Oct 192009
 

Roland Emmerich (of Stargate and Independence Day fame) is doing a new movie called 2012, again about the end of the world. This guy smashes up so many little models of the White House that he’s single-handedly keeping the miniature manufactory industry in business.

I’ve been looking at the trailers, and they’re done in exactly that sort of coy style that promises a garden of visual delights but doesn’t show them in a way that is at all satisfying. There are little flashes – what looks like a giant Brazilian statue of Jesus cracking into pieces; the dome of St Peter’s toppling over; an entire city sinking into the ocean – which then cut to John Cusack looking scared, but not nearly as scared as an actual human would be when confronted with, e.g., dozens of car-sized meteors hailing down on his Winnebago.

And this is what always bugs me about Roland Emmerich films. He presents me with the idea of fascinating disasters, but either his imagination is not as good as mine or I’m one sick puppy, because my vision of said disasters is always more interesting than what he comes up with. To give one example: part of the 2012 eschatology is predicated on the idea of ‘polar shift’ – an amusing amalgamation of geomagnetic reversal (a real scientific phenomenon) and the theory that some weird celestial catalyst might tilt the earth on its axis so that the poles become equatorial and the equator becomes polar (not a real scientific phenomenon, or at least not since the Precambrian era). Apparently ‘polar shift’ will cause earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., etc., and in the 2012 previews we are treated to some frankly dull imagery of a Los Angeles motorway collapsing, some buildings falling down (hey, that doesn’t impress me, I’ve seen that in real life now about, oh, eight years ago), and aerial views of flaming buildings collapsing into giant crevasses. The closest we get to ‘wow, that’s kinda awesome’ is a scene of ocean waves cresting over the Himalayas and exploding the obligatory Tibetan monastery.

What Emmerich doesn’t seem to get is that pictures of disasters aren’t that compelling unless they really show the scale of the thing. Polar shift? Forget Los Angeles, which isn’t very pristine even on its best days. Show us the whole earth, twisting around like a mad tennis ball in mid-space, oceans sloshing, volcanoes erupting. St Peter’s collapsing? Forget hairline cracks in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (which isn’t, by the way, in St Peter’s). The dome of St Peter’s is absolutely enormous – why not show it rolling down the hill and squashing Ostia? The trailers also show more than a few shots of wildly escaping airplanes slicing off the pinnacles of various buildings with the tips of their wings. I think we all know that when a fibreglass wingtip runs into the Washington Monument, it’s not the monument that’s going to crash and burn.

The rest of the film looks pretty predictable – professionally unsuccessful main character trying to save his children and ex-wife (why is it always an ex-wife in this guy’s movies, by the way? I know 50% of marriages end in divorce in the US, but the whole ‘I’m sorry I’m a nerd, I still love you’ routine was already lame when Jeff Goldblum’s cable guy/computer genius did it in ID4). The noble president struggling against the inhumane advice of his slimy advisers. Humanity uniting in a small space (in this film, Noah’s Ark aircraft carriers). No doubt there will be a heart-wrenching and self-sacrificial fatality. Perhaps even a lovable pet (‘Boomer!’). I’m sure at the end the characters will emerge into the wreckage to start building their new world, because it’s altogether too much to hope for that the film will conclude with everyone dying slowly of starvation in the clusterfuck that is (a) global farmland now covered in salt water and (b) suburban Californians with no agricultural skills.

The reason I started writing about this film, however, is entirely unrelated to the eye-tease visuals or mechanical plot. It was this teaser-trailer, which made me laugh out loud. YouTube won’t let me embed it, so here’s a description:

An elderly Tibetan monk is running up a mountain, sandals flapping, red robes, twisting in the breeze. He finally reaches the tiny temple at the summit where, huffing and puffing, he enters and sees another monk ringing a bell. Interspersed with these scenes are black screens bearing the words ‘How would the governments of our planet prepare six billion people for the end of the world?’ in stark capitals.

Creepy marimba music, oddly in time with the winded monks’ bell-ringing, plays in the background. Cut to distant view of snow-capped Himalayas. What’s that behind the mountains? More mountains? No, it’s water! Some of it begins to pour down the snowy slopes. The temple, in this aerial view, looks very tiny and vulnerable. Inside it, the monks can see the water bearing down on them, but they keep on ringin’ that bell. They don’t look particularly concerned, and are still ringing when the water engulfs the temple, breaking it into tiny pieces. In the aerial shot, you can’t even see the distant mountaintops any more – they are entirely underwater now.

Black screen again: ‘They wouldn’t.’

Then: ‘2012. Find out the truth. Google search: 2012.’

By the time we’d got to ‘They wouldn’t,’ I’d forgotten who they were and what it was they wouldn’t do. Oh yeah, they were the government, and they wouldn’t prepare us for the end of the world. I’m not sure whether Emmerich is implying that governments are untrustworthy bastards and we’d be better off preparing ourselves, or if he was snarking on them for not looking after our sorry asses. Either way, I laughed, because we all know there’s sweet fuck-all the government can do when all of Washington has been crushed under the rolling hull of the aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy and bits of the Kremlin have washed up on Mt Everest.

Oct 142009
 

Meanwhile, in crazy-land, the Saudis want oil-consuming nations to compensate them for all the oil we won’t be buying in our efforts to reduce climate change.

It’s like that bit in Catch-22 wherein Major Major’s father is paid generously by the US government for not growing alfalfa. Throughout Major Major’s childhood, his father buys up more and more land so as to get more and more money from the US government for the increasing amount of alfalfa he’s not growing.

And as Megan McArdle points out, crazy-land is not so far away from home:

Commenter Mike in DC adds “The sad thing is that if it were Midwestern farmers making this argument rather than Saudis, it would be taken seriously.”

Oct 122009
 

After racist homophobic anti-semites, libertarians are the Left’s favourite whipping boy, as this post at Liberal Conspiracy confirms. The author has paraphrased the statements of a Tory MEP at the Tory conference and, because one or two of them had a libertarian bent, has asked, ‘Are all libertarians this childish?

Short answer: no, but I’ll allow you the question because it’s obvious you’ve never come within spitting distance of an actual libertarian.

The comments then devolve into an argument about labels and the nature of libertarian ideology. I don’t comment at Liberal Conspiracy, but happily I have my own blog.

Picking some randomer from some other part of the political spectrum who advocates a single vaguely libertarian idea and calling him a libertarian does not, in fact, make him a libertarian.

Meanwhile, spouting one’s interpretation of libertarianism as ‘Hands off my Lexus, hippy,’ or ‘only freedom from taxation’ does not, in fact, mean that is what libertarianism is. I don’t even own a Lexus, and the tax I personally pay is not overly onerous.

The truth is that advocates of freedom are found all over the political spectrum, but the only true libertarians are the ones who advocate it at all times in all circumstances, from the bedroom to the wallet – who believe that ‘freedom from’ is the only state of being consistent with the dignity and majesty of humankind.

‘Freedom from’ is the most important part of that ideology. Freedom from coercion. Freedom from interference. Freedom from oppression.

‘Freedom to’ is where the misunderstandings enter. People on the right think libertarians are advocating freedom to burgle, rob, rape, murder – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’

People on the left think libertarians are advocating exploitation, pollution, callousness, and the primacy of making (and keeping) money above all else – because they read ‘freedom’ to mean ‘freedom to do whatever you please.’

And both sides think libertarians consider the laws we have prohibiting these activities to be a restriction on freedom.

When will they realise that they don’t understand?

Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and that you must not coerce anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and that you must not interfere with anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and that you must not oppress anyone else. Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.

For the libertarian, there is no ‘freedom to.’ Freedom represents an absence, the absence of force and fraud. It does not represent a licence to do anything, or a right or entitlement, except the absolute human right not to be forced or defrauded.

‘Freedom to’ is where conflict enters the system. ‘Freedom to’ often becomes a right: a right to a family, a right to cheap healthcare, a right to a job, a right not to starve. In this way a person can argue that poverty constitutes a lack of freedom, because poor people are not, to use the most extreme example, free to eat. And so a non-libertarian may say, their right to eat must override someone else’s freedom from coercion.

A libertarian may say, are the poor victims of coercion, interference, or oppression? If so, it must stop – and then they may be able to provide themselves with food. Thus not only are the freedoms of the poor restored, they are helped without obviating anyone else’s freedoms. No conflict exists; the principles of freedom are not only maintained, they are extended.

And for holding this principle, for advocating it, and for trying to practise it in their daily lives, libertarians are ‘childish’ and vilified as ‘Hands off my Lexus, you hippy.’ We, who are concerned only with the heights of dignity and achievement all humans could reach if only they were freed from coercion, interference, and oppression, are called ‘selfish’ and ‘misanthropic.’

So be it.

Oct 102009
 

I admit it freely: I do not understand what the hell this comment piece is trying to say.

What’s wrong with human rights?

Sample:

But unfettered criticism of human rights could also have have certain pitfalls. In a context where the movement remains marginal to power, it could inhibit progress and demoralise those working within the framework.

Any takers, then? I’d welcome an interpretation that makes more sense than my own Labradoresque cocked-head puzzlement.

P.S. Is it indicative of other readers’ bafflement that, although this was posted on CiF yesterday morning, only one person has commented?

Oct 092009
 

Working class kids are dumb.

This seems to be the view of John David Blake, who lays into the Tories’ recent statements on education with particular zeal, in ‘The Terrifying Face of Tory Education’. (‘Terrifying’! Really!) He is, as he says, a history teacher, so he knows all kinds of shit about shit.

As it happens, I too was once a history teacher, so I too know all kinds of shit about shit.

Let’s see how his shit and my shit compare, shall we?

A quick low-down on personal backgrounds first, though, since that matters a great deal to Mr Blake. He used to teach at a grammar school! *gasp*

Now, first off, a confession – probably best to get this out of the way: I spent two years working in a grammar school. Gnash your teeth if you wish…

But don’t give him too hard a time, y’all. At least grammar schools are still funded by the state, so he was earning an honest living off the toil of the taxpayer, just as every honest man should. I, on the other hand, have always worked in private, fee-paying schools, taking no penny of my salary from the taxpayer, unless perhaps indirectly by teaching the children of government employees.

You might say, actually, that Mr Blake has combined the worst of both worlds: living off the sweat of others whilst teaching only the privileged, well-behaved and brightest of the country’s children. In his eyes, one of those is a sin. Three guesses which.

But backgrounds are important to Mr Blake; a sticking point for him is that Tory education policy was dreamed up and announced by some guys who were educated in selective, sometimes expensive schools and then went on to university at Oxford – thus disqualifying them from any credibility:

Baker, Gove and Willetts seemed inordinately fixated, for a group all of whom were educated at Oxford after (respectively) public, private and grammar school educations, on the notion of “real skills”. Since “real skills” clearly aren’t currently being taught in schools (otherwise why the need for the new technical colleges?) I can’t help but wonder what the phrase actually means. Did Baker pick up no “real skills” at St Paul’s? Did Gove’s have no “real skills” as President of the Oxford Union? (part 2)

Yeah, those guys have no idea what they’re talking about. ‘Cause nobody who has ever been involved in Labour’s education policy went to selective schools (*cough*VernonCoaker*cough*) or Oxford (*cough*EdBalls*cough*KevinBrennan*cough*) or was president of the Oxford Union (*cough*MichaelFoot*cough*) or all three (*triplecough*TonyBenn*cough*).

But the ad hominem strategy was never going to be a good way to prosecute an argument, so let’s move on to Mr Blake’s problems with the policies.

First, creating new grammar schools. Mr Blake deploys the common complaint that they take away bright kids from other schools, thus depriving the dim kids of the company of their intellectual (or perhaps just hoop-jumping) superiors:

Obviously, where grammars continue to exist they cause problems (especially, say, Kent, which has an appalling record of educational achievement and has been run by the Tories since the dawn of time) – they can drain the brightest kids away from other schools, they often gobble up resources unfairly… (part 1)

I could almost buy this, except for the fact that bright kids do not exist to help dim ones, nor should we be treating them as if they ought to. ‘Brightness’ is not catching; the only benefit bright kids have for dim ones is that their general attitude toward learning and work ethic might inspire. The hope that this might happen is not a particularly good reason to keep bright kids in classes with slower learners, or more disruptive pupils, than themselves, mostly because the influence tends to flow in the other direction: weak or difficult pupils inhibit the learning experience for the bright ones far more than the bright ones enable it for the weak and disruptive. I mean, should doctors force healthy people to hang around the wards in the hope that their positive attitudes might improve the attitudes of the sick? After all, healthiness is no more catching than brightness.

As I say, I could almost buy that, except Mr Blake then carries on to say this:

…[grammar schools] generally result in a divide between middle and working class children in education (which often mirrors a racial divide).

Now, anyone may correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of grammar schools was that they took in the bright kids irrespective of background. This was sort of the point of them: any kid bright enough, working class or no, could attend. Grammar schools divide the bright from the dim; apparently they also divide the middle class from the working class. By analogy, then, Mr Blake thinks the working class are dim. If they can’t get into grammar schools, and all you need to do to get into grammar schools is be bright, then working class kids must not be bright. Or ‘ethnic’ kids, for that matter, since grammar schools cause (?) highlight (?) a racial divide.

This attitude of Mr Blake’s is frankly insulting.

I do not think it remotely true that the working class, or the non-white, cannot benefit from grammar schools. All you have to do is be clever, and cleverness knows no class-based or racial boundaries. The problem at the moment, of course, is that there aren’t enough grammar schools to service all the bright kids. The other problem, one which is nothing to do with the education system per se, is that children from deprived backgrounds, of whatever race, tend not to be brought up in environments in which learning is prized. Either nobody bothers to tell them that education can improve their minds and lives, or they are actively discouraged by immediate peers and role models from pursuing it in the first place. Send grammar school representatives into these areas to recruit, and the class/racial divide such schools cause (?) highlight (?) will disappear. The ‘problem’ of separating the bright from the weak will persist, of course.

The only way grammar schools would become a massive issue in education again is if someone proposed building dozens of them in every local authority in England and Wales.

Which is effectively exactly what Kenneth Baker is proposing.

Hurrah for Kenneth Baker. One issue solved: there will be enough grammar schools to service the bright kids. Now just send them out to recruit.

And, incidentally, don’t include behavioural history as part of the selection process. My own experience as a teacher – and this is anecdotal of course – is that most of the behaviour problems in schools are caused by bright kids who are bored out of their fucking minds. Personalise their education, allow them to pursue their scholastic interests, and put them in small classes where they can get lots of attention from the teacher, and bingo. No more bad behaviour.

Then there are the proposed vocational diplomas:

Diplomas force children at 14 to choose between academic and vocational education – the decision to study GCSEs or Diplomas is the defining issue around which everything else is then shaped in their lives, because it determines how many other GCSEs they can do, which in turn affects what they can study at Sixth Form (can they do A-levels if they decide the diploma isn’t for them? Well, possibly, but not the “hard subjects”), which shapes what, if anything, they are able to do at university level.

This is just silly. Why the hell do we have FE colleges, if not to enable people to go back and do GCSEs and A-levels after they have done something else for a while? Education does not have to stop at age 16 or 18 if a person doesn’t want it to. What’s to stop somebody from doing a vocational diploma as a teenager, working for a while with it, then going back on their own time to do some GCSEs and ‘hard’ A-levels? Nothing.

But of course, this is not really about learning. This is about evil Tory LEAs stuffing all the ‘difficult’ kids into vocational schools where they don’t bring down the league table ranking:

[Baker] wants each local authority in the country (about 100 of them) to set up separate schools which will take children with an interest in vocational work – so popular will these schools be, said Baker, that soon local authorities will want more of them. And indeed, which local authority run (as most of them are today) by Tories wouldn’t want a school into which you can legitimately dump at 14 every difficult child in every other school in your area?

This strategy would apparently isolate kids from everybody who knows them and make sure they know their place forever:

Take them out of that environment and put them into a new school where no one knows them and everyone has an incentive to keep them just where they are for as long as possible and these children will be cut off from the higher levels of academic achievement throughout the rest of their school career at the age of 14 (and, let’s be honest, if that happens, very few of them are going to go back in their own time later in life). Worse, they will be earning qualifications which, the history of educational qualifications in Britain would suggest to us, are less likely to be highly regarded by universities or employers (the reason we have a GCSE today was because employers were only interested in the “academic” O-level not the “second-class” GCE). Students will be divided by outcome; and not the outcome of the same set or a similar of examinations, but at different qualifications entirely, within a system which is already set up to favour those who follow the traditional route.

Oh, I see: they won’t go back to school later in life, after being sequestered in the vocational schools to keep them out of the classrooms of the privileged middle class kids. They’ll, like, not go to university! Or get jobs!

Again: silly. They’ll get jobs. Maybe not hugely remunerative ones, but they’ll get them. They won’t go to university, but hey, lots of people don’t. It’s not for everybody. It helps if you want office jobs, or academic jobs, but not everybody wants those.

And if we’re being honest with ourselves, if employers insist on job candidates having GCSEs these days, it’s probably because that’s one of the few ways to confirm that an applicant is functionally literate and numerate (and even then you can’t be sure). If we had fewer problems at the pre-secondary level – if kids could definitely all read, write, and ‘rithmetic by the age of 11 – employers would likely have less of a box-ticking mentality about the GCSE.

The US model is a good one to look to: although vocational schools are few and far between, they offer the core curriculum alongside the vocational skills. Half the day is spent doing English, maths, history, and science, and the other half in the workshop. If that was done here, kids in vocational schools could get GCSEs easily. It might take them an extra year or two, but they’d have them by the age of 17 or 18.

This has nothing to do with improving education for the least well-off in society; this is about saving Home County parents from having to send their children to school where working class kids also go. That’s Kenneth Baker’s offer: build a new sink school, local authorities, and the rest of your schools will drained of the poor, the problematic and the needy. Wave goodbye to the black and the backwards, it is Grammar schools for everyone (who already votes Tory).

And your argument, Mr Blake, has nothing to do with children’s needs, despite your protestations about pastoral care and attention. It has everything to do with class warfare, in which the person who appears to hold the lowest opinion of the working class is not Kenneth Baker, but you.

Moving on, we get into the arena of ‘real skills’, which we’ve already seen Mr Blake doesn’t think well-educated Tories are fit to judge.

Leaving aside their rather optimistic faith that the only thing required to turn around our most disaffected youngsters is some time with power tools, or the fact that they were just making jobs up out of thin air (not everyone who leaves the new technical schools will be guaranteed a job unless the government starts interfering with the economy in a fashion that “David” and “George” are not going to be happy with), what we seem to be talking about here is a vision of education which relates solely to the things you can do practically at the end of it. I have real problems with this, largely because as a History teacher, I find that when people say “skills” they mean “things that will obviously make you money” rather than “things that will allow you to assess, understand and work to alter yours and other people’s place in the world”. (part 2)

So: the Tories want to fix education so that people can better themselves; Mr Blake thinks the purpose of educating a child is so that he can better other people. Who’s right?

A good education is not something that can be shared, in the sense that, once you’ve got one, you can’t siphon off a little bit to someone who hasn’t. In that respect, education is very much a selfish endeavour: you want the best possible one you can get, which will accrue to you the greatest possible benefit. But ‘benefit’ is a fairly subject value; some people feel benefited by ‘making money’, others by ‘assessing, understanding, and working to alter their and other people’s place in the world.’ But ultimately, it’s up to the individual to judge that. In fact you might say the purpose of education is to provide the individual with the critical skills necessary to make that judgment.

But the Tories just want to educate you so that you can ‘ make you money’, those evil bastards. This from the guy who was just whinging about people being ‘guaranteed a job’! Make up your mind, Mr Blake! Should they be guaranteed a job (and thus make money, how horrid), or should they assess, understand, etc? Or, perhaps, they should somehow be getting non-paying, world-altering jobs. I dunno. I’m confused. You complain that these kids won’t get jobs, but then you say education shouldn’t be focused on enabling them to make money. So somehow education should be focused on enabling them to get jobs that don’t make money. I don’t get it.

But this allows us to move into another of Mr Blake’s critiques, which is that the Tories aren’t promising jobs. Leaving aside for the moment the absurdity that anyone should be guaranteed a job (is this a new human right?), he says:

Unless someone gives building firms, engineering firms and others a great deal of money, there aren’t going to be any jobs for these young people to go to. The banks haven’t got any money, and David Cameron is ideologically opposed to government giving any money…

Excuse me, but the people who should be giving these firms ‘a great deal of money’ are their customers.

Finally, Mr Blake carries on to rail against fee discounts for university students who repay their student loans early:

…when our bright, articulate working class youngster gets to the dreaming spires, or the solid red brick, or the upcoming 1992 university, she will discover rich people will be getting their university places for cheaper than she is.

Willetts, a beaming smile on his face, guaranteed that 10,000 new university places would be provided by giving students who paid back their debts early a discount on their fees. (part 3)

I must admit, I don’t really know how this policy operates, given that the fees are paid at the set rate before the student begins to pay back his debts. Perhaps he will be given a discount on the repayment interest rate. But it was my understanding that all (English) students at all British universities pay exactly the same amount of money in tuition and fees. Getting a cheaper interest rate on your student loans hardly translates into ‘getting [your] university places for cheaper’.

Government-funded student loans represent a market failure anyway. The reason we have them is because banks don’t like to give out loans to people with no collateral who are likely to default. The government absorbs that risk via the taxpayer – but still attempts to obviate the risk by garnishing a person’s salary for repayments as soon as he ceases to be a student and gets a job.

Now, one could argue that since we want to encourage people to go to university, whether they are rich or poor, these are reasonable government policies. But surely it would be better for students to borrow from a private lender, with the state acting as guarantor, than for the state to lend the money and then garnish wages.

It was also my impression that student loans were means-tested, so this complaint is a little odd to me:

There are student now who manipulate the student loans system by taking out loans they are entitled to, sticking the money in a high interest savings account, and then getting through their university with handouts from mummy and daddy. Now, fantastically, they’ll actually get to keep not just the interest from that cash, but some of the money too. It’s like a lottery only rich people can win.

If there are ‘rich people’ getting student loans, maybe it’s time to change the way those means are tested. They do it in the US – it’s called the FAFSA. It’s pretty harsh. Even some people who are low on means indeed have trouble getting government aid. Of course, they take a different view of paying for university in the US; grants are swell, loans are tolerable, but if you expect to go to uni for fucking free you’d better get a scholarship. Most American university students I knew worked at least part-time throughout their course (including me). British university students appear to take their government money, pay their rent, and spend the rest on beer. There is no shame in tending bar or waiting tables whilst studying – and I’m sure many British uni students do – but give me a break. If the government is stupid enough to give you a loan you don’t need, and you stick it in the bank to collect interest, good for you. The fact that not everybody can do that is no reason to start bitching.

Meanwhile, those students who do have to pay something but really need the loans face the prospect of not claiming their discount. But, you cry, presumably they can go into high paid jobs? Then they can pay it back faster. Well, possibly … although one would think the Milk Round is going to be a little curdled for a while, and besides, why should the decision to enter teaching, or medicine, or nursing, not be a reason for a discount on your fees, whilst a decision to enter banking or corporate law saves you money? It is an absolutely naked piece of government welfare to the class from which all three of these men, and their leader and their shadow chancellor, are drawn.

The government has every reason to incentivise people to go into high-paying jobs. That lovely welfare Mr Blake and Don Paskini like so much doesn’t come cheap – it requires money. To put it bluntly, for every graduate who pays off his loans early by getting a high-paying job, the government expects to soak him for the maximum possible tax and National Insurance contributions. These people are the wealth creators (well, not from lawyers, obvi), and government can hardly hand out generous welfare without access to some, y’know, wealth. Doctors, nurses, and teachers are not wealth creators; they are at best wealth enablers, ensuring that people are healthy and knowledgeable enough to go out and create some; they are at worst wealth drainers, as some teachers especially are so bad at it that they simply suck up taxpayers’ money without even giving their kids some decent book-learnin’.

But as it happens, this is kind of something I agree with Mr Blake about. If the government is going to mandate the same tuition fees at East Buddhafuck Polytechnic as at Oxford (’cause to do otherwise would just be another example of the Tories fucking over the poor kids by making only crappy universities affordable to them), then the amount the students are made to pay back should be the same across the board, too.

On the other hand, the policy doesn’t really sound to me like aid for the Tory class. Mr Blake spends a bit of time pointing out that they don’t have any ‘real skills’ because they’ve worked in politics and its subsidiaries all their adult lives. From what I’ve heard, that career path doesn’t pay very well until you claw your way up the ladder. Conversely, lots of normal (read: non-toffs) people leave university to get productive jobs, found companies, etc. ‘Discounts’ for those who go into the paid professions, rather than the work-for-peanuts ass-kissing professions, seems to me like it might help working-class graduates rather than hurt them.

But as Mr Blake reminds us, this isn’t about class warfare, despite the fact that he thinks working-class kids are stupid, badly-behaved, and likely to go into low-wage jobs if they manage to get as far as university:

And what [Cameron’s] men are is spivs. Men on the make. Bright, articulate, desperate for power, uncaring of how they get it, and determined to look out for their own. They don’t give a damn about you or anyone like you, and for ten years that total indifference to the real concerns of the British people kept them out of power. But they’ve worked it out at last: they’ve dressed their education policy up, like their health and benefits policy, as the reforms for working people Labour never gave you.

Hmm. Change a couple of words, and that paragraph would read:

And what Brown’s men are is spivs. Men on the make. Bright, articulate, desperate to cling onto power, uncaring of how they do it, and determined to look out for their own. They don’t give a damn about you or anyone like you, and for ten years that total indifference to the real concerns of the British people has been demonstrated whilst they’ve been in power. But they’ve worked it out at last: they’ve dressed their education policy up, like their health and benefits policy, as the reforms for working people the Conservatives would never give you.

This is obviously not about the substance of the Tories’ proposed educational reforms; it’s about the Tories themselves. And why should the voter give a good goddamn where the Tory leadership went to school thirty years ago? All a voter should care about is whether the policies will work. I don’t think they will; they’re so milquetoast that I doubt they’ll have any effect if enacted. Cameron’s men aren’t being radical enough.

This is about hatred for the Tories, in their incarnation of The Privileged, and finding every way possible to insinuate that they’ve got it in for people who aren’t like them. To what end, I ask you, would they do this? Is it really in the Tories’ interests to foster an ill-educated, poverty-stricken underclass who would (a) simply have to be supported on benefits anyway, and (b) never ever vote again for the party that robbed them of all chance at social mobility? Perhaps Mr Blake thinks this is just the beginning, and eventually the Tories will strip away the benefits too, so that everybody who’s ‘not like them’ will starve to death, thus ridding the country of an inconvenient burden?

I’m sure Mr Blake doesn’t actually think that. What he also doesn’t think is what has actually happened: that social mobility has worsened under Labour, educational achievement has worsened under Labour, and enough people realise this that they’re likely to vote for the very party that supposedly fucked everybody over back in the eighties.

Finally, Mr Blake is invoking the kind of political cant that was the standard 25 years ago. Is he appealing to new voters, young voters, the very people who would be most affected by some of these policies? No – a voter turning eighteen next spring will have been born in 1992. Too young to remember how evil the Tories were. Too young to know anything but thirteen years of Labour government. The only people these days for whom ‘toffs! class warfare!’ is going to work as an electoral rallying cry are the ones who were bitching and moaning around the place in 1984 and who think all Tories are exactly like Margaret Thatcher, despite the fact she’s been out of power for twenty years.

If you want people to take your criticisms seriously, Mr Blake, then make some serious criticisms. Don’t stand or fall on the ancient reputation of the Conservative party and a bunch condescending remarks about how haaaaard everything is for the, by your implication, stupid and unemployable working class.

How the pendulum does swing

 indolence, stupid-heads  Comments Off on How the pendulum does swing
Oct 062009
 

Madeleine Bunting, 28 June 2009:

Powerful, grand narratives legitimise power, win our allegiance and frame our private understandings of how to measure value and create meaning. They also structure time – they fit the present into a continuum of how the past will become the future. This is what all the grand narratives of communism, socialism, even neoliberalism and fascism offered; as did the grand narratives of religion. Now, all have foundered and fragmented into a mosaic of millions of personal stories. It is a Tower of Babel in which we have lost the capacity to generate the common narratives – of idealism, morality and hope such as Sandel talks about – that might bring about civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose.

Curtis argues that we are still enchanted by the possibilities of our personal narratives although they leave us isolated, disconnected, and at their worst, they are simply solipsistic performances desperate for an audience.

Madeleine Bunting, 30 September 2009:

I can launch my own catalogue of complaints against Gordon Brown as well as the next columnist, but I’ve no appetite right now to join what increasingly sounds like a mob lynching. There is something about the assembled chorus of received wisdom which makes me go contrary; group think rarely produces good judgments.

I dunno, Maddy: perhaps that grand narrative you were looking for all along, that ‘group think’ you now distrust, is the ‘received wisdom’ that Gordon Brown is a colossal fuck-up. It certainly seems to have, in your words, won our allegiance and brought about ‘civic renewal and a reinvigorated political purpose.’

Be careful what you wish for…

H/T the Heresiarch.

Oct 052009
 

DK rips into a leftie who appears to be claiming that raising the minimum wage to £7/hr (a ‘Living Wage’) will be good for workers and good for businesses. Like, automatically. Always. ‘Cause it’d sure be stupid to do it if it would make some people worse off.

Let’s experiment, shall we?

I own a widget factory.

I have 100 employees turning out widgets for £5.80/hr, 40 hours/wk, 52 weeks per annum.

My wages bill is thus £1,206,400 per annum. Add in Employers’ NICs, and that wages bill becomes £1,287,667.

Let’s pretend my factory is very cheap and costs me £25,000 per annum to operate.

Each of my widgets costs £1 to make; I sell each widget at £1.20 for a 20% (entirely reasonable) profit.

Fortunately I sell 1,500,000 widgets per annum, leaving me with a nice profit of £487,333 per annum. I share this equally with my three business partners, giving us each a yearly income of £121,833.25. Once I’ve paid Employers’ NICs, my own NICs, and income tax on this sum, I’m actually taking home £70,031.

Suddenly, the law demands I pay my employees £7/hr.

Now my wages bill is £1,569,216 per annum (including Employers’ NICs) plus £25,000 overhead.

Selling 1,500,000 widgets per annum, now my profit has shrunk to £205,784 per annum, which I share equally with my three business partners, giving us each a yearly income of £51,446. Once I’ve paid Employers’ NICs, my own NICs, and income tax on this sum, I’m actually taking home £32,800. In raising my employees’ wages by £1.20 each per hour, my own income has shrunk by more than half.

If my widget sales fall, my income becomes even smaller. If my overhead rises (energy bills go up, you know), my income becomes even smaller. If I want to offset this by raising the price of my widgets, my customers’ business costs rise (at a time when they have already risen, because they too have to pay their employees more); alternately, sales of my widgets fall. I realise I can earn more than £32,000 as a school teacher.

Best-case scenario, my business becomes more expensive to run, my customers’ businesses become more expensive to run, the prices of our products rise, and our incomes shrink.

Worst-case scenario? My partners and I sack our 100 employees and sell the factory. My employees are now earning £0/hr. My partners and I go off to teach maths to left-wing dunderheads who, despite our efforts, will never understand that occasionally, just occasionally, raising the costs of a business means it is no longer worthwhile to operate that business.

Tax figures found here.

Oct 052009
 

Charlie Brooker:

I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain. I can’t possibly read all these pages, watch all these movies, before the grim reaper comes knocking. The bastard things are going to outlive me. It’s not fair. They can’t even breathe.

Clearly, some sort of cull is in order. It’s me or them. I pick them. My options need limiting.

Here’s what I want: I want to be told what to read, watch and listen to. I want my hands tied. I want a cultural diet. I want a government employee to turn up on my doorstep once a month, carrying a single book for me to read. I want all my TV channels removed and replaced by a single electro-pipe delivering one programme or movie a day. If I don’t watch it, it gets replaced by the following day’s selection. I want all my MP3s deleted and replaced with one unskippable radio station playing one song after the other. And every time I think about complaining, I want a minotaur to punch me in the kidneys and remind me how it was before.

In short: I’ve tried more. It’s awful. I want less, and I want it now.

Charlie, you sad bastard. Discover some self-control, for Christ’s sake, stop being such a baby, and limit your fucking options yourself.