march - january 2011

March 28th

I have been at two university occupations against spending cuts this past months. At Cambridge University when I read there in November, then at Glasgow University just over a week ago where I was asked to read to students in occupation at the former Research Students club Hetherington House.

One of the students I met in Glasgow asked me for a statement of support on behalf of the campaign against the closure of the adult education department which the university management has put in plan as part of its cuts programme.

This is the statement I have sent him:

The “quality control” business model has in the past thirty years been increasingly accepted by succeeding UK governments as the template for public service funding: there is a plimsoll line in any hierarchical institution, above which management strive to increase the monetary yield, or to decrease the monetary requirements, generated by those working below the plimsoll line itself. The key word taken as the heart of the system itself is “efficiency”, and this is, at core, understood to be measurable as a unit of monetary cost. Those above the plimsoll line are incentivised and awarded increasingly large amounts of remuneration as percentage of any money additionally generated or “saved”; whilst the burden of such generation, or “saving”, is borne by those below. These last bear that burden in more work being done by less people, and the public pays it in the closure of any service that the managers deem neither to be generating enough money, or saving enough in relation to its previous performance.

If a director of an institution “saves” or “generates” 5 million pounds in any one annum, why should he or she not be rewarded with an “appropriately” high salary or bonus of many perhaps hundreds of thousands of pounds? Why indeed. That the purity of such economics might not suffer contamination, it is  customary also that the management overlay should have as little as possible direct experience of the tasks undertaken by those doing the generating or saving  below the plimsoll line; such co-experience might generate empathy, which could be economically corrosive and blur the focus of the business model itself. Thinking and group-identification above the plimsoll line is lateral; directives are hierarchical, from top to bottom across the line itself.

As a previous generation would have put it in common speech, “They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” Governments have reached the position now where they can remove the greater part of government funding from universities, and not a word of protest will be made by the University principals or management. They are above the plimsoll. It is nothing to do with them, it does not affect their model of operation, therefore their own salaries. They can confine the argument to who pays the resultant supposedly necessarily increased student fees, and let the students fight that out with a passing politician. That the people in government, past and present, are of a generation who, like myself received a further education that they did not have personally to pay for, has not stopped them, to use another common phrase “kicking away the ladder”. It is disgusting.

I admire the spirit of students fighting these cuts by such as the occupation of Hetherington House, their optimism in confronting a direct attack on their opportunities for education, and for the continuing education of those outwith the university, such as those who use and have used the Department of Continuing Education.  These students refuse to let go of the word “value”, and refuse to be cowed by the word “cost”—especially when such focus on “cost” is pursued by those within that business model template for whom such focus is a means to their own increasingly sizeable remuneration.




March 25th




March 22nd

My six o’clock news poem which pupils still visit this website to check up about has been in the English/Welsh GCSE exams for about twelve years now. In 1998 I was filmed by a small English independent film company for a BBC schools programme talking about poetry and language and the poem itself. The film also shows some schoolchildren playing with the words and ideas of my poem. The interviewer was good, sensitive: helped me relax to express my ideas.

Someone put the interview up on YouTube recently so I have captured it and embedded it here.




March 20th

Following yesterday’s poster poem from the nineties another one from then if only to speak of that universal which is being killed. This poster poem I called Blessed Trinity, and seemed after I made it a kind of language kinetic between “the” as that which totally encloses, can enclose everything; “a” which is generic and multiple, eg “a mountain” as distinct from “the” universe; and “this” which is and can only be subject-specific, demonstrative: "this" mountain here. Duns Scotus’s “haecceitas” has relevance and the resonance would be there in the conclusion to nora’s place

and this

is all that nora really is


The coloured print of the poem made by Euan Sutherland I posted in the journal here on March 4th last year. This is the black and white original.

blessed trinity

Later I made a variation on the poem, which I called Blessed Trinity Two and had it animated to my directions in a short film for Galloway Arts. Now  thanks to technical help from friends including Peter Manson, this has been converted to a form that can be uploaded to YouTube. I can’t yet upload directly so it has to go via there, with some slight loss of quality of definition. Click to show embedded film.



 Let this be my reply to the bombers, and their media propagandists everywhere just now.


March 19th

Time yet again for my old poster from the nineties to make another appearance. I published it in access to the silence with the title "A Handy Newstand for the Next Bombing."






March 18th

moral principles



March 16th

Ernesto Cardenal’s version of a Psalm of David the entry before last can be set alongside a poem by the British prisoner Syed Talha Ahsan who has been held without charge in HMP Long Lartin, Worcestershire, since 2006. The American government wants him extradited for expressing subversive pro-Chechen views on websites which, though British, connect finally to American internet hosting servers—as so many websites happen to do. Ahsan has never set foot in America, and has never been deemed fit to be charged with any offence in this country. The case, like that of Gary McKinnon (who like Ahsan also happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome) is an example of what happens through the notoriously imbalanced 2003 America-UK extradition treaty agreed between Tony Blair and George Bush; this post 9/11 piece of repressive war-on-terror hysteria does not any require any prima facieevidence to be shown a British court for an American request for extradition of a British citizen to be agreed.

A booklet of poems written in prison by Syed Talha Ahsan has now been published. It costs £3 including postage: emailThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to pursue your request. The campaign on the poet’s behalf is hosted at which contains much information on the case and how support can be directed on his behalf.

The new booklet of poems is called This be the Answer. The following is the title poem, dated HPM Long Lartin June 26th 2008.

syed talha assan



March 12th

Fritz Lang’s complete 1931 film M is now online on YouTube. It’s final 15 minutes is one of the great scenes about democratic argument and justice, what is it that entitles a person to be called fully human; can this be someone who themselves self-relegate aspects of their own behaviour to the status of pathology? In Lang's film a serial child killer is captured and brought to a destitute warehouse to be tried by the city’s underworld of murderers and other criminals; they have decided to catch him and try him themselves because they are fed up being harassed by police combing the city in their continuing search.

Peter Lorre plays the part of the accused. His defence is that he cannot help it, he is a compulsive. And how can this array sit in judgement on him?

The whole film can be watched here.  Hitting the red cc button under the video should bring up English subtitles; or else you can click the "interactive transport" far-right box under the video to have a synchronised rolling translation appear. If you just want to watch the closing trial scene, move the pointer to about 1’35”




March 11th




March 10th

I said a few days ago I would put up one of Dom Sylvester Houédard’s translations of Ernesto Cardenal’s versions of the Psalms of David.   Houédard with Thomas Blackburn and others presents translations from Cardenal’s original Spanish in Cardenal’s Psalms published by Crosstree New York in 1981.

The Twelfth Psalm begins in the King James: 

Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.

They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

Which full Psalm Twelve appears thus in Houédard’s translation of the Cardenal version:


 cardenal 1

cardenal 2



March 9th


cameron gaddafi



March 7th

The poet Dom Sylvester Houédard’s visual abstracts made from tyepwriter key entries I have always liked, and here is a selection of six under the title “like contemplation” published by Writers’ Forum sometime in the seventies. I have arranged them as a slideshow , taking the title from the poem pasted on the outside of the A4 envelope containing the others. The six poems are here given ten seconds each. This is an embedded YouTube video, so crispness of definition could be slightly better; and a couple of the pages can be seen to be a little tacky from having spent time on my wall.

You can freeze a frame at any time, and as usual click the bottom right square for full screen.



I hope soon to put up another of my favourites by Houédard, his translation of one of Ernesto Cardenal’s versions of the Psalms of David.



March 3rd

obama 1



obama 2



obama 3





February 26th

It’s “mad foreign dictator” time again!

mad dictator time




February 21st

Arms and the Men


Demonstrators in Bahrain have been directing their chants of protest at Ian Henderson, the Aberdonian who as thirty-year head of secret services earned the nickname “the butcher of Bahrain”,  and was honoured by being made a Commander of the British Empire by Her Majesty the Queen in 1986. Though now retired, Henderson remains close advisor to the ruling Bahrain royals. A Carlton TV documentary on him from 2002 Blind Eye to the Butcher can still be seen online here

Bahrain is crucial to the West as home to the American Fifth Fleet which oversees Western “security” of all the Gulf oil states. The commander of that fleet, Vice Admiral Mark Fox, was in Abu Dhabi on Saturday speaking on “Maritime Security Operations—Regional Stability”. This at a daylong event as overture to this year’s International Defence Exhibition and Security Conference (IDEX) currently running until Thursday and described on its website as “the largest defence and security event in the Middle East and North African region.” IDEX is the pot of jam open during this week that has David Cameron and other government ministers (BBC dutifully in tow) crawling all over the Middle East being recorded for UK and foreign consumption extolling the virtues of peaceful democracy. On Saturday Gerald Howarth British Minister for International Security Strategy told the Abu Dhabi conference: "We in Britain want to build strong, reliable, and enduring strategic partnerships throughout the Gulf region – strengthening existing alliances, and promoting alliances with new, important allies..."

The key to this alliance between Nato and the Gulf States has been simple—oil going one way and arms going the other. Democracy has had nothing to do with it; when some Arabs were finally offered a free vote, the Palestinians in 2006, they showed they weren’t ready for democracy yet by voting in the wrong folk. The victors had to be jailed, their party bank accounts frozen and the Nato-friendly losers propped up. Unfortunately Al-Jazeera recently blew the gaffe on all this and a lot of folk across Arabia finally took to the streets. They want democracy they say, and they want it now. But are they really ready for it? This time democracy will have to be fitted up properly if it’s to be fitted up at all. Only an extremist could disagree with that. On you go, David. We’re listening.

And on you go too Obama, Nobel Peace Prize winner striking the largest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia: $60 billion for 84 new F-15 fighters and the upgrade of 70 more; plus 70 Apache, 72 Black Hawk and 36 Little Bird military helicopters. Yes we can!! The Saudis will be at IDEX; the  opening session at which Howarth and Vice Admiral Fox spoke was sponsored by  Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the latter which makes the F-15 jets as but one part of its vast armoury in constant production.

Looking to buy an F-15, or maybe some unmanned drones? A state of the art tank perhaps? Or the latest unruly crowd dispersal equipment? Use the scroll-down menu here for the list of weaponry on offer from the 900 exhibitors at IDEX, and make your way to Abu Dhabi before day’s end on Thursday. Lots of really powerful folk to meet and shake hands with, get the real gen on the latest crises in the Middle East. If you’re a Scotsman like me, you might even get the chance for a blether in the doric and a wee dram ayont the twal’ with the Butcher of Bahrain.




February 15th

Readings coming up:

this Sunday Feb 20th Stereo Café Bar 20 Renfield Lane Glasgow 7-9, reading with Ewan Morrison, Allan Wilson, Andrew Raymond Drennan. Part ofsomething called the Margins Festival; after nine music from various bands including the John Knox Sex Club. Admission £1.

Friday April 29th An evening reading at the STUC centre in Glasgow being recorded before an audience for a CD. There will be an exhibition of my posters and a bar.  You can book tickets online here or phone FairPley Ltd at 0141 418 0562 for more details.


February 9th

This is what revolutionary university professors look like.




The entry is from today’s batch of pictures on the website run by the Egyptian journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy. More pictures here.



February 3rd

Press TV can be watched any time live on your computer hereThe flash option of this link gives the best stream but if there are problems with it (I occasionally have such) use this link here and click the first or second choice instead.

Al Jazeera English channel can be watched here This includes much reporting you won't get on BBC ITV Murdoch International etc though sizeable percentage of UK establishment hacks like David Frost have been imported to placate Uncle Sam and give airspace to pro-nato etc establishment.

In both cases click bottom righthand square under video to go fullscreen


February 2nd




January 29th

mubarak obama

“Did you hear the one about the British-American oilman

who says there should be democracy in the Middle East?”




January 25thwikileaks




January 6th

Used to have this as my desktop image at work. Rembrandt old and young. Appraisal and energy.







journal entry

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