Saturday, 31 December 2016

America Cannot Continue Like This ...


I was cleaning up my Blog www.readingthisbook.com
and found this essay from 2012. Seems like I should have seen
Trump coming ... Apologies for the formatting which I cannot fix




Monday, 15 October 2012


Essay: America Cannot Continue Like This

I haven't reviewed any books recently - I have been giving up on books half way through and therefore -  under the terms of this Blog - cannot review them. This is true of Joseph E. Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality (Allen Lane 2012). I kept comparing it unfavourably with Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone - a book which Stiglitz does not mention.


The problem with Stiglitz's book is not its argument - which relates only to America - but in a decision to consign all the evidence to the footnotes. There are 290 pages of text and over 100 pages of footnote citations and discussions. This leaves the text uncluttered, but - unfortunately - dumbed-down and repetitive. I gave up.



But this is not at all to deny that growing inequality in America, combined with the weakness of the political system,  is a problem for us all and could become a pressing problem.  America surely cannot for long escape its own Arab Spring. Its rent-seeking (Stiglitz) or, as I would put it, extractive elites (the 1% who own and rule and don't pay taxes) have no intention of conceding any ground - indeed, they are still pushing for even more favourable treatment. And their grip over the media, the political process and the legislature has disillusioned citizens where it has not simply disenfranchised them. That is a recipe for civil disorder not orderly political renewal.



Wilkinson and Pickett's book contains many graphs correlating different kinds of Inequality with different social and economic measures. On most of those charts, the USA is an outrider - it has more Inequality and it has worse performance on measures of employment, health, security - you name it. It is never anywhere near the average. Some of those outrider figures surface in Stiglitz's book. We may in a sense already know it, but it is still shocking to read - for example - that "roughly one in three black men will spend time in prison in his lifetime" (page 70). That's a Gulag-like statistic and no society which achieves that outcome can be other than dysfunctional.



Here in Europe, serious newspapers and their serious readers looked at the Republican primaries with jaw-dropping disbelief. How do these nutters get to be front-runner Presidential wannabes? And when Romney finally emerged as candidate, the sigh of relief was quickly replaced by the fervent conviction that No Way, No Way do we want this man to become US President. That would be true across the political spectrum. Even the Conservative Party guardians of Britain's "Special Relationship" with the US pray each night for an Obama victory.



To tell the truth, they pray because they are scared. We are all just a bit scared and become a bit more scared every time some strange Congressman holds forth on Abortion or Evolution or Rape. These guys are Fundamentalists and they are Dangerous, make no mistake.



Whether they are scared in China, I do not know. But in China they are watching America carefully. It is only Chinese money which prevents America's financial implosion. If you think Greece has got problems, look at America's federal budget or its trade balance.



And back of it all, we know that America's war industry is lobbying for another War - and Romney knows that, if elected, he will have to give them one. It makes money and it makes jobs. That the War will be lost, just like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, is of absolutely no concern.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

What Goes Up Must Come Down - On Public Monuments

In our country, we no longer allow the erection of monuments or memorials to anyone. Our history – which I do not need to rehearse, I am sure – eventually left our parks and pavements cluttered with masonry in which only the pigeons took an interest. A rather short period of reflection on our inheritance produced three conclusions to which we were, albeit reluctantly, obliged to assent:

1.      With very, very few exceptions – some said no exceptions –our monuments and memorials had no “artistic merit”. Even though many had originally cost a great deal of money – much of it raised by Public Subscription – the erections which resulted could all be classified as hack jobs, things towards which you would not address a second glance – or, if you did, only because you were struck by the ugliness.

2.      With equally few exceptions, no one could volunteer any spontaneous information about the subjects of the monuments and memorials. It seems that immortality is a very short lived thing. On closer inspection of the detail, it seemed as if had been a perk of the job to have a monument erected to you if you had once been a king, queen, prime minister, admiral, general, and occasionally scientist or poet. Apart from the queens, they all appeared to have been men though given the motives which existed in the past to pretend you were a man, some of the men may not have been. That is by the by.

3.      When we could put a name to the face and a bit of information to the name, we shortly discovered that we did not have a high opinion of at least half of those who had been monumentalised. Some had committed unspeakable crimes, others speakable ones. Some had said things about their fellow human beings which were not very nice, and some had clearly not been very nice people full stop. The Public had subscribed to some very odd causes.

So rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, we decided to put a stop to it. It would protect our parks and pavements from further depredations. But they were still rather crowded and in places – like the capital – ridiculously so. Some people said we should remove some of the erections. But which ones? Those which had the least artistic merit? Those about which even the most enthusiastic pub quizzer could not spontaneously generate an iota of information? Or perhaps we should focus on those which memorialised people whose conduct had been so distasteful that they really should never have got a statue in the first place?

After some debate, this is what we decided. All would come down but there would be a popular vote in which electors could write-in the names of up to ten monuments they thought should be left undisturbed. They would not be prompted by a list but when the votes were counted, the ten most popular monuments would be preserved. A reasonable percentage, it was felt. It is in this way that Nelson’s Column still stands. A lot of people have their doubts about Nelson, but they do like his Column.

It was proposed that we should look at street names in the same way. They didn’t clutter things up like the statues, but very few of them on inspection had anything to commend them. They were, for the most part, entirely and unremittingly unimaginative, which some argued was actually a merit. Where they mentioned names, it was very rare for anything to be known about the person they memorialised, though it was discovered that the majority were landowners who sold their land for property development but kept their name on the resulting streets. Finally, there were some baddies among those whose names we did recognise.

There are a lot of streets in our country and no one really had the enthusiasm to reform their names. A committee was set up as a way of putting the issue out to grass. Eventually, it reported. It had only one recommendation. Someone had pointed out that in the whole country, there was not a single Revolution Street. The committee recommended that there should be one but that it was unnecessary and undesirable to specify which Revolution – let people imagine it as they wished.

And that is why you can now walk up Revolution Street towards Nelson’s Column.

Closed and Open Borders - Lord Lucan and Anis Amri

No one's borders were open in 1974 but Lord Lucan  was able to kill his children's nanny and get clean away. It helps to be posh, it's true, but still he was never found in the United Kingdom and in 1974 there was no channel tunnel.

In 2016, Europe's (but not the UK's) borders are open and Anis Amri got from Berlin to Milan before he was stopped and shot. Would it have been better if the borders were closed?

I don't think so. Consider that the UK does not have a single police force, just lots of local constabularies - some of them incompetent and, as official reports frequently also tell us, corrupt. Commit a crime in Cumbria and flee to Cornwall and you are moving from the territory of one police force to the territory of another. So should the borders be sealed as you move from one constabulary area to another?

In July 2005,  Mohammad Sidique Khan was able to travel by train from Leeds to London and blow himself up on the London Underground. He and his friends killed 52 people in their attack. Does that mean you shouldn't be able to travel by train from Leeds to London without being stopped at whatever is declared the border between North and South?

Europe's open borders are a huge political achievement. They enormously improve business productivity - lorries travel faster  - and they make holidaymaking and even simple day trips more pleasant. Just compare driving from France to Germany with driving from England to France (and back).

Those who want to close the borders don't tell you one important thing: they assume that they themselves will use the VIP channel, likely in coming years to become a lucrative business. Buy shares now and profit from discrimination against the ordinary traveller who of course is now likely to vote for more sheep pens like they have already at Calais. British holidaymakers assume that it is only natural to wait and wait before they are allowed back into their own country.




Thursday, 22 December 2016

King's College London and Dr George Carey

Few people like to be hurried and few like to be disapproved of. I guess those are thoughts you might find in a handbook of Nudge theory. There are gentler ways of getting people to go in the right direction than hectoring them.

I think hectoring may be an element in the rise of what we now call Populisms – political movements generally led by demagogues and targetting those less educated, less affluent and, generally, older and set in their ways. Insofar as the Politically Correct have hectored these people, Populism gives them a chance to talk back – though not necessarily in their own voices.

Some things you can change very quickly and people will go along with the change, even if they find it hard. Other things you can change quickly if you just have to change the rules,  but it takes time for people to come onside with the change. Instead of hectoring people, pointing fingers at them, ostracising them, it might be a better strategy to wait a bit and give people a chance.

I am no fan of marriage – I tried it once and I don’t intend to repeat it and I don’t think I have ever recommended it to anyone. When my children decided to marry, they decided of their own accord. They weren’t prompted or nagged or bribed.

When gay marriage arrived a few years ago, I had no objections but also no enthusiasm.  I was simply disappointed to realise that lots of gay people wanted to get in on an institution which I think of as conservative and a cement for conservatism. But if people want to sign up to marriage, well, that’s their own affair and I’ll congratulate when they announce their plans. I felt a bit more enthusiasm for heterosexual couples who wanted to be able to enter into civil partnerships, the alternative to marriage originally offered to gay people. Civil partnerships sound better to me than marriage.

Since marriage in its heterosexual variant had been around for an awfully long time and is deeply woven into the beliefs and practices of religious organisations, I did not expect that gay marriage would be instantly accepted and by everyone. The broadly secular majority didn’t mind but the fairly large non-secular minority did mind, sometimes a lot.

The sensible thing would be to give these people time to come on board. Since they were mostly elderly, they might well die before that point arrived. That’s often the way in which changes get embedded. You have to wait for people to die off.

I read today that King’s College, London has taken off the walls a portrait of Dr George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, because of his past, public opposition to gay marriage. Well, I don’t like the Church of England one bit but I was not delighted by this news. It seems to be the sort of thing fundamentalists do – people who can’t live with the Bamyan statues or Palmyra or, in this case, a reminder that not everyone is on the same side on every issue. Dr Carey probably believes in many things I don’t believe  in and which the decision makers at King’s College don’t believe in. But why did they pick gay marriage as a reason to take his portrait down? Would they have done if he was in favour of hanging or fox hunting or Brexit or castration of sex offenders or the rehabilitation of Stalin or prohibition of alcohol or simply because he believes in a state-approved and state-funded version of God (now there is a reason, I am tempted to say)?


One of the problems with fundamentalists is that they are insecure. But you don’t overcome that by ostracising those you disagree with. You strengthen your position by becoming more confident about it and that probably means, more relaxed about it. Dr Carey is going to die anyway and with him beliefs you disagree with. Why not leave it at that – though, true,  I wouldn’t mind if you chose to blow a raspberry each time you pass his photograph. I would be indulgent towards that; he was an Archbishop of a state church, after all. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

When, why and how Profiling Is Legitimate

Profiling has a bad name but a worse name than it deserves. Think through the following example if you need convincing.

A truck is driven into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin. A dozen people die and many more are injured, some very seriously. The original driver of the truck is found shot dead on the passenger seat. The person who drove the truck into the crowd flees the scene.

For a number of reasons, including the similarities to an incident in Nice on Bastille Day this year, it is a reasonable first assumption that this is some kind of terrorist attack. The fact that the driver runs off is worrying. First, because the person is probably armed - there is a body with gunshot wounds in the truck - and could use the gun again. Second, because if it is a terrorist attack under the flag of some Islamic cause, then the driver should really have died in the attack - that's the rule - unless he or she is going to make a further attack and probably in the near future in which they may seek to die. If this is a non-Islamic attack, the same reasoning applies: the driver may intend to kill again.

The police therefore are under enormous pressure. They have lots of resources but the clock is against them. Ideally, some kind of trail will lead them directly to the perpetrator of the attacks but it may not. They quickly decided that their first arrest was of the wrong person. Now they have a Tunisian identity card which may or may not be a false lead supplied to throw them off the scent. Maybe CCTV will show up something.Maybe forensics will find some fingerprints or DNA ...

The police would simply be failing in their duty of public protection if they waited for a definite lead. They have no choice but to profile.

Profile One: The driver will be male . I would bet heavily on that. Wouldn't you? The driver may have a female accomplice - a wife, for example - but the driver will be male. That Profile immediately lifts suspicion from 50% of the population. Why try to dodge that fact?

Profile Two: The driver will be over the age of 16 (probably over the age of 18) and that may have something to do with the  logistics of getting hold of guns, hijacking trucks, driving them into crowds. At the other end, the driver will be under the age of forty. Terror attacks of any kind are very rarely mounted by men older than that. This Profile removes suspicion from another 25% of the population, roughly speaking.

So we are down to 25% of the population as potential suspects as a result of profiling. Now it begins to get difficult.

Profile Three: Will the driver be someone born in Germany or born elsewhere? This is tricky. Recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France have involved both men locally born and men born abroad. So it would be unwise to profile by place of birth.

Profile Four: A Christmas market is an unlikely - in fact, implausible - target for a right-wing nationalist /neoNazi, white terrorist unless as a provocation. But as a provocation there is a risk it will backfire, and if it is a provocation, some effort would surely have been made to point the finger at refugees, immigrants, Muslims - whatever - as the perpetrators. The Tunisian identity card could be such an attempt to create a false trail. It's therefore not possible to rule out a right-wing attack. However ...

Profile Five: Most recent terrorist attacks in mainland Europe using improvised means and aiming at random deaths have been carried out by non-white individuals born in predominantly Muslim countries or brought up in broadly Muslim cultures. It would be irresponsible not to profile for a young, male, non-white, Muslim background. He could be German by birth but, if not, he could come from anywhere and could be a recent arrival in Germany or not. We are now down to maybe 10% of the population and that's still a hopelessly large number. That is one of the limitations of profiling as opposed to forensic policing.

How you get the 10% down to 1%, I don't know, but the most obvious next move is to profile who has been in Berlin for at least a week or so or who has accomplices who have been in Berlin for longer than that. Some preliminary research probably had to be done - where to find a truck to hijack, what route to follow to the market, what obstacles (if any) there were to getting into the market. It's possible that the driver has now left Berlin and it's possible he had a home base in another place to which he has returned. And so on.

Whatever the truth,  I hope the Berlin police can profile down to 1% and even more I hope they get a lead from CCTV, fingerprints, DNA and so on.

Added later on 21 December: The Tunisian identity card is being treated by the police as a genuine lead because it links to someone already known to the immigration and security services. He is male, in the age group 18 - 40, is non-white and - if he is indeed Tunisian - comes from a predominantly Muslim cultural background.






Friday, 16 December 2016

Out of the Mouths of Macedonian Babes

Explaining why it would be harder to make lots of money from promoting Fake News in Germany, a Macedonian teenager explained to the Financial Times:
 “Germans take their politics more seriously.It’s not about entertainment for them.”
And on the ethics of Fake News, here's another quotation from the Financial Times story:
 “If I make €100,000 this year, I’ll pay €10,000 in taxes — that will pay for two of my teachers’ salaries for a whole year,” said one teenager, in an interview given while he skipped history class. “So, I feel like I’m giving something back.”


Source: Financial Times, 16 December 2016

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

How To Hack Your Way Into Top Secret Emails - the Fancy Bear Way

Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear are code names for two incredibly sophisticated, secret and above all RUSSIAN spying organisations. They may try to hack their way into your gmail account. You need to protect yourself so BE AWARE of how they operate.

First, they send you an email (which cyberspying experts call a "phishing email") telling you that there has been an attempt at unauthorised access to your gmail account and advising that you re-set your Password.

Second, you reply, re-setting your Password.

Third, they login to your gmail account, copy all your mails and PUBLISH them

Er, that's it.

It worked against the Democratic National Committee so it may work against you or CIA Headquarters or FBI headquarters ....

Monday, 12 December 2016

Getting Out More

Once or twice a year - traditionally at New Year - I make some kind of review of my life and try to introduce some kind of change, even if only a temporary one and even if only a small one.I think it helps if you try to look at your life from outside. Even statistics can help.

There are 365 days in the year and so there are 8760 hours in the year. Aware of the fact that I now spend more time literally at home, in my flat, I tried to work out just how much time. In the past, I reckoned to spend maybe 30 nights a year away from home, mostly for work, but that figure has now dropped to 20 or even less. Then I thought about my daily routine if I am at home. If I am well and unless the weather is really horrible, I will go out every day. But sometimes this is only for a short period - a brisk morning walk over and done with in 30 or 40 minutes and then later a stroll to the local shops which might take the same amount of time. Even allowing for day trips and evening outings, the statistics still end up telling me that I spend about 85% of all those 8760 hours physically inside my flat. That's a lot to do with working from home, but also to do with age and temperament. I am sure I should get out more, but ...

It's a good job I really like the flat - modern, top floor, quiet, private, sunny with a tiny bit of a sea view. But if I am spending so much time at home, then maybe the New Year's Resolution should be to re-decorate and re-carpet. Or to improve the desk lamps and table lamps which I work under and which are actually pretty useless. The bed and the bedclothes are very satisfactory and that's relevant to a very big chunk of my time - I sleep more now, as much as nine hours, and if you compute from that it comes out that I spend about 35% of all those 8760 hours in my own bed - I exclude the  beds I sleep in on those 20 nights away. How many of us convert that sort of figure into a luxurious bed? It's surely justified, even if my 35% drops to your 25%.

Of course, I see it as rather a privilege that I spend so much time at home. Suppose I lived in Brighton and commuted to work in London.My home to office journey is unlikely to be less than 90 minutes and more likely 120 minutes, so three to four hours of commute each day, five days a week, forty six weeks of the year for a full-time worker with a decent holiday package. Take the lowest figure of 3 hours per day, then that amounts to 8% of 8760 hours. Take the 4 hour figure, and it amounts to over 10%.  Who would want to spend 10% of their life commuting on crowded trains which are often late and cancelled, pushing up the percentage figure even higher. If you take out sleeping time, those 8 and 10% figures convert to 12% and 15% percent. Life is too short to want to spend 15% of your waking hours getting to a train station,getting on a crowded train, getting off and getting to the office. In any other country except the United Kingdom, figures like those would be a scandal and governments would be busy building high speed train lines and building homes closer to places of work.

If I spend 10% of my total time reading, then that is 876 hours per year. If it takes eight to ten hours to read a book, then I should be able to read a couple of books each week, every week of the year. That's probably what I achieve nowadays and some of them get reviewed at www.readingthisbook.com .

Applied to your own life, it seems that even simple statistics can yield interesting insights




Thursday, 8 December 2016

Why the Labour Party is Finished

No one needs it.

If you are in favour of Brexit, you have got the National Conservatives and you simply don't need this disorganised party which is tagging along behind with no clear idea about why it is tagging along. If you are against Brexit, the Labour Party is just another enemy and you have to fall back on the Christian Liberal Democrats and, if you are lucky enough, the Scottish National Party.

Results so far. In Sleaford Labour finishes fourth after the Conservatives, the Trump Party, the Liberal Democrats. In Richmond, trailing behind the Christian Liberal Democrats and the National Conservatives. Nobody needs Labour.

It really is an extraordinary and appalling mess and I don't think we are going to get out of it. The decade 2008 - 2018 has already been described as a lost decade. I cannot see how 2018 - 2028 will be any different. I expect more food banks, more trains that do not run, more homelessness, an even bigger income and wealth gap, more crime and the National Conservatives still in power. I'll probably be dead by the end of that second wasted decade, but so too will half of those who voted to destroy the future for their children and grandchildren.

Over to you, Owen Jones. And do bear in mind that the United Kingdom is at its biggest crossroads since 1939 and where it might be thought that there was a premium on informed and decisive leadership.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Government Wants To Move Europe Farther Away From The UK

A leaked document prepared for Mrs May's Junta shows that the government is looking for ways to move Europe farther away from the United Kingdom. "It's just too damn close", said one government insider, "You can virtually drive there - and that means they can drive here".

The front-runner option being considered is the closure of the Channel Tunnel. Since that would leave open the possibility of it being re-opened at some future date, those pressing for a "Hard" distancing from Europe want to see the Tunnel flooded. But since that might simply put pressure on the Channel ports at Dover and Folkestone, the Hard faction is pressing for those to be closed too.

"We simply do not need all these cars and lorries going back and forth and giving people the idea that Europe is our next door neighbour. We forget who our friends are. We should be selling to Australia and buying from them too. Everything we buy from Europe - butter, apples, wine, tinned pears, corned beef .... - well, we could buy it from Australia. And it would give our ships some proper voyages to make, not all this to-ing and fro-ing across the Channel. More manly, don't you think?"

Critics think that these measures alone will not be enough. People will still think nothing of flying to Europe. But not if they are faced with sky-high taxes on their flights. Taxes can create psychological distance and so can visas. People will think twice about a weekend in Paris if it costs more than a weekend in Florida - and especially when they realise that people in Florida speak English (or Spanish, as Mr Trump has reminded us). Those in favour of a "Soft" distancing from Europe think that taxes and visas are a better strategy to move Europe out of sight and out of mind. "People will simply forget about Amsterdam when it costs £1000 to get there and takes three days".

A Junta source replied to a request for Comment saying, "All Options are on the table or, indeed, under the table which is why we are right now looking for an extra table which of course won't now be coming from IKEA"






Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Drink Coffee to Beat Dementia - Today's Daily Express headline

At the Daily Express, they know their readership. But what would happen if their readers did beat dementia? They might suddenly start remembering yesterday's headlines ...

There is an alternative:

Stop Reading The Daily Express to  Beat ....

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Business As Usual - the failure of the Opposition in England

The Cast

Theresa May  -          Remainer who saw her chance if she quickly became a Leaver
Boris Johnson  -        Remainer who saw his chance if he became a Leaver, but fingers
                                crossed that he would not actually win the Referendum
Michael Fallon  -       Vicar of Bray
Liam Fox -                Our Man in America or vice versa


Tim Farron -              A vicar in a small parish

Jeremy Corbyn  -      Bogus Remainer and now enthusiastic Leaver
John McDonnell -      Bogus Remainer and now very enthusiastic Leaver

The Supreme Court - England's main hope of rescue from Mrs May's suicide squads

Nicola Sturgeon -       England's only other hope of rescue from the Junta

*













Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Little Tribute to Leonard Cohen

In an essay on 'Cultural Appropriation' included in a book Silence Is So Accurate, due out in 2017, I wrote this about one of his most famous songs: 

Released in 1984 to little initial success, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah now exists in over 300-and-counting known cover versions. You can be any nationality, any ethnicity, maybe any religion, any age, any sex, any sexual orientation and most definitely any hairstyle – I did a thorough check - and you can still put your soul into this song brought into the world by someone white, male, patriarchal, heteronormative …mon semblable, mon frère - who worked incredibly hard on it (over eighty verses drafted for possible inclusion) and who says that he finds the appropriation of his song “ironic and amusing” in view that his recording label had no enthusiasm for it. They allowed it as an album track, that’s all, and without appropriation, there it would have stayed. For vinyl collectors. 

*

I am pretty sure that I sing more snatches of Leonard Cohen songs to myself than of any other song-writer. Some of the more recent songs are very moving.  Did I Ever Love You gutted me the first time I heard it. I only heard him live on one occasion, in Brighton back in the 1980s,

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Mrs Clinton and the voters: I very much doubt it was a question of sexual politics

Mrs Clinton got a few more votes than Mr Trump but anything short of a total wipe-out of Mr Trump would have been a disappointment and the actual result, a disaster.

When I read books about America I read about a growing gap between wealthy and poor, about stagnant or falling standards of living for the majority, and about destruction of industries like that the UK experienced in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher preferred putting people on Benefits to ensuring there was employment available - it was she who pioneered what we now call the Benefits Culture. If you think large parts of Northern England are a dump, then large parts of the USA are also a dump.

No President or Congress has acted in any way or any serious way to reduce the huge disparities of wealth in the USA, or to raise living standards, or to improve employment opportunities. Voters looking for a better life came to the conclusion - rightly or wrongly - that They had no interest in Us, that the Establishment was indifferent to the people. Even if the candidate was competent, they did not want an Establishment candidate - still less a Dynastic candidate, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton. They wanted an Outsider,someone who would shake things up rather than crown their own career - Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Denied the latter, who would have beaten him, they voted for Trump. It wasn't inevitable but the Democratic Party was too stuck in its way to offer an alternative. It did not dawn on the Democratic Party that Hillary Clinton did not beat Barack Obama for the nomination because  Obama could pass almost as an outsider, and certainly as someone fresh and young. And Obama could beat anything a dumb Republican Party put up against him, and by decent margins.

Maybe a few hundred people voted for Hillary Clinton so that she could smash a glass ceiling. But in reality, for most people,  a Presidential election is not about facilitating someone's career advancement. People are looking for someone who offers them hope of a better life. It's unlikely, of course, that either President Clinton or President Trump can or would deliver that. But that's another story.

Columnists in liberal newspapers whose main frustration is that Hillary Clinton was not deferred to sufficiently for her to cap her CV only help to deepen the gap between those who Have Most and those who Have Least - and those who have least are both men and women in very large numbers.

For the record, I do have one doubt about the Dynastic part of my argument. Suppose Hillary Clinton had not recovered from pneumonia and had died. The Democratic Party could have turned to Bernie Sanders, who I think would have won. Or just maybe they could have turned to Michelle Obama, who I also think would have won. In either case, I would now be out celebrating instead of sitting here blogging.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Mockracy is Coming to the USA

Now, children, we are going to vote for a new Class Captain and it will be a democratic election. Do you know what that means?

Donald?

Yes, Miss. It means that if I get fewer votes than Hillary I win.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Democracy or Tossing a Coin?

To all intents and purposes, Clinton and Trump picked up 60 million votes each and because this is an American election, you can forget about the two other candidates. It's the kind of result which could have been achieved by tossing a coin 120 million times and, that being so, it could have been simplified by tossing the coin once. If that seems arbitrary, then bear in mind that in American democracy you can win more votes than your opponent and still lose the election because of the Electoral College system which has a small bias towards all those small mid West states. Al Gore had more votes than George Bush first time round and Hilary Clinton may end up with more votes than Donald Trump. But who cares? When was democracy about winning more votes than the other lot?

I interpret the fact that American presidential candidates run neck and neck in my own way. I just think it shows that the average elector has no idea at all about what will work out best for them or for their country and so they effectively choose their pig in a poke. They would have done no worse by tossing their own individual coin. I am simply not prepared to describe American voters as rational actors who have weighed the issues, weighed the evidence, added in their likes and dislikes and so on. And that's where democracy has failed. The whole idea of democracy was that voters would be at least a bit rational, a bit well-informed, a bit dispassionate. It ain't happening - that's the main thing to take  from the American dead heat from which Winner-Takes-All is the consequence.

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Financial Time Invites You To Construct a Post-Brexit World ...

England has two good newspapers, the i  and the Financial Times. The latter has invited its readeres to help construct a post-Brexit world. There are some very interesting contributions being published. I am afraid the one I sent in is more pessimistic:

At the best of times, the United Kingdom political system does not work very well. It is unresponsive, slow, inefficient, moderately corrupt - and there are lots of people who want to keep it that way. These are not radical claims: the National Audit Office, Parliamentary Select Committees and Government Committees of Enquiry have been telling us this sort of thing for decades. If you want examples, think about housing or airports or dangerous dogs.

Sometimes the system behaves perversely. Parliament in its collective wisdom offered voters a Yes or No advisory referendum on a very complex set of issues and Prime Minister David Cameron responded to the moderately interesting result in the most abject manner imaginable, treating it as hand-and-foot binding. 

For their own reasons, so did other leading politicians some of whom had absolutely no desire to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union. They were driven by a mixture of panic (“The People Have Spoken …”) and opportunism (…“and I Could Become Prime Minister”).

If that is the starting point, panic and opportunism may well also be the end point. Of one thing we can be sure, whatever happens over the next ten years, the unintended consequences of expensive, clumsy, protracted decision-making or failed decision-making will far outweigh the intended outcomes. 

The future is like the past and if you have a system which can blunder into Brexit, then it follows that you have one which will blunder into a post-Brexit world unlikely to bear any resemblance to promises made about the NHS, the Irish Border, Passporting, the future of Nissan, scientific research, listening to Nicola Sturgeon ….. In due course, the People may well turn against the Junta which has now installed itself as the UK government, but not until a great deal of havoc has been wreaked, much of it irreversible.

Private actors can often move faster than state actors and they are already doing so. They look at the captain, look at the ship, and take their chances. People are applying for non-UK passports, shifting assets, delaying or cancelling investments, even moving out lock stock and barrel. 

On the other side, there are opportunists looking for bargains and trying to work out which scams will do well as the Junta throws money overboard in an endeavour to keep itself afloat. Jobsworth plc can’t wait to supply the necessary tens of thousands of pencil-licking officialdom tasked with taking control over what comes in and what goes out. You thought Brussels was a waste of money? Wait till you see Mr Fox’s bill.


The danger in the FT’s invitation to contribute to the debate is that it will attract those who think it worthwhile to re-arrange the deckchairs. The only sensible way forward lies in the creation of a popular political front determined to win a General Election on a platform of staying in the European Union. Trouble is, we don’t have politicians up to that task either.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Sex Role Stereotyping Made in Great Britain for Marks and Spencer


Click on Image to Magnify

Apart from the Food Hall, I would have no regrets if Marks and Spencer went the way of BHS. It just seems completely lost, which may of course simply reflect its customer base.

Thirty or forty years ago, I was sure that colour-coding of young children would disappear. It hasn't: see the cards I bought today looking for a birthday card for a child about to hit three. True, there has been a little bit of progress:the girl is now allowed to jump in a puddle but it's the boy who gets the skateboard.

Educationalists probably hope that greetings card manufacturers will understand the importance of lower case letters in helping children to read - even children as young as three. But, nope, here we have good old fashioned CAPITALS. Since the cards are Made In flag-waving Great Britain, you might have hoped that our very many degree programmes in Graphic Design - where you can specialise in children's illustration and such like - would have caught up with the drift of the argument for lower case. But it seems, no chance.



Friday, 4 November 2016

When and Why Mrs May Has To Resign As Prime Minister

Since the day she took office, it has been  the personal policy of the Prime Minister to proceed towards Brexit without consulting Parliament, let alone asking Parliament to vote. That personal policy has just been undermined by a Court ruling. Mrs May has decided to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, unwisely it seems to me. For if she loses there, and by a heavy margin (there will be eleven or twelve judges sitting), then she cannot avoid the charge that she has set about behaving unconstitutionally and has continued to do so even when alerted to the dangers she is running. If the Supreme Court rules against her, she really has no choice but to resign as unfit to hold the office she now holds. She could be ejected by a Parliamentary vote, though if this took the form of a No Confidence motion in the Government, she would have to call a General Election and might still be returned to office by the voters. Voters do sometimes vote for crooks.But the Court ruling would still be in place. And Parliament could instead, I suppose, impeach her.

But I'm serious: if the Supreme Court rules against her, she has to go,one way or another.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

You Don't Need a High Court to Understand the Constitution - Any Old Blogger Will Do



This is what I wrote back on 13 July. Parliament should be ashamed of the way in which it has tolerated Mrs May's Junta.



Wednesday, 13 July 2016

David Cameron's Strange Resignation

Imagine that on the morning of 24 June, David Cameron had gone in front of the TV cameras and said, " The results for the Advisory referendum are in and we have 52%for leaving and 48% for staying with broad support for leaving in England and Wales, and broad support for staying in London,Northern Ireland and Scotland. I shall of course be asking Parliament to consider these results carefully and my Government will of course need a parliamentary vote to determine our future course of action"

But instead he resigned and created some turmoil, now brought to some temporary close by the choice by Tory MPs of Theresa May to succeed him as Prime Minister. Both he and she were Remainers in the Referendum - the Leavers (Gove, Johnson, Leadsom, Farage ... ) all now out of the picture and all of them having disgraced themselves in one way or another.

Parliament has still not had a say, there is still no BREXIT policy - except insofar as Mrs May has by-passed Parliament and said that she will now lead a Government of (mostly) Remainers  putting themselves forward as eager Leavers (Mr Fallon, "We are all Brexiters now" - I suppose he had the Vicar of Bray in mind)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Why Does Witney Have A New pro-Brexit Tory MP?

Because those opposed to Brexit failed to put up a single candidate against him.
Thank you for nothing, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Majorities

In both American and British politics, supposedly democratic votes laboriously produce results which could have been more easily achieved by the toss of a coin. When someone or something routinely wins 51 to 49 or 52 to 48 I find this deeply unimpressive and disturbing. Surely, there must be more occasions when something or someone is very right or very wrong. Surely, no one can take any comfort from such results.

People are getting excited because they think Trump will lose and if he loses 48 to 46 (allowing for the small party candidates) this will be hailed as a triumph. But to me, it would be a disaster. Forty six percent of US voters who can make it to the polling booth think Trump should be President of the United States? Well, then this is a country around which we should place a cordon sanitaire and deal with it very gingerly. We might find friends there, like the American Chamber of Commerce trying this week to stop BREXIT, but the idea of a Special Relationship with the whole country - well, that's just as crazy as Trump. If this country has produced forty six percent of its voters (and a majority of its males, apparently) who can envisage Trump as President - well, then its public education system has failed, its broadcasting system has failed, its handling of inequality has failed, its economic policy has failed .... You would have to be very stupid or very desperate to vote for Trump and no well-organised and well-functioning society would have allowed itself to get into a situation where half its population is stupid or desperate or both. What have all those Presidents and Congresses been doing the past twenty or fifty years?


Monday, 17 October 2016

The Daily Mail and What Do You Do When You Have Made The Wrong Call?

Everyone knows that in the 1930s lots of politicians and lots of newspapers  made the wrong call. They decided that Hitler was basically a decent chap making reasonable demands and that if you behaved reasonably and decently towards him, all would be well. Meanwhile, you attacked those who thought otherwise. The archives exist to show who said what when, even though some efforts are made to keep the worst ones away from Google searches. In the end, we were saved by the disloyalty of Conservative MPs who pulled the rug on their own appeasing leadership.

The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and other newspapers are already beginning to fear that they have made the wrong call again and that they encouraged their admittedly easily-led readerships to vote for a disastrous course of action, Brexit. Already, no one believes the Three Brexiteers and, anyway, we now know that power to do as we please is not in our hands after all. We will end up sovereign, independent and screwed. We will be able to watch our standard of living fall over a cliff and our public services likewise.

Rather than admit their folly and withdraw from the scene, the Brexit cheerleaders will all now become increasingly shrill in their denunciations of those who disagree with them. The Daily Mail is already down to the traditional last refuge - people who disagree with it are unpatriotic. A Conservative councillor who you have never heard of and does not deserve to be named has now gone one better and launched an online petition to make support for membership of the European Union a treasonable offence.

I am afraid I can only put it crudely. When you read this stuff, you realise these people  are now shitting themselves.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The United States of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland

Ireland is in a much stronger position than it imagines. When the Berlin Wall fell, the European Union co-operated as West Germany took on East Germany - a lot of people, a lot of problems. If Ireland took on Northern Ireland and Scotland - not so many people, not so many problems - the EU would also co-operate since the main aim would be to keep Northern Ireland and Scotland within the EU. It would be a rescue job just like the East German case. The two territories would be enabled to escape from Daily Mail tyranny and the suicide squads of Mrs May's Junta.

All Ireland has to do is offer the North and Scotland states' rights within a federal structure. They would be entitled to retain intact and entire their existing devolved systems of government until such time as they chose to modify them or until such time as they chose to leave this Celtic Federation. The only inescapable changes would be these:

- acceptance of the euro
- acceptance of Dublin as responsible for their (non-nuclear) defence
- they would have to give up on allegiance to the Queen though their local flags need not change

Over to you Ireland to make the first moves ...

*




Friday, 14 October 2016

Time for the Yanks to Intervene?

Back in 1956, the sovereign and independent United Kingdom led by a deluded druggie, Sir Anthony Eden, decided it would teach Egypt a lesson for nationalising the Suez Canal. A plot was hatched with imperialist France and imperialist Israel and Egypt was duly invaded.

The United Kingdom's headbangers were forced into a humiliating withdrawal and defeat when the United States under President Eisenhower (Republican) basically imposed sanctions which would have left the UK without money to support sterling and oil to fuel anything. The sovereign and independent government of the UK was simply shafted by superior power.

The United Kingdom's current bunch of Conservative headbangers, got up as some kind of Junta which does not answer to Parliament, are hell-bent not only on destroying the UK economy and what is left of its social framework but also on causing as much collateral harm to the UKs near neighbours as it can.

Time, I think, for the United States to tell us once again who is boss and indicate to the Junta that it is time for a U-turn and a restoration of parliamentary sovereignty - all the MPs were elected only very recently -  and an end to this Daily Mail-Daily Express delusional Brexit.

Update 18 October: 

No sooner do I call for US intervention than it is supplied.

According to today's Financial Times - the only newspaper you should be reading in these strange days - The US Chamber of Commerce is submitting a position paper to Downing Street demanding continuing "unfettered access" to the EU single market as the pre-condition of continued US investment in the UK. Since the Chamber of Commerce represents companies with $590 billion of investments in the UK, then when you cut through the fairly polite ("nonsense" not "bullshit") language of the paper, you find you are reading an ultimatum.

The Japaneses government has said the same about investments in the UK by its own national companies.


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Europe Takes Control of Its Borders

At last, we can deal with the English Problem.
No visas for their football hooligans.
No visas for their stag parties.
No residence permits for their expats who don't speak the language.
No residence permits for their career criminals on the Costa del Dodgy.

Postscript later the same day: 
And no more English members of the European Parliament brawling in the corridors, taking up our hospital beds

Fog In Channel, Continent Cut Off

When General Franco lay dying, crowds gathered outside the palace crying "Adios!". Raising his head, the General enquired, "Where are they going?"

At the Conservative Party conference, the leader of our Committee for National Salvation addressed an audience which will be dead before her Junta's illusions bring on the decline and despair which are their only possible fruits. We will become like America: sovereign, independent, ignorant and isolated, completely divided between the wealthy and the impoverished, and just about kept afloat by illegal immigrants. God Save The King!

The older voters who voted for Brexit will die before their children and grandchildren have to pay for the consequences, not just of the Brexit vote but the way it has enabled a political coup - no bloodshed, no elections, no votes. A silent coup by people now coming out as noisy and nasty. If the NHS goes down the pan, the Brexit voters will probably die quicker than anticipated. One can only hope so; it will be one less burden on the Rates. Maybe the Junta is already factoring that in. The seventeen million have done their work;now they can go away. There are more important people to think about, those who Mr Fox aims to make very rich first among them.





Friday, 9 September 2016

The Financial Times and Mrs Theresa May

A couple of recent articles in the FT - the only newspaper worth reading in England - highlight the soon-to-become-visible weaknesses of the new government. Chris Giles and George Parker are both telling a similar story. Since the government came to power in an internal coup - no election, no parliamentary ratification, no Conservative Party ratification -  not surprisingly its leader is insecure even if she was not insecure already.

So remarkably authoritarian tendencies are on display, which for the moment play well with the tabloids but soon won't. There is a High Court case pending to challenge the view that Parliament is a merely consultative body so far as Article 50 is concerned. But the Prime Minister has made plain that, whatever the decision there, she regards Parliament as a Duma for the Tsarina to listen to or dismiss as she sees fit. In addition, Downing Street is offering a running commentary on speeches and comments made by its own Ministers. They too are being told they have no power. The Tsarina will decide everything, and what she decides will always be in everyone's interests for she is the Mother of all the British.

I recall reading somewhere that at the moment he was forced into abdication, Tsar Nicholas had been studying papers relating to the proposal to build new glass houses in the botanical garden of Dorpat's (Tartu's) ancient university. It's a credible story and illustrates the perils of micro-managing. While you are attending to the glass houses, you lose the throne.

Mrs May will lose a Minister sooner rather than later. Either she will sack someone who steps too far out of line or someone will rebel and stalk out. In a previous Blog, I have already put my money on Dr Fox as the person most likely for either because he has his own form for believing he can do exactly as he pleases (See my Blog 27 July 2016)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Matthew Tate at Hartsdown Academy, Margate

God, The Queen, School Uniform, Pounds Shillings and Pence, Janet and John ...

People like Matthew Tate, headteacher of Hartsdown Academy Margate and in the news today for zero tolerance of young people, can only imagine the future as a tribute act to the past. It's what you might call the English Disease and Margate is the sort of place where it easily becomes endemic.

It's a disease which is sending us over the tipping point into irreversible national decline. We should pay high salaries to those who can enthrall children and young people with Shakespeare or show them how fascinating it is to work out why the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Or teach them Chinese. But we shouldn't be paying people like Mr Tate at all. He's in the wrong job and doing a lot of damage.

If you need something to cheer you up, a while ago I found some scenes of young people doing impressive things despite wearing tee shirts and trainers. They attend the Cusanus Gymnasium in Erkelenz, Germany - a country where history has taught them to be suspicious of men keen on uniforms. All these secondary school students speak English - the teachers have time to teach English because they aren't spending their time policing ties and skirt lengths or whatever is the latest fantasy of Mr Tate.

To see what you can do wearing tee shirts and trainers, just go to YouTube and enter the school's name and small-town location and enjoy.

Friday, 2 September 2016

David Davis on the Irish Border: Brexit and the Two Irelands

David Davis, one of Mrs May’s Three Brexiteers, has gone to Ireland and promised that Brexit will not bring a Hard Border back to Ireland. People will be able to come and go as they do now. He is in no position to make any such wild promise, for two reasons.

First, on the Brexit scenario table is one option which involves imposing tariffs on goods imported from our former friends next door and allowing free entry for goods from our new friends a long way away, enticed into co-operaton by Dr Fox Enterprises. Under that scenario, the United Kingdom would have to establish Customs posts between Northern Ireland and Ireland in order to control smuggling of former-friends' goods from the Republic.

Second, there is a  Brexit scenario which favours getting rid of European Union regulations and red tape. That could, for example, include offering farmers de-regulation as compensation for the loss of EU subsidies. In that situation, Ireland would want – indeed, would be required by its own commitment to EU standards - to  institute Health and Safety checks on UK agricultural produce being sent across the border. This is not an unusual situation: countries like the USA and Russia repeatedly slap bans on foreign food imports of one kind or another for Health and Safety reasons. It doesn’t happen often in the EU because there are common standards. But there are Brexiteers itching to lower standards in pursuit of someone’s fast buck.


There are lots of other promises out there from Mrs May’s Cabinet ministers. All of them are worthless until such time as Mrs May picks a Brexit plan which other countries will agree to, if indeed she can find any such plan.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

After BHS, Next Up - M & S?

Until recently, you could walk into my local Marks and Spencer and straight down the aisle to the popular Food Hall. Now you can’t. They have created an obstacle course by arranging all the racks of unsaleable women’s clothes into a maze. Get the idea? You will be stopped short by some floral frock and fall upon it before you reach the frozen food.

It ain’t gonna happen. The maze has only increased the obviousness of the pervasive Charity Shop smell, the smell which comes from cheap synthetics even before they have been sweated into. The women’s clothes start out smelling second-hand.

Just as bad, it’s obvious to me – and I am an elderly male not a discerning female – is the fact that all this clothing - with some few exceptions - has been imported from some recycled Soviet factory circa. 1980. The designs are awful – cut, cloth, design, print. It all just says Cheap, Cheerless, Clumsy, Clothing Coupons. On top of that, the racking is dismal, the sheer quantity dispiriting.


It can’t go on much longer. I reckon sometime in the next five years we will see M & S stores go the way of BHS

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Amazing Comeback of Dr Liam Fox

.
When I began blogging I fancied myself as a political pundit and so on 31 December 2010 I made my Predictions for 2011. I made three and got two right, including the prediction that by the end of December 2011 Dr Liam Fox would not be Secretary of State for Defence. He resigned in October 2011, mired in scandal, but basically because he had used his very major government post to pursue private agendas and, more specifically, to enable one of his friends, Adam Werritty, to pursue private business agendas under ministerial cover. The freelancing was blatant, even as early as December 2010. You just had to read the newspapers.

Now Dr Fox is back with an extraordinary brief to look for new alternatives-to-Europe Trade Deals and within days he is clearly pursuing his own agenda rather than one which has been collectively agreed in Cabinet or endorsed in Parliament. He has his own vision of what Brexit should look like and he is using his new post as trade envoy to promote that. There are two possibilities. Either his vision becomes government policy, by Cabinet decision or simply because Dr Fox got there first (at the moment, government is on extended holiday so if he works through August and September he has a head start on the slackers). Or he will be out of a job by Christmas. It is comforting to think the latter will be true, so I choose it and predict that Dr Fox will have to resign or will find himself moved by the end of 2016 and more or less for the same reasons that he had to resign in 2011. I don't think he understands collective responsibility or the difference between what he wants and what his official post entitles him to do.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

What I said about Jeremy Corbyn on the day he was elected Leader ...

Every few years, there is an event which attracts me enough to watch it live or nearly live: the 2010 Leaders' Debates for the UK General Election, the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, and today the Declaration of the Labour Leadership election - about which I was actually quite excited (though not excited enough to have watched any of the "Hustings" debates):

Oh dear, is this really the best they can do?

Tom Watson gets up and sounds like a one man Tribute Act to the past. That doesn't matter so much. But then we get to the new Leader ...

This is going to go out live and be endlessly played as clips on TV News. It's Mr Corbyn's first big chance to sound like a Leader who means business ...

Mr Corbyn takes from his pocket his notes, and goes through the List of people who have to be Thanked ...

Yes, maybe they do have to be thanked. But not like this. You have just been elected Leader of the Labour Party and thus Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. You hit the ground running:

"Thank you to all of of you who have made me Leader of the Labour Party and - as a consequence, I suppose -  Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. I think we need an Opposition. What is there not to Oppose? The Tories now have all the power in this country thanks to the recent votes of 25% of the electorate. And they have already made it plain that they intend to make the most of that power to serve the interests of the few not the many. That is what we are going to oppose. 

Nor it seems are the Tories going to show any humanity in how they go about things. Mr Cameron's lack of compassion has become clear to everyone in the last couple of weeks. It is to Yvette Cooper's great credit that she found time during this leadership Election campaign to stand up for a decent, generous response to the plight of refugees. That is the kind of thing we stand for. "

Enough said. You work your Thank You's into your speech. You speak to the whole country not just to the party faithful. With a good speech writer, it's easy enough do both at the same time ... and your speech writer can make sure you can find variants on the word "passionate", something Mr Corbyn was unable to do - a real passion-killer that.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Free Preview Chapter from the Book of the Blog ...

Below one short chapter from the 26 in Trevor Pateman's book The Best I Can Do. Information on how to order the book at the top of this page.

Ostentation
Prince Charles is a year younger than me. He has been heir to the throne for so long (since 1952 in fact) that if and when he becomes King and I am still alive, I am sure I shall continue to think of him as Prince Charles. Over the years I have watched his face age and the number of medals on his full dress uniforms increase. One day it occurred to me that most of his medals are birthday badges given to him by his Mum. He is still pinning them on sixty years after most of us stopped. They infantilise him.

In Africa during the past sixty years, kleptocratic and psychopathic tyrants, backed by their old colonial masters, have lorded it over impoverished peoples using a rhetoric of visual ostentation  taken unashamedly from those former colonial rulers – and not just the British. But with no Mum to award them, they have simply had to award medals to themselves, getting some lackey to pin them on until their chests attain the full splendour of which Imperial kitsch is capable. The Emperor Bokassa - every whim indulged by the governments of France (Bokassa had uranium) -  is the all-time outright winner for mirror-imaging the ostentation of the European Imperial powers. His coronation in 1976 cost the dirt-poor Central African Republic more than its entire annual state budget. The images are still worth Googling. You can see a copy of Ruritania’s famous Coronation coach and surrounding Bokassa, you can see haute couture-styled flunkeys like those – all male - who still surround Imperial President Hollande.

Bokassa’s rivals have included General Idi Amin (with a taste for British military top-brass tassels), and Colonel Gadaffi (specialist in Italianate gold braid) and dozens of more forgettable bit players who have strutted and killed for a short while, all of them weighed down by this abject drive to outdo European levels of ostentation.

You would think it would shame Prince Charles into dressing a bit more like Nelson Mandela or maybe the Dalai Lama but, no, when it comes to keeping up appearances he is still determined to provide a role model for the next dictator up. One day, he hopes to live in a Palace where the Guards are dolled up in such a way that they could not guard a goldfish bowl and on hot days, no bare skin visible, collapse from heat exhaustion. It is both ostentation and irrationality. The tourists love it; it’s much more fun than the Zoo.

In Charles’s country, those who are likely to become his Subjects are introduced at an early age to irrational dress. The British not only do ostentatious uniform at the top; they do school uniform at the beginning. They really have a thing about it - some of it part of a long paedophilic tradition - and, if anything, it’s getting worse. Parents off their heads on Janet and John think that education from three years up is about woollen caps and blazers and the more brightly be-ribboned the better for indicating your aspirations. Colour co-ordinated knee socks, striped ties, polished shoes, pleated skirts, boaters for summer, all obsessively listed  in pages of Rules, declare that aspiration as a commitment to maintain Ruritania’s social order and its established Table of Ranks.

British schools devote a great deal of time and money to devising and enforcing their uniform rules. It can be almost a full-time job for one Deputy Headteacher and they don’t come cheap. Some parents grumble about the cost, forgetting that cost is partly what it’s about – about showing that your child is in a different class to the riff-raff child in that school (unfortunately) just down the road. It is sometimes said that school uniform makes social distinctions less visible: you will not so easily spot the poor child in the classroom. But if you work back from the sharp-elbowed one-upmanship which characterises the uniforms of rival schools, it is most unlikely that social distinctions are not still visible in one school’s classrooms. Showing yourself as better than someone else does not stop at the school gates.
British parents do not really find it possible to believe that there are successful countries, not plagued by juvenile delinquency or illiteracy, that manage to function without any school uniform at all. But dreadful as it may seem, they do exist, and  if you want living proof of what can be done without the benefit of school uniform, check out the Cusanus-Gymnasium, Erkelenz, a German High School in a fairly ordinary town of just 45 000 people. It doesn’t have a fancy website but you can get some idea there what the pupils look like. Normal is a word that comes to mind. Go to YouTube and – though I should give you a trigger warning that you will have to look at trai**rs - enjoy listening to the Erkelenz choir, the Oberstufenchor. They do English, of course. And lots more.  Time and money isn’t taken up with uniforms, you see. It’s one reason German education gets better results.

Meanwhile, African dictators can still look to Prince Charles as a role model. British parents will take their cues from how the child known as Prince George is got up for school.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Deborah Cameron's Summer Reading Picks

Times Higher Education summer reads 2016
Members of the higher education community tell us about two books they plan to take on holiday: a new must-read and a classic worthy of a second look

Deborah Cameron
Professor of language and communication, University of Oxford


I’m about to embark on a project that involves revisiting the classic texts of second-wave feminism, and I’m planning to begin with a book I haven’t read since I was 20: Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, an ambitious attempt at what its author called “a materialist view of history based on sex itself”. My new book is The Best I Can Do(degree zero), a collection of short essays in which the philosopher-turned-stamp-dealer Trevor Pateman reflects on everything from bus passes to the semiotics of lipstick – and whether scholarship should be a hobby rather than a salaried occupation.

From THE, 14 July 2016

David Cameron's Strange Resignation

Imagine that on the morning of 24 June, David Cameron had gone in front of the TV cameras and said, " The results for the Advisory referendum are in and we have 52%for leaving and 48% for staying with broad support for leaving in England and Wales, and broad support for staying in London,Northern Ireland and Scotland. I shall of course be asking Parliament to consider these results carefully and my Government will of course need a parliamentary vote to determine our future course of action"

But instead he resigned and created some turmoil, now brought to some temporary close by the choice by Tory MPs of Theresa May to succeed him as Prime Minister. Both he and she were Remainers in the Referendum - the Leavers (Gove, Johnson, Leadsom, Farage ... ) all now out of the picture and all of them having disgraced themselves in one way or another.

Parliament has still not had a say, there is still no BREXIT policy - except insofar as Mrs May has by-passed Parliament and said that she will now lead a Government of (mostly) Remainers  putting themselves forward as eager Leavers (Mr Fallon, "We are all Brexiters now" - I suppose he had the Vicar of Bray in mind).

All very strange.

Friday, 1 July 2016

2016 - 2021 and Beyond?

Here in the UK, we are now looking at five more wasted years, years in which the economy will be stagnant or decline, in which the quality of life will deteriorate, and in which politicians will have very little to show for their salaries and the share of media time they command. Imagine that the country is now going to be run by a second-rate Town Council forever. That's pretty much what it will be like.

The vote for BREXIT was a vote for national decline and, probably, national disintegration. If the Scots have any sense, they will get out - and they shouldn't wait five years before doing so. If the Northern Irish have any sense, they will ask Dublin for an offer they can't refuse: keeping their power sharing government, but under Irish sovereignty, and adopting the euro as currency. Nothing else seems to make sense.

As for Wales and Cornwall and the North of England, well, they deserve everything they have asked for.

As for Mr Johnson, he is simply biding his time. There will come a day, he hopes, when Mr or Ms Chamberlain will step off that plane from Germany waving that worthless bit of paper, that humiliating deal with  the EU, and then Mr Johnson can step forward as Mr Churchill.