Monthly Archives: October 2009

Lock them up and throw away the key or intervene?

Last night, at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, there was the first central London screening of a new documentary, Breaking Rocks, directed by Alan Miles.

The documentary explains how the Jail Guitar Doors project, created by Billy Bragg in 2007, started and what they have achieved with the programme since it launched.

Jail Guitar Doors is an independent initiative which aims to provide instruments to those who are using music as a means of achieving the rehabilitation of prison inmates. JGD takes its name from the b-side of the 1978 Clash single Clash City Rockers.

Giving musical instruments to prisoners serving time is a controversial initiative. It’s not something the right-wing media will be too happy about, but the statistics on reoffending speak for themselves. Of course, the stats vary for different types of offence and prison regime, but in general if a criminal has been imprisoned, they are more than 50% likely to come back once released. This figure is significantly reduced if the prisoner has been involved in a music education programme.

The idea of giving them a guitar and showing them how to use it is not aimed at creating an army of ex-con James Blunts… what an awful thought. It’s because the guys who start learning guitar while in jail show a demonstrable increase in self-esteem and self-awareness. Just by learning something new they suddenly get the power to resist a lot of the peer pressure culture associated with drugs, and it makes them realise they can play a role in a normal society.

The challenge to the guys who are given the guitars is to show that they can come out and stay out. The guitar unlocks the realisation that they can learn and they can do something useful.

One of the main criticisms of prison education programmes like this is that prison is supposed to be about retribution and punishment. Locking these guys up and letting them rot. The issue with that attitude is that they will come out at some point. Guys doing a 3-year stretch for drugs will be back out on the streets soon, and with no idea what to do, of course they will turn back to the same life they had before coming inside.

The simple act of teaching someone to play the guitar can (and has) shown people that there is another life out there that doesn’t involve drugs, nicking from people, violence, and ultimately returning to jail.

The film is very well shot. It’s an exciting and interesting documentary, explaining the issues as well as the history of JGD. After the film screening in London, the film director Alan Miles and Billy Bragg himself did a Q&A session in person. And after the talk, there was some music. Not only Billy doing a few songs, but two ex-cons who learned to play guitar and write songs because of Jail Guitar Doors.

Take a look at some of their stuff here:

Billy Bragg does Redemption Song

Billy Bragg does April Fool’s Day – song written in a workshop with prisoners

Leon Walker, JGD graduate

Jonny Neesom, JGD graduate

For more information about the Jail Guitar Doors initiative, take a look at the website here…

Geocities, RIP

So, GeoCities is about to be killed off.

This was one of the earliest places on the Internet that really encouraged users to create their own webpages and to contribute to the Internet. If you recall, back in the early days of the Internet and web, it was all pull. You read pages that were already online. It was like an online Argos catalogue, and yet think about your current interaction with the web – it’s all about contribution.

When GeoCities came along, it was suddenly possible to create personal homepages without too much technical expertise. It changed everything, and millions participated.

But, like many other sites, it was surpassed and now the social networks are themselves offering what Geocities used to in a simple way.

I hope the Internet Archive Foundation is storing enough of these sites and pages for the researchers of the future…



Economists. What do they really do?

So what do economists do all day anyway?

They failed to save the world from the credit crunch and subsequent global economic meltdown, and now that there are supposedly some green shoots of recovery springing up, they tease us with hope. The news today is that the latest GDP figures show we have slumped even further into recession, so much so that this is now the worst economic downturn in Britain since the Second World War.

But, look back at the news yesterday. Everyone predicted that the latest numbers would show we are leaving the recession behind. Growth would be weak, but it would be a start on the track.

How can they just keep on getting it so wrong?

BNP Leader, Nick Griffin, on Question Time

So it finally happened. Griffin faced the BBC audience.

David Dimbleby was well briefed and quoted several of Griffin’s more outrageous remarks at him. The panel raged and gave their all. But somehow at the end of it all I felt disappointed.

I was keen to see Griffin on Question Time. I felt that the only way to show how odious he really is, would be to get him up there on the BBC and to repeat back some of his own lines. Yet, when it actually happened it looked like gang of bullies beating a feckless child. He responded to every claim; he repeated untruths and half-truths.

But at the end of the day, although the panel was right to attack him, it just looked like a bunch of liberal bullies beating up on the racist.

I don’t personally feel any sympathy for Griffin because of this. He deserved every verbal attack the panel gave him, but it demonstrated the fatal flaw of the mainstream parties. Every mainstream party representative argued on racism as a moral issue. It’s just not right to be racist. Griffin argued his own racist views on practical issues such as jobs, housing, and benefits – and his concept of ‘indigenous’ rights.

There are a huge number of myths perpetrated about the number of migrants to the UK that actually “steal jobs” or “go top of the list for housing”, but if Griffin continues to perpetuate the image that he is the only one prepared to do something about it, and the other parties just stutter on about how racism is nasty and wrong, then he will pick up support. The mainsteam parties need to offer better information, not just indignation.

I think the net result of Question Time was that the people who always hated the BNP, hate them just as much as before. Those who were undecided, unsure, or just don’t really trust or engage with politicians – they probably like Griffin a lot more after seeing the mainstream parties attack him on BBC1 tonight.

First Class is now a two-week service

So the strike by Royal Mail workers is going to start at 4am on Thursday. Here we go again.

I have a lot of sympathy for the postmen and women who trudge the streets every morning. They work hard and they do a good job in challenging times. Their management seem to shift the goalposts regularly and engage in constant efficiency drives. I don’t know of many British people who would say that the post service has got better in the past decade, and it’s really the management that are to blame for that.

But times are changing. Almost all the mail being delivered is from one business to another, or from a business to a consumer. That’s really changing fast now, in fact so fast that there is no longer a correlation between the economic cycle and the amount of mail being sent – that always used to be an indicator of economic recovery.

And the government hasn’t gone for complete support of the postal workers or a complete privatisation either. So it would seem like the management and the government might actually like to see the postal workers out on strike, because it gives them both the right to take emergency action, whatever that may be…

All I know is that I went to the Post Office today and tried mailing three First Class packages. The clerk at the counter advised me that it could take at least two weeks for my packages to arrive ‘because of the strikes, we are all backlogged’. I asked her how a next-day delivery service can change to be a two-week service and all she could offer was ‘it’s the strikes’.

Even the workers are completely clueless when it comes to trying to earn some public sympathy for their cause.

Lip up Fatty

Campaigners in the Size Acceptance Movement want overweight people to have legal protection against discrimination, in the same way that the law now protects minority groups from work discrimination or hate crimes.

My first reaction to this kind of story is just to laugh. A bunch of fat people who want the law to protect them and their right to eat crisps! Whatever next?

But naturally, there is more to it if you sit and think for a moment. Let’s ignore those people who are fat because of a physical disorder, the majority that are overweight don’t have a healthy relationship with food because of some other psychological issue. They might be just eating junk food, or eating far more than they really need, or generally just using food as a comfort device. It’s true that many of the overweight people I’ve known have been quite solipsistic, withdrawn from regular society and activities because they found it uncomfortable to be on display, even to the extent that the activities they did engage in would be ones that could reassure them that they can do something useful without the need for other people – dog-training for example.

It’s not acceptable for society in general to treat overweight people with violence, as the commentator on the BBC has experienced, but it’s likely that people will pass judgement and comment on an overweight person. That’s a sad fact of life. This reinforcement that something is wrong doesn’t help a fat person to break out of the cycle of despair – it’s difficult to create self-confidence and the ability to live a healthy lifestlye when strangers give you verbal abuse in the street.

So I can see why there is a campaign asking for a social acceptance of overweight people. It used to be commonplace to use derogatory terms about people because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Clearly the campaigners want to get to a place where it’s no longer cool to derogate fat people, in much the same way as the UK was recently horrified by the use of ‘Paki’ by a contestant on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.

But, I’m still uneasy about the whole concept of a politcal campaign over fat acceptance.

I heard the woman involved in this BBC report on the radio yesterday and she rejected labels such as ‘obese’. These aren’t terms of abuse, they are medical definitions. It’s true the BMI is not an ideal science, but it’s the best general measure of height/weight ratios we have and if you are off the scale then you are not in a healthy place and had better listen to the doctor rather than claiming discrimination.

Are we now suggesting that it should be considered ‘normal’ to be obese?

Talking Outsourcing book launch – the video

Video footage from the launch of my new book ‘Talking Outsourcing’ is now online. Thank you to the National Outsourcing Association for promoting this book launch event, and Steria for supporting the event and making it possible:

Follow these links to view the films:

Angelica Mari Introduction & Hilary Robertson 1/2
Hilary Robertson 2/2

Philippe Legrain 1/2
Philippe Legrain 2/2

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary 1/3
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary 2/3
Mark Kobayashi-Hillary 3/3

Panel Discussion 1/3
Panel Discussion 2/3
Panel Discussion 3/3

For more information on the book, please go and visit the website here.