Monday, July 23, 2007

The ode less travelled - Opik the poet

This morning Lembit Opik read out something described as an ode to caravaning. At least it didn't mention Margaret Beckett. For future composition, I do recommend Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled . Meanwhile keep the day job, Lembit.

Labour Government Housing Policy - wet !

"The government will continue to build houses on flood plains, as long as the "proper defences" are in place" according to Housing Minister Yvette Cooper. They just don't get it , do they ? Ask yourself who will buy a house that they cannot insure against floods that are bound to happen more and more often ? Building in flood plains also makes matters worse for existing houses, because there is less open space to soak up water.

Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink

In all the coverage of widespread flooding, I have only heard one person suggest the role of climate change - Barbara Young, Head of the Environment Agency. If the government or any politicians including Liberal Democrats want the public to be ready to accept taxes or controls on carbon emissions, we have to make the link with the consequences of carrying on as we are.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Peers, parliament and passes

The Times reveals something we've all known about for years. Some peers receive large sums of money to represent interest groups and provide their staff with passes as parliamentary researchers. Lord Berkeley (a Labour creation) argued that he needed someone to help him write his speeches. So I checked. On 18th June the noble lord asked, "Why there is a £10 charge for refunding rail tickets purchased online, but not for refunding tickets purchased at stations ?" What did he pay his researcher for that ? Nothing. On the contrary, the Rail Freight Group pay Lord Berkeley £37,000 a year.

We need that great Liberal MP, Hilaire Belloc, to do justice to the story.

After 10 years of New Labour

The gap between rich and poor is wider than ever. They don't even meet any more. Interviewed on the radio, a man (In the shower I didn't hear the name) commented, "Rich people in London don't think they're rich because they don't mix with any poor people". It's similar in Chard. Poor people here don't think they're poor, because they don't mix with any rich people.

For the Discerning Reader

The BBC reports that pagans are outraged by the appearance of Homer Simpson on the hillside next to the Cerne Abbas giant. They don't mention the adventures of Lord Scarman as a young man. On a walking holiday he and and his friends planted poppy seeds in the outline of the giant. Shortly after, the giant turned red so locals burnt out the poppies. The giant turned brown. Then more poppies grew. The giant turned red again. Then they tried weed-killer. The giant turned black.

Apparently, the rain will remove Homer.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Malplaquet or cooking ?

Why is it now thought that education should prepare us for real life ? Why should schools teach cooking and mortgages and, God help us, national identity ? Perhaps real life can prepare us for real life and schools teach us the things that our real lives cannot show us ?

Bertrand Russell, a progressive educationalist in his day running a relatively free school, nevertheless maintained that intellectual subjects require an unnatural degree of application which can only be an acquired habit, which our normal lives will not inculcate.

I quote freely from Prof Donald Trefusis, created by Stephen Fry:

"This new England we have invented for ourselves is not interested at all in education. It is only interested in training, both material and spiritual. Education means freedom, it means ideas, it means truth. Training is what you do to a pear tree when you pleach it and prune it to grow against a wall...Education is what you give children to enable them to be free from the prejudices and moral bankruptcies of their elders."

What would Russell and A S Neill and W B Curry of Dartington Hall and everyone else who has tried to do something different have made of a national curriculum ? Away with it and soon.

Battle of the Nile or Mortgages ?

The national curriculum is being reduced (but not enough). A man called Ken Boston (the national curriculum gauleiter, tsar or general LordHighEverythingElse) suggested on the radio that children should learn about mortgages instead of the Battle of the Nile and cooking instead of Malplaquet. Naturally several historians argued the contrary. The argument misses the point. There shouldn't be a national curriculum ! The root of the problem lies in Whitehall and its hangers-on. Originally they argued that it wasn't fair that children at schools learned different things. They should all learn the same ! Equality in the hands of politicians and civil servants always ends up as homogeneity, because if people are different nobody can tell if they're equal. Then they argued that the national curriculum would only be a core, but (surprise, surprise !) the core grew and engulfed the timetable. There shouldn't be a national curriculum. As Mao-Tse-Tung said but didn't really believe, "Let a thousand flowers bloom". As the eponymous hero said in Monty Python's Life of Brian, "You're all different". I say, "Vive la diffèrence". Some of us will learn about Malpalquet and some about mortgages.

Or maybe not. But, as Hillaire Belloc says in Lord Lundy, "I'm getting tired and so are you, let's cut this...[posting]...into two."

Kafka (and Munch) in Cyberspace

Here is a tale of woe that has (touch wood) ended.

This morning I attempted to log on to my blog. I got the following message:
Username and password do not match. "

I tried again. This time I got this message:
The email you provided does not exist.

I checked my spelling (several times). My e-mail address does exist and was working. I tried to find a contact or help address on blogger. All I found was a Help Forum, which specifically had a category on logging-in problems. Good. I tried to post my problem. I got this message:
You must sign in to Google to complete the previous action.”, which of course I would love to have done, but if I could have, I wouldn’t have needed to ! AAAArgh !

Aha, I thought. I will create a new Google account. That’s when I got this message:
A user with the email you specified already exists. Already have a google account? Try logging in.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh !

I then spent a fruitless half-an-hour trying to find out how to contact Google. All I found were various accounts of other people who had also found it almost impossible to contact them.

Finally, I pretended that I had forgotten my username. Blogger helpfully told me what it was, which I already knew. Then I pretended I had forgotten my password. Blogger let me set a new one (How kind !). So here I am again.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Feathers without hissing ?

"The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest amount of hissing."Jean Baptiste Colbert

Some of us have felt that Liberal Democrats have been too cautious in recent years, afraid to upset anyone who might vote for us. Vince Cable and Ming Campbell have cured this complaint with the new tax policy announced today. It shifts the burden from poorer to richer and from income to carbon. Three cheers (and no hissing, I hope).

Friday, July 06, 2007

W**ds we cannot say

I e-mailed a friend to draw his attention to the Sun story discovered by Craig Murray, but the NTL server rejected it because of unacceptable content. Perhaps it meant "Lord Levy" and not "...the p**n star".

When I worked at East Sussex County Council the geeks controlling the firewall banned the sequence of letters "s e x" which made it impossible to look up any of the county's official websites.

This World is not Enough

The Grace levee was rudely interrupted this morning by Mark Mardell on the Today programme. The jolly red-faced fellow was in Ljubljana, Slovenia expressing surprise that there were still federalists in Europe. He was at the International Summer University ("This World is not Enough") of Young European Federalists, over whom I presided back in the 14th century. We were, I fear, a very serious lot but we never made it to the Today Programme, although I was interviewed by the British Forces Network in Berlin. Either he edited out any serious discussion or there wasn't any to begin with. The item was hardly a bonus for the federalist cause as you will discover if you select the listen again portion covering 07.45 on Friday 6th July.

That is the land of lost content

Thank you Radio 4 for a big helping of Housman this afternoon. If you already know "A Shropshire Lad" go to Radio 4's listen again for the Thursday afternoon play. If you don't know it, rush there and listen for the first time.

Meanwhile, the poem that always gives me goosebumps.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows.
What are those blue remember'd hills ?
What spires, what farms are those ?

That is the land of lost content.
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Do the shuffle !

A sympathetic friend has drawn my attention to the unfortunate layout of the BBC's news about the Lib Dem reshuffle, which includes the following jolly juxtaposition:

In full: Lib Dem front bench
All belly and no brains

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hegel schmegel already (NB not Schlegel)

Barry Stocker commenting on my post on blogging, defends Hegel by reference to TH Green. Wikipaedia gives a good summary of the modern debate on Hegel, from which I learn than even neo-conservative thought owes some debt to Hegel.

I confess that as a student I gave up trying to read sentences like "The goal is that it come to be known that [Spirit] presses forward only to know itself as it is in and for itself, that it brings itself in its truth to appearance before itself..." Perhaps it loses something in translation. I dread to think what the original German sounds like. Jung said Hegel's language was "reminiscent of the megalomaniac language of schizophrenics".

However, sentences such as "In the state alone has man rational existence" were enough to persuade me that Hegel was no Liberal. I think it's reasonable to describe him as a state-appointed philosopher, given that Frederick William III appointed him rector of Berlin University in 1830 and decorated him for his service to the Prussian regime.