Cui bono?

honor hominesque honesti floreant

Category: education

What is real education worth?

Next regular posting for 31-10-2017; but nb supplementary post 3-10-2017

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Editorial notes: (1) Urgent need of an intern continues.  (See ad in previous posting).  May have to warn Lady W and Chinese friends of risk of journal suspending publication.  Cannot expect a man of my seniority to do all my own office business.  (2) In the short term, glad to welcome another piece from tried-and-trusted Berthold, as well as an unexpected gift (unfortunately useless so far) from Simon’s mother, returned from trip to Belgium.  She had bought a device, advertised as a ‘boorebot’ said to automatically produce ‘Thoughts of the Day’ by the yard (or in her case by the metre).  The package explicitly claimed a link to our hugely respected patroness Lady W who was of course the founder of Old Boore’s Almanac© (and is still a sea-swimmer in her nineties) though I have yet to learn if they had been authorised to do so.  In the instructions it said all you have to do is set it up as if you want it to produce ‘tweets’.  I did that with the help of Kevin from the police station (who moonlights as a computer repair man), and it’s obvious to me something is not working as it should even if Kevin swears what it extrudes could be taken as perfectly normal ‘tweets’.  As a possible guide to anyone contemplating purchase of such engines, here are five ‘Thoughts’ which I got from a recent run, once I’d switched it from French to English.  To me they’re not unpleasant  enough to be tweets though they do suggest mental derangement (attempted poetry?).  But actually I’m not sure they’re any worse than some of the stuff in the mainstream press (which admittedly sets the bar about ankle-high)

In Arcady where lies the autumn crocodile

Celestial infancies dream indefatigable tangents

Friends of the semicolon unite

Tyre treads smirk at Fiona’s thimble

Whence the rosy footprints on my cake?

The marvels coming at us from the cutting edge of high tech progress are indeed things of wonder.  GPS implants in your very own body, free!  Free government tracking services ‘in case you get lost’ (but legal action or well placed friends may be necessary to get access to the data yourself).  In the UK, free portrait of you in a natural setting, courtesy of the police service.  Refrigerators which order fresh supplies of food and drink whether you want them or not.  Driverless cars which can convey you without effort to a place of their choice.  True, most stuff like that could be achieved by any housemaid with a couple of weeks of the right training after flying in from eastern Europe.)  But the results of tech wizardry don’t stop there – e.g. free information on 38 new video games similar to the one you bought your least favourite nephew three weeks ago.  Current contact details and helpful reminders of your passport data distributed to all your friends and others with need to know, free of charge, by a whole variety of organisations working with the internet. Privacy protocols so efficiently enforced they can lock you out of your own account.  As for the things you can find out by searching on the net, the mind boggles, wondering (a) who else might be finding them (b) whether anyone else knows that you are finding them, and (c) whether the programme to delete your search history really works.  

 These musings were prompted partly by Berthold’s piece (below) but mainly by a tear-stained letter received the day before through the cleft-stick post from one of our occasional correspondents, Rosa Tweedell fn.  That letter together with various other notes gathered over the years have been put together into a one-off supplementary posting on computerspeak, to appear 3-10-2017, which also gives a proposal for naming this journal.

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 fn currently living at 3, The Old Paddock, Toraha Creek (population 3 adults 5 children) Kevin told me when I happened to mention our need of an intern.  Aged  49, divorced, two children, currently employed on temporary contract, no right to remain in Australia after 31-12-2018, passport number PQZ 67068N992, Health Security number W428559/O/67, member of Trotskyite group 1987-89, no other criminal record.  Facsimile of her signature held at QIRS3 Canberra.

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Berthold Featherstone-Haugh Cheems writes:

Yet another ‘curriculum event’ at the Institute last Thursday to Sunday.  Just another, I suppose, in the ‘outreach’ category; that is, institutions reaching out to see if they can touch the wallets of the gullible masses who believe that going into a building with a high ceiling and uniformed porters, then listening to a man with horn-rimmed glasses and glossolalia who is introduced as a ‘leading expert on’ (almost anything), and finally buying a copy of his book on the way out will add a few microns to their intellectual stature.  I went up the outside fire escape to avoid any risk of being swept into the auditorium by the educational tide, but as I struggled past the lifts I heard this closely argued exchange, verbatim: “Every kid should learn how computers work.”  “Yeah, every kid should learn how computers work”.

  Why, for goodness’ sake?  The answer to the question, cut back to the bare essence, is invariably along the lines of “Well, there’s a lot of computer stuff about”  (though the answer is almost always expressed at much greater length, and almost never with as much naked clarity as that.).  This is an even feebler piece of reasoning, if we can call it reasoning, than post hoc ergo propter hoc.  Its disastrous prevalence in modern life is such that it needs a name.  (How about Proof by social media?)  The distortions of society in which it plays a part – electoral democracy is but one – are so serious it is a wonder to see it considered to have any relevance to school curricula: ‘There’s a lot of ‘X’ about’ so we should thrust courses about ‘X’ into anyone who can be ordered or tricked into receiving them’?  Bunkum.  Would you like to try it out with other subjects?  ‘There’s a lot of pornography about’.  If heads of school take that approach how are they going to deal with the mobs of parents howling for morality (however incongruously in many cases) at the gates.  (Anyway as my mother used to tell me, you don’t need courses on pornography if your imagination is in good working order, and if it isn’t, merely puttering along like an electric bicycle, why let anyone stir up trouble for you?)  ‘There’s a lot of weather about’.  Are we going to have courses on meteorology for Third Year students?  “Aha!” the professional objector will say, “That’s different.  There’s nothing much we could do about the weather even if every schoolchild learned all about it, so there’s no point having the courses.”  Actually I think one of the premises may have collapsed there (foundations washed away by a storm surge perhaps).  The word coming out of good class meteorology centres round the world is that we have been doing a great deal to modify the weather over the past 40 years, and the sooner victims of the recent hurricanes get some top-class American lawyers writing letters to various governments demanding compensation in trillions, the better for a great many of the unconsidered ‘little people’.  But I don’t intend to be dogmatic about this.  In some subject areas the right course of the right length presented in the right way could do some good, and that could include courses about girls – there are after all a lot of girls about – presented in such boys-only schools as still blot the educational landscape.  What is obvious to all except those who put on mental blinkers with their underpants in the morning is that the overlap between what is currently taught intentionally in schools and what most students want to learn may be small but it is still far larger than the overlap between either of those great areas of human confusion and the sort of learning which for all but 2% or 3% of them will actually be useful to themselves or society at large if they make it through to adult life (maybe even to paid employment).  This more or less completely rules out of the curriculum courses about how computers work, just as it rules out courses on how cars and their engines work.  What a curriculum could reasonably offer in those fields would be courses on how you can, cannot and should or should not use those devices if or when they do work.  (To lob up an easy one, which a few schools might actually keep out of their wicket: how many students are challenged to get a car out of deep mud on a moor in a rainstorm?)  But these subjects will of course only take a small fraction of the time allowed to schooling.  Specialists will learn their special skills in the best possible place, on the job.  For all the rest, let there be a realistic reappraisal discarding government-sponsored idealism, and genuinely helping them deal with the lives they may face in years to come.  I borrow, with full permission and minor adaptations, the suggestions of an excellent friend of mine fn:  ‘What is needed is a curriculum which will see you armed for situations in life which could cause real physical, psychological, or financial harm, not mere cut fingers or e-mails lacking musical animation or gender-based embarrassment.  School should teach what to do faced with an aggressive drunk or a resistant tax inspector, how to recognise a plain clothes policeman, what records to keep and what records to burn, judging the best reaction when your car is hijacked, how to make one’s excuses and leave (if caught in that kind of situation), recognition of rabies in dogs, cats, bats and travelling salesmen, how to identify oneself as harmless to soldiers of a foreign army temporarily occupying your country to restore democracy, and how to retain one’s dignity, and legal advantage, on finding one’s  spouse in bed with a stranger.’

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fn  (Les Cousins, writing in 2008)

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Gone but not forgotten

A former leader on the European political scene, Muammar Qadhafi, speaking in Rome on migration 30th August 2010  “We do not know what the reaction of white christian Europeans will be, faced with this flood of hungry, uneducated Africans.”  Well we have a much clearer idea now.

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Note from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems I see I used the word ‘hurricane’ in my little article.  I should like to point out to those whose ‘modern’ schooling has left them trying to work out pronunciations from the spelling that the proper pronunciation of this word is ‘hurrikun’, not ‘hurri-cane’.  And by the way my name – please note – is properly pronounced ‘Fanshaw-Cheems’.

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Challenge of the week. Which country was recently described by a delegate at the UN General Assembly as the most heavily armed kindergarten on the planet?

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A small far away country of which they know little?  A recent UN report (and they’re supposed to be the ones with high moral standards) said that the Saudi bombing campaign to restore democracty in Yemen was having little effect on the ground; it also included the estimate that 10,000 civilians had been killed.

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North Korea vs Donald Trump  It would be wiser not to place bets on the imminent demise of either leader in this argument.  See Berthold’s piece on the Express Exit tactic, the ‘XX play’, posted 8-5-2016

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Unfortunately, much of this is true

Next post (finagling and events permitting) : 1-9-2017

*News flash: Mystery hardware order

Earlier this year market analysts commented on a worldwide surge in shares of companies manufacturing physical ‘security’ equipment  (such as ‘smart’ razor wire able to  automatically launch preemptive strikes when approached, anywhere along its length, while summoning drones from headquarters).  But new reports describe contracts for hundreds of thousands of high specification combination locks controlled at distance by passwords which can change daily, placed with American manufacturers by the EU Commission, allegedly to allow these  to be fitted at all frontiers to frustrate any attempts by the UK to get back into the EU after March 2019.  A  high level official speaking on condition of the strictest anonymity said ”Ever since I took over from Barroso the UK has been a constant pain in the arse and we couldn’t be more glad to get rid of them.  The only reason we’re pretending we want them to stay is to get them to pay us a lot of money in the ‘divorce’ settlement.  Things are moving along so well at present that some more hot-headed young officials are urging us to set up similar scenarios with Poland and Hungary.  I categorically deny any personal involvement; but who do you suppose has been provoking eastern Europe’s right-wingers?”

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(Obiter collecta) Fegan’s Guide to Social Organisation (in 218 parts: pt. 104)

Other things equal, a new law or regulation will tend to benefit the class (the U class) to which those who draft laws and regulations belong, and to limit the freedom of all others.  However, the disadvantage can often be reduced for a member of the non-U classes if he or she pays a tax or obtains a licence allowing them to retain some part of a freedom that would otherwise be lost.  The cost of such licences and the level of such taxes are set by members of the U class (who of course control the administration of the resulting government revenue).

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Op Ed from ‘Jonas’: In times well within living memory ‘industry’ meant industry (as opposed to agriculture, fishing or ‘trade’; other occupations apart from the armed services counted as ‘niche’ activities, such as stockbroking, being a doctor, or working ‘in the City’.  Administration did not really count as an occupation at all; it was just something you did as part of your proper job. (Check out the startling changes in e.g. the running of (a) hospitals or (b) any randomly selected European Ministry of Defence, since 1945)  (Governments really need to wake up to the fact that a very large proportion indeed of a nation’s activity and resources is now spent on administrators whose only task, full-time, is to administer the work of other administrators.)  Nowadays of course most countries have ‘industries’ à gogo, including, a ‘leisure industry‘, ‘creative industries’ and a ‘tourist industry’ as well as a ‘hospitality industry’ and a ‘sex industry, with the latter three perhaps being the same thing but operating at different times of day.  (By the way, I’m not inventing these terms; I’ve met every one of them more than once, and not, as far as I could tell, intended satirically either.) (Has anyone spotted a ‘heavy industry industry’ yet?)  But since nowadays all of us except tramps, convicts and criminals not yet arrested are mere cogs in the great unthinking machine that is a modern business-oriented state mindlessly pursuing the ever retreating goal of screwing ever better figures for GDP out of the workforce, then let’s take the chance of making an annoying suggestion.  In most countries there is still one huge feral predatory ‘industry’ roaming the economic landscape which could be brought under government control and should be, if only for the sake of all the money that could then be squeezed out of it.  Any intelligent country should immediately nationalise the lobbying industry, and then regulate it AND TAX IT!

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Market news Following the report that Ogglekook is to produce a new hypersmartphone that can transmit thoughts and images without users even needing to have the thoughts or see the images first, the company’s shares were last night reported to be making the fastest ever ascent without supplementary oxygen on the Wall of the New York Stock Exchange.

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Five hundred or so are drowned each year in France, nearly all accidentally.  Not a high number set against a population of 68 million (if you only count those officially on government records, and try not to notice those sleeping rough – estimated at 80,000 in Paris alone last winter –  or living in derelict buildings to avoid the police charged with deporting desperate refugees back to ‘safe’ countries like Afghanistan and the squads just out for a bit of fun roughing up easy opponents; but 500 is a fairly high proportion of those exposed to recreational water.  So ‘authorities’ want to promote courses to teach all children how to swim.  Just think rationally now.  In fact most of those 500 might still be alive if they’d had a reasonable fear of the sea and open water in general instilled in them from childhood upwards.  O.k. you can call it ‘respect for the sea and open water’ if you like, but the point still carries significant weight.  Notice, if you haven’t, that the human is an animal with two legs for walking, running and kicking aggressors in the obvious target, not a creature with a sleek tail and assorted fins for convenient travel under water.  If without a programme of mass encouragement you’re getting 500 drowned in a year, it is virtually certain that teaching all children how to swim is going to increase the number of victims.  And would you want to apply this strategy elsewhere?  It seems quite possible that as things are some other recreational activities have even higher proportions of practitioners harmed, injured or killed.  Should the government introduce nationwide  instruction for children in rock-climbing?  Moto-cross?  Parcours/Parkur?  Or alcohol consumption?

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Linguistic corner (From our archives) Whatever it says in the dictionary ‘ideology’ in practice  consists of acquiring an idea which at first may have a certain meretricious charm, committing oneself to it, and then running away with it, with never a backward glance, leaping carefree over all barriers raised by common sense, and taking it with you into new and strange territory where the idea is no longer a desirable ‘compagnonne de route’, no longer even attractive, but an embarrassing liability, violently –  perhaps even dangerously – at odds with the landscape where you now find yourself.  Examples for UK  readers:  voting Conservative, listening to One Direction, supporting the English soccer team, leaving the EU.

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**News flash :  Grenfell Tower fire, 14-06-2017.    British government announcement that there is to be a review of building regulations, 29-07-2017 [On account of its high public profile this newsflash has been brought to you by enhanced express delivery which can even override obligations to attend week-end tennis matches, agreeable dinner parties, and cruises on the river]

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It is long since we’ve heard from Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems, once a regular  contributor to our reports, earlier a reliable member of the manipulators of tax avoidance for right-thinking citizens of southeastern England.)  I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that underneath the damp blanket stretched over his personality by a British upbringing there lurked, if not a crouching tiger, at least a performing flea, which under the tough editorial régime imposed on him here led to him developing intellectual muscles in unpredicted places.  He started to go off the rails (as his old companions would see it) and changed his job to take a post – heaven knows why – in one of the all too many universities of London (full of students, administrators, general riff-raff).  He became a keen cyclist, grew a beard which made  him look like Corbyn, and has been seen taking part in street demonstrations with some ‘unusual’ associates, among others a group of feminist survivalists based in the Cotswolds who believe men only grow a penis because they have been culturally conditioned to do so. This letter tells us on a recent visit to the Senate House he accidentally attended the wrong ‘briefing session’ addressed by a government minister and heard quite a lot before being hustled out during the final questions and answers.  It appears there is a complex government plan with inspiration drawn in part from the activities of Airbnb to radically change employment conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.  Each day millions of workers join the harassed streams flowing as slowly as molten lava into city centres.  Yet at the same time great numbers are moving in the opposite direction.  As the economy has developed, more and more of national productivity takes place outside cities.  Outside the main conurbations there are many thousands of warehouses, factories, airports, storage depots, and ‘retail complexes’.  The government intends to require that – except in the case of those operating nightshifts – companies and individuals owning these enterprises must redesign the facilities (often extensive) so as to use the existing buildings, perhaps with some additions, to provide accommodation for the workforce employed within them (including the families).  In return the owners will be allowed to charge rentals for the accommodation.  The benefits will be enormous for all concerned, provided there are explicit legal contracts linking accommodation and employment.  Owners will be assured of a stable workforce, with minimal absenteeism and 100% punctuality.  In addition they could be allowed the option of setting up basic retail outlets to cater to the needs of the resident workers, and perhaps basic medical facilities (which could also quickly check on cases of malingering).  The workforce will be spared the stress and expense of daily transport and perhaps even of the need to purchase a vehicle, and might well enjoy lower housing costs than in city centres.  Basic shopping would be available a few steps from their new homes.  The wider region would benefit from the reduction in pollution, and stress on the transport system.  The nation would save on fuel costs, and a significant reduction in social benefit expenditure, as well as a partial solution to the housing crisis.

   It was only revealed that Berthold should not have been present when he asked the minister  if he did not feel that this was a reintroduction of slavery, or at least serfdom.  (The minister laughed and remarked he had never heard of a slave receiving a monthly pay packet with government taxes ready calculated and deducted, but it was at this point that the security guards were called in.)

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The Editor writes: Personal note: I came back from my tour and found the place looking like a French Square after a Britain vs Russia football match.  Hadn’t even cleared up ….but I won’t waste description on details of the hooliganism, except to denounce the theft of the whole dozen of Château du Tertre and the last couple of Corton Charlemagne.  One interesting aspect, though, which my friends in the law and order branch are investigating further is a Philippine passport, probably fake, with the villain’s photo but a quite different name, found along with a pair of used underpants in the cupboard underneath the tv monitor. I’m not going to mess about nursing my wrath to keep it warm.  It will be quite hot enough if that scoundrel ever sets foot on this island again, though it’s unlikely he’ll risk it. If he does my friends have promised me he’ll be slung not gentlyinto the slammer on the most embarrassing charges that occur to them.  I admit a severe loss of trust in my ability to assess character by simply meeting a face and talking to it.   (Am still pretty confident I’m right about Macron, though, and I note that he’s already had the biggest drop in approval ratings of any incoming president since the Chirac débacle!)  Needed soonest: new intern!

 

 

When to wave the rules

We still have no idea and no information on who succeeded in submitting the bogus piece, ‘Warnings’ (16th March), supposedly by the Mad Doc.   As we have been unable to get any help from the NSA or GCHQ, any plausible lines of enquiry suggested by readers will be welcomed; moreover, bearing in mind Holmes’ prime principle of investigation, the same welcome is offered for implausible suggestions also.

Monty Skew our political expert writes

Humpty Dumpty led the way, assuring Alice that when he used a word, he determined what it should mean.  Goebbels followed up by addressing the quantitative aspect of linguistic falsehood, asserting that if you tell a big lie often enough people will in the end believe it (though he did go on to remark that you can keep a lie going so long as the state can stop the people noticing the political, economic and military consequences of it).  That is a strategy that has become one of the most honoured variables, or invariables, in the mystical equations of the advertising industry in the States and world-wide.   All the same I think in its simple form that strategy misses a trick, because even if hearing the same thing over and over does have an impact on all but the most recalcitrant brains, the business will work even better if you can get the owners of the brains to do the repeating themselves.  (It is strange, though, that meaningful sequences are reinforced by repetition, whereas stimuli without a semantic charge tend to have a diminishing effect.)  Now, where does one find large groups of people all busily agreeing on the same assertions (apart from the workers gathered outside Nipponese factories for their morning singing of the company song with accompanying performance of the company’s keep-fit programme.)?  The answer of course is ‘in schools’.  And it makes little difference whether the assertions are fundamentally true, in a mathematical, geographical, political or any other sense, or false.  It is true that some education alerts some among the brighter children to opportunities for lies and deceit and careers in investment banking, but in proportional terms that is probably pretty small beer.  A far more characteristic aspect of modern education, the assumed backdrop to all normal parts of the curriculum, is instruction, telling children what to do, what to think, what to approve, and then making damn sure they do it – in other words, spreading a comprehensive conformity, and obedience to regulation and regulators.  As many will have noticed governments everywhere have for decades been extending dramatically the periods of life subject to this training, and we can assume that they have not done so merely to reduce the figures for unemployment.  It is held that the desired conformity not only is beneficial when it comes to resisting military invasion, but also strongly promotes economic success in the community.  This current orthodoxy is of course not new.  It arrived forty or fifty years ago as a successor to the idea that schools should implant skills and knowledge into future adults (with, naturally, the aim of promoting the economic success of the community), and that idea was itself a successor to the nineteenth century view that a school should implant team spirit and ‘character’ thus promoting the national and international political success of the community.  (This account deals of course only with the British stance.  By contrast the Prussian approach has throughout been firmly based on future economic return from those taught, and has not bothered with any flim-flam about theoretical underpinnings.)

            This piece of mine was in preparation to about this point before we heard of the terrible events on Tuesday.  At present Karela is on a visit to Westminster, where despite having once been an activist and nicknamed ‘the Balkan firebrand’ she seems now to have good contacts with well-informed circles including certain important officials of the kind who do not perform on camera.  This being so, although there is no  particular need to modify the remarks I wished to make, I shall postpone them since the e-mail she sent us deals with closely related topics and with more immediacy.

     As Editor I apologise for posting Karela’s comment as it arrived by e-mail, since she is always meticulous about sub-editing, but in the present case that would have caused her contribution to miss this posting.

Before, it was maybe correct that the people do not like all the rules they have to use in airports, and I was one who got angry.  But now?  About 2,000 killed by such terrible crimes in 15 years?  And many injured.  All that is true and a bad shock to Europeans.   Certainly do not forget also how many were killed by faults with airplanes, how many killed by cars, how many because the hospitals in their country did not have all the doctors wanted.  But do not only compare.  It is the duty of honest governments, if there will be one, to be a government for the people not over the people, and what should they look at first?  First, and second and third, safety of the people in all its ways.  Safety of the banks is maybe number 99 (and safety of the bankers does not even stand on the list).  One trillion dollars, I think, or more than that, governments gave to their banks in 2008 to keep them safe.  Maybe just one percent of that could stop most of the accidents with cars, and with airplanes, and give them better hospitals, and, yes, make the airports safer too.  That is all part of the same thing, the duty of the governments.  But the people must take their part of duty now also.  That is reasonable, and I hate to be reasonable.  Most times in life what is the advantage?  But right now, it is necessary and they must behave in some way like children and follow rules even if they know themselves that they are good people.  Right now it is necessary.  I know the rules at airports make them angry, and maybe in one year they find no bad person with a bomb.  The old professors with brains so strong they make the noise squeak even if they walk through that thing with no clothes at all, and they get crazy.  But if there are no rules, then that is when the bombs will try to come.  After, when the world comes to more peace again, then they can ask if all those rules are correct, and must do that quick before the government has time to fix rules it wants in cement like Cameron wants to do with doctors and teachers already now.  But myself I am coming back to the island on train and ship by Monday.

I’d like to agree with most of what Monty and Karela say here about the various topics they raise.  I do agree with Monty that the issue of what is taught in schools and the propagation of falsehoods are subjects more intimately related than is usually considered polite to notice, and I hope he will take that  up again.  But with all respect to both our political correspondent and Karela I’d see law-abiding behaviour (which others may mock as docility) as a separate issue, and I also think that as far as schools are concerned what you teach matters no more than who and how you teach – and perhaps a good deal less.    I’d argue that the main problems following the attacks will come from the fact that the hugely increased need for ‘security’ has enormously enhanced the powers of controllers at many levels (not least the opportunities for jacks-in-office to parade their importance, stretching the patience of some of us to dangerous limits), and the willingness of the rest to be controlled.  In the short term this is better for nearly everyone (except the rather too numerous victims of French police ‘bavures’) despite the inconvenience.  But in the long term there are really only two types of outcome and this is one of those cases where distance allows the long-term outcome, really far more important, to be brushed aside without the attention it needs.  With one, we confront a society where rules and laws and regulations have everything trussed and hogtied so tightly that the whole enterprise seizes up and becomes immobile, or, worse, turns into a police state.  (Some might argue that the danger is illusory, and that evidence shows the knots tied by regulators claiming the public interest, are few and feeble and loose enough to let any number of dubious practices through, even in places where they are conspicuously needed, as with big business and organised crime; tax havens continue their sun-soaked life-style, for instance.  But I think this is at best wishful thinking.  Indeed I would like to see someone sketch out a socioeconomic law to the effect that the level of regulation varies inversely with the need for it.)  In the other outcome, the reaction against excessive control turns into violent revolution.

  • The meta-editor (aka Old Boore) writes, taking advantage of her seldom used remote access to the office’s local network:    The above, and I do not except the editor’s remarks, is like a bunch of extracts from badly taken minutes of a school debate, though I wouldn’t blame them too harshly in the present situation when a whole congeries of notions connected to ‘conformity’ is whirling around the more and less frivolous minds of Europe.  It is melancholy to observe how shocking events drive so many commentators back to a reliance on cliché and reach-me-down notions at the very point where clear-headed original thought could be most salutary.