Sunday, 8 November 2009
Another month has gone by, lots going on in my life as ever, so time for another newsletter, I have decided. I became very absorbed in writing a piece about the best-selling novelist, Douglas Kennedy, a couple or so weeks ago, which is now up on my ‘Serendipitous Moments’ blog. The reasons for this become apparent upon reading item 1 below. The other main pre-occupation has been in regard to working on my digitisation book – very much in the final throws now, I am very pleased to say. Anyhow, more about my various happenings and interests are below.
1. DOUGLAS KENNEDY: A BEST-SELLING NOVELIST’ AND ‘YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER?’: TWO NEW ENTRIES ON MY ‘SERENDIPITOUS MOMENTS’ BLOG – see http://ruthrikowskiim.blogspot.com/
There are 2 new entries on my ‘Serendipitous Moments’ blog. A long entry about the best-selling novelist, Douglas Kennedy and leading on from this a short entry entitled ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover?’ The latter entry was inspired by the former. What do I mean by this?
Well, as I say on my blog, I got to read Douglas Kennedy’s books purely through spotting a captivating book cover in W.H. Smiths (with a lady sitting on the beach reading something – the picture of the cover is on my blog; along with images of some other book covers). I bought the book (‘The Pursuit of Happiness’) on impulse, and it proved to be a real page-turner; a great read. I then went on to read many of Douglas Kennedy’s other books, and nowadays I just cannot wait for his next book to come out! What I started to realise after a while was that what I found really enticing about these books, was the ability that Douglas Kennedy had to get into the mind of educated, intelligent, sophisticated but troubled women (with him writing as a female as the first person in many of his novels). It also became fairly clear to me that he was quite left-wing and critical of American society in various ways. In the piece, I also reflect on the fact that it was the enticing covers of Managing Information that largely influenced me to write for this magazine; that along with the other beautiful photographs that are contained within it. Then, in the entry ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover?’ I consider the fact that perhaps, sometimes, you actually can judge a book by its cover, and that sometimes it can be really beneficial to follow ones instincts in this regard.
I found myself re-reading some of these Douglas Kennedy books (where he writes as a woman in the first person) after my father-in-law died in February of this year. Douglas Kennedy and Michael Jackson both did so much in helping me to get over it all (which was partly why I became so upset when Michael Jackson subsequently died himself); and the music of Stevie Nicks and Dorothy L. Sayers books also really helped. Once again, all this demonstrates the power, value and importance that art can have in our lives, does it not.
N.B. The Douglas Kennedy piece has also been inserted on our website - see
http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Douglas Kennedy: best-selling novelist
2. HIGHER EDUCATION ACADEMY CERTIFICATE
I am delighted to say that, following on from the successful completion of my Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education last year (2008), I am now officially an ‘Associate of the Higher Education Academy’. I have just received the certificate for this. Further information about the Higher Education Academy can be found at www.heacademy.ac.uk. So, now I can put even more letters after my name – i.e. Ruth Rikowski, BA (Hons), PostgradDip Lib, MSc, MA(Res), CLTHE, MCLIP, AHEA! Perhaps, about time that I stopped collecting letters now, eh!
3. ANALYTICAL PHILOSOPHY AND MARXISM
Alexander Rikowski, our eldest son, has recently been studying a course on Marx as part of his Philosophy degree at King’s College, London, University of London. I have been enjoying having some interesting intellectual discussions with him about it all.
In our discussions, I learnt some more about his degree – he is studying Analytical Philosophy (logical) rather than Continental Philosophy. I studied a little Philosophy as part of my first degree (a Social Studies degree at the University of East Anglia), but it was more Continental based, and within this framework focused on philosophers such as Descartes, Rousseau and J.S. Mill. Having these discussions recently with Alex I can now see some of the advantages and disadvantages of studying the subject from this analytical perspective. The advantage is that it really helps one to think in a very logical, rational and structured way. All education helps to develop people in this way of course, but Alex’s degree is really highly focused on this, and is very explicit, rather than being more intuitive about it all. Also, in this way, students study their topics in small bites, which can help to ensure that they do not run before they can walk. It really helps students to have a sound grasp of many philosophical thinkers. They also learn how to read, understand and digest the original works of many of the great philosophers, rather than relying on other people’s interpretations of them. Alex has read the raw text of many of the great philosophers (from Ancient Greeks through to contemporary philosophers); this has included Wittgenstein, Kant, Nietzsche, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Berkeley, Locke, Rawls, Nozick, Spinoza, Leibniz and Marx. This should also mean that these students are not afraid to read and tackle the works of great thinkers in general, I think, in later life.
On the other hand, if taken too literally, there is a danger that this analytical approach can become too limited, and that the grander theories and broader pictures are not given full enough regard. Rather like putting the ‘cart before the horse’. Seeing whether the theories and ideas of the thinker are completely logical and rational, and whether or not all the necessary logical steps have been gone through and clearly laid out can perhaps become more important than the whole grand theory in itself. There is little to be gained from having a logical, highly coherent theory, if it is not actually saying very much! Rather, creating and developing the bigger theory is surely more important, than the smaller logical steps. The missing gaps can be gradually filled in later; or at least to the extent that it is possible to do this.
All this certainly applies to Marxism. Marxism is a conflict theory; not a functionalist, consensus theory. So, if we try to impose functionalist interpretations on to it (where all the pieces in the jigsaw can somehow or other be neatly fitted together), we are going to come up against many problems. Indeed, the over-riding aim and purpose of Marxism will be misunderstood.
Capitalism is a system that is full of contradictions and conflicts. Marx’s aim was to provide a scientific analysis of capitalism; and he did a fantastic job, I think. However, the problem is that it is not actually possible to be completely scientific and rational about capitalism, because capitalism is an irrational system, based on irreconcilable contradictions; it is in essence a madhouse. So, of course, if one approaches Marx’s philosophy from an analytical philosophical perspective, one will find numerous flaws in it – with many irrational, seemingly illogical steps in the arguments presented. But Marx was not about that of course; rather, he was about trying to expose and work through the contradictions in capitalism.
Anyway, in our discussions, we came to a very helpful understanding of each others perspectives. I also reflected on the fact that analytical philosophy seemed to be more akin to computer sciences and computer programming than the social sciences in some ways. But of course, even in computer programming, one cannot test to exhaustion; there is always a possibility (no matter how small and remote) that a programme might crash and that some logical step, somewhere, has been missed out.
If any of you would like to discuss any of these issues further with me, then I would be very interested in hearing from you.
4. ENERGY MONITORS IN GLOUCESTERSHIRE LIBRARIES AND ‘THE LIVING LIBRARY’ ON PHILIP BOOTH’S RUSCOMBE GREEN BLOG
Philip Booth informed me about two interesting entries that he put up recently on his RuscombeGreen blog, about libraries in Gloucestershire – see: http://ruscombegreen.blogspot.com/
Philip Booth is a Green party District councillor and a member of Transition Stroud.
Philip initiated the idea of ‘Energy Monitors in Gloucestershire libraries’, saying:
"I am delighted that Gloucestershire County Council and SWEA are supporting this project. Energy monitors offer people a way to become more aware of their energy use and any energy-guzzlers in their homes. Research indicates this is successful in helping people cut their electricity bills and CO2 emissions."
On September 23rd 2009 it was reported that Gloucestershire libraries were giving its users the chance to ‘go green’ by putting energy guzzlers in their homes. These monitors enable users to measure the amount of energy that their appliances use and they help to reduce energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions.Meter packs can be borrowed free of charge for up to three weeks in the same way that a book, DVD or CD can be borrowed. Users have to give a £5 deposit but this is given back upon return of the monitor. The pack includes a single appliance power saver monitor, information about the project and energy saving tips and activities.The six-month pilot project is being run by Severn Wye Energy Agency (SWEA), who supplies the monitors, in partnership with Gloucestershire County Council’s Libraries & Information. It is being funded by the Gloucestershire Environment Partnership and district councils.Five monitors will be available for loan at each of the libraries - Stroud, Nailsworth, Stonehouse, Dursley, Cirencester, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, Quedgeley and Lydney.
Launch events were held at each of the libraries in September and October 2009, with a display stand and a representative from SWEA to show users how to make the most of their energy monitors.
This seems like a very worthwhile and interesting initiative to me – placing both libraries and ecology issues higher up the agenda.
The other entry is entitled ‘People on loan in Gloucestershire’ and was posted on 19th September 2009.
This ‘Living Library’ Philip Booth says, “…is an innovative method designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding.”The ‘Living Library’ is a mobile library of sorts, “…set up as a space for dialogue and interaction.” Visitors can speak informally with “people on loan” – this includes people from different age groups and cultural backgrounds etc.
Philip Booth continues on his blog, saying:
”The Living Library is about trying to break stereotypes by challenging the most common prejudices in a positive and humorous manner - a sort of “keep it simple”, “no-nonsense” contribution to social cohesion in multicultural societies. Some of the titles previously available at libraries include: Feminist / Muslim; Young Adult Gay Man / Survivor of a Brain Tumor; Ex Gang Member / Ex Prisoner / Ex Addict; Constable; Humanist / Altruist / Volunteer; Big and Beautiful Formerly Size 5 and Bulimic; Iraqi Refugee / Artist; Highly Sensitive Male / Father of a Gay Son / Jewish. See more at: http://living-library.org
When I asked whether Gloucestershire was doing this I learnt that the Councils Community Cohesion Group is piloting it and trying it out as part of the member induction programme, where they are arranging for 'living books' from among the clients of council services to be available for members to meet with them. Great stuff.I do think listening to others is a very powerful way of creating change - indeed that was part of the philosophy behind the Coffee House discussions where people can meet and talk and listen - indeed we've had a huge range of topics including a chance to hear views that many don't in their everyday lives like 'freedom to wear the veil'. Next week we have all the political parties represented in the Green party-sponsored discussions on defence in The Space at 7.30pm.”
This is another very worthwhile initiative, I think. When I was working in public libraries, I was always keen to emphasise and promote the value and importance of the library within the wider local community, and the opportunities for critical space and thinking that the public library can offer.
I should also add (for those of you that might not already know) that Graham Coult, the editor of Managing Information went to interview Philip Booth some two and a half years ago, leading on from Philip inserting information about my globalisation book on his blog, and relating my book to proposed cuts in Painswick Library in Gloucestershire – i.e. bringing the global and the local together.
5. MANAGING INFORMATION: VOL. 16, ISS. 6 & VOL. 16, ISS. 7, 2009
The latest two hard-copy issues of Managing Information are very eye-catching and colourful as well as containing some very interesting articles of course! Volume 16, Issue 6, for example, includes articles on ‘Virtualisation and the other green computing initiative’ by Owen Cole (pp.4-7), ‘Google – don’t be evil’ by Barbara Stratton (pp.50-56) and ‘Encryption is the equivalent of a seat belt for data’ by Andy Cordial (pp. 58-62). Owen Cole looks at Green IT within organisations and the effective technologies that are now in place that can bring this about. And the good news is that, apparently, these application delivery controllers also reduce rather than increase costs (unusual that – to have green initiatives that can save money, is it not!).
Meanwhile, Barbara Stratton looks at the Google Book Search Agreement (GBS), which has been indefinitely postponed, because so many concerns have been raised about it. Google has been scanning and indexing millions of books held in U.S. and foreign partner libraries, which as Barbara Stratton says could offer great benefits to the public, and “…would provide broad access to millions of out-of-print books currently only accessible onsite in university libraries…”
(p. 56). However, in order to achieve this, the concerns about GBS (which Barbara Stratton outlines) must be addressed.
The article ‘Encryption is the equivalent of a seat belt for data’ by Andy Cordial argues that we should be protecting our data more. Cordial concludes by saying: “I find it difficult to understand how anyone can justify carrying electronic data unsecured in the public domain. People need to be educated as to the many different options available. However, in my opinion, transparent encryption of not just sensitive but all portable data reduces the risk of the individual either forgetting, or worse bypassing, this safety belt. The next time you decide to carry data out of the safe confines of the corporate environment, remember to buckle it up.” (p. 62). This article has powerful images; symbolic traffic lights in a variety of colours are strewn everywhere. This helps to convey the whole message very clearly about the importance of buckling ones seat belt not just in cars, but in regard to ones data!
There is also ‘Corridors’, compiled by Graham Coult, which “…provides a news briefing about legislative policy and practical developments in UK National and Local Government as they relate to, and impact upon, the broad areas of information and knowledge management.” (pp.63-71)
Whilst, in the opening page of Volume 16, Issue 7, we have a word ‘From the Editor’s Desk’, where as Graham Coult says “Organisations benefit most when information management is integrated into the organisation, with expert advice and input at all levels.” (p.1) On this page, there is a beautiful photograph of a bird with her chicks. The issue is heavily IT based and includes articles on Cloud Computing and Encryption. The Cloud Computing article includes powerful images of storms, reminding us that much can be gained from cloud computing, but that there are also pitfalls, which we need to try to avoid. Anne Cavoukian describes cloud computing as “a fundamental shift in how data are managed and processed. Rather than running software on a desktop computer or server, Internet users are now able to use the “cloud” – a networked collection of servers, storage systems, and devices – to combine software, data, and computing power scattered in multiple locations across the network.” (p.5)
Then, there is a piece entitled ‘Keep Software Simple’ by Nick Thompson (pp.14-17), arguing that as long as business applications are user-friendly and do the job, then users should not need to be concerned about the bits and bytes. The piece is surrounded by powerful images of gold chains, which helps to reinforce the message that security costs but is also very valuable.
This and much more is included in the latest two issues of Managing Information.
6. CRITICAL PEDAGOGY VIDEO AND PETER McLAREN
Peter McLaren (who has written and edited material with Glenn Rikowksi) sent me an interesting and quite powerful video on Critical Pedagogy, which I said I would include in my newsletter. So, here is the link:
As you can see, Peter McLaren himself is interviewed in it.
7. LATEST ISSUE (No. 29) OF ‘INFORMATION FOR SOCIAL CHANGE’ (ISC) IS NOW OUT, ON THE THEME: ‘SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOR UTOPIAS’; EDITED BY TONI SAMEK AND MARTYN LOWE http://libr.org/isc/toc.html
The latest issue of the ejournal ‘Information for Social Change’ is now out. It is on the theme of ‘Science and Technology for Utopias’ and is edited by Toni Samek and Martyn Lowe. It includes contributions from Amber Burtis, Cheris Carpenter, Paul Catherall, Richard Hayman, Andrew Hudson, Martyn Lowe and Michelle. The issue covers a variety of interesting topics, including indigenous knowledge and technology (Burtis) and ‘Human Rights Software: information support solutions for social justice’ (Hayman).
8. FEMINIST LIBRARY NEWSLETTER, No. 5, OCTOBER 2009
The latest issue of the Feminist Library Newsletter (No. 5) is now out and includes some interesting information. The Feminist Library Pamphlet Collection, for example, has now been moved and found a safe home at the Bishopsgate Institute Library. It will remain as an autonomous whole and will always be known as the ‘The Feminist Library Pamphlet Collection’. Other very positive moves are that the library is starting to be used more once again; there are more volunteers and the project for the creation of the Feminist Library Virtual Catalogue is progressing well. Furthermore, the Feminist Library have also successfully renewed their lease with Southwark Council, thereby safeguarding the future of the library for at least 3 years. If you would like to receive this newsletter yourself, and/or would like to volunteer and/or would like to make a regular donation to the Feminist Library, contact email@example.com. The Feminist Library website can be found at: www.feministlibrary.co.uk.
9. SIR DEIAN HOPKIN APPOINTED INTERIM VC AT UEL
In my last newsletter (No. 32) I included a news item (item 5) about the fact that Deian Hopkin, the former Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, had been knighted – now Sir Deian Hopkin. Well, I have since discovered that he has now been appointed interim VC at the University of East London. See:
When Deian Hopkin was still VC at South Bank, I predicted that he would get into the House of Lords once he had retired. There was much emphasis placed on skills and employability at the university and an enthusiastic desire to meet the requirements of the Labour government when it came to higher education.
10. MIKE COLE’S CHAPTER IN ‘RENEWING DIALOGUES IN MARXISM AND EDUCATION: OPENINGS’, EDITED BY ANTHONY GREEN, GLENN RIKOWKI AND HELEN RADUNTZ, PALGRAVE MACMILLAN: Hampshire, 2007
In my last newsletter (32nd News Update) I referred to the first book in the ‘Marxism and Education’ series, with Palgrave MacMillan (in item 4). This included some opinions I held about Mike Cole’s contribution; to his chapter in the book, which is entitled ‘Neoliberalism and Education: a Marxist Critique of New Labour’s Five Year Strategy for Education’ (pp. 103-116). Mike Cole replied to the comment, sending it to the whole newsletter list that he is on. I explained that this was not appropriate and why. I think it is important that these exchanges are shared with all those that receive my newsletter, so these comments are copied and pasted below.
Mike Cole wrote to the newsletter list that he is on:
I need to comment on one of Ruth's paragraphs reproduced here:
I was not so uplifted by Mike Cole’s chapter – quite the reverse, in fact! Mike Cole, Dave Hill, Peter McLaren and Glenn Rikowski have edited material together, yet in his chapter Mike Cole still hedges his bets where the Richard Hatcher and Glenn Rikowski ‘debate’ are concerned. Over the last few years, Richard Hatcher has systematically attempted to attack and to undermine Glenn’s work. Glenn responded to this, and Mike then interprets this as simply being “two differing perspectives”. Mike Cole concludes his chapter by saying that he examined “…two different perspectives from within the Marxist tradition on New Labour’s Five-Year Strategy. Only time will tell which of these differing interpretations is more accurate” (p. 113).
I'm not sure when the chapter in question actually went to press, but I need to stress that this was an interpretation of two different theoretical positions and in no way a comment on any personal disputes between the authors.
(Professor Mike Cole)
And here is the reply that I sent to the list (Ruth Rikowski’s reply):
As I think you all know, 'Ruth Rikowski's News Updates' is a newsletter that I send out on an irregular basis, informing interested people about my latest publications, happenings, interests etc. It goes out to over 400 people, and then goes on my blog 'Ruth Rikowski Updates Progression'.
On the other hand, it is not a forum for discussion - there are plenty of other social networking tools out there, which fulfil that purpose!
I have explained this to Mike Cole - who sent a reply to item 4 of my latest newsletter (32nd News Update) to the whole of this list. I have suggested to him that if he does want to reply to that or any other item, that he writes a paragraph and sends it to me, and I can then include it in a future newsletter. This obviously applies to anyone else that receives my newsletter as well. I am always interested in peoples’ views and comments. This can either be for me personally, or as I say, it can be something that can be shared in a future newsletter; if I think it fits in and is suitable of course.
I apologise to you all for any inconvenience caused and hope this clarifies the situation.
If necessary, I will have to make the lists 'Undisclosed', but would prefer not to have to go down this route.
Thanks and best wishes
I hope that clarifies the situation.
11.RUTH RIKOWKSI’S BRIEF REPLY TO MIKE COLE
Leading on from point 10 above, and Mike Cole’s comment, it now seems necessary to reply briefly to this. The debate was not started through “two different theoretical positions”, in the way that Mike Cole outlines. Rather, Richard Hatcher launched an unprovoked attack on Glenn Rikowski’s work, following directly on from Glenn speaking about the Education White Paper on a Radio 4 programme (‘The World Tonight’), on 25th October 2005. The transcription of the Radio programmes can be found at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=perform&sub=Radio Programme Transcriptions. I also wrote an article based and following on from the programme – see
http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Education White Paper.
Without wishing to go into great detail, one of the comments that Richard Hatcher made in the piece that he circulated was that Glenn had misunderstood some of the contents in the Education White Paper. However, the blog that Glenn wrote about the White Paper (which lead to him going on the radio programme) was written before the White Paper had actually been published. It was based on press leaks coupled with Glenn’s understanding of the situation – given his ability to be able to predict future likely outcomes, particularly in the education sphere. Whereas Richard Hatcher wrote his piece after the Education White Paper had been published; so he had the benefit of having the White Paper in front of him as he wrote!
All this also followed on from Glenn inviting Richard Hatcher to speak at one of the Education and Renewing Dialogues seminars (held on 26th October 2005) that he organised and that were held at the Institute of Education, University of London – see http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=events&sub=MERD
For all this, and many other reasons, Glenn Rikowski felt compelled to reply to the piece that Richard Hatcher wrote and circulated widely. He wrote a long piece, on 31st December 2005, which he entitled ‘In the Dentist’s Chair’ and put on our website – see http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=In the Dentist[a]s Chair.
Having said all this though, nowadays I find all this type of thing quite stressful. This also perhaps helps readers to understand why I spend more time these days with novels and music, and less time with politics and academia!
12. ANARCHIST BOOKFAIR AND JOHN HOLLOWAY
Glenn and I went to the Anarchist Book Fair with our friends Elaine and Richard, on Saturday 24th October 2009, which was held at Queen Mary College, University of London – see http://www.anarchistbookfair.org/. There were lots of interesting stalls, literature and people there. In regard to speakers, we heard Dave Black talking on the topic of ‘Philosophy and Revolution’ and Paul Mason, John Holloway and William Dixon talking on the topic of ‘Capitalism’s Present Crisis’ – see http://info.interactivist.net/node/13140
John Holloway is one of Glenn’s heroes, and he has read lots of his work, over many years. It was the first time I had heard John Holloway talk; he had a very different approach, which I both liked and found very enticing. In his book ‘Change the World without Taking Power’, Pluto Press: London, 2002, he says that we begin with ‘The Scream’.
“When we write or when we read, it is easy to forget that the beginning is not the word, but the scream. Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO.” (p.1)
Well, that is an unusual start, is it not!
On the Monday after this, 26th October, John Holloway spoke again at Queen Mary College (see http://london.indymedia.org/events/2523), this time about his forthcoming book (which is due to be published in about 6 months time), which is entitled ‘Crack Capitalism’ (with Pluto Press) see: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crack-Capitalism-John-Holloway/dp/0745330088/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257599712&sr=8-1 Glenn and I also went along to this talk, and heard John talk about the cracks in capitalism; the misfits; the weak areas that if we are smart we can chip away at, to start to make some inroads into and damage the seemingly all-powerful juggernaut – capitalism. Glenn also made a point in the questions and discussion session, where he said how much he had admired John Holloway’s work for so many years whilst also emphasising how his own work on labour-power theory demonstrates how labour-power is the weakest link in capitalism. For Glenn, not all the cracks are equal. Glenn has been very much inspired by Holloway’s work, and he developed his labour-power theory partly through Holloway’s work – i.e. he has built on it. Why is it the weakest link, one might ask? This is because with all the skills and knowledge that people now need to have today in capitalism, all this knowledge, skill and understanding can also be used to weaken and undermine capitalism, rather than to enhance it. ‘Knowledge is power’, as they say.
Finally, here is a link to a short article by Holloway, where he refers to some themes that will be explored more in ‘Crack Capitalism’, - ‘1968 and Doors to New Worlds’ (Turbulence, No.4, 2009): http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-4/1968-and-doors-to-new-worlds/.
Many thanks to Philip Booth, Peter McLaren and Alan Lee for providing information for items 4, 6 and 9 respectively
8th November 2009