Monthly Archives: October 2013

A use (at last) for a Kindle?

Malcolm admits he has tried, and failed, to use ebooks. Not on a desk-top, nor on a lap-top, nor on an iBook has he ever managed a complete text.

Scorning the odds, he even acquired a Kindle in hope of fourth time lucky. Everyone else seems to manage, but he found himself again struggling through a few pages, then admitting defeat and buying a hard-copy.

What an invention!

After all, he argues, if someone could invent:

  • a cheap, light, portable, fully-recyclable device,
  • capable of containing a megabyte or three, in full colour,
  • with information logically organised, and capable of being fully indexed, foot-noted and the rest,
  • which is also (at-least semi-)permanent — with luxury editions guaranteed for centuries,
  • free from being rendered obsolete by technological advance,
  • stores easily,
  • is readily-available,
  • has good aesthetics,
  • and, at a pinch, is multi-purpose (door-stop, wedge, cup-rest …), —

— it would be hailed as a work of genius, sweep the world, and win every award, kudos and credit going.

Yet we have all of that, and more.

Heo cyðaþ on ðisse bec [circa 886-899]

It is called a “book”, and we Anglophones have been naming it in that word and its predecessors (bóc, booc, boc, bok, boke, booke …) these thirteen centuries.

And, no: it almost certainly isn’t a word derived from “beech”, on the assumption that some ancient was hacking slices off a beech trunk to write upon. As the OED dismissively puts it:

Generally thought to be etymologically connected with the name of the beech-tree, Old English bóc , béce , Old Norse bók < (seebeech n.), the suggestion being that inscriptions were first made on beechen tablets, or cut in the bark of beech trees; but there are great difficulties in reconciling the early forms of the two words, seeing that bôk-s ‘writing-tablet’ is the most primitive of all.

Which means our Germanic antecedents were calling books  “bôkôs” before they gave Fagus sylvatica the name of bóece or béce. Admittedly, Malcolm only did that vamp [a] to flaunt some useless knowledge (or, rather. “book-learning”) and [b] to deploy that neat term “beechen”.

Familiarity breeds disrespect.

And so we get back to the Kindle.

It may just be that Malcolm has found a use for his otherwise useless appliance of Amazon (though a grandson, having destroyed his own, now casts an eye on Malcolm’s little-used one). All courtesy of the Observer‘s running column-filler, The 100 Best Novels.

There was an alternative draft of this sequence, courtesy of Robert McCrum. At a quick scan, Malcolm was prepared to admit to knowing about half of that list.

Then The Observer started itemising each one. It was immediately clear this was a different listing, and limited to he best novels written in English. Hence, Don Quixote (number 1 in McCrum’s straight listing) was by-passed. Malcolm began ticking them off. So far we have:

  1. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress;
  2. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe;
  3. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels;
  4. Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.

At which point, the Kindle becomes of use.

For Malcolm knows that the first three, for certain and in at least a couple of editions each, are in one or other of the five or six dozen boxes and Tesco’s lettuce trays that conveyed them up to York from London. Presently, shelving is going in for what Malcolm terms his “book-room” (and what the Lady-in-his-Life more grandly refers to as the “library”). So repurchasing yet another copy is an expense which cannot easily be justified, even in Malcolm’s addiction to Waterstones, Oxfam and the rest of the new-or-secondhand brotherhood.

UnknownBut Clarissa? There might be a Penguin paperback somewhere in the boxes, but Malcolm is unsure. In any event, it must be decades old, for that was the last time Malcolm ventured that way.

Excuse to buy?

Possibly, but it’s an each-way bet, complicated by the commitment to persist through 900,000 words (McCrum’s estimate).

Hold hard! What’s this?


The answer to the maiden’s prayer!

What’s more, do the business is various formats, including HTML and Kindle.

Cut to the chase:


I am extremely concerned, my dearest friend, for the disturbance that have happened in your family. I know how it must hurt you to become the subject of the public talk: and yet, upon an occasion so generally known, it is impossible but that whatever relates to a young lady, whose distinguished merits have made her the public care, should engage everybody’s attention. I long to have the particulars from yourself; and of the usage I am told you receive upon an accident you could not help; and in which, as far as I can learn, the sufferer was the aggressor.

This may yet be the start of a boot-ti-ful friendship  — as in “booting up”, an interesting metaphor in itself, abbreviated from “boot-strap” or, as the OED explains:

A strap sewn on to a boot to help in pulling it on or looped round a boot to hold down the skirt of a lady’s riding habit; a boot-lace.

Oooh, sexy stuff!


Dance10For a while there, Malcolm was about to offer the bon-mot:

Books do furnish a room.

He hesitated because he wanted, instinctively, to attribute it to Virginia Woolf.

On second thoughts, does it pre-date Anthony Powell’s title for the tenth of A Dance to the Music of Time sequence? Ah! Yes! Of course! That Poussin in the Wallace Collection!

Which doesn’t look good, at all, on the screen of Malcolm’s (low-status) Kindle:


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Filed under Amazon, Literature, Observer, reading

Verb. sap.

In full: verbum sapienti sat est — ‘a word is sufficient to a wise person’.

That’s a conflation of two expressions, one from Plautus, the other from Terence.

Michael Goldfarb has done a fine piece for the New York Times: he tackles the London property bubble with the sense, sensibility and astringency impossible for the [London] Times property section, or any other media outlet dependent on heavy estate-agents’ advertising.

Once past the anecdotal (see below), it is the numbers which should chill the marrow:

  • According to Britain’s Office for National Statistics, London house prices rose by 9.7 percent between July 2012 and July 2013. In the surrounding suburbs they rose by a mere 2.6 percent. The farther away from London you go, the lower the numbers get. When you finally cross the border into Scotland, house prices actually decline by 2 percent.
  • In 2011, at the height of the euro zone crisis, citizens of the two countries at the epicenter of the cataclysm — Greece and Italy — bought 400 million pounds’ worth of London bricks and mortar. The Italian and Greek rich, fearing the single currency would collapse, got their money out of euros and parked it someplace where government was relatively stable, and the tax regime was gentle — very, very gentle.
  • Hot money from China, Singapore, India and other countries with fast-growing economies and short traditions of good governance is pouring into London… An astonishing £83 billion worth of properties were purchased in 2012 with no financing — all cash purchases. That’s $133 billion.

The only one-word summary is: unsustainable.

However, (as Goldfarb doesn’t say) the ConDem Government cannot afford the inevitable before May 2015 and the next election, so:

  • the whole British economy is based on housing speculation in the capital. David Cameron’s government seems to think that is the case. Mr. Cameron may be pursuing austerity policies elsewhere in the economy, doing virtually nothing to help subsidize employment or industry, but his government has just started a “Help to Buy” program. The government will guarantee up to 15 percent of the purchase price of a house up to £600,000 ($960,000), if you have a 5 percent down payment.

Goldfarb’s anecdotal bit is about those who are baling out of London, either because:

  • they are taking their paper profits and moving to bigger, more reasonably priced properties out-of-town;


  • because they simply cannot afford London prices.

Malcolm admits to being recently one of these emigrants from the Metropolis.

Now in retirement from professional jobs which kept them in London, the Lady-in-his-Life and the boyo himself upped sticks and headed for the city of (old) York.


For barely a third of what the London house realised, they now have almost the same floor-space they had down south. Just down the line of the Roman road from Bootham Bar (as above – and, ignoring the traffic, little changed).

  • They live amid older, good-looking housing, and in clear sound of the Minster’s bells.
  • Transport is better — at a push, King’s Cross is two hours and some minutes, across Scarborough Bridge, front door to platform 9¾.
  • At least three regional airports are conveniently on the railway line from York — for continental flights, all cheaper than Heathrow.
  • They walk into town, almost all the way on old limestone pavings.
  • York is still enough of a “county town” to have a number of “useful shops”.
  • There are cultural and intellectual opportunities — perhaps not on the same level as London, but more immediately available (and Leeds, Scarborough and other places are as close, time-wise, as would be the West End from a London suburb).
  • There are local tradesmen who learned their trades the proper way, and do a professional job, but not at inflated prices.
  • Across the road or round the corner are two of the most successful schools in Britain (yes, there are grandsons …).
  • Just out there, a short drive or a bus ride, lie the Moors and the Dales.
  • Pubs and restaurants cannot rely on the Gold Card trade to the same extent, so service is better and prices acceptable.
  • Typically, beer is around £3.30 a pint (and pubs not so loud — except in the centre, on race-days).
  • People, strangers, talk.

What’s not to like?

Moreover, when the great property crash comes in London, there’s less distance to fall.

Oh, and York has a Labour Council.

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Filed under George Osborne, House-prices, London, New York Times, Times, York, Yorkshire

Viperous or merely waspish?

There’s a lot of honest pleasure to be had from a damning review.

  1. It works off the frustrations and hostilities of the reviewer (see 3 below).
  2. The reader gratuitously can enjoy the sprayed spittle and spite.
  3. We know the reviewed will repay in kind, at some early opportunity.
  4. It is the start, or a passing point, in an on-going spat.

So to Nick Cohen (in the reddish corner) taking on Matthew d’Ancona in the reviews section of today’s Observer [quoted in full here, because Malcolm cannot — so far — find the text on the main Observer site]:

InitTogetherNo journalist has better access to our rulers than Matthew d’Ancona. As a liberal conservative, he is at ease with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and it is at ease with him. Just about everyone in power spoke to him for In It Together, and as a result, I doubt there will be a better insider’s account of the coalition for years. If you want to understand today’s high politics, you should read him.

I would go further and flatter Mr d’Ancona with a sycophancy that would bring a blush to his cheeks were it not for one difficulty: his cheeks are one thing but his nose is another, and he cannot see what is in front of it. D’Ancona uses his network of contacts to present the reader with stories other journalists would have killed to call their own. Yet the conservatism that made his contacts confide in him stops him from understanding the implications of what he has learned.

To start a long way down the Tory food chain, it is clear from d’Ancona’s account that Iain Duncan Smith is a dolt and a buffoon. You do not have to take my word for it. D’Ancona quotes George Osborne saying: “You see Iain giving presentations, and realise he’s just not clever enough.” Rather than make the connection between this embarrassment to his colleagues and the desperate people queuing at food banks, d’Ancona praises Duncan Smith as a bold reformer taking on the culture of welfare dependency. There is a missing link between what he witnesses and what he understands.

Not that Osborne is in any position to criticise, Duncan Smith might reply. D’Ancona relates how the chancellor had planned to get the pain out of the way early so he could “share the proceeds of growth” – ie bribe the voters at the 2015 election. In November 2011, Osborne announced that his policy was in ruins. The cuts, the pay freezes, the falls in household income, the ever-rising national debt would continue until 2017. This was an extraordinary volte-face and an extraordinary economic failure. But to d’Ancona, the tactics matter most. Osborne had made a smart political move, he says, that “put immediate pressure on Miliband and Balls” to say whether they supported austerity without end. D’Ancona is entitled to concentrate on the game of politics. But because so many other Westminster correspondents do the same, the coalition is able to pretend that it has “stayed the course” and “stuck to Plan A” while U-turning as violently as a drunk driver in a cul-de-sac.

Inevitably, no one comes out of this book as badly or as sadly as Nick Clegg – or “needy Nick”, as Cameron’s condescending aides call him. D’Ancona charts with precision the rising panic in Clegg’s heaving breast as he realises that his party’s first period in power since 1945 is producing pathetically small returns. Clegg admits that when he was David Cameron’s new best friend in the early days of the coalition “he wasn’t really leading” his party. As his voters fall away, Clegg talks of the next election as an “extinction-level event” for the Liberal Democrats, and worries if he will be his party’s “last leader”.

The conservative d’Ancona underestimates the scale of the Lib Dem debacle. Its MPs went into politics and into government to secure constitutional reform. By 2015, they will have nothing to show for their compromises: not proportional representation, not an elected House of Lords – nothing. Lib Dems love green policies almost as much as constitutional reform. The poor little things thought that the new “vote blue, go green” Tories shared their commitment until Osborne put them straight. “I don’t believe in this agenda,” Osborne told Clegg. He had only pretended that he did because “of course we had to say all this stuff in opposition”.

If Clegg is a character in plain view, the prime minister d’Ancona so admires remains unfathomable. He is undoubtedly a member of the establishment. The best scenes in this book show the disillusionment of Cameron’s former aide Steve Hilton, an authentic Tory anarchist, as he learns that his hopes of redistributing power from Whitehall will be crushed as long as his friend and mentor remains in Downing Street. The establishment is not as clubbable as it appears. It has always been an alliance of snobs and mobs, and d’Ancona is good on Cameron’s taste for rough trade. He hires Andy Coulson from the News of the World because he wants to use tabloid tactics to further his cause. So keen is he to have his man, he forgets to do a thorough background check. Undeterred by the police’s decision to arrest and charge Coulson, he hires Lynton Crosby, a sly and reactionary Australian PR man, as a replacement.

I was warming to the pace and vim of d’Ancona’s narrative in these passages, until he pulled me up short again. In a throwaway line, he reports that Cameron rejected the Lib Dems’ mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m because “our donors will never put up with it”. That’s it. That’s all d’Ancona has to say about evidence of the plutocratic corruption of politics that does not so much stare him in the face as slap him round the chops.

I never had time for Roland Barthes’s assertion in his The Death of the Author that “to give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text”. The retort, “if authors are dead, who the bloody hell do you French get to write your books?” appeared to dispose of that school of Parisian structuralism.After reading Matthew d’Ancona, I am not so sure. Our author is there but not there. He sees and yet is blind. He writes a 360-page book on the coalition without noticing the social and economic disaster it has inflicted on the British. It is as if it never happened.

Malcolm trusts you enjoyed that. He certainly did: To start a long way down the Tory food chain, it is clear from d’Ancona’s account that Iain Duncan Smith is a dolt and a buffoon. Ho, ho, ho! And how true! How very, very true.

Of course, this isn’t Round One, Seconds out! — though it would involve journalistic archaeology to find where it all began.

One thing of which we can be certain: this isn’t the end of the match.

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., Observer, reading, Tories.

Proportionate policing

Yes, folks, it’s Schlock! Horror! time again with the Sunday papers.

You may detect some political bias when one sweary ex-Cabinet Minister outnumbers 3,200 blacklisted workers


By the way, Andrew Mitchell reported himself, just a few days ago, to have suffered “An extraordinarily difficult year”.


However, his difficulties may since have been eased, as noted by the Financial Times:

Andrew Mitchell, who stood aside as Conservative chief whip after being accused of calling a policeman a “pleb” outside Downing Street, has found a new job as a consultant to Investec, an asset management company.

Mr Mitchell, a former Lazard banker, will take on the role as “senior strategic adviser”, which involves 10 days’ work a year, for which he will receive £60,000.

Allowing for an unlikely 8-hour working day, that’s £750 an hour.

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Filed under Conservative family values, crime, equality, Murdoch, Observer, prejudice, Sunday Times, Tories., Trade unions

Methinks he doth protest too much 2

Now for some passing wind on that, quite extraordinary, Paul Dacre out-pouring.

Despite the very Daily Mail mock-querulous title, Why is the left so obsessed by the Daily Mail, which comes suspiciously close to John Rentoul’s classic QTWTAIN meme, it is really an object-lesson in self-obsession. Reading it had Malcolm in a mental spin. Was he:

  • getting some after-wash from Neville Chamberlain’s Declaration of War speech?

Look at the text of that — one of the most “national” of occasions imaginable  — and notice how frequently Chamberlain reverts to a subjective first-person pronoun:

You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win 
peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything 
different that I could have done and that would have been more successful.

  • Or was Dacre having a senior sub-Henry V moment?

If so, it’s a matter of common observation that Henry’s two great speeches (before Harfleur and before Agincourt) both come at moments when the King’s impetuosity, bad judgement and blind stupidity have landed him, his authority, and followers in a crisis from which it needs the opposition’s even worse judgement and crasser stupidity to extricate him. If that needs teasing out:

  • Henry had expected a quick success at Harfleur, a symbolic and cheap victory, from which he could draw instant credit, and gain a base in Normandy. From there he could engineer a twin-pronged attack from this northern base and from his support in Aquitaine. What he hadn’t calculated was the town would hold out for a taxing six-week siege, which took Henry’s late-summer campaign into foul autumnal weather. What saved Henry and the English at Harfleur, as the text of the play makes abundantly clear, was French inadequacy and unpreparedness:

Our expectation hath this day an end:
The Dauphin, whom of succors we entreated,
Returns us that his powers are yet not ready
To raise so great a siege. Therefore, great king,
We yield our town and lives to thy soft mercy.
Enter our gates; dispose of us and ours;
For we no longer are defensible.

  • Similarly at Agincourt it was a battle for the French to lose against a weak, sick, impoverished enemy. And lose it they did, by not knowing their own ground, through overconfidence:

Then let the trumpets sound
The tucket sonance and the note to mount;
For our approach shall so much dare the field
That England shall couch down in fear and yield.

  and greed for ransom:

It is now two o’clock: but, let me see, by ten
We shall have each a hundred Englishmen.

Now review Dacre’s self-defence, or rather — to save time and the efforts of all these little electrons — just the odd sample:

Let it be said loud and clear that the Mail, unlike News International, did NOT hack people’s phones or pay the police for stories. I have sworn that on oath.

No, our crime is more heinous than that.

It is that the Mail constantly dares to stand up to the liberal-left consensus that dominates so many areas of British life and instead represents the views of the ordinary people who are our readers and who don’t have a voice in today’s political landscape and are too often ignored by today’s ruling elite.

The metropolitan classes, of course, despise our readers with their dreams (mostly unfulfilled) of a decent education and health service they can trust, their belief in the family, patriotism, self-reliance, and their over-riding suspicion of the state and the People Who Know Best.

From which we draw the following:

The Mail doesn’t pay for stories

The precise wording is from “the police”, but the broader implication is left hanging.

That anyway-up patently doesn’t approach a half-truth.

The Information Commissioner’s report  to Parliament, What Price Privacy Now? [December 2006] revealed 58 Daily Mail journalists making 952 “transactions” to be investigated under “Operation Motorman” — oh, and another four journos making a further 30 approaches on behalf of the Mail’s Weekend Magazine. Those were commercial transactions, buying personal information obtained illegally, and much indirectly from corrupt police sources. That put the Mail at the top of the list of media outlets paying Clifford and his ilk for Section 55.

So much for Mr Dacre’s sacred “oath”.

The Mail boasts it is the stalwart defender of the public against this liberal-left consensus that dominates so many areas of British life.

boot-guide-slides-15_152909132742.jpg_halfpage_sligeshowHuh? Notice, too, how this “enemy within” is conflated with today’s ruling elite.

Oh, c’mon Dacre! What are these numerous “areas of British life”, all under the loony-lefty Alexander McQueen shearling-and-leather ankle boot (number 27 of the 88 approved by Vogue last “Fall” — and very fetching, too, as left above)?

When we read Dacre’s piece, he seems to identify just three main nodules of this “liberal-left consensus”: the BBC, the Guardian and the Labour Party. One is under attack from all quarters on the right, one is financially “embarrassed” and the last has been out-of-office these last forty months. So none hardly “dominates”.

Ordinary people who are our readers … don’t have a voice in today’s political landscape and are too often ignored by today’s ruling elite.

A voice in the landscape, Mr Dacre? Surely jarringly close to a mixed metaphor! Perhaps it’s almost “crying in the wilderness”.

Anyway, the one thing of which we can be certain is that this lumpen-bourgeoisie [no! Malcolm didn’t invent, just borrowed] is not short of bellowing mouthpieces. The Daily Mail and General Trust has revenues in excess of £2 billion a year, and we can add in the weight of the Murdoch media, the Torygraph, the Express, and all the others. That’s no small shout.

Far from being ignored by today’s ruling elite, your average Tory politician pants for a chance to be petted by Mr Dacre (as, to his lasting shame, did Gordon Brown).

The metropolitan classes, of course, despise our readers …

Again, huh? Who are the “metropolitan classes”? Is it London versus the rest? Is the Great Wen one seething mass of lefty Mail-hating? We fully appreciate that the Northcliffe formula is based on the “daily hate“, but are all those Mail-readers across Greater London self-despising hypocrites?

Over-riding suspicion of the state and the People Who Know Best

Much “suspicion” is ta direct consequence of all those Mail “daily hates”, through whether it is “over-riding” [riding over what?] is a dubious proposition. On the whole, your average Mail reader seems quite prepared to meet the services of the state face-to-face, and ask for more — consider how Dacre makes a regular thing of rubbish collection, [No, that wasn’t an unconscious irony.]

And we clearly recognise in his self promotion throughout this article one person at least “who knows best”.


Congratulations, yet again, to the Guardian. Every half-formed prejudice one might hold against Dacre and his scandal-sheet has been proven to the utterance by this article.

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Filed under BBC, Britain, British Left, broken society, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, History, human waste, policing, politics, prejudice, Quotations, reading, Times, Tories.

The heart of a small boy

PsychoBookCoverThose in-the-know can see already where this one is going … (hint right, and it’s not nice).

Malcolm has need of a desk.

  • It needs to sit across an old, and sealed, chimney breast, between two of his new bookcases.
  • Which suggests it should be spot-on 140cm wide.
  • There should be a raised shelf for a monitor.
  • It also needs to accommodate a printer and a scanner — since the Epson and the HP ScanJet still function adequately, Malcolm has never felt any need to have an all-in-one. [Actually, getting the ScanJet to work through MacOs isn’t the easiest of operations — but VueScan does the trick.]
  • Somehow a couple of hard drives (one for back-up, the other for iTunes) have to be shelved.
  • The iPad and iPod(s), perhaps even a Kindle will need to be attached.
  • So, too, the Sony DVD burner.
  • Oh, and let’s not forget the JBL speakers.
  • Which means a spaghetti of cables.
  • Since the whole purpose of a desk is to provide workspace, we must assume books, papers and reference materials, notes, scribbles, backs-of-envelopes and general detritus will accumulate on the main work area. So, a space is required for a wastebasket.

All the commercial stuff, from eBay, Amazon, IKEA, wherever, looks out of place. On the other hand, an antique or vintage job would need holes drilled for cables — and that’s a no-no for a prissy, picky preservationist like Malcolm.

So the search continues.

A build-it-yourself job from Shelfstore?

Perhaps not: that is too Scandinavian and utilitarian.

And, at the back of Malcolm’s mind, is the gothic horror from Robert Bloch (the author of Psycho), but revived and so often attributed to Stephen King:

People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.

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Filed under blogging, reading

Methinks he doth protest too much 1

The two press pieces of the day should undoubtedly be:


Both will be frisked in forensic detail by critics, bloggers and passing humanoids.

Cummings and goings

The former of those looks and reads like an extended late-night keyboard vamp, fuelled by too many shallow draughts, at too high an alcohol content, from the Pierian spring:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

What Cummings offers seems to involve a rag-tag of almost-formed notions, glossed over and poncified by a sweep of abstruse references.

Cut to the chase

If, as seems likely, what it all this highfalutin’ stuff amounts to is:

  • the Ministry knows its place, and trusts its professional Inspectorate;
  • the Inspectorate knows the Headteachers;
  • both Ministry and Inspectorate respect, trust and interact with the local authorities;
  • the local authorities are able properly to fund — especially from local funding (and so have local accountability and involvement) — their schools;
  • the local authorities respect and involve parents;
  • the Headteachers know their schools and their clientele;
  • the teachers know their pupils (especially at primary), and enjoy and relish their subject disciplines (at post-primary);
  • the students know their places, and how examination and testing is done (and the methodology of testing doesn’t change regularly at the whim of the Minister);
  • the examination system is stable, structured, reliable and trustworthy;


  • there is a decent, liberal ethos prevailing through the whole system and structure, not (as at present) an oppressive blame-culture,

— then Malcolm is all for it. [Those who wish to quibble should refer to Malcolm’s essential diagnosis of public education.]


Oddly enough, that is what we had back before the imposition of Baker’s and Thatcher’s National Curriculum, and that is what the better schools were delivering. No need for all the bureaucratic apparatus imposed by each successive incoming (and “reforming”) Minister. Specify the outcomes — as the GCEs and School Certs did — and heads, teachers, students, parents and responsible authorities will deliver.

For all the perceived inadequacies between the 1944 Act and Callaghan’s Ruskin speech (October 1976), the schools delivered. Over a quarter of a century, the social structure of Britain adapted to a post-industrial future.

An Orwellian truth

In a historical moment, Britain went from being predominantly blue-collar working-class, to white-collar middle-class. OK: there were exceptions — one example, because the UK’s energy needs were predicated to coal, we kept the colliery districts in a kind of industrial semi-servitude (albeit, one generally well-rewarded) far too long. Then Thatcher callously broke them, without offering alternatives.

Why was there no “alternative” to going down t’pit?

The real “fail” was Britain’s inability to devise any credible technical and technological education.  As Malcolm has argued here on several occasions, that is a chronic failure, and one identified over a century ago by George Bernard Shaw, among others.

Why the “fail”? Arguably, because the “toff schools” didn’t mess with anything that involved dirty hands; and what the “toffs” could pay for, the lower orders aspired to. Hence, with the rarest exceptions, the absence of that third element, technical education, in the implementing of Butler’s 1944 Act.

Two words for Gove-ernment:

Butt out.

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Filed under Britain, broken society, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., education, George Bernard Shaw, Guardian, Michael Gove, schools, Tories., underclass

Learning something new every day

Today’s gem:

Tornadoes occur across Ireland “on a widespread scale quite often” but it is “very rare when they touch the ground and nearly impossible to forecast”, [Siobhan Ryan of Met Eireann] told Today FM radio earlier.


That from the Irish Times, about bad weather and heavy rain across central Ireland, and — in particular — a “tornado” in County Galway, so:

some 150 homes were without electricity following high winds in Co Galway last night. The Clonfert and Banagher areas were worst affected, according to ESB Networks.

For what it’s worth, it has been tipping down in (old) York this evening.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Times, RTE, weather

You cannot be serious!

Not John McEnroe, but a piece from Political Scrapbook:

“Will Nick Griffin be given the Nobel Prize?” asks BNP web-site.

It gets better: as the BNP presents it, Griffin is the spiritual parallel to Saint Paul, on the road to Damascus. Oh, just read it!

To which Malcolm adds:

By coincidence, there was I reading David Downing’s thriller Zoo Station.

Here we find the protagonist, John Russell, encountering a fellow journalist in the Adlon Hotel, Berlin. It is early 1939:

“Hey!”” Slaney interrupted himself. “Have you heard the latest? Over the weekend some Swedish member of Parliament nominated Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize. Wrote a letter of recommendation and everything.”” Slaney flipped back the pages of his notebook. “” He praised ‘Hitler’’s glowing love of peace, heretofore best documented in his famous book Mein Kampf.’” ” 
“”A spoof, right?””  
“”Of course. But at least one German paper missed that bit. They printed the whole thing as if it was completely kosher.”” He threw back his head and laughed out loud, drawing stares from across the room.

For authentication, that appears on the official Nobel Prize website:

Adolf Hitler was nominated once in 1939. Incredulous though it may seem today, the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939, by a member of the Swedish parliament, an E.G.C. Brandt. Apparently though, Brandt never intended the nomination to be taken seriously. Brandt was to all intents and purposes a dedicated antifascist, and had intended this nomination more as a satiric criticism of the current political debate in Sweden. (At the time, a number of Swedish parliamentarians had nominated then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin for the Nobel Peace Prize, a nomination which Brandt viewed with great skepticism. ) However, Brandt’s satirical intentions were not well received at all and the nomination was swiftly withdrawn in a letter dated 1 February 1939.

 Malcolm suggests the writer intended “incredible”, not “incredulous”,

Anyway, his nominating letter of 27th January 1939 alone earns Erik Gottfrid Christian Brandt an entry in wikipedia.


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How local?

The New York Times looks at the Shutdown in Washington in the context of the Virginian Gubernatorial election:

With 170,000 federal employees in Virginia and 30 percent of the economy of Northern Virginia dependent on government spending, no state has more to lose from a government shutdown than this one.

And the first concrete gauge of the political fallout may play out here, where a governor’s race that had been dominated by the weakness of the two candidates now seems to be focused on the question of which party will take the blame.

With the election just 34 days away, the issue increasingly is raising risks for Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Republican, who is worriedly trying to keep voters angry at Washington Republicans from taking it out on him.

All (and the rest of that piece by Trip Gabriel) doubtless very valid.

The niggle it raises in Malcolm’s mind is: to what extent do national issues rub off at the local level?

There obviously is a chasm of difference between, say, the 3.75 million accredited votes in Virginia in the 2012 Presidential Election, and the 394 who turned out last week for the Way Ward of Mid Devon District Council. On quantum alone, one is statistically suggestive, and the other is … not.

Even so, we can draw some inferences:

  • There something odd about Virginia returning eight Republican Congressmen (and they are all men) out of eleven Districts, when Obama carried the State by a twinge over his national rating. Only back in 1982 was the disparity so great.
  • Admittedly, the Democrat vote seems heavily concentrated in places like Hampton Roads and Fairfax County (which, incidentally, has the highest family income anywhere in the nation).
  • There does seem to be an issue to be addressed about balancing the Districts. The GOP intended to gerrymander even worse, and ran into serious problems therewith.
  • The State is dividing, as the liberal north moves Democrat, while the south remains highly conservative and Republican. It is in the northern part that the population is growing, and now comprises as much as a third of the electorate.
  • Despite all that, the GOP grip continues to tighten:


  • An outsider might begin to mutter “fix”.

That is incidental to that niggle in Malcolm’s mind

It’s quite illogically logical for voters to go different directions locally and nationally. There is a natural propensity to be “awkward”, or to look for “balance”. More than half of Greater London’s constituencies (38 of the 73) stayed with Labour in 2010 (and that was a “bad” year). Then in the 2012 Mayoral (generally, a pretty “good” year for Labour), Boris Johnson was near on 4% ahead of Ken Livingstone.

As for the surge of UKIPpers in May 2013 (up to 23% nationally, and 139 additional councillors), we still don’t know if that was a freak (current polling seems about 10%, but doing far better in local elections), or a more enduring presence. UKIP, in any case, seems to be the “Up yours!” vote (which, at least, is an improvement on the BNP, the previous recipients). By all accounts the “Up yours” tendency will be a strong flavour in the European Parliamentary election next year — though, surely, Labour must improve on its derisory 15.7% of 2009.

Let’s apply all this to the four million voters in Scotland

A couple of curious statistics there:

On December 1, 2012:

  • 4.06 million people were registered to vote in the local government and Scottish Parliament elections – an increase of 54,795 (1.4 per cent) compared to December 1, 2011, the highest level recorded since local government boundaries were revised in 1996.
  • 3.99 million people were registered to vote in UK Parliament elections – an increase of 43,665 (1.1 per cent);
  • 3.99 million people were registered to vote in elections to the European Parliament, an increase of 43,489 (1.1 per cent).

The Scottish General Record Office adds a further caveat to that:

  • During the same period [2009-12], the number of European Union (EU) citizens registered to vote in local government and Scottish Parliament elections rose by 11,114 to 79,063 (16.4 per cent). This is likely to underestimate the total number of EU citizens resident in Scotland, since many may not register. Latest estimates put the number of EU citizens from continental Europe living in Scotland at around double that number.

So, Mr Salmond: one in every fifty of the voters in the Referendum will be Europeans, rather than Scots. And four more of those fifty are English-born. We are already accounting for 10% of the Scottish electorate.

For the BBC, just a couple of weeks back, John Curtice ran his slide-rule over the present polling:


The Curtice slide-rule may have an electric smoothing attachment, for his conclusion is:

… the best measure of the balance of public opinion – the average ratings for the Yes and the No side across all of the recent polls – looks much the same now as it did a year ago.

The Yes side’s average poll rating currently stands at 33%, while the No side has a score of 50%. Around 17% say they do not know or are unsure about what they will do.

If we leave the Don’t Knows to one side, that suggests that if the referendum were being held today rather than next year, 60% of people would vote to stay in the United Kingdom while 40% will vote for Scotland to become an independent country.

That is a little better for the Yes side than the equivalent figures for those polls that were conducted earlier this year, which on average gave Yes 38% and No 62%.

That is a bit of a come-down for Salmond and the SNP: in May 2011 the SNP took 45.4% of the constituency vote. It is more credible that the SNP excess-of-2011 over where-they-are-now isn’t disillusion among Nationalists, but that on local issues and for local candidates a significant number of Unionist votes were lent to the SNP.

By the by, if there’s anything crooked about Districting in the State of Virginia, it’s straight stuff compared to Scotland: on just 32.7% of the vote, Labour took 35 of the 73 constituency seats (though that was “remedied” by the Regional Seats.

[For the record, Malcolm happily voted “No!” in the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum, not because of partisan bias, but because it didn’t offer, by any stretch of the imagination “proportional representation”.]

In the meanwhile, for an Election addict, like Malcolm, the Virginian Gubernatorial is the juiciest low-hanging fruit. And — happily — it shows good promise of being a dirty one:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign is launching Facebook ads targeting Virginia’s substantial federal worker population that attack Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) for the federal government shutdown.

“There are 150,000 federal employees in Virginia,” read the Web ads. “Why is Ken Cuccinelli standing with the Tea Party on the government shutdown?”

The ads target federal workers in Northern Virginia, where nearly one third of the economy relies on the federal government, and in the military-heavy Hampton Roads region. 

The shutdown could have a severe impact on Virginia’s economy, and stands to become a major campaign issue with one month left to go until the election.

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