Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Four-year-old failed for wanting his Daddy

Dulwich, leafy well-off south London enclave, for me is now associated with vainglorious attempts to frontally assault bastions of educational privilege. The first attempt, one cold January afternoon. Applying for a place at the heavily over-subscribed state primary school. Armed with birth certificate, multiple proofs of residence, knowing that the catchment area is the size of a coin. Unsurprisingly we don't get a place.

Now, trying to get our four-year-old into a 'chance' vacancy at a mostly girls private prep school which we can't afford. Welcome to Fantasy Island. A detached Victorian house just off the south circular, the school photographs in reception show a school body that is 95% white with a dash of light brown. Definitely not representative of south London.

The other parents arrive. Two dads in identikit grey suits, six mothers. All have little girls, most in uniforms of Dulwich College's kindergarten. Another part of the private school archipelago.

The receptionist has a nervy busy-ness about her and tells me that 'no, you won't be able to stay in the classroom during the assessment.' I'm to leave the school, have a coffee, then come back.

We take our children into the classroom. Three kids are upset at the thought of being left in unfamiliar surroundings. One girl was taken out of the room by her mother who I heard outside telling her repeatedly in a low voice to 'stop crying, you're in school'. The horse had refused to jump the fence.

Once he settles down in the classroom, I leave my son playing with Lego in the company of one of the five teachers doing the 'literacy, numeracy and sociability' assessment.

In total sixteen children are being assessed for one place in Year 1. Each parent pays £50 for the assessment, so the school, a charity like all independent schools, gets £800 for a few hours work. The chosen child gets a place for which her lucky parents will pay £10,000 per year.

Half an hour later I get a call from the receptionist saying that they weren't able to complete the assessment because my son got upset and wanted his daddy.

'It must be very disappointing for you,' says the receptionist when I arrive.

'Not at all,' I say, taken aback. 'I think testing at this age is invidious.' I'm angry that at the age of four, my son has been sorted into a box marked failure; chucked from the conveyor belt because he didn't comply. I'm annoyed that they take him out of the assessment seemingly at the first sign of distress and call it off. I'm angry that I'm complicit in a sorting exercise for children who maybe should be spending time playing rather than being measured.

My son brightens as soon as he sees me. His red face and tears go away and he's chatty as usual. The ordeal is over for now, but we still need to find a school.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Manners and money makyth man

Reading the Telegraph newspaper this week to find out the excesses of the the rotten political elite, I find the Court and Social pages excellent reading. How reassuring it is to see that amongst those awarded exhibitions to Winchester College is a young Amschel Nathaniel De Rothschild. It's comforting that in these troubled times the Rothschilds can still scrape together the fees.

The sky is falling in again

Professor Anthony Costello of UCL's Institute for Global Health was on the BBC Today programme this morning putting the willies up people about the 'full blown climate crisis' that we shouldn't forget about in the midst of a full blown economic crisis or a full blown political crisis. Heaven forbid that we should, or professors at the Ministry of Fear, Climate Section would suffer a funding cut and that would mean less trips to the Himalayas to watch glaciers melt. Something they're perfectly capable of doing on their own and have done periodically, as far as we know, throughout time. The glaciers, that is.

Such alarmist talk is fuelled by the listing of any adverse or unusual climate event as unquestionable being caused by man's CO2 emissions. The question has to be asked - what behavior of the climate system would contradict models of global warming?

Could it be that it's just the weather? And that people die from bad weather because 2 billion of them are living on less than a dollar a day?

This morning, Professor Costello tried to give us a sweetener at the end of his fear sell. 'Moving to a low carbon lifestyle will have many health benefits,' he said. 'Less stress, less diabetes, less obesity and heart disease.'

Less stress indeed. These promises at the end of the rainbow sound like Mao's three years of struggle to bring in a thousand years of prosperity which was partly responsible for a body count of 80 millions.

It also reminds me of the promise that nuclear-generated electricity that would be 'too cheap to meter'. When the hidden agenda was about producing weaponised plutonium to bring the world further to the edge.

If there are less of the above health conditions, it may be because there are fewer people around. An 80% reduction in C02 emissions by 2050 is easily achievable in this context:

JONATHON PORRITT, one of Gordon Brown’s leading green advisers, is to warn that Britain must drastically reduce its population if it is to build a sustainable society.

I have a vision of someone like Porritt popping up on TV telling people to take only one breath in every two to reduce CO2 emissions.

Now it's time to call for calm and quote Churchill.

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened”

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

So even the LibDems have had their snouts in the trough, as Ming Campbell has been putting beds and cushions on his Additional Costs Allowance. Today there was an appalling parade of Tory toffs and their allowances for moat cleaning, horse manure and helipad maintenance. Yes, this is what we'll get if Cameron gets in. They will be no different than they were the last time. Remember Hamilton, Aitken, 'Victorian Values' Major with his minor in a Currie. But lo, Tebbit speaks and says don't vote for any of the main political parties in the European elections.

Meanwhile, Stephen Fry decries all the fuss over MP's expenses. We all fiddle our expenses, he says, particularly venal journalists. His masochism and self-loathing cause him to find fault with himself in the midst of the biggest political loss of trust since the last one. I expect more from MPs. Never mind, that the sums are small compared to the banker bailouts. This lot of MPs work for us, and are supposed to account to us for how they spend billions of taxpayer revenue. So, yes, many journalists are scum and the old owner of the Telegraph is a convicted crook, but this is the best kind of chequebook journalism. The truth is out. Even if MPs tried to keep all of this secret.

A technological society cuts both ways. All of these misdemeanours were discretely downloaded onto disk and brought into the public domain. Prior to this they would have had to be photocopied like the Pentagon Papers. Hopefully this is a lesson to all of the control freaks in government that the truth will always get out there.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Smarter than the meter

Every house to have gas and electricity 'smart' meter by 2020... but homeowners will have to foot the bill

What a great idea to let a bunch of climate change believers control how hot your house is. Presumably this wonder technology will allow them to control your thermostat and remotely turn off your energy supply if you displease them or refuse to take an ID card or chip. A corporation or a government snooper will be able to see in real time how much energy you're using in your house. Maybe they'll have someone who can pop in and turn the TV off if you've left it on while you're in the bath.

Another example of the whole 'global warming' agenda is about. It's about corporations making money, in this case an estimated £7 bn, courtesy of the government who make you the taxpayer cough up for the new technology that will control you.

When did you vote for this one? Whose manifesto was it in? We should always be smarter than the meter.

My First Newspaper Article

Here is a link to the first national newspaper article I had published, 16 years ago. Someone at the Independent has been digitising all their archives. I wonder what it will be like for kids growing up now who will have a web log of every thing they ever wrote stored ad infinitum and accessible in a few keystrokes? All their Twitters and Facebook emissions like graffiti that cannot be removed.

When I had the above article published, it existed in the paper for one day and then it became chip paper. Now it's back. Presumably for ever. Strange. Imagine people reading this a hundred years from today. The lyrics of the old song no longer hold true:

Hey, don't save your kisses - just pass 'em around
You'll find my reason - is logically sound
Who's gonna know that you past them around
A hundred years from today?

On the death of the South Bank Show

The death of the South Bank Show after 30 years is another nail in the coffin for what used to be called, even a little over 10 years ago, arts TV. Yes, broadcasters even had arts departments that would commission and make arts programmes. But these are luxuries not fit for the new age of austerity. Furthermore, ITV has been paddled further up shit creek by Michael Grade who continues what he began at Channel 4 by chasing the money and audiences and finding neither. The BBC will continue to be salami sliced into obscurity. While Channel 4, created with a remit to be independent and different will likely soon merge with Five and the sad thing is, no one will notice any difference.

It's another sign of the death of television, an old medium, which like a fish rots from the head. Out go the arts series, the serious documentaries and news investigations until we're left with a smelly corpse of reality TV shows and the festering maggots of low-life celebs sliming around.

If you want culture – you've got the X Factor. In a sobering way this tells you all you need to know about our culture. No better now than when spectators in the arena cheered and mocked gladiators as they were torn apart. In a world where torture is the new rock n roll. We'll watch anything so long as it has victims and we can enjoy their suffering.

Our problem is that compassion is out of fashion. A generation of people have been weaned on television and learned their emotions from it, as we were warned in the 1976 film Network. We see but don't feel. Sensory learning has been mediated by the TV; the latex gloves around our minds. Watching a celebrity in the jungle with their head in a transparent box having bugs dropped on their head is entertainment. The same technique, authorised by lawyers, is used to torture suspects. No, 'I'm a celebrity ...' is not torture, it's harsh interrogation.

But we are all complicit in torture. Myself more than most. I have performed in these victim humiliation shows. I've poured poo on people's heads and humiliated people in the name of entertainment. I was a performer in television series like Balls of Steel and Experimental. The scary thing is, how happy people are to be put through it, so long as they get the chance to appear on the screen.

Shows like 24 and Spooks persuade us that torture works and we damn well need to do it to protect ourselves because there is a terrorist hiding with a dirty bomb in every suburb. The only safe thing to do is stay at home and watch TV. Worship the flat screen that has gotten bigger and higher in the smaller eco-homes we live in. When I was growing up people used to look down on the TV, physically - it was on a low corner table stand. Now they're on the bloody walls, above fireplaces, even on ceilings so you don't even have to rise up from your comfy slab. Hundreds of channels, 24 hours a day, so there's always something more distracting to find as you channel flick you attention span down to a microsecond.

The people who make TV don't watch it. How could they? It isn't about programmes, it's a money trench. It has always been a licence to print money. Very lucrative advertising revenues for one side, or a monopolistic household tax for the other. Now the dinosaurs of commercial TV shriek as they get a chill from declining ad revenues. They run around like headless chickens unable to do anything more creative than sack people.

The same free market that gave you hundreds of channels, reduced the ownership behind the media to a handful of international companies that couldn't give a fig about their effect of society. You're not only buying the cars and shampoos in the adverts, but you're buying into the bland lifestyles advertised in the programmes. The wreckless consumer culture that must continue at all costs. Lets face it. Television is the greatest form of social control ever invented second only to money.

Never mind that scientific studies have found that watching TV – and I'm summarising here – makes people violent, unhappy, fat and cretinous. You can read the research for yourself in the book 'Remote Controlled' by Aric Sigman.

So the demise of the South Bank Show is one less reason to have a TV. I stopped my satellite subscription exactly a year ago and from there it has been relatively easy to wean myself off the 4 ½ channels that remain.

I'd like to think the death of quality television does us a service. Further exposing that just as the emperor has no clothes; the channels have no programmes. It was the little boy in the story that pointed out the truth. But now children are raised in a TV wrapper. Cbeebies in the morning rising up like a shadow to meet them, replacing the parents as the font of knowledge. Their brains being wired by TV, entranced by the flicker refresh rate of the screen while learning that the characters on the TV have all the fun so that you don't have to. Switch it off before you self destruct.

War is a Racket

The latest move in off-loading responsibility for everything an elected and accountable government should do to the private sector becomes more horrific with the prospect of the Armed Forces being allowed to run state schools as military academies.

'Minsters believe that children in failing schools would particularly benefit from a military-style education,' according to the Daily Mail. This translates as letting the military directly target working class kids who, it has always and will always need to form the rump of obedient troops ready to lay down their lives for pieces of tin.

These schools will be taken out of public ownership and handed over to the military, which is responsible to the Crown. But wait, the whole basic training service of the armed forces is itself up for tender. Ready to be sold off to a mercenary, sorry security, company like the ones that have been so effective in shooting civilians in Iraq.

Why do politicians keep on down the road with the misguided belief that business can run a school better than professional teachers?

A lot of people think this is a good idea to combat the lack of discipline in schools. It may achieve that. But at what price? Limiting the choices to poor kids, directing them into the armed forces who are likely to send them on another aggressive war with poor equipment. Defending the country from direct attack is one thing. But being sent out to die in some forsaken land because it serves the bottom line of the energy business is another. When they come back with PTSD and broken bodies they'll be pushed out because they're no longer economical fighting units. More veterans of the Falklands War have subsequently committed suicide than died in the fighting. No one wins...

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.