Sunday, 28 March 2010

An Englishman's Home is his Castle

As I was relaxing at the club the other day, Manton came in swearing under his breath.

"Bloody snoopers," he muttered flopping down in the chair next to me.

"Another brush with GCHQ?" I asked with a sly grin.

"Nothing so quixotic," he said, his smile returning. "It's the bloody TV detector vans round again. That's the third time this year."

"I thought you didn't have a TV?"

"Wouldn't have one in the house! Utter rubbish and governement propaganda. But do they believe you? No they have to come in and look around for themselves."

"Why do you let them?"

"Can't stop them old chap!"

"Don't they need a search warrant or something?"

"Pardon me for butting in." It was Montague Hyde our resident barrister. "I couldn't help overhearing you gentlemen talking about warrants. Things have changed a great deal over the last 13 years. There are now over a thousand different officials who have complete access to your home any time they please. And they don't need a warrant."

I was incredulous. "You must be joking!"

"Not at all my dear fellow. Most people don't realize it but the TV detector man is the least of your worries these days."

"But an Englishman's Home is his Castle!"

"That may well have been true in 1629 when Sir Edward Coke issued his well known declaration and the Petition of Rights was created, but alas it is true no more," added Montague Hyde. "Government and local officials can force their way into your home not just to pursue criminals and terrorists but for the most trivial of reasons."

"Such as?" I queried.

"To check health and safety standards, for instance. Or height of your hedges, or to check whether you are profiting from the plunder of shipwrecks, or conduct rabbit control..."

"You're kidding me!"

"...checking babysitting credentials.... inspecting potted plants... monitoring the environmental credentials of refrigerators.... the list goes on and on. The proliferation of the grounds of entry coupled with the wide discretion granted has left individuals wide open to arbitrary abuse by the state."

"Goodness, I had no idea...."

"Very few people do, until its their door that is being knocked on in the middle of the night. I'm afraid that an Englishman's home is no more impregnable than an aging ruin now.

Friday, 19 March 2010


Dearest Manton
In plodding my weary way across the internet I seem to frequently come across documents such as the enclosed. You will no doubt have seen thousands of similar examples. Everyone from Government departments, schools colleges local authorities use this kind of thing to try to specify levels of ability/skills.

Now I don't know about you but every time I come across these things I cant help feeling these documents are fundamentally flawed in almost every respect. One example. To reach level 2 ICT you need to be able to, quote, review the effectiveness of IT tools to meet needs in order to inform future judgments. Now is it just me or is that utter gobbledygook, meaningless twaddle and total crap? Or have I missed something? Either I need to be enlightened or every government educational department/quango is talking utter rubbish. Does anyone else see this? How is it perpetuated? Why has no-one claimed that the emperor has no clothes?

Can you advise? Or better still, with your unusually enlightened mind pinpoint where the exact error lies? Is it not time to expose this fraud?

Your humble and grateful servant.

Dear Carruthers
On the contrary, I think the brave men and women who toil selflessly in these quangos should be congratulated! They have managed to list all of the skills that were once implicit in the traditional GCSE syllabuses (syllabi?), so that they can be taught separately, despite complaints from hide-bound traditionalists (so unlike yourself) about why these skills are no longer being learned by default during standard lessons in our nation's schools.

You will, I am sure, be as delighted as I am to learn that basic/key/functional skills will be tested in an as yet undetermined way and assessed with a simple pass/fail, thus making them easy, and above all cheap, to mark.
There are whole armies of teaching assistants out there who may not be qualified to teach, but who can now be given some concrete way in which they can improve the CVs of their students, thus leaving the teachers free with the far more essential work of improving their schools rankings int he league tables, and therefore making the Government's education policies look good.
Yours Ever

Dear Manton
Every government quango out there just seems to thrive on writing piles of reports that mean nothing, setting standards that have no value, and undertaking extensive work that accomplishes nothing? Call me old fashioned if you like but isn't it all rather pointless?
Your obedient and submissive servant

Dear Carruthers
If it weren't for these massive bureaucratic quangos doing this important work, how would the Government be able to claim that they are putting more into education than ever before? Where would the money go? Apart from the bankers bonuses, obviously. Oh sure, they could pay it to the teachers, so that they have got the time and the resources to teach maths and English properly in the schools, but would that really be in the best interests of our children?

The children of today will become the captains of industry of tomorrow - or at least they would if we still had any industries. They need to be prepared for a world in which huge corporations pay huge sums of money to their top employees whilst contributing absolutely nothing of any value to society and at the same time poisoning the air, water and food chain in an ever accelerating rush towards ... something or other.

Surely it behoves us to run education in exactly the same way, to prepare them for the broad sunlit uplands of the modern industrialised society that are awaiting them as they mature into adults.
Toodle Pip

My Dear Manton
How can you talk about education when the curriculum has replaced the real learning of History, Science, Maths, English, Latin.... with the vacuous modern learning of how to avoid drug addition, obesity, teenage pregancy, green issues, relationships.... where has all the real knowledge gone? Education doesn't exist any more, at least not in any form I recognise.
You obedient, humble and servile servant

Dear Carruthers
If we actually start to teach them properly, imparting real knowledge for it's own sake, rather than a simple list of skills that will enable them to become good consumers and allow them to participate in this great sacred quest towards .... something or other, is there not a danger that they will start to think for themselves, and start to question the nature of progress, and why our race towards ... something or other is important enough to justify such senseless waste, declining moral standards and global economic incompetence?

What is the point of filling their heads with these grand visions of some mythic golden age which never existed, when they have to live in the real world, the one that we are working so hard to create for them.

I'm sure that you will agree with me that the document that you sent me is vital to the forward march of education towards ... something or other. I for one am glad that someone is working out the precise difference between key skills and functional skills.

I did at first think that it would probably have been easier to make key skills and functional skills identical, so that no comparison was needed, but one visit to the QCDA website soon put me right.

I did look for a listing of the actual functional skills that they were comparing, but other than a video from the CEO of Toyota UK about how functional skills would have prevented Toyota cars from crashing all the time, there seemed to be very little in the way of detail on precisely what functional skills actually are.

I did find out though, that they have been piloted somewhere and are about to be rolled out nationally. Clearly they were a huge success. It makes you wonder why they ever bothered with basic skills or key skills. I am sure that functional skills will be much better.

Anyway, I hope I have set your mind at rest
Toodle pip

Dear Manton

Yes, yes.... that is all very well but what about the language they are using to describe these things? Look at the terms they write in. Here is the standard you have to reach: "review the effectiveness of IT tools to meet needs in order to inform future judgements" I mean how do you do that? What does it mean?

"Review the effectiveness of IT tools?" What kind of review, just a quick 'look again' or a hundred page report or a set up a government quango? A review can be anything.

And the "effectiveness of IT tools" - how do you measure that? Effective in what way? How effective does it need to be? 100% or will 18% do? (the same as the pass mark for A level maths?)

"To meet needs" Did we read that right? "To meet needs" Yes. How vague is that? Who's needs? an expert? a beginner? for what? Writing a letter?, designing a nuclear sub? Playing Doom? How do you define needs. Needs of one are not needs of another.

"In order to inform future judgement." About what? How far in the future? Tomorrow? Next century? To scan compulsory ID card? To lock critical thinking people up? Or just to buy a new printer?

How can anyone draft something so vague that it becomes totally meaningless and not see it? And not just a phrase but a standard, presumably something that needs to be measured by someone to ensure that they have reached the right level? How can anyone ever measure something like that?
Your humble grovelling and most servile servant
Dear Carruthers
You reaslly should not get too involved in these matters. It certainly won't help your blood pressure. These quangos are keeping the country running. What more do we want?
Toodle Pip

Dear Manton
It's the language that bothers me. The vague imprecision of it all. They are surely fooling themselves and perpetuating a huge fraud on the whole of education if they think this means something and they have defined what it means to have an IT functional skill. It can mean anything anyone wants. Can't it? Have I missed something?

And it is not one isolated document, almost everything that comes from local government or a quango has built its structural edifice on language like this. It is the common language of the bureaucrat. The lingua franca of the pseudo-educationalist the world over. Is it not time to send the whole house of cards tumbling? I call on all of sound mind to join the revolution...
Your obedient, humble, grovelling and sycophantic servant

Dear Cartruthers
I once met someone who was high up in the civil service took your point of view. If I remember I have a clipping from one of his letters which I reproduce here:
"I seek to do away with obscurantist jargon (although I think I might just have invented some there) in both my own subject and others. Language is there to communicate meaning, not hide it. If someone can only make themselves important by withholding something, and forcing others to be complicit in this by creating an academic discipline out of it, they are a pretty sorry sort of person. They also tend not to have much of a sense of humour, presumably because they are too scared of being found out. I've read too many academic papers which use academic sounding language to hide the fact that they don't contain anything worth saying and are a complete waste of paper. This is why Orwell is one of my heroes."

He took his own life, if I remember correctly as he couldn't face the world any more.
Let that be a lesson to us all
Toodle Pip

Sunday, 7 March 2010

On Tyranny

"I couldn't help overhearing your conversation the other day on liberty," said Scoobles approaching me with a glass in his hand. "Can I get you a drink old chap?"

Scoobles was one of the newer members of the club and I hadn't really spoken to him much. I guessed he was looking to make a new friend. "No, I'm fine thanks."

"I bet most of the old crones round here have never heard of John Stuart Mills, never mind read him, eh?" He gave me an encouraging wink.

"Mill," I said.


"It's John Stuart Mill. Not Mills." I smiled.

"Yeah, well, whatever. I agreed with everything you said about liberty. But of course you can only take it so far."

"How do you mean?"

"Well not all crimes have victims, do they?" He sipped his drink and leaned forward, "I mean what about vandalism or fly-tipping or arson? And there's drug dealing and racial hatred...not to mention downloading porn. It would be a horrible, dirty, scary world if all crimes had to have victims."

 "Well I think you will find there are victims if you think about it. Aren't the victims of  vandalism the property owners? And with fly-tipping, the council tax payers? Drug dealers have plenty of victims I would have thought with the addicts they are making. But I admit that race hatred is a little more difficult. Hatred is an emotion, not an action and I don't believe that anyone should be criminalized for their emotions any more than people should be criminalized for their thoughts."

"Well I do, if they are the wrong thoughts!"

I looked at him surprised. "Wasn't it Orwell who first foresaw a day when people would be arrested just for thinking the wrong things? He called it "Thought Crimes". We already have thought crimes in this country - and I am not so sure that race hated isn't one - where the authorities want to lock people up just for what they think, even though they may not have actually done anything wrong. I think you will find that is the real horrible scary world we are sleepwalking into."

"And what about dowloading pornography? You can't justify that."

"The basic rule is still the same - Principle of Harm. If any anyone is harmed in any way then there should be a law to prevent it. But equally there should be no laws against what happens in peoples minds. Our thoughts are our own and there should be no such thing as an Orwellian thought crime in a free country. If no one is hurt, there should be no law against it."

"I fail to see how you can sensibly apply Mill's Harm Principle to this type of obscenity because there is no way that any aspect of it can be described as a 'victimless crime'."

"What people do in their own heads, with their own thoughts is their own business - as long as no one else is harmed. The state has no right to dictate to anyone what they do in their own minds. And whether you or I approve or disapprove makes no difference. Everyone has the liberty to think what they like, feel what they like, reason how they like. That is what makes us human beings. As long as they are not harming anyone, I support their freedom to do as they please. That is what liberty means. Liberty does not mean others are only free to do what I approve or what you approve. That is just another name for tyranny."

"Well, Ok, downloading and looking at something isn't directly hurting anyone but you're forgetting that I don't agree with you that there should only be laws against things that directly hurt other people. There totally should be a law against it, And the state completely has a right to enforce a law on downloading all indecent images. Call it tyranny if you like but I would rather the country be tyrannical than full of dirty scumbags."

I put my paper down. "That is exactly what tyranny is - the imposition of one persons view, or even the view of the majority, on others.
    "There have always been bogey men throughout the ages, who society have singled out as the 'dirty scumbags' of their time. In the 17th century it was witches, in the mid 20 century it was communists, in the mid 30s it was the Jews and in the early 21 century it has been those who download indecent images. What these groups have in common is they didn't harm anyone but they were persecuted because society set its face against them because it didn't agree with them. Every age has its own demons.
    "Once you have identified your 'scumbag' group you can then denigrate them to any extent, deprive them of their rights, liberty or even their life. And no one will come to their defence because they are afraid they will be associated too. 
    "All persecution starts this way - we label a certain group as 'scumbags' because they are different from us and we don't approve of what they do. And before we know it there are a whole new bunch of witchfinders, or McCarthyites or Nazis who would be quite happy to turn the country into a tyranny provided they can get rid of the 'dirty scumbags'.
    "And down that road my friend, I cannot follow you." And with that I got up a left.