This feels wrong… we shouldn’t get rid of Cameron.

Oh my, I think I’m about to defend David Cameron in writing. I feel sullied. Bear with me. I think I have a worthwhile point.

Here we go: if you train a dog to attack children in the street, is the dog evil? I have a horrible feeling that Cameron thinks that he’s trying to do the right thing. Like the dog. Maybe I should have gone with a foxhound…

If you shoot the evil dog for attacking children, are you making the problem go away?

Someone who trains a dog to attack children will just get another dog. You have to go after the owner. I think Cameron’s been conditioned by an upbringing of privilege. He has no idea what it’s like to be without money, or the accompanying confidence that things will be ok. He has no idea what it’s like to be truly dependent on the NHS, or your local school, or the support worker from the local authority. Just like you have no idea what it’s like to eat swan until you can pick your teeth and stuff a pillow.

If you kick out Cameron, you’re most likely to get Boris. Make no mistake: he’s funnier than Cameron. The trainer’s taught him some good tricks. He rolls over and dances on his hind legs and lets you rub his belly. He’ll still attack your kids.

The tax thing is a distraction. If we listen to the papers and fixate on the people we miss the point – and that’s playing into the hands of the system. If we get into an uninformed huff and boot out Cameron over doing what is basically the same thing as what you do when you stick money in an ISA, we’ll think we’ve won some sort of victory and let the country keep on getting run by a pack of dogs trained by the same sociopath. Vote for the Tories, vote for Labour – it doesn’t matter. It’s the status quo. The Establishment. The same little privileged club, running the country… not for themselves, not as they see it. Running the country the way that they’ve been conditioned to run it. The way they’ve been trained.

Sign a petition to get rid of Cameron if it helps to assuage your anger about the NHS or schools or benefit cuts if you want. Or because you want to cause a little mischief. But don’t think that you’re making the world a better place.

If you want to do that, then learn about monetary reform or TTIP or democratic reform. Bore your friends about it. If you can convince one other person to encourage one of their friends to do something to make the world a better place, then we can change the world together. That’s difficult, though, it requires perseverance; a sacrifice of time and the risk of making your friends uncomfortable. Signing a petition to boot out Cameron is easy. That’s why we shouldn’t bother. Nothing worth having comes easy.

Getting rid of Cameron won’t make the country better any more than pulling the head off a dandelion will improve your lawn. We’ve either got to be prepared to get the weedkiller out, do some digging and reseed, or get used to looking out of the window at a wilderness where only the fittest survive.


Bring on the dancing scientists.

Most of the people who I know are involved in the education system at any professional level believe that it is in some trouble. Clearly the Guardian is struggling too, as it’s now publishing articles on education written by sixteen year-olds. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to the views of teenagers on education; in fact, we don’t really consider their true needs nearly enough. Perhaps though, they should be briefly challenged and encouraged to produce a nuanced edit before being published in a national newspaper.

I offer as evidence the sentence: “…Maybe it’s no surprise that this stigma exists: we’re in a society that is obsessed with living for the future.”  Well, yes. As we race towards extinction due to climate change, famine, war and the other horsemen of the apocalypse, we absolutely should be living for the future.

The article in question is by a lady called Orli Vogt-Vincent and, in her defence; it is, the odd phrase aside, a thoughtful and lucid piece about being forced into choices by her school and the fact that her option to take up dance is considered less valuable than science.

As a champion of STEM education, you might expect me to offer some rebuttal. I do not. I think that she’s quite right in many respects – the current administration does devalue the arts, does not encourage the study of subjects like philosophy which are the very underpinnings of civilised thought and is obsessed with shoving kids into academic qualifications in maths and science for which few are suited.

My problem with the article rests with the Guardian’s decision to publish it with no debate or discussion. Fair enough to not allow comments, I would not wish to subject any minor to the bile spewed in even the most respectable papers’ comment threads. But this article, which I assume will be read by a fair number of the nation’s more sensitive and enquiring youth, simply adds to weight to the idea that the arts and science are in some way adversarial.

My guess would be that Ms Vogt-Vincent probably has some great dance teachers and at the same time she has not been inspired by science. This is probably the case in many schools. I wholeheartedly encourage Orli to throw herself into dance and to get the most out of it. I would, however, urge her to apply the same iron discipline that a great dancer requires to her studies in science because there are issues around climate change, energy security, health, food, resource management and countless other areas that will require her to make decisions about her spending, her democratic choices and other vitally important areas of, yes, her future. Only a good quality science education will give her the foundation to understand those issues clearly.

So my problem with the way that The Guardian has chosen to present his piece is this: it is unhelpful. All the paper has done is pitted two areas of education against each other when they should be championed together.

The great failure of the current administration and of many authoritative voices in education is that students’ subject choices are simply seen as a pathway to qualifications and hence careers. This article is making the same mistake.

First and foremost, education should be equipping students to make good choices that steer them to a life of happiness, fulfilment and enable them to make a contribution to society. Not to turn them into career-obsessed wage slaves who will do anything they’re told if it will help them reach the next promotion.

This thing is, at present, it’s easy to study technical subjects and still enjoy the arts on a purely participative basis – no qualification required. A neurosurgeon may play piano in a jazz quartet but we (rightly) discourage professional musicians from dabbling in brain surgery.

We need an academic pathway that engages intelligent students deeply in the important issues of science so that their lifestyle and political decisions can be made on a sound basis without shackling them with the pressure of a qualification, enabling them to throw themselves into other subject areas if that is where their passion lies. A pathway that enables the dancer or the artist to have a road to Damascus moment, perhaps, and suddenly, at the age of sixteen, develop a love of organic chemistry. Or, equally, not.

The obsession with STEM education has come from a good place, Orli, I hope that you realise this. The planet is in a bad way and at the moment, we don’t have the engineers, the scientists and the doctors to fix it. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need dancers and artists and musicians too – I’m an engineer turned educator and still the thing I’m most glad I learned is to play the guitar. The pressure you’re under to study physics rather than physical theatre is born of the panic felt by those looking over the parapet and seeing the approaching shadow. The message, though, has got lost in the obsession with economic progress at all costs because those technically-educated alumni, you see, also make a better regular return for their paymasters.

But for the Guardian – shame on you. You’re supposed to be looking deeper, doing some journalism and encouraging your readers to think more deeply about an issue, not to take a side in a knee-jerk debate that will ultimately leave the dancers and the physicists equally impoverished.

Now then, now then, Dear political parties, can you fix it for me…?

Bad taste? Do you seriously think that our political elite are less culpable in wilful atrocity, profited from and covered up than a ghastly, pantomime-villain paedophile? I envy you the expanses of your soul unstained by dark cynicism.

Oh well, on with the diatribe.

I had the chance to chat briefly about housing policy this afternoon with someone who had been interviewing people for Shelter, an organisation I cannot commend to you enough. Apparently, some of the interviewees viewed the housing crisis (and, in the unlikely event that any evil, moustache-twirling, poorhouse-consigning private landlords are reading this, there is one, you know…) as an intractable problem.

Employing my parents’ oft-quoted maxim that “If you don’t try, you’ll never know if you can do it”, there are some ideas that, in a just world, I’d like to see tried.

Firstly – rent control. Apparently, most of the country are for it. Not private landlords and neoliberal profiteers, of course. For balance, we’ll include these two rebuttals from the Torygraph. For once, it’s worth a gander at the comments[1]. The idea of rent control is to stop things happening like the recent scandal in Bristol, where estate agents have been accused of inflating the market. What, estate agents? Unscrupulous? I know. Sit yourself down and have a stiff drink, the shock will abate.

Secondly, let’s have a law to stop developers sitting on properties simply waiting for prices to rise. A “use it or lose it” law that says that you either develop a site within a set time of buying it, the government buys it at a set (low) rate, or it is turned over to free use by charities and socially responsible enterprise for five years.

Thirdly, keep penalising second home ownership. Steady on, you say, my parents worked hard for their holiday home on the Cornish coast. If they can afford a house, they can afford a B&B three times a year. There’s no reason that working hard should entitle you to price people in one of the most economically depressed parts of the country out of a home.

I’m sure there are other things that you could do, like a progressive tax on land ownership, to drive down the price of property and land. The point is that falling property prices hurt no one but the wealthy and it’s not real pain, not the pain of going to bed hungry, or not being able to heat your house. It’s the pain of not putting in a swimming pool. Boo hoo. If all houses go down in value, then you can still afford another one if you sell yours. You can still downsize and enjoy the profits.

Here comes the inevitable Green Party plug. It’s the only party with a real agenda for social justice. I don’t think they’re the right political party to lead the country for the foreseeable future either. I want them in as many seats as possible this time so that people see that politics can change. I’d like to see them get a shot at power in the election after this one. And then I want to vote them out because there’s an even better party, with even better, fairer, more progressive policies about reforming money, democracy and our whole society on a sound, considered, philosophical basis.

In the mean time, I’d like to see measures taken so that the professionals teaching our nation’s youth don’t have to live in bunkhouses like Victorian navvies.

Can you fix it for me, Natalie? Ed? Dave? God help us, Jim?


[1] seriously, when you’re too much of a greedy opportunist for Telegraph readers

Let’s compare Russell Brand to Jesus and see who we can offend…

If Jesus strode into your meeting tomorrow and started talking about social justice, I dare say he’d get thrown out. For one thing, by modern standards he’d look a bit threatening – as many of you probably realise in that remote part of your brain used for thinking vaguely about things you don’t give a crap about, he probably didn’t look like a blond, bearded nancy in a dressing gown. He was a carpenter, a job requiring huge strength in the day, so he’d be a bulky lad, probably a bit dusky of skin, scarred of hand and a bit ripe, as was the standard back then. Oh, and hair was worn short at the time, especially by carpenters for health and safety reasons.

Even if we update him for contemporary society, the poverty, outspoken nature, challenging conventional views that polarised popular opinion and his use of unusual constructions of speech and thought would still mark him out as someone likely to be ejected by security.

Naturally, as I make this tenuous comparison between Mr Brand and Mr er… Christ, I’m fully aware that it’s a fatuous point made for the purpose of debate.

But here’s my point. I’m not a fan of Jesus and don’t wanna be in his gang, although not as much as I’m glad I wasn’t in Gary Glitter’s. Now there would be an offensive comparison. He does, (Christ, not Glitter) make some good points, though. You can’t argue with that stuff about loving thy neighbour. In fact, one can’t help but think that if every world leader took Jesus’ advice to heart, the world would be a substantially better place than it is now.

Not liking someone doesn’t make them wrong. In fact, even when someone you don’t like is wrong about something, it doesn’t make them wrong about everything and it doesn’t mean that you can just screen out everything that they say. I believe that law and government should be 100% secular but I can still find a great deal of wisdom in selected religious teachings. Much of what went into the evolution of religion was to help people, after all.

I happen to agree with the YouGov poll, although I don’t like anything about the organisation and I think that the poll is part of an organised part of a smear campaign to discredit Brand. I still, personally, don’t find him that funny.

I disagree with him on some major issues, too. Like voting. I believe passionately that everyone should use their vote – albeit by voting for the issues, (which would give us a green government, by the way) and not the politician they find most affable (although Farage has queered his pitch with the breastfeeding thing – we all seem to have decided that we prefer an accidental flash of boob to repeated exposure to that prick)

Still, I admire Brand for some of his views, for bringing the debate about the power of corporations to a wider audience, for the compassion and sense in his views on drug rehabilitation, for wanting to try to do something to help the people on the New Era estate.

And in this video, where he talks about the Murdoch empire, he’s bang on.

Brand will continue to divide opinion and will attract an ever larger and more powerful list of detractors. I supported his inclusion in the A level English syllabus and I approve even more so now, because his opponents will provide a set of sterling examples of logical fallacies for people to study – and if you think that “logical fallacy” is a bit rude, you’re half right, it can be used to prove that you’re a bit of a dick (I know, I like Radio 4 humour, ok?) so you might want to check out a guide to them before you start leaving inane comments on a web page.

So regardless of what you think of Brand, Jesus (OK guys, the church is facing declining numbers, how do we get ‘Brand Jesus’ back up to number 1? Shudders and gags a bit…) or even me, for that matter, know your logical fallacies, listen to the arguments and let’s see if we can think clearly about the issues without getting carried away with the personalities, shall we? Whether it’s an election, an account of the news, religion or some obscure philosophical point, it shouldn’t matter who says it, it should matter if what’s said makes sense. We should be looking for collective reason, not prophets. We all know that Brand is not the Messiah…

(wanders off shaking head without delivering dreadful punchline)

Voting for dummies. As if there were an alternative.

“Here, sir, that Russell Brand says I shouldn’t vote.”

“No, Jimmy, you should definitely vote. It’s really important.”

“Who should I vote for then, sir?”

“Well, Jimmy, that’s not for me to say. You should make your own mind up.”

“My Dad’s voting for UKIP, ‘cos he doesn’t want immigrants bringing Ebola over ‘ere and nicking our jobs. I reckon I’ll vote for them.”

“Well, you should probably look at what all the parties say. Look at their manifestos.”

“Ah, that sounds really boring. I reckon that Boris bloke should be Prime Minister, he’s a right laugh.”

“You shouldn’t… look, you have a right to vote and that means a responsibility to vote for the party that you think are doing the right thing.”

“Yeah, but what’s that, sir?”

“If I give you five quid, will you fuck off?”

It’s hard knowing what’s right. You can assume that you’re just right about everything, or, assuming that you’re not quite so spectacularly arrogant as a politician, you have some homework to do.

You’re then faced with two choices. One is to do the hard work – do the background reading. You can learn some shortcuts and heuristics that will help you through the easy stuff and also equip you better to deal with the hard questions. The problem is that it’s hard work. There’s quite a lot of background reading and some hard thinking to do about what you’ve read. You may even end up having to ask your dad a question and listen to one of his rambling explanations. Ahem.

It’s tempting to not bother. The other choice is to go out and play instead of studying for the test and hope that you can see Sarah’s answers over her shoulder. The only problem there is that teacher might re-seat you all so that you end up sitting behind Nigel. Nigel is confident and kind of charming and he’s happy to lean to one side so that you can copy his answers. The problem is that Nigel’s a fucking idiot but if you haven’t done your homework that’s all that’s left to you.

It may seem like this is a thinly veiled swipe at UK political thinking but in truth, I think that our current merry-go-round of braying, wealthy crooks is a symptom. The political Type two diabetes to our intellectually indolent obesity. We’re equally culpable of failing to think about our personal morality, our conduct with others, our own personal philosophies are non-existent.

We can’t be bothered to do our homework. The problem with democracy in our comfortable nations is that it’s handing over decisions to people who are too lazy to make them so they go along with whatever decision stresses them out least. Believe what you read in the Daily Mail. Listen to the man on the television. Vote how your parents voted.

Anything except carry on rolling the stone.

Because the moral philosopher, the scientist, the rationalist – is Sisyphus. Each new achievement simply reveals a fresh vista of doubt and ignorance. There is no rest, no right answer, no point at which the testing ends and teacher says that you’ve passed the course. And that’s want it takes to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Endless labour.

If you’ve got to the end of this article, though, you’ve done well, you may take a break to go out and play

Do you have the right to your human rights?

You know how it is, you’ve just abducted someone off the street, dragged them to a deserted basement, you’re just attaching the electrodes to the testicles (usually theirs but each to his own) and then you suddenly remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and think “Ooh… should I really be doing this?”

Or maybe you don’t. I mean, if you’re the sort of person to regularly find yourself wondering “Am I violating fundamental human rights?” then what kind of life are you living?

Which leads me to question why exactly our most politically credible right-wing nut hatch has stated the intent to ignore European Court of Human Rights rulings. The UDHR is the document which our noble country has already watered down a little to produce the Human Rights Act of 1998.

I’ll echo the advice of Jack of Kent, and suggest that you read the bill and ask yourself which bits seem wrong to you? As the article there notes, opponents of the act tend to display a varied combination of ‘vague’ and ‘misinformed’ but it’s precisely such groundless peroration that tends to lodge in the mind of the careless voter.

The UDHR was drafted after the Second World War when (SPOILER ALERT) dreadful things were done to people in the hope that its adoption might prevent such atrocities in the future. It’s built on a long tradition of thinking by the most noted philosophers in history. The idea that a small cabal of privileged, rich white guys should want to start rewriting our relationship with it should set off alarm bells. Perhaps that Etonian classical education makes them wary; one of the earliest discussions of rights in religion is from Zoroastrian philosophy: “the recognition of the equality of men & women in all respects; the condemnation of autocratic & unjust rule and the recommendation to the faithful not to submit to oppressive rulers – all these demonstrates the values of human rights in Zoroastrianism. ” Yeah – do not submit to oppressive rulers. Who’d think that would make a Tory uncomfortable…?

In all truth, whatever the Tories do with the law concerning human rights, it’s likely to have little direct impact upon most of us; if you’re not currently exercising your right to peaceful protest and assembly (and most of us aren’t), seeking asylum or running for office, your life will go on as normal. But human rights is one of the pillars on which what is left of enlightenment in our society stands. As soon as we let the protection of those rights become eroded in the name of political expediency, we start a journey down a perilous and slippery slope. And if you look at foreign policy, education, health and just about everything else they’ve got their hands on, that’s a slope that our present government are sprinting towards like a steroid-abusing bobsleigh team at the top of the Cresta run.

So again, read the UDHR, it’s short, clear and easy to understand. Then ask yourself if you should be allowing someone who has a problem with any of those statements to be in power.

Let’s be Frankenstein about the economy

Partially recovered original transcription by M. Shelley, ethics board stenographer.

Proceedings of medical board of inquiry, October 1818

Panellist 1: Thank you for giving up your time to come here today, Dr… ‘Fronk-en-steen..?’

Frankenstein: It’s Frankenstein, we’re not doing a Mel Brooks spoof here… [whispering from lawyer]… er whatever that might be. [To lawyer: ‘Really? 156 years?]

Panellist 2: Yes… moving on. Can you please describe the nature of your work?

F: I was employed by the Monsanto corporation…[whispering from lawyer]

P2: Strike that comment from the record please, Miss Shelley.

F:…er… by an anonymous benefactor, I mean, to investigate the reanimation of dead tissue. Strictly for medical purposes.

P1: And can you describe the results of your experiments?

F: They were all published on my blog

P2: Come on Doctor, no one actually reads anyone’s blog. [Panellists, Frankenstein and lawyer all look to one side of room whilst raising eyebrows or performing other comic mug, for some reason]

P1: For the sake of proceedings, Doctor, can you perhaps briefly summarise?

F: My experiments were going extremely well, all of the body parts were working well together and my creation was growing stronger by the day. It was… superhuman.

P2: And then what happened?

F: The creature became destructive, a danger to all around it. It was only a matter of time before it caused some sort of catastrophe.

P1: There are reports that you may have inadvertently transplanted the brain of a psychopath into the creature, Doctor?

F: Well, where some see a psychopath, others might see a strong leader… it’s true, the brain was taken from a place with a track record for psychopathic behaviour.

P2: And what measures were taken to put things right?

F: Well of course, we tried the obvious things, reason, begging, cajoling… but the creature ignored us, it was… drunk on its own power, becoming ever more callous and destructive.

P2: And this is what led to the fire?

F: It had to be destroyed, you see. Utterly destroyed.

P1: This is our concern, you see, Doctor. This seems extreme. Expensive. That’s why we put out the fire, at great expense, I might add, and saved your work.

P2: Very expensive. Could you not simply replace the brain? Make some modifications?

F: No, no… the paradigm is wrong… corruption is inevitable, a limitation of nature. You can’t concentrate that much power in one place, you see.

P1: After so much time and investment, surely this can be made to work? We cannot allow so much effort to be wasted.

F: No, not wasted. We have learned so much. We must heed the lessons, find different solutions to the problems that we were addressing, working with nature, not seeking to control it.

Panellist 3: [Clearing throat] Excuse me, gentlemen, but it seems to me that we’re straying from the issue somewhat. This is in danger of becoming a convoluted metaphor.

F: Yes of course! The world economy! That’s what we’re really talking about! Grown too powerful, too prone to corruption and misuse by unprincipled men… to make way for a more benevolent system we must…

P1: That’s quite enough of that, thank you Doctor.

P3: It seems clear to me that stricter control needs to be exercised. The Doctor’s creation will need to be carefully monitored if its great strength is to be of benefit to all.

F: You’re mad! Mad I tell you! It will destroy you all! [Dragged from room by burly guards]

P1: A regulatory body.

P2: And the press?

P1: We need a positive spin. The creation needs to be seen as essential, so that however monstrous it might appear, we cannot do without it.

P2: Will the public believe that?

P3: As long as we make the whole thing seem sufficiently complex. Smoke and mirrors, gentlemen. Fooling most of the people, most of the time is enough.

P2: And you’re sure that we can’t be found out?

P3: As long as we exercise a little caution. And I’m sure that Miss Shelley’s discretion may be relied upon…

…Fragment ends.