. It will be sure to lead across traditional disciplinary lines. To understand that system, you will have to be able to learn from while not being limited by economists and chemists and psychologists and theologians. You will have to penetrate their jargons, integrate what they tell you, recognize what they can honestly see through their particular lenses, and discard the distortions that come from the narrowness and incompleteness of their lenses. They won’t make it easy for you.

Seeing systems whole requires more than being “interdisciplinary,” if that word means, as it usually does, putting together people from different disciplines and letting them talk past each other. Interdisciplinary communication works only if there is a real problem to be solved, and if the representatives from the various disciplines are more committed to solving the problem than to being academically correct. They will have to go into learning mode, to admit ignorance and be willing to be taught, by each other and by the system.

It can be done. It’s very exciting when it happens.

Expand the boundary of caring.

Living successfully in a world of complex systems means expanding not only time horizons and thought horizons; above all it means expanding the horizons of caring. There are moral reasons for doing that, of course. And if moral arguments are not sufficient, systems thinking provides the practical reasons to back up the moral ones. The real system is interconnected. No part of the human race is separate either from other human beings or from the global ecosystem. It will not be possible in this integrated world for your heart to succeed if your lungs fail, or for your company to succeed if your workers fail, or for the rich in Los Angeles to succeed if the poor in Los Angeles fail, or for Europe to succeed if Africa fails, or for the global economy to succeed if the global environment fails.

As with everything else about systems, most people already know the interconnections that make moral and practical rules turn out to be the same rules. They just have to bring themselves to believe what they know.

Celebrate complexity.

Let’s face it, the universe is messy. It is nonlinear, turbulent, and chaotic. It is dynamic. It spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria. It self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity, not uniformity. That’s what makes the world interesting, that’s what makes it beautiful, and that’s what makes it work.

There’s something within the human mind that is attracted to straight lines and not curves, to whole numbers and not fractions, to uniformity and not diversity, and to certainties and not mystery. But there is something else within us that has the opposite set of tendencies, since we ourselves evolved out of and are shaped by and structured as complex feedback systems. Only a part of us, a part that has emerged recently, designs buildings as boxes with uncompromising straight lines and flat surfaces. Another part of us recognizes instinctively that nature designs in fractals, with intriguing detail on every scale from the microscopic to the macroscopic. That part of us makes Gothic cathedrals and Persian carpets, symphonies and novels, Mardi Gras costumes and artificial intelligence programs, all with embellishments almost as complex as the ones we find in the world around us.

Hold fast to the goal of goodness.

Examples of bad human behavior are held up, magnified by the media, affirmed by the culture, as typical. Just what you would expect. After all, we’re only human. The far more numerous examples of human goodness are barely noticed. They are Not News. They are exceptions. Must have been a saint. Can’t expect everyone to behave like that.

And so expectations are lowered. The gap between desired behavior and actual behavior narrows. Fewer actions are taken to affirm and instill ideals. The public discourse is full of cynicism. Public leaders are visibly, unrepentantly, amoral or immoral and are not held to account. Idealism is ridiculed. Statements of moral belief are suspect. It is much easier to talk about hate in public than to talk about love.

We know what to do about eroding goals. Don’t weigh the bad news more heavily than the good. And keep standards absolute.

This is quite a list. Systems thinking can only tell us to do these things. It can’t do them for us. And so we are brought to the gap between understanding and implementation. Systems thinking by itself cannot bridge that gap. But it can lead us to the edge of what analysis can do and then point beyond to what can and must be done by the human spirit.

Donella Meadows died in the spring of 2001. This article was excerpted from the manuscript of her unfinished last book.

Open Learning

Free University Open Learning

“Workers City; the subversive past”. 45 mins duration.
A documentary chronicling some ideas around radical Scottish working class history.
Interviews with:

Farquhar McLay, poet, editor of “the Voices of Dissent” and “Workers City” anthology of prose and writing, subtitled the Real Glasgow Stands Up’.
John Taylor Caldwell, archivist, biographer of Guy Aldred and author of “Come Dungeons Dark” recently published by Luath Press.
James D. Young, historian and republican socialist, author of “The Rousing of the Scottish Working Class” and others. Recently working on major biography of Red Clydesider, John Maclean.
Hamish Henderson, Folk collector, songwriter and founder of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. Writer of such ballads as “Freedom Come All Ye”. Variant Video


Spirit of Revolt Archive Glasgow from City Strolls on Vimeo.

April Third Movement  – Father and Sons

In Fall Quarter of 1968 and the Winter Quarter of 1969, a Public Broadcasting Laboratories team led by filmmaker Don Lenzer followed members of the Stanford Chapter of Students for a Democratic Society to meetings, parties, rallies, and protests. Their 90-minute documentary, Fathers and Sons, was broadcast in the Spring of 1969. While many of us criticized the film for its focus on four male undergraduates, the movie offers unusual behind-the-scenes glimpses of activists in that era. A video of this film is available on YouTube. Due to its length, it has been posted in seven parts:

Go to

The April Third Movement WEBSITE • PSC • 278A Hope Street • Mountain View, CA 94041

Myths that surround exams Lesson Plans

by Bertell Ollman From Z Net

Psychologist, Bill Livant, has remarked, When a liberal sees a beggar, he [sic] says the system isn’t working. When a Marxist does, he [sic] says it is. The same insight could be applied today to the entire area
of education. The learned journals, as well as the popular media, are full of studies documenting how little most students know and how fragile are their basic skills. The cry heard almost everywhere is The
system isn’t working.

Responding to this common complaint, conservatives starting (but not ending) with the Bush adminstration have offered a package of reforms in which increased testing occupies the central place.

The typical liberal and even radical response to this has been to demonstrate that such measures are not likely to have the desired effect. The assumption, of course, is that we all want more or less the same thing from a system of education and that conservatives have made an error in the means they have chosen to attain our common end. But what if students are already receiving, more or less, the kind of education that conservatives favor. This would cast their proposals for reform in another light. What if, as Livant points out in the case of beggars, the system is working
Myths

Before detailing what young people learn from their forced participation in this educational ritual, it may be useful to dispose of a number of myths that surround exams and exam taking in our society

(l) /Exams are a necessary part of education./ Education, of one kind or another has existed in all human societies, but exams have not; and the practice of requiring frequent exams is a very recent innovation and still relatively rare in the world.

(2) /Exams are unbiased./ In 1912, Henry Goddard, a distinguished psychologist, administered what he claimed were culture free IQ tests to new immigrants on Ellis Island and found that 83 percent of Jews, 80 percent of Hungarians, 79 percent of Italians, and 87 percent of Russians were feebleminded, adding that all feebleminded are at least potential criminals. IQ tests have gotten better since then, but given the character of the testing process, the attitudes of those who make up any test, and the variety of people coming from so many different backgrounds who take it, it is impossible to produce a test that does not have serious biases

(3) /Exams are objectively graded./ Daniel Stark and Edward Elliot sent two English essays to 200 high school teachers for grading. They got back 142 grades. For one paper, the grades ranged from 50 to 99; for the other, the grades went from 64 to 99. But English is not an objective subject, you say. Well, they did the same thing for an essay answer in mathematics and got back grades ranging from 28 to 95. Though most of the grades they received in both cases fell in the middle ground, it was evident that a good part of any grade was the result of who marked the exam and not of who took it.

(4) /Exams are an accurate indication of what students know and of intelligence in general./ But all sorts of things, including luck in getting (or not getting) the questions you hoped for and one’s state of mind and emotions the day of the exam, can have an important affect on the result.

(5) /All students have an equal chance to do well on exams,/ that even major differences in their conditions of life have a negligible impact on their performance. There is such a strong correlation between students family income and their test scores, however, that the radical educational theorist, Ira Shor, has suggested (tongue-in-cheek) that college applications should ignore test scores altogether and just ask students to enter their family income. The results would be the same with relatively few exceptions, the same people would get admitted into college, but then, of course, the belief that there is equality of opportunity in the classroom would stand forth as the myth that it is.

(6) /Exams are the fairest way to distribute society’s scarce resources/ to the young, hence the association of exams with the ideas of meritocracy and equality of opportunity. But if some students consistently do better on exams because of the advantages they possess and other students do not outside of school, then directing society’s main benefits to these same people compounds the initial inequality.

(7) /Exams, and particularly the fear of them, are necessary in order to motivate students to do their assignments./ Who can doubt that years of reacting to such threats have produced in many students a reflex of the kind depicted here The sad fact is that the natural curiosity of young people and their desire to learn, develop, advance, master, and the pleasure that comes from succeeding which could and should motivate all studying has been progressively replaced in their psyches by a pervasive fear of failing. This needn’t be. For the rest, if the only reason a student does the assignments is that he/she is worried about the exam, he/she should not be taking that course in the first place.

(8) /Exams are not injurious, socially, intellectually, and psychologically. /Complaining about exams may be most students first truly informed criticism about society because they are its victims and know from experience how exams work. They know, for example, that exams don’t only involve reading questions and writing answers. They also involve forced isolation from other students, prohibition on talking and walking around and going to the bathroom, writing a lot faster than usual, physical discomfort, worry, fear, anxiety, and often guilt.

They are also aware that exams do a poor job of testing what students actually know. But it is here that most of their criticisms run into a brick wall, because most students don’t know enough about society to understand the role that exams especially taking so many exams play in preparing them to take their place in it.

But if exams are not what most people think they are, then what are they The short answer is that exams have less to do with testing us for what we are supposed to know than teaching us what the other aspects of instruction cannot get at (or get at as well). To understand what that

is we must examine what the capitalist class require from a system of education. Here, it is clear that capitalists need a system of education that provides young people with the knowledge and skills necessary for their businesses to function and prosper. But they also want schools to give youth the beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and associated habits of behavior that make it easy for capitalists to tap into this store of knowledge and skills. They need all this not only to maximize their profits, but to help reproduce the social, economic, and even political conditions and accompanying processes that allow them to extract profits. Without workers, consumers and citizens who are well versed in and accepting of their roles in these processes, the entire capitalist system would grind to a halt. It is here particularly as regards the behavioral and attitudinal prerequisites of capitalist rule that the culture of exams has become indispensable. So what do exams teach students

(l) The crush of tests gets students to believe that one gets what one works for, that the standards by which this is decided are objective and fair, and therefore that those who do better deserve what they get; and that the same holds for those who do badly. After a while, this attitude is carried over to what students find in the rest of society, including their own failures later in life, where it encourages them to blame the victim (themselves or others) and feel guilty for what is not their fault.

(2) By fixing a time and a form in which they have to deliver or else, exams prepare students for the more rigorous discipline of the work situation that lies ahead.

(3) In forcing students to think and write faster than they ordinarily do, exams get them ready mentally, emotionally, and also morally for the speed-ups they will face on the job.

(4) The self-discipline students acquire in preparing for exams also helps them put up with the disrespect, personal abuse, and boredom that awaits them on the job.

(5) Exams are orders that are not open to question discuss this, outline that, etc. And taking so many exams conditions students to accept unthinkingly the orders that will come from their future employers.

(6) By fitting the infinite variety of answers given on exams into the straitjacket of A, B, C, D, and F, students get accustomed to the standardization of people as well as of things and the impersonal job categories that will constitute such an important part of their identity

later on.

(7) Because passing an exam is mainly good for enabling students to move up a grade so they can take a slightly harder exam, which if they pass enables them to repeat the exercise/ ad infinitum,/ they begin to see life as an endless series of ever more complicated exams, where one never finishes being judged and the need for being prepared and respectful of the judging authorities only grows.

(8) Because their teachers know all the right answers to the exams, students tend to assume that those who are above them in other hierarchies also know much more than they do.

(9) Because their teachers genuinely want them to do well on exams, students also mistakenly assume that those in relation of authority over them in other hierarchies are also rooting for them to succeed, that is, have their best interests at heart.

(10) Because most tests are taken individually, striving to do well on a test is treated as something that concerns students only as individuals. Cooperative solutions are equated with cheating, if considered at all.

(11) Because one is never quite ready for an exam, there is always something more to do, students often feel guilty for reading materials or engaging in activities unrelated to the exam. The whole of life, it would appear, is but preparation for exams or doing what is required in order to succeed (as those in charge define success).

(12) With the Damocles sword of a failing (or for some a mediocre) grade hanging over their heads throughout their years in school (including university), the inhibiting fear of swift and dire punishment never leaves students, no matter their later situation.

(13) Coupled with the above, because there is always so much to be known, exams especially so many of them tend to undermine students self- confidence and to raise their levels of anxiety, with the result that most young people remain unsure that they will ever know enough to criticize existing institutions and become even physically uncomfortable at the thought of trying to put something better in their place.

(14) Exams also play a key role in determining course content, leaving little time for material that is not on the exam. Among the first things to be omitted in this tightening of the curriculum are students own reactions to the topics that come up, collective reflection on the main problems of the day, alternative points of view and other possibilities generally, the larger picture (where everything fits), explorations of topics triggered by individual curiosity, and anything else that is likely to promote creative, cooperative, or critical thinking.

(15) Exams also determine the form in which most teaching goes on, since for any given exam there is generally a best way to prepare for it. Repetition and forced memorization, even learning by rote, and frequent quizzes (more exams) leave littletime for other more imaginative approaches to conveying, exchanging and questioning facts and ideas.

(16) Multiple exams become one of the main factors determining the character of the relation between students (with students viewing each other as competitors for the best grades), the relation between students and teachers (with most students viewing their teachers as examiners and

graders first, and most teachers viewing their students largely in terms of how well they have done on exams), also the relation between teachers and school administrators (since principals and deans now have an objective standard by which to measure teacher performance), and even the relation between school administrations and various state bodies (since the same standard is used by the state to judge the work of schools and school systems). Exams mediate all social relations in the educational system in a manner similar to the way money mediates relations between people in the larger society with the same dehumanizing results.

While exams have been with us for a long time, socializing students in all the ways that I have outlined above, it is only recently that the mania for exams has begun to affect government policies. Why now Globalization, or whatever it is one chooses to call this new stage, has arrived. But to which of its aspects is the current drive for more exams a carefully fashioned response The proponents of such educational reform point to the intensified competition between industries and workers worldwide and the increasingly rapid pace at which economic changes of all kinds are occurring. To survive in this new order requires people, they say, who are not only efficient, but also have a variety of skills (or can quickly acquire them) and the flexibility to change tasks whenever called upon to do so. Thus, the only way to prepare our youth for the new economic life that awaits them is to raise standards of education, and that entails, among other things, more exams.

A more critical approach to globalization begins by emphasizing that the intensification of economic competition worldwide is driven by capitalists efforts to maximize their profits. It is this that puts all the other developments associated with globalization into motion. It is well known that, all things being equal, the less capitalists pay their workers and the less money they spend on improving work conditions and reducing pollution, the more profit they make. Recent technological progress in transportation and communication, together with free trade and the abolition of laws restricting the movement of capital, allow capitalists to consider workers all over the world in making their calculations. While the full impact of these developments is yet to be felt, we can already see two of its most important effects in the movement of more and more companies (and parts of companies) out of the U.S. and a rollback of modest gains in wages, benefits, and work conditions that American workers have won over the last 50 years.

The current rage for more exams needs to be viewed as part of a larger strategy that includes stoking patriotic fires and chipping away at traditional civil liberties (both rationalized by the so-called war on terrorism), the promotion of family values, restrictions on sexual freedom (but not, as we see, on sexual hypocrisy), and the push for more prisons and longer prison sentences for a whole range of minor crimes.

Is there a connection between exams and the privatization of public education They appear to be separate, but look again. With new investment opportunities failing to keep up with the rapidly escalating surpluses in search of them (a periodic problem for a system that never pays its workers enough to consume all the wealth they produce), the public sector has become the latest last frontier for capitalist expansion. Given its size and potential for profit, what are state prisons or utilities or transport or communication systems or other social services next to public education But how to convince the citizenry that companies whose only concern is with the bottom line can do a better job educating our young than public servants dedicated to the task What seems impossible could be done if somehow education were redefined to emphasize the qualities associated with business and its achievements. Then by definition business could do the job better than any public agency.

Enter exams. Standardization, easily quantifiable results, and the willingness to reshape all intervening processes to obtain them characterize the path to success in both exams and business. When that happens (and to the extent it has already happened), putting education in the hands of businesspeople who know best how to dispense with inessentials becomes a perfectly rational thing to do.

What should students do about all this Well, they shouldn’t refuse to take exams (unless the whole class gets involved) and they shouldn’t drop out of school. Given the relations of power inside education and throughout the rest of society, that would be suicidal and suicide is never good politics. Rather, they should become better students by learning more about the role of education, and exams in particular, in capitalism. Nowhere does the contradiction between the selfish and manipulative interests of our ruling class and the educational and developmental interests of students stand out in such sharp relief as in the current debate over exams. Students of all ages need to get involved in this debate in order to raise the consciousness of young people regarding the source of their special oppression and the possibility of uniting with other oppressed groups to create a truly human society. Everything depends on the youth of today doing better on this crucial test than my generation did, because the price for failure has never been so high. Will they succeed Can they afford to fail.

Sports, education in the capitalist economy

One question that inevitably comes up in casual conversation down the pub or wherever when the topic takes on political overtones is.
“If your so interested why don’t you get into politics then? ”
This question, which is usually a put down and implies. Political interest is for politicians and experts and is the concern of professionals and those who know. Rather, than something that interweaves in all aspects of peoples lives However as someone put it

‘when the arrogant forces of commercial interests and investors come into contact and threaten the welfare and interests of the individual the connection between political interest and social interest becomes clearer.’

Or should become clear (as has becoming the case with football) when the working-mans-sport becomes a wealthy mans hobby

There is no clearer example of this than the situation the sports fan finds them selves in, especially sport. As Cary Watson, (US) explains If you want to hear anti capitalist rhetoric or discussion don’t go looking in the editorial pages of the newspaper. Go to the sports section. It is there that you will find the vilification of the top league teams and their management by the fans.

As sporting generations who have invested emotionally and financially in the various clubs, watch as tickets become unaffordable to the average fan and as grounds turn more space over to executive suites; coverage goes from main networks to pay as you watch cable, cynical merchandising of strips which change most every season specifically aimed at the young into pressurize parents into buying each one as it appears. Up and coming talent in smaller clubs is snatched up by bigger clubs before they can make any mark in the team that nurtured them.

Big teams like Rangers and Celtic whose conceived roots are in Glasgow threaten to shift their allegiance to another country and league to play football. Is that to do with the health of the game or egotistical and self- important greed? Ask any football fan.

A new vein of dissent

So could what its fans usually see as apolitical and only a game, work as a catalyst for wider political awareness. As sport is globalized and “Coke” fastens its grip on anything that moves a new vein of dissent is materializing from an unexpected source namely the sports fan.

And from the land of corporate America Watson precede “It seems clear that when sports fans react with rage at the actions of the Yankees and Irsays of the world, they are not just bemoaning the state of the game. Part of this fury stems from the realization that money, capital, is being used as a weapon, and a blunt one, at that. Its capitalism unmasked and a significant number of people, most of who wouldn’t describe themselves as socialists if their lives depended on it, are appalled at what they see. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the anti – capitalist bent of so many fans and sports journalists is that it creates a fertile environment in which to educate people about the larger problems created by a capitalist economy.

Thanks to the mendacious and piratical behavior of pro sports, millions of fans are savvy to the ways and means a huge bankroll can stack the deck against their rooting interests and the interests of their sport. It is not a huge jump from there to show people how the capitalism that ruins their favorite team or sport can, and is, ruining lives within and without the U.S.”

And finally an indication of how the beautiful game here is getting in line with its American cousins. As the captain of the Irish team was sent home from the teams training camp preparing for the world cup, due to a conflict with the team manager. Manchester United (the player’s team) sent their private jet specially to fly him home. The new strip will be due out two weeks after Xmas no doubt to pay for it

Based on z mag article (lost link)

North South East West Collection

n-s-e-wWe have a powerful weapon the enemy seems to lack, creativity. Free creative thought is at the core of ideas and progressive change. If we are to change the regressive institutions in our communities and replace them with our own, we need to learn new and also share our creative skills.

Two questions

How come, when there is a consensus, or agreement by most of the public, on aspects concerning: poverty; the environment, community, planning, social housing, public transport, roads, motorways – very little of what the public feel, or think, about such matters is hear.(unless the pressure is to great to be ignored)
Why is the publics opinions, in public issues, so frequently made subservient to business interests.”

The Scottish Executive’s proposal to introduce a third-party right of appeal (see link below) would be a drag on development and a disaster for Scotland, according to leading chartered-surveying firm GVA Grimley.”

Whether it concerns schools, housing, safer roads to protect our children, the obliteration of local infrastructure, to make way for another shopping mall, or slip road – If it is a “drag on development” we are silenced by the authority of the chartered surveyor.

By the law of average, aspects of public concern happening on one side of the city, should be of equal importance sooner or latter to the people on other side of the city. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Are we all heading towards the same event but using different vehicles to get there?

People might know, or have experience about one instance, and others may have knowledge about something else. The next important thing we should realise, is how these issues are sometimes significantly connected, and how we (the public) can support each other in voicing a collective opinion on these varying maters.

Do you know about “Agenda 21” “Third Party Right To appeal” “The Parks Public Consultation Document” to name but a few issues of important public interest, to all areas of the city. If you do not know about these issues, you are not any more informed than anyone else, because most people have never heard of them. What you will probably have heard of is “Glasgow City of Style“, a city wide re-branding campaign, taking up lots of rate payers money creating a glittery background to our city, (as it is parceled up and gifted to developers.) Yes you will probably have noticed “Glasgow, City of Style” as it is thrust at us from every second lamp post you pass.

But what about the issues that matter to you!

A Problem

A major part of our problem is,(if and after we find out that there is a problem) we (the public) do not have a big enough loudspeaker to be heard. We are up against a business media force, with sponsorship from our government using our money, that is deafening and drowning out our voice and therefore our opinions in maters that are very important to us all.

We can not hope to compete and should not waste our energy trying to compete, with all our small individual loudspeakers, unless we combine them. We have to combine them to create a bigger noise in order take control of the microphone. Business can only hear loud noise.

Phase 1 Combined efforts:

What affects this end of the city will soon or later affect the other end of the city, and vice versa. But does this side of town know what the other side thinks, how it responds or acts in affairs that involves us all. [planning, environment, housing and such like]

N-S-E-W is an attempt by participants from all areas of the city to give some support and hope to those involved in the above and below issues and to encourage others to join the struggle to make -starting in our communities – our world, a better place to live. The following are some thoughts that might help towards a set of principals which could help consolidate a collective voice or give encouragement and support to existing groups working towards these ends.

Solidarity Bob. Hamilton

People-Building-bridges; not fly-over’s

People

Children – mothers – fathers – families – single parents – displaced peoples – mentally ill – homeless – gay – When we say people we mean community. When we say community we mean people.

Poverty

The only thing that separates us all from poverty, are a set of circumstances. Poverty is not genetic. The lose of a job can start the spiral. The greatest loss to society through poverty, is when the dynamic of the community is lost to anti social behaviour, crime, vandalism and malnourishment. Bitterness takes the place of creativity and integration.

The only way the waged and comfortable will understand poverty, is if an attempt is made to understand, what causes poverty, through the people who suffer it, rather than dwelling on an academic assessment. A close study of the causes of poverty soon reveals other crimes of vandalism and anti social behaviour, at a higher level. These are not the crimes induced by circumstances and need. But the crimes of a administration that systematically creates poverty and a culture of fear to maintain the disparity of wealth.

The poor are always blamed for their own poverty and their failure to compete in a system where the odds are stacked against them. The waged worker is encouraged to look at poverty, not with a critical eye, but as a warning of what could happen to them if they are not careful in abiding by the rules. We then have two tiers of poverty. One is created by the lack of substance and physical nourishment and the other is the modernised, importance, producing poverty that sacrifices everything to the commodity and its cost.

It is irrational fear, lack of confidence and collective support that locks us all in our states of poverty. But united, the employed and the unemployed, we could dispel irrational fear and concentrate on the real reasons of our poverty and present the safeguards to avoid them.

Connecting

We need to discuss solutions . As well as going on to each other about our problems, try expressing what you believe or think could be solutions. We are all guilty about droning on about what is wrong when we should be spending more time with each other – discussing how to put it right

Multi- issue

All community or political issues to a greater or lesser extent, or at particular times or situation, are important. Multi issue participation is a way of increasing support, where and when it is needed most, gaining tactical experience and extending kinship in all areas of our communities. Everything is connected to everything else, no issue is an island.

Children and the young

We have a responsibility, not only as parents, but as citizens, to the future generations of children in our communities. We need to know what they think and how they view the world. We need to learn from them what we have forgotten, we need their presence to make us act sensibly. They need the benefit of our support, our history, our experience and understanding, to help them make important decisions for themselves and with respect to their future and to others around them.

Levels of involvement

Of course we are all busy, so let’s not do anything. I’m to busy to get into that stuff, what good will it do anyway? These are the questions we ask before committing ourselves to anything, But if we do not allocate some of our time and effort and sacrifice some things to the benefit of others, we will always be to busy to realise the life we dream of living, or the expectations of our children

Rejecting the state of hopelessness

We must reject the state of hopelessness. The future is bright if we have hope. The sense of permanent decline is a big part of the reason for anti-social behaviour – It’s nothing to do with me. Turn the other way. The feeling of powerlessness runs hand in hand with the feeling of hopelessness. Staying in and watching the TV or playing with your computer, is the most corruptive form of anti-social behaviour. It is this form of anti social behaviour, that is more responsible for damaged communities, rather than the minority element whose anti social behaviour of destruction and violence seems to suppress our actions as much as corporations or governments.

Maybe the latter form of behaviour could be stemmed by some improvement in the former and the perpetrators, perhaps engaged persuaded and encouraged into more creative pursuits. Our streets do not belong to violence and fear, they belong to our communities, but are a reflection of the action or lack of action in our localities.

The tyranny of waste

There is no reason why we need to rely on multi nationals for our existence. We could be easily self sufficient in our communities if we halted the deluge of consumption of useless goods. This we will need to learn anyway, as the tyranny of waste, will only last another few generations before we need to do something. As someone from the oil rich middle east dealing in renewable’s said ” The stone-age didn’t stop because we ran out of stones” Our communities will not stop prospering, because we have run out of supermarkets. In fact the reverse is probably true. They will only prosper if we do, get rid of the “super” out of markets.


Sustainable business

This document is not meant to be anti business, although an important issue is how communities deal with aggressive business. But do we need ten supermarkets and a half dozen retail outlets with nothing in between. How many Phone shops, are there in your area, compared to a decent ironmongers, or shops selling good food at reasonable prices. What do you do if you don’t have a car, hitch-hike to the mall. Business in communities should be encouraged to flourish out of usefulness to peoples needs, not as a battleground of the conglomerates in retail consumption.

Direct action

What does direct action mean? Direct action means acting directly, on the problem, or solution, as near to the source as possible. This does not mean you have to chain yourself to the lamp post or go out and get arrested. (commendable as these feats sometimes are ) It can also mean, talking and engaging with your next door neighbour about what is happening. It can mean writing a letter. It can mean speaking up. It can mean connecting with others who are involved in the questions, problems and solutions that pervade our happiness.

Law

Recourse to law is a last option. laws are made mostly to protect the defenders of the status quo, while making lawyers rich.For every law that is passed you can guarantee someone will make a lot of money, and it will not be the people that the law was passed to protect. Courts tie up time, money and kill momentum. We need to create consensus in our community affairs and avoid the use and force of law.

Right to know and appeal

The general public have a right to know what developers and “other agents” (a generic term for “businesses”) are up to, long before the project is on its way and “a far gone conclusion”, before public consultation is sought.

The public are not businesses and should not be treated with the same competitive mentality of business; when the targets are not met; or their petitions are a day late at the council office and are there for, excluded from the debate.

The public should be encouraged to take an interest and to offer a view in matters of public concern, not treated as a minor, or financially weaker contender, to business interests. Community building is a slow organic process which needs time to develop and should neither be made to jump through the hoops of aggressive business strategies, or compete with business to survive.

Community cohesion should take precedence over time scales.

Funding dissent

Everything from the privatisation of council housing, to business sponsorship in schools, colleges and universities .Selling off of public land. pseudo awards for cultural achievements in which the public purse is used to advertise and fund through grants to business, “Glasgow city of style” telling the poor, the unemployed and the homeless how stylish their city is.-

“The days when people have to apologise for this city are over.” Says Eddie Friel, chief executive of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley Tourist Board ” He said the city had a history of reinventing itself according to the needs of its customers.”

There are no glossy brochures funded by the taxpayer that would allow the public to hear dissenting voices against the selling of Glasgow, to the needs of it’s “customers.” (who ever they are) There are no glossy council publications of the dissenting voices that say – Safeway, should be let no where near our schools, or that business should not determine what happens in our universities. Why not!

Creativity
Humour

We have a powerful weapon the enemy seems to lack, creativity. Free creative thought is at the core of ideas and progressive change. If we are to change the regressive institutions in our communities and replace them with our own, we need to learn new and also share our creative skills. Creativity is something that needs to be understood, as something that is in practiced in our every day lives, and not something that is the sole remit of the artist. The learning process is a creative act and we need never stop learning from each other. Humour makes the struggle bearable, the heart lighter and without it we would be lost

Unless we publish them ourselves, we will not be told or reminded of our successes. Most of the achievements and reforms that have brought improvements to the lives of people in our communities, have been gained by the struggles of ordinary people.

The white government official, who signed the document that abolished slavery had slaves, but takes the credit for their emancipation. The government official who signed the law, that stopped sending children up chimney, allowed children to be exploited in his own household, but takes the credit of freeing them from servitude. The world is full of great men that get and take the credit, for the struggles of ordinary people. We need to recognise, record and study, the history of our achievements, before those who write the histories of great men, do it for us.

We need everyone to participate in the needs of our community. A group does not have to believe in a political doctrine to support an idea .Political dynamic is born out of ideas and ideas always precede politics.

Our movements are over run by men. We need to involve more of our women in our movements to share their experience, interests perspectives and ideas. There is much to do and good times could be had in the process if we learn to accept and enjoy our community involvement as part of our lifestyle, rather than only becoming a chore when things go wrong.

It is all there for the taking if we act as responsible individuals in a collective, “collection” of community.

Contact: bob at Citystrolls with links – ideas Questions

The intellectual life of the British Working Classes

Booklist

Jonathan Rose

p60 (Chapter, Mutual Improvement)

To all this must be added countless informal networks for sharing reading matter. In the first years of the nineteenth century, shepherds in the Cheviot Hills maintained a kind of circulating library, leaving books they had read in designated crannies in boundary walls. The next shepherd who came that way could borrow it and leave another in its place, so that each volume was gradually carried through a circuit of 30 to 40 miles, on which the shepherds only occasionally met.14 The Lochend poet Alexander Bethune (b. 1804) and his brother John could afford few books, but Alexander remembered that “After it became known that we were readers, the whole of our acquaintances, far and near, and even some people whom we could hardly number as such, appeared eager to lend us books.”15 Even in that hospitable atmosphere, the pursuit of literature could be a struggle for a man like John Bethune. A laborer whose annual earnings rarely exceeded £19, he hoped to write his way out of poverty like Robert Burns. His Tales and Sketches of the Scottish Peasantry was published in 1838, but as his brother Alexander recalled, the writing of it

had been prosecuted as stealthily as if it had been a crime punishable by law. There being but one apartment in the house, it was his custom to write by the fire, with an old copy-book, upon which his paper lay, resting on his knee, and this, through life, was his only writing-desk. On the table, which was within reach, an old newspaper was kept constantly lying, and as soon as the footsteps of any one were heard approaching the door, copy-book, paper, pens, and inkstand, were thrust under this covering, and before the visitor came in, he had in general a book in his hand, and appeared to have been reading.

Mutual improvement was useful for acquiring and sharing general knowledge, but it could not provide the privacy necessary for writing and serious study. The Bethune brothers actually went to die trouble of building a room for John, to no avail: the day after it was finished, work called him away to another town.16
Mutual improvement continued to gain momentum in Scotland through the nineteenth century. In the rural northeast region around Aberdeen, lan
Carter found nineteen such societies in 1851, and between thirty-five and fifty by 1897, many of which maintained their own libraries. In an otherwise conservative region, they were a backbone of radical Liberalism, closely linked with the Free Church of Scotland (founded 1843) and the temperance movement.

p66

We rented a garret, for which we paid (I think) 25s. a year, bought a few second-hand forms and desks, borrowed a few chairs from the people in the house, bought a shillings worth of coals, had the gas (which was already in the house) laid on at the cost of a few shillings, and started our College. We did not advertise it in the newspapers or on the streets, for we could not afford to do that, but we invited all our friends and acquaintances to join us, and in a few days we had about twenty members. … We had no men of position or education connected with us, and I believe we were better without them, but several of the students who had made special study of some particular subject were appointed teachers, so that the teacher of one class might be a pupil in another.

Booklist