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ghd V Purple Plum Styler
ghd V Purple Plum Styler

14 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy Bunny, 25 Nov 2012
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My old GHD which I've had for about 5 years finally gave up the ghost - the floppy rubber encased mains cable became increasingly unreliable - so I decided to invest in a new one. And it seems that in the last five years there have been many small but significant improvements.

For a start, the mains cable is plastic, rather than rubber, and will hopefully be more robust than the old one. When you switch the straightener on, it 'chirrups' to let you know you've done it. And when it's hot enough (a matter of a few seconds) a pinky-purple light in the shape of the 'ghd' logo comes on and it beeps three times. If you then forget about it and leave it switched on after thirty minutes it goes into 'sleep' mode and the heaters turn off. To wake it up, simply switch it off and back on again.

The three-pin plug is held together with a single screw. But if you undo that screw and gently lever apart the plug, you'll find a two-pin European plug inside - so no need to take an adaptor with you for travelling. My old one had that as well and it proved very useful.

The straightener comes in a black quilted case with a heat resistant mat wrapped round it, held with two poppers and a magnet. This makes it a bit bulky, but it's still useful. The case itself is closed with a zipper and is divided lengthwise into two compartments - one side for the straightener and one for the cable. On the cable side, there are a couple of holders for hair clips. The straightener comes with a sort of sleeve-cap which holds it closed when you put it in the case. Packing it all away in a suitcase is very easy and convenient. It feels like quite a lot of careful thought has gone into the design.

So, finally, the straightener itself is a big improvement on my old one. The ceramic plates seem much smoother and easier to use. I think the temperature may well be higher too - straightening my hair is far easier and my hair stays straighter for longer too. I am really pleased with just how easy and effective it is.

As to the colour - I wouldn't really say it's pink, but it's not a deep purple either. More a sort of blackcurrant ice-cream purple perhaps.

I've not tried any other make than GHD and I was very happy with my old one - but this is significantly better and I hope it lasts at least as long.

All in all, very happy bunny.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2012 11:47 AM GMT

Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter for GoFlex Portable Hard Drives
Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter for GoFlex Portable Hard Drives
Price: £179.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whizzz, 26 Oct 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well, as others have pointed out, the first thing to note is that this does not come with a Thunderbolt cable. Given the price of them, that is perhaps not that surprising.

The second thing to note is that you must pick the right hard disk - it only works with the GoFlex drives. I am using it with a Seagate STBC2000200 2TB GoFlex Desk for Mac FireWire800/USB 2.0 3.5 inch External Hard Drive. The hard disk works fine on its own and has both USB and Firewire connections, but if you want to use a Thunderbolt connection, then you must get this adapter.

I am using it with a MacBook Air (mid 2012). When I first got the adapter out of the box, the first thing I did was plug it into my MacBook Air and then I plugged it into the mains. And it didn't work. After 10 minutes frantically changing power leads, changing plugs and generally getting a bit annoyed, I unplugged it from the MacBook, unplugged it from the mains, plugged it back into the mains, plugged it back into the MacBook - and then it worked. Of course, if I had read the manual, I would have plugged it into the mains first and then plugged it into the machine and avoided that minor panic.

As soon as I plugged it in, Time Machine opened and asked me if I would like to backup my system. So I said yes. And watched as it managed to copy all 65Gb of data in about 25 minutes. Which I thought was pretty impressive.

It comes with a very basic manual, but there is a slightly more detailed and multi-lingual one on the disk. Also on the disk is a copy of the Seagate GoFlex Software. Installing this is straight forward but part of the installation requires registering the product with Seagate. The MacBook must also be restarted to complete the installation. The software is basic and gives you three screens - one to see how much space is left, one to check that the drive is functioning correctly and one to turn on or off the 'Activity Lights'. This last bit doesn't work, as it happens - the option is greyed out. Bit odd - as if you just use the drive without the adapter, then you can access this tick box. Anyway, the lights are a soft and unobtrusive white and are not objectionable.

When you fit the disk, you have to remove the base to reveal the connectors to the adapter. This means that you lose the USB and two Firewire connectors on the disk, but the adapter comes with two Thunderbolt connectors - so you can 'daisy chain' your devices. I was hoping, then, to 'daisy chain' my MacBook Pro (mid 2010) but unfortunately the mini display port on the Pro is not a Thunderbolt port.

The finish of the adapter nicely fits with the hard disk - a rubberised matt black sitting comfortably and firmly on my desk. And the speed - which is kind of the point of the whole thing - is very good I think. The one slight drawback, given that I have a MacBook Air with a Thunderbolt port and a MacBook Pro without, is that if I want to use the hard disk with both machines, I need to remove it from the adapter. Of course, I could use the hard disk without the adapter for both machines as both would plug in to the Firewire ports, but it would have been nice, perhaps, if the adapter also had either a USB or Firewire port to complement the Thunderbolt ports.

Is this the way to go then? Will this make USB and Firewire redundant? I rather doubt that, given the ubiquity of USB, but bearing in mind that Thunderbolt is being promoted by both Apple and Intel, I am quite sure we will see more Thunderbolt devices coming on to the market. And given that more and more people have more and more data to back up, I am sure that Thunderbolt has a future, at least until someone comes up with something even faster. And I believe that Thunderbolt cables are likely to come down in price from next year.

Seagate STBC2000200 2TB GoFlex Desk for Mac FireWire800/USB 2.0 3.5 Inch Desktop Hard Drive
Seagate STBC2000200 2TB GoFlex Desk for Mac FireWire800/USB 2.0 3.5 Inch Desktop Hard Drive

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little hummer, 26 Oct 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a very stylish and good-looking drive. Yes, I know perhaps I shouldn't 'judge a book by it's cover' but my initial impression is that this is a nice bit of kit.

It is covered in a sort of black rubberised material, apart from the front and perforated top, which are in a silvered plastic, and it feels very solid. It weighs in at a bit over 800 grams so I'm not sure I'd really want to lug it around with me, plus it's about 18cm high, 12cm deep and 4.5cm wide, so quite chunky.

It comes with Firewire and USB to mini-USB cables, plus power supply with UK and EU fittings. It has two firewire ports and one USB port. The base comes off so that you can use it with the Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter for GoFlex Portable Hard Drives which I also have (see separate review).

The instructions are minimal but there is a more detailed and multi-lingual pdf manual on the drive itself, plus the 'Seagate GoFlex Software' package. Installing the package on a Mac is straight-forward. If you want to install it on a Windows PC, then you will have to go to the Seagate web-site to download the drivers. During the installation of the software you must register the product and then restart your machine.

The software basically has three screens - one to see how full the disc is, one to test the drive to make sure it is working properly and one to turn on or off the 'Activity Lights'.

I have plugged it into my MacBook Pro (circa mid 2010) using the Firewire cable. No problems there. Went into Time Machine and selected the drive and started to back up. It estimated that the 440Gb of data would take about 24 hours to back up. It's humming away to itself now quite happily with one of the soft white 'Activity Lights' gently throbbing - quite restful really.

When the machine powers down, the disk also appears to power down. Similarly, if you eject the disk and disconnect it, it powers down.

Obviously, it's a bit early to say how reliable the thing is going to be, but I have never had problems with other Seagate products (except after upgrading to OSX 10.8.2 - see Seagate 2TB BlackArmour 220 Network Attached Storage which was very annoying).

I was rather disappointed not to be able to use the Thunderbolt port on the GoFlex adapter with this Mac, but a mini display port is not the same as a Thunderbolt port. So it goes.

Anyway, so far so good. It's quiet, sturdy, nice looking and hopefully reliable.

Cabin Pressure Series 2 (BBC Audio)
Cabin Pressure Series 2 (BBC Audio)
by John Finnemore
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £9.53

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite fun..., 20 Oct 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'd not heard any of this series on Radio 4 but being a great fan of radio comedy, thought I'd give it a try. And, well, yes, it's o.k.

Really, it is simply a sit-com. A tiny chartered airline with a crew of four gets into odd and unlikely situations while flying strange routes and landing at even stranger airports. The cast quickly establish their personas and then, really, it all gets a little predictable.

Stephanie Cole plays Carolyn Knapp-Shappey almost reprising her character in 'Waiting for God' as the rather obstreperous owner of the airline, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the somewhat inept Captain Martin Crieff, supported by the worldly wise but sarcastic first officer Douglas Richardson, played by Roger Allam. And finally John Finnemore plays Arthur, Carolyn's son, the thoroughly dimwitted cabin crew.

It all jogs along quite pleasantly, but really has no big surprises. It reminded me rather of 'The Navy Lark' but frankly not as good. For me, radio comedy is best when it gets surreal - like, for example, 'Bleak Expectations' - when it plays with the medium, using the radio 'pictures' to twist the humour, play with genres and generally subvert expectations. So radio sit-coms have to be pretty special to get to that level of humour. And generally this isn't that special.

It's o.k., it's quite fun, but I don't think I'd make a special effort to listen out for any more series.

The Fix
The Fix
by Damian Thompson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.29

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Might as well face it, you're addicted to..., 1 Sep 2012
This review is from: The Fix (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Damian Thompson's new book is about addiction - 'the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity' (OED). It is, he repeatedly assures us, not a 'disease'. He believes that we are creating for ourselves a social environment:

' which more and more of us are being pulled towards some form of addiction, even though we may be unaware of the fact and never become full-blown addicts'. (P2-3)

So his definition includes both chemical and physical addictions - from heroin and alcohol, through gambling and on to computer games, Apple computers and smart phones.

The central linking element of addiction, he suggests, following Craig Nakken, is '...the progressive replacement of people by things' (P6). And this rings true, at least to me.

The first chapter, 'Cupcakes, iPhones and Vicodin', provides evidence for this wide definition and suggests that no-one is immune from potential addiction. But by spreading the definition so widely, making it such a 'one size fits all', I think he runs a risk of diluting his ideas and maybe lessening the impact of his points.

However, things get more interesting in the second chapter 'Is addiction really a disease'?'. He thinks not. And he thinks this because, even though, as he admits, some people may have a pre-disposition towards addiction, it is not something that you 'catch', there is not a (neuro-)physiological condition that forces a person to start taking, for example, heroin. Given his definition of addiction, it's difficult to disagree - I certainly don't know anyone with a physiological condition that requires them to stay glued to their iPhone. But is it helpful? If you are in a social environment in which a large part of social interaction is determined by some form of addiction, unless you wish to remove yourself entirely from that social milieu, it is difficult to see how one might not be severely tempted to partake. Additionally, his answer to addiction seems to be 'just say no'. Yes, as functioning and reasoning human beings, we can all 'say no'. But given the mixed results of the 'Just Say No' anti-drugs campaign in the US during the 80's and 90's, it clearly is not a full answer. And given that babies born to drug-addicted mothers may themselves be born addicts, the idea that addiction is not something that you catch may not be as clear-cut as he suggests.

Following on from his 'just say no' stance, he suggests that:

'...the greater the availability of a drug in a society, the more people are likely to use it and the more likely they are to run into problems with it.' (P52)

On the face of it, this appears to be common-sense. As evidence, he cites the number of soldiers returning from Vietnam addicted to heroin who, once back in familiar and safe surroundings with severely restricted access to heroin, simply gave up. He does admit that not being in continual danger of immediate violent death was also a factor, but his main point is that the reduced availability meant that these veterans could successfully 'just say no'.

In the following chapter, 'Enter the Fix', he does look more at social factors. He suggests that people:

'are most likely to run into trouble with a drug if it is economically, socially and psychologically available to them.' (P87)

As an example, he suggests that the availability of cheap gin and the appalling social environment of Victorian cities meant there was an 'epidemic' (his term) of alcoholism. Later, however, he suggests that even when availability is reduced - by police drug seizures, for example - addicts will still crave their fix. The only solution is to permanently restrict the supply. Only that way will demand fall. Which strikes me as a version of 'supply side economics'. The fact is that every society throughout history has had some way of 'getting out of it' - be it alcohol, coca leaves, kat, cannabis or whatever. Science has provided refined, stronger versions of these, as well as adding to the repertoire of psycho-active substances, but reducing supply simply means, as he admits, that people merely switch to an alternative means of intoxication.

He goes on to talk of some of these 'designer' drugs - in particular Ecstasy. He links Ecstasy to 'Meth' or methamphetamine:

''Meth' is one of the nastiest street drugs known to man, and its (originally) middle-class derivative Ecstasy has a similar capacity to cause long-term brain damage by overstimulating serotonin and dopamine'. (P148)

I think this is a highly disputable connection. Just google 'ecstasy and brain damage' to get some idea of just how contentious this statement is. Predictably, and rather depressingly, opinion seems divided along political affiliations, with the Daily Mail claiming that 'Ecstasy tablets are far more damaging than previously thought' and the Guardian suggesting that 'Ecstasy does not not wreck the mind'. Thus, to state a clear and unambiguous link without any caveat is misleading, to say the least.

Thompson moves on to non-drug related addictions, examining on-line gambling, porn and gaming. He looks at self-help sites for addicts of the World of Warcraft game, quoting messages from one. As he says '[t]he messages reek of desperation, loneliness and helplessness' (P191). Here, perhaps, we see not addiction replacing people with things but things making up for a lack of social relations. Whereas drugs such as Ecstasy may be associated with a social setting, on-line addictions perhaps makes up for a lack of society, for empty lives. His examination of lonely and isolated priests addicted to on-line porn seems to also suggest this.

In the final section, 'Deliver us from temptation', he returns to drugs, again suggesting that restricting availability is the key. He admits that the legalisation debate 'really bores' him, disputing Portugal's policy of decriminalisation as a success:

'...the flip side of this tolerance is that the number of people receiving treatment for addiction has grown by about a third, from 23,500 to 35,000.' (P234)

I'm not quite sure what this is supposed to prove. If the figures proved that the number of addicts had increased, he may have a point, but merely suggesting that a growing number of addicts are coming forward for treatment surely does not invalidate Portugal's policies.

Thompson does make some telling points. As he says, in relation to both drugs and consumerism, we have gone from 'liking things too much to wanting things too much' (P257), a point made very clearly in 'How Much is Enough?' where Robert and Edward Skidelsky contrast the replacement of 'needing' with 'wanting' as a product of a voracious consumer capitalism. But the tricks, ploys and manipulations of a huge marketing industry need far closer examination than is presented here. A better examination of that is provided in 'Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You' and for a rather more detailed and, in my opinion, more accurate (although perhaps equally contentious) assessment of drugs, see 'Drugs - Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs'.

Finally, Thompson suggests that:

'[t]he modern consumer economy is partly fashioned around our inability to exercise willpower. That economy preys on us but also rewards us, since we are part of it and depend for our livelihoods on other people's vulnerability to temptation...The multiplication of choice, the expansion of the free market and the stimulation of greed are so tightly interwoven as to be indistinguishable from each other.' (P258)


Jack Glass (Golden Age)
Jack Glass (Golden Age)
by Adam Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.56

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Stuff!, 7 Aug 2012
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This is most excellent stuff, this triptych of 'locked-room mysteries'. Inspired by both the 'Golden Age of Sci-Fi' and similarly classic whodunits, Adam Roberts has fashioned a Space Opera that satisfies both the imagination and the intellect.

This is one story, with three distinct sections. The first brought to mind not only Mr Roberts' earlier work but also perhaps the 'The Stainless Steel Rat' and maybe even the redoubtable Gully Foyle. Blood and butchery are here, but they play a part in the tale; there is nothing gratuitous about them, unlike, for example, the exploits of Takeshi Kovacs. And, not only do we find the solution to the 'howdunit' (the 'who' is obvious), we also find out why Jack is known as Jack Glass.

The second, longest, section, presents us with another 'locked room mystery' but this is not only different in resolution but also different in kind, more subtle, more devious, more 'psychological' - helping not only to further the story but to build the picture of our eponymous hero. Here, Mr Roberts starts building a world, a complex and believable scenario, with echoes too from his 'By Light Alone', but spanning a Solar System. The writing has Mr Roberts usual slightly 'baroque' style, but is tempered with some sly and clever humour ('Dunronin' indeed!) The thing is, though, under or through all this is a really powerful plot, hanging everything together, building to an excellent dénouement.

There are some wonderful characters - some appearing for far too short a time. The gruesomely horrible Ms Joad, for example, reminded me of Michael Moorcock's Miss Brunner or possibly Philip Pullman's Mrs Coulter while the policeman/bounty hunter Bar-le-duc came straight from a Western. And there is a complex, believable and sustaining society behind it all. In fact, there is, at the back of the book, a glossary and I admit I read that before embarking on the story - and I would recommend doing so. When faced with Gongsi and the Sump, Lex Ulanova and MOHsisters a little preparation enhances the fun.

Yes, there are a number of typos which sometimes makes the reading a little gritty; there may even be the occasional hiatus in the narrative, but nothing to spoil the trajectory of a very fine story. I hope, very much, that we will meet Jack Glass again. All in all, a multi-layered, clever, comic, mind-expanding and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 17, 2012 5:40 AM BST

How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life
How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life
by Robert Skidelsky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.92

56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enough is Enough, 1 July 2012
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John Maynard Keynes believed that there would come a time when capitalism would be able to provide for all our needs. When that time was reached, there would be no further reason for growth. Capitalism was a necessary but temporary evil - 'a transitional stage, a means to an end, the end being the good life' (P17). Unfortunately, as we have seen, this 'end' has actually been the triumph of an aggressive and consumerist capitalism that has swept all before it, capturing us in a seemingly endless spiral, not of 'needs' but 'wants'. We are caught in an 'insatiability trap' and 'the good life' appears to be receding into dreams and sitcoms.

This book tries to explain just how this all came about. And, after exploring the roots of what more and more people are recognizing as our global dilemma, attempts to put forward some solutions and new ways to define and move towards this 'good life'.

The book starts with Keynes. Keynes believed that the average number of hours that people worked would slowly diminish as technology became more and more efficient. In reality what we have seen is instead of four people being employed for ten hours a week, one person works for forty hours, leaving three people unemployed. At the same time, capitalism has increasingly 'monetized' and commodified everything it can, as Michael Sandel, amongst many others, has shown. Monetizing things changes how they are valued - not only do they become comparable in money terms, but their very nature is altered. For example: '[e] increasingly seen not as a preparation for the good life but as a mean to increase the value of 'human capital''.

The result of this depressing utilitarianism is all around us. Not just a growing number of people unemployed, but also a growing number of people forced down into what Guy Standing refers to as 'The Precariat', semi- and temporarily employed, while the gulf between the poorest and richest is now wider than it was in the so-called 'gilded age'.

What is it in the nature of capitalism that makes it at the same time so productive and yet so destructive? The authors believe that capitalism was 'founded on a Faustian pact'. (P68) Whereas previously usury and avarice were considered evils (Croesus, Midas), it was agreed that these sins were acceptable for the time being in order to release the productive powers of capitalism, on the understanding that once having 'lifted humanity out of poverty', the evils would be banished. But:

'Experience has taught us that material wants know no natural bounds, that they will expand without end unless we consciously restrain them. Capitalism rests precisely on this endless expansion of wants. That is why, for all its success, it remains so unloved. It has given us wealth beyond measure, but has taken away the chief benefit of wealth: the consciousness of having enough.' (P69)

Capitalism has overturned the meaning of greed - it is now 'good'.

It turns out that capitalism has overturned the meaning of the word 'happiness' too. The authors in 'A Very Brief History of Happiness' (P97) show how the old idea of a 'happy life' or a 'happy people' has gradually changed from an external, social concept to a highly individual and internal state. To make people happy then does not necessarily require changes to society but to the individuals. Along with this individualisation comes a sense of paternalist liberalism - not yet perhaps handing out the 'soma' but not very far off.

So what are the limits (if any) to growth? The authors consider both natural and moral aspects of this question, in particular considering the various 'green' approaches. In 'The Ethical Roots of Environmentalism' (P132) they trace a fascinating, if idiosyncratic, path from romanticism through Heidegger and then to Adorno and Horkheimer, Marcuse and the modern day green movements. They suggest that:

'...mainstream environmentalism has continued to frame its case in the utilitarian language of sustainability, though its profounder influences remain ethical, aesthetic or even religious. This has led to a tension in the movement between so-called 'deep' and 'shallow' ecologists, the former valuing nature as an end in itself, the latter valuing it as an instrument of human purposes.' (P134)

The point the authors wish to make is that we really cannot base a critique of capitalism on either 'deep' or 'shallow' environmentalism. 'Nature is neither raw material to use as we please nor a strange god demanding sacrifice...[but]...the mute bearer of the same life that has come to consciousness in us.' (P 144) In that sense, the 'good life' must by definition be bound up with a harmonious relationship with nature as with ourselves.

So what is the 'good life'? The authors try to define it by identifying 'The Basic Goods' (P150), the indispensables. By goods, of course, is not meant necessarily material goods but the aspects of life that go to make a happy state, a state of happiness and a life well lived.

And finally they look to 'Exits from the Rat Race' (P180). It is clear that there really is no existent political party that has 'the good life' (in the sense the authors mean) as their goal. Their proposals are both varied and specific. One is the provision of a 'basic income' (this is a central demand of Guy Standing's too). Another is 'Reducing the Pressure to Consume' (P202), including reducing the impact and all-pervasiveness of advertising. Yes another is a temporary halt to globalisation. They bluntly point out that '[n]o country has become rich under a free-trade regime.' (P214) Underlying all this is a belief that we need to re-examine just what wealth is for. And here they look for inspiration to Catholicism and to the 'religious impulse' more generally. Materialist philosophies have failed, they believe. Politics has failed. And economics has failed. One way or another we need to re-imagine the 'collective good life'.

The authors' views clearly coincide with those of Jeffrey Sachs - searching for an Aristotelian 'middle way' - and of Michael Sandel - there really are things that money shouldn't buy. And maybe that's a weakness - money (commoditisation) really does change everything and it is very difficult to change things back. Neoliberalism is still alive and well, as Colin Crouch has pointed out, and a well entrenched oligarchy continues to dominate the global agenda.

Nice ideas though.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 24, 2012 8:50 AM GMT

The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class
The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class
by Guy Standing
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.69

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Precipice, 23 Jun 2012
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The imposition of neoliberal economic policies and the globalisation of trade, finance and increasingly labour over the last 30 years has resulted in some pretty devastating changes. And some of the biggest changes have been in the class structures of many modern states. It is increasingly difficult to identify a 'proletariat' in the sense of a homogeneous class of people involved in factory-based mass production. Even in the burgeoning manufacturing sectors of countries such as China, the nature of the 'traditional' classes has fundamentally changed.

Guy Standing considers that we are now in a 'tertiary time', that societies have undergone a process of 'tertiarisation'. No longer is time divided between work, play and rest. And no longer is our geography divided between workplace, home and leisure. Everything, in Zygmunt Baumann's term, has become more 'liquid', less hard-defined. And in this post-modern and thoroughly commodified era, the homogeneous classes have given way to something far more fluid, heterogeneous and potentially dangerous.

There are now essentially four classes. There is a numerically tiny super-rich elite whose relationship with the rest of humanity appears fleeting at best. Then there is the 'salariat', still maintaining their career privileges of pensions, holidays and other employment benefits. Alongside the salariat there are the professional technicians, or 'proficians' as Standing terms them. Often working as highly-paid consultants and contractors, they do not conform to the old 9 to 5, jobs-for-life pattern but move from job to job, company to company as desired/required. Below them are a dwindling number of manual workers in the older sense of the term, the former bastions of 'old labour'. And then there is the 'precariat'.

To simply say that the precariat is just 'everyone else' is unhelpful. However, it is difficult to clearly define and delineate such a heterogeneous 'class' - not least because the grouping does not recognise itself as a 'class-for-itself'. At the same time, the group is growing. It is first and foremost a result of 'commodification':

'This involves treating everything as a commodity, to be bought and sold, subject to market forces, with prices set by demand and supply, without effective 'agency' (the capacity to resist). Commodification has been extended to every aspect of life...' (P26)

Standing would, I think, agree with the sentiments expressed by Michael Sandel in his book 'What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets'. Everything now, it seems, can be bought and sold. The neoliberal project of marketising everything, the sweeping away of all barriers to marketability, has meant that any collective barriers to exploitation have been removed in the name of individual freedom - but the result is that if you have nothing to sell, you have no value. In the interests of the market, labour flexibility - the ability to hire and fire at will which is the ultimate commodification of labour - has been, as Standing says 'the major direct cause of the growth of the global precariat.' (P31)

This 'labour flexibility' has meant that the precariat is increasingly made up of women and older people. Both women and older people are cheaper - pushing down the real value of wages. Young people have fewer and fewer opportunities for developing skills and careers. Faced with shortages of meaningful employment, many may stay in education - but here the process of commodification means not only that education is increasingly expensive but also that the range of courses on offer is dictated more by marketing and the need to attract fee paying customers than any desire to develop human potential.

Another group forced most visibly into the precariat is, of course, migrants. The inclusion of this group illustrates the difficulty, not of defining the group, but of the class identifying itself as a class. So often migrants are used as scapegoats, accused of helping to push down wages but also as an excuse for identifying the indigenous precariat as racist:

'Capital welcomes migration because it brings low cost malleable labour. The groups most vehemently opposed to migration are the old (white) working and lower middle class, squeezed by globalisation and falling into the precariat.' (P103)

This argument is also strongly made by Owen Jones in his book 'Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class'.

The end result of all this is a huge group of people continually scrabbling along, always on the look out for the next job, always aware that their current job may not last, always hovering between paid employment and state benefits. And too often those benefits are in reality subsidies for frankly bad employers. This precarious existence is exhausting and hugely time-consuming, making the acquisition of new skills and the development of existing ones far more difficult. And the line between legality and illegality becomes increasingly blurred too. So the class may appear feckless, unambitious, even stupid (see again Owen Jones). Which results in an increasingly 'liberal paternalist' and 'panopticon' society where the rulers 'nudge' people into what they consider to be better ways, while watching, monitoring, measuring and evaluating every move.

All this is hugely depressing but so, so accurate. And it is also, as Standing points out, so dangerous too. Many have pointed to the economic similarities between now and the 1930s. But the rise of far-right groups suggests that the parallels go further than just the economic. This diverse class, if it cannot recognise itself as a class, may be politically exploited. It is perhaps interesting to note, in this respect, the recent elections in Greece - where generally speaking the youth voted for the left-wing Syriza party and older voters supported the more conservative parties including, of course, the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party. Similarly, the rise of the Tea Party movement in the US reflects the feelings of powerlessness and alienation of the so-called 'squeezed middle' - so squeezed that increasingly they are, of course, no longer in the middle.

Standing does, in the end, put forward some concrete proposals for not only averting the dangers inherent in this class but also for alleviating the growing hardships and deprivations experienced by it. One major strand is the provision of a 'basic income':

'The core of the proposal is that every legal resident of a country or a community, children as well as adults, should be provided with a modest monthly payment.' (P171)

This truly universal benefit would have far reaching consequences. For a start, it would mean that the precariat would actually have time - time to consider what to do next, to plan and consider and not always to be worrying about job security, about where the rent money is coming from. It would also change the nature of employment. Instead of the increasingly oppressive workfare schemes which emphasise that work - any work at all - is better than idleness, resulting in deep resentment and frustration, it would mean that employers would have to offer more than simply the minimum wage, effectively subsidised by state benefits. In fact, Standing goes on to suggest that labour should actually be even more 'commoditised'. If no-one wants the job an employer is offering, that employer will be forced to offer better wages until someone does take it, or until the employer is forced to reconsider the nature of the work on offer.

In many ways this is a pretty depressing book as I see the evidence Standing cites all around me every day. But his proposals, although initially seemingly radical and utopian (he refers to them himself as a 'Politics of Paradise') do make sense. And he has added his voice to a growing chorus of writers and thinkers who point out that the current situation is simply unsustainable, in every sense of the word.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 10, 2013 11:26 AM BST

AmazonBasics 10- to 12-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder with CD Shred
AmazonBasics 10- to 12-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder with CD Shred
Price: £45.99

84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Omnivorous, 2 Jun 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well, this is a bit of a beast. Been feeding it a varied diet for a week or two now and no signs of indigestion yet. However, I have managed to jam it a couple of times which I was rather surprised by.

The first time was a mixture of paper and card but I didn't think it was particularly thick. Anyway, no problems - simply reversed the shredder, took a couple of sheets out and away it went again.

Let's see - what else have I tried? A little booklet with a couple of staples in it - no problems there at all.

A DVD - straight through. I was kind of expecting some horrible grunchy noises but no - pretty much the same as paper.

A credit card. Actually, this was the second time I managed to jam it. I was a bit mystified by that, but again I just reversed it out, trimmed it a bit and tried again - successfully.

Of course, the bin is now filled with a mixture of paper, DVD and credit card so I can't really recycle the contents, but obviously I could be a little more selective.

Being a cross-cut shredder, what comes out of it really isn't going to be stuck back together any time soon - so if you happen to be in a US embassy somewhere and you need to leave in a hurry, this is probably a good bet.

There are a few 'nevers' of course:

"Never shred large paper clips, window or insulated envelopes, continuous forms, newsprint, bound pages (in [sic] example: notepads, checkbooks, magazines, etc...), transparencies, laminated documents, cardboard, any items with adhesives, hard materials or plastic (except Credit Cards and CDs)."

So small paper clips are o.k. - well, small staples go through with no problems so why not small paper clips?

It really does feel like a quality bit of kit - very solidly made and quite a weight. There is a window in the side of the bin so you can see how full it is getting. I noticed that this window was actually screwed - rather than glued - in place. I know it's a little thing but it just seemed to suggest a rather better quality than one might have expected for the price.

So, yes, overall I think this is a practical and useful bit of kit at a good price.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 9, 2013 11:07 PM GMT

Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
by David Harvey
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aux armes, citoyens! Encore..., 30 May 2012
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In 'Rebel Cities', David Harvey re-examines and interprets the basis of capitalist accumulation to show its essentially urban roots. This is certainly a wide and sweeping project and it is largely convincing.

He starts with 'The Urban Roots of Capitalist Crises', looking at the bases of the current malaise from a Marxist perspective. Too often, he suggests, Marxist analyses of the crises of capitalism parallel or mirror bourgeois economics, considering exploitation of the proletariat within a national economy. Harvey suggests that:

'[t]he role of the property market in creating the crisis conditions of 2007-09, and its aftermath of unemployment and austerity (much of it administered at the local and municipal level) is not well understood, because there has been no serious attempt to integrate an understanding of processes of urbanization and built-environment formation into the general theory of laws of motion of capital. As a consequence, many Marxists theorists, who love crises to death, tend to treat the recent crash as an obvious manifestation of their favoured version of Marxist crisis.' (P35)

Harvey goes on, therefore, to address this lack and to explore the role of housing and the built environment in the current crisis. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who has taken even a moderate interest in current affairs - the rise of predatory lending, the housing asset bubble, political pressures on state supported institutions such as the US Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, years of low interest rates and the supply of 'cheap' money all leading to the final collapse of the asset bubble. But he extends this account to consider the longer term 'capital accumulation through urbanization' (P42).

By emphasising the geographical specificity of class struggle, Harvey breaks away from the more 'traditional' bases of analysis at national or supra-national level. This makes a lot of sense with the demise of any easily identifiable proletariat (except in, as he points out, parts of China and India). By stressing the struggles within the urban environment, he can view class struggles in, to my mind, much wider and more dynamic terms. Whereas Zizek might talk of 'proletarianisation' in order to weld together 'three fractions of the working class: intellectual labourers, the old manual working class, and the outcasts (unemployed, or living in slums and other interstices of the public space)' (The Idea of Communism, P226), Harvey takes the public space itself as the basis for the class struggle. Rather than the usual emphasis on the control of wages, by looking at class relations from 'the other side' so to speak, allows Harvey to:

'recognise how easily real wage concessions to workers can be clawed back for the capitalist class as a whole through predatory and exploitative activities in the realm of consumption.' (P57)

Capitalism is, therefore, fundamentally bound up in the forms of urbanisation that we see around us. In order to combat this exploitation, it is fundamentally necessary to do it precisely from within these forms. This will inevitably cut across more 'traditional' views - clearly such an approach cannot simply be based on an industrial proletariat but must include cultural workers, immigrant workers, it must cross gender lines and even include those dismissively labelled the 'lumpenproletariat'.

In Chapter 4, Harvey examines 'The Art of Rent' or the ways in which capitalism attempts to take over, amongst other things, the common spaces and cultural production in the process of commodification. Sounding at times reminiscent of Thomas Frank, he still sees the city and the urban environment as the place where opposition to this commodification may most easy and effectively be mounted.

After this thorough grounding in theory, Harvey looks, in Section 2, at 'Rebel Cities' (P113). From the Paris Communes to the role of Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War to the Prague Spring and the recent rebellions and revolts in Cochabamba, Tahrir Square and El Alto, the urban environment is where active resistance to the counter-revolutionary neoliberal forces happens.

To put it another way, you do not step out of the class struggle when you leave work - it is all around you, in the (urban) environment and the relations that this implies - and so to ex- or abstract these movements from consideration within a greater class struggle is not only to ignore powerful and progressive forces but is also to irretrievably weaken analysis of the situation. If you don't realise this, the capitalists certainly do:

'It is in fact in the cities that the wealthy classes are most vulnerable, not necessarily as persons but in terms of the value of the assets they control. It is for this reason that the capitalist state is gearing up for militarized urban struggles as the front line of class struggle in years to come.' (P131)

This review is by no means comprehensive. At times, this book is hard work, but it is really worth the effort. It fits in well and extends David Harvey's previous analyses, but it does more than that. Apart from a sound theoretical underpinning, it also explores and suggests alternative means of social organisation, looking to the work of, amongst others, Murray Bookchin. And in 'The Party of Wall Street Meets Its Nemesis' the book ends with a rousing and powerful call to action.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 30, 2013 4:51 PM GMT

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