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British Identity Lessons...

'Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary wants schools to teach Britishness to 5-16 year olds. Is that what education should be about? And what should be on the curriculum?'
says the header on the BBCs Today forum. This is a futile and devisive project.The productive thing to do would be to get this generation of children to create a modern concept of Britishness, rather than stuffing them with the rules of some synthesised EnglandLand, palatable to the mobsters of Canary Wharf and Wapping.
To be valid, any modern British identity would have to engage with the facts of modern communication. So any examination of national identity in schools would have to involve a complete dialogue between as many regions and groups in the country as possible. This would be worthwhile in itself, overcoming the physical barriers to exchange which class, and the property market, and artificial hostility have raised.
The idea of a curriculum is not constructive. The aims and objectives should be to understand and unearth the different strands of British culture as seen through the eyes of its children. The method has to be the dialogue between them. As usual, the government have hold of the wrong end of the stick. British identity is like the ever growing family quilt, where each generation makes their contribution, no matter how tedious or brilliant or immoral or saintly.
Other cultures are more like a beautiful copper vase, polished and cared for by each generation, but essentially unchanging. Isolated tribal cultures, for instance. Beautiful and harmonious, but static. Or more disturbingly, like the visions of totalitarian dictators or religious despots, rigid and infallible.
The essence of British identity is change. The people best placed to monitor and report those changes are the people who will live with the consequences of change, namely the young. There is nothing 'British' about values like 'justice' and 'fair play', or even 'change'. They are the required values of any civilisation. But by whatever geo-cultural accident, Britain is definitely one of the countries most dependent on, driven by and addicted to change and novelty. It has never benefited from attempts to pickle its identity. And the attempts to do so are generally forgotten or ridiculed.


Africa Leapfrogs a Generation of Technology.

The fascinating Newsnight report ('Kenya's Mobile Revolution'), broadcast this week, shows how the arrival of modern communications technology can provide genuine hope for the future of Africa.
The arrival of internet access via the UN clockwork laptop could even show the way for a new kind of economic system, suited to Africa's hostile geography and climate. To allow farmers to bipass the normal outlets for their harvests and sell (or exchange) directly on the international markets, for instance. Information really does confer power.
It would also seem reasonable to expect that when different regions of the same post-colonial African state are in regular trade and dialogue, that the post-colonial version of tribalism will change, and that synthetic hostility between tribes will become more difficult.
The traditional power structures may also be subverted by the increased role of women. And with access to free online education of the highest quality, such as the M.I.T. project, the goal of a dynamic Africa, unburdened by debt, geography or history must be a big step nearer.
In short, the implications for Africa are enormous, as the Newsnight report on the effects of mobile telephones will show. But with the first UN laptops arriving in communities from July, not to mention the long-term effects of 'micro-banking', the western world can expect to be dealing with a very different Africa in the future. And by implication, a different world. The hopeful predictions are beginning to come true. What will the pessimists say now?
And what will the Man from Del Monte and Nescafe say when he arrives to find the harvest has already been sold?
More interesting, if possible, is the light this all sheds on the ways in which technology and social change are interwoven. That an inhumanly hot, almost un-navigable, harsh terrain need not be subjected to the devastation of C20th technologies, or economics, in order to become a viable, humane, prosperous nation, able to care for its people and free them from the dehumanising drudgeries which in Britain are now folk memories, or the grittier scenes in TV costume dramas.

Why Microsoft Tried to Kill the $100 laptop


Saddam Execution Disaster

seems the likeliest image for iconisation. Note the almost beatific expression. It is the face of a martyr by Raphael. The mobile phone footage vindicated extreme Sunni opinion, that the Shia dominated government is intent on their destruction. The still image visualises the morality for any self-martyrdom required in the cause of Sunni self-defence, as they see it. Along with the lynch-mob tone of the video itself, this image is as deadly as any Patriot missile - together they will kill at least as many people. The shouts of SADR! are the cherry on the cake. The inescapable message to the Sunni minority of the mobile phone footage is "Look Out, We're Coming To Get You".
The single line message of the still shot is 'If They DO Get You, You Can Die Like A Man.'
It seems now that the Iraqi government was aware of the potential for disaster but was unable to control its own security service.
In Washington, it is unlikely that some of the finest diplomatic minds on the planet didn't also understand the same danger, and not propose some serious PR advice to this immature and vulnerable dependant ally. It is almost inconceivable that Washington would not point out the risk of inflaming the Sunni militias by the mishandling of Saddam's execution.
Unless the US doesn't actually care that Iraq is in a state of constant civil war, that is. Then Washington's apparent indifference makes some sort of sense. But why they should want that is anyone's guess. Unless it is the case that a quarrelsome partnership is easier to bargain with than a sole trader. In this case for oil. Not forgetting the need to alienate Baghdad from Tehran for as long as possible.
Not forgetting the regular contracts which keep the Malls open and the burgers sizzlin'.

It's now generally agreed that this was an unmitigated disaster, one of many, and does have the clumsy thumbprints of the Washington PR department all over it.
Did the State Department or any other White House arm offered any PR advice to the puppet regime? You'd think it would be a top priority for them, seeing as American troops are likely to die at the hands of a Sunni minority made even more paranoid by the vision of the Sadr militias running the country, as seen in the execution footage.
If they did not offer any advice, why not? And if they did, why was it not taken?
The potential answers to these questions are very interesting.
If advice was not given, then America is either too stupid to call itself a superpower and should not even be put in charge of a lawnmower, let alone a cruise missile - OR - America is quite happy for war to continue indefinitely. War is good for business, no matter how many US troops are brought home secretly under flags.
If advice was given but rejected, America is being ignored by Iraq - The Puppet Bites Back - but in the form of the Shia doctrine America has been at war with since the fall of the Shah.

Killer Dogs

Another child killed by a pet dog. Last night, at her grandmother's house by her uncle's bull terrier.
Dogs are nature's genetic meccano set, they are one of the most malleable and flexible species associated with human civilisation. As a collection of genes, they can be organised to perform a vast range of specialist tasks.
Some breeds of dog have been bred to attack human beings, either on command, or merely on sight. A dog like this has been designed with as much care and attention as a Colt 45, and those characteristics cannot be simply wished away by calling it Poopsie and making it wear a collar. To expose a family to such a breed is as foolhardy as leaving a loaded shotgun leaning against the TV. It was designed as a weapon to defend property, and it is not capable of knowing which is the genuine threat and which the sleepy toddler blundering around in the darkness.
The dog is no more to blame than the shotgun. But why do we need shotguns or killer dogs in the first place?
The Argument pops up..
"As for pit bull terriers they are no more dangerous than their owners make them. I had one many years ago and he was a gentle beauty"
Not true.
The genes of a pit bull have been systematically manipulated over generations to produce an aggressive fighting machine. It is as perfectly designed for that purpose as a shark or a gun. It attacks according to a set of preconditioned reflex actions. It can be coddled and conditioned into accepting a child as a sibling, and its master as pack leader, but if the trigger is pulled it will attack.
This tragic case today may well be simply a case of mistaken identity. The dog mistook the child for an intruder. But any number of stimuli may trigger the attack reflex. And the more these genes are spread throughout the wider canine gene pool, the more likely are the resulting mongrels to be liable to unstable behaviour. even more dangerous because the resulting dog might not look like a fighting dog, but would carry some of its characteristics.
It would be a bren gun in a violin case.

Fat Is the New Famine

The government is proposing that the NHS should be able to carry out stomach surgery on obese children. Why is there so much obesity, and what is it for?
Before technology became as prolifically productive as it is now, one of the main weapons for ennervating the masses was shortage. Up to a certain point, a hungry workforce is a compliant workforce.
But hunger is no longer a viable tool in a world which is not only conspicuously capable of easily feeding everyone adequately, but also relies on consumption to preserve the economic structure. So instead, the masses are made too fat to walk, let alone man the barricades. Fat is the new famine.
So the answer is no, spending NHS money on patching up the casualties of this economic fact of life is pointless and a waste of resources. It cannot succeed and does not address the causes of the terrible disability of consumption.

The Politics of Diet and Obesity

The Real Meaning Of Xmas.

Christmas, or Xmas as it is properly known, has been under attack for over a hundred years from those seeking to make vast amounts of money from it.

It is under constant bombardment by the biggest guns of the advertising industry from the 1st of november every year until Boxing day, when it is thrown aside like an old knackered horse.

Xmas is the cash cow of the retail industry. Without the income it generates, many businesses would simple fade away, from theatres to mobile phone shacks.

And this is not new or untraditional, in fact. Even before the christians stuck their noses in, the midwinter was, in essence, the same as it is now in accountancy, the period when the first two quarters returns are in and the projections can be made on the next two. In the prehistoric, early argicultural context, that meant knowing roughly if the harvest gathered in september would last until the spring brought new sources of food.

Hence the celebrations and the feasting - if the projections were good.

London Tornado.

The house at the corner of Chamberlain Street in Kensal Rise had its entire gable end sucked off and dumped on a hapless Fiesta in the street, leaving the gas-guzzling people carrier behind it unscathed. Bloody typical. Bloody class system.

The bedroom revealed inside was really nice and tidy, as if prepared. Like the boy who really does put on a clean pair of underpants in case he gets knocked down by a bus. The painting was still on the wall. And the radiator left standing against the missing chimney breast.

Round the corner, the massive plane tree snapped of at the base like a toothpick.

Headphone Furore. Sennheiser's Syndrome.

3 weeks ago, a petition calling for a ban on loud music was handed to Transport for London.

A word in favour of in-head music.

One symptom of Sennheiser's Syndrome is a feeling of complete goodwill towards those around you. The effect of hearing a favourite piece of music seems to act in the same way as a movie soundtrack, enhancing the 'visuality' of what you see. And if what you see are rows of faces, they begin to gain humanity, the narrative of the music means you look at people in a different way. They acquire stories of their own, becoming individuals, as opposed to the usual anonymous stream of potentially hostile competitors you were once used to.

Street Kicks and Why

The report asserts that while financial gain is a common motive for many offenders, the proceeds often spent on "non-essential, status-enhancing" items, much wider forces were influential.
Co-author of the report Trevor Bennett says:
"The decision to commit street robbery can be explained in part by particular characteristics of the street culture...
"This finding is important, because British research has tended to explain robbery in terms of rational choice and to focus instead on the role of cost-reward calculations.
"Our research suggests that any explanation must primarily take into account cultural factors associated with life on the street."
University of Glamorgan's Centre for Criminology Report into Street Crime
On the BBC today, the father of Tom ap Rhys Pryce said he understood that some street robbers were seeking thrills. "We have to try and divert that desire for excitement or kicks or a buzz...into a different direction," stressing the need to "help people who are in a disadvantaged situation... to get educational facilities." saying this "could mean sport or music as well as ordinary academic help so that they can achieve their potential... rather than just wandering the streets".
He has set up a charity to do just that.

Also on the BBC, Camilla Batmanghelidjh, of Kids Company, said street crime was a "systemic problem", adding
"It would be really sad if this report got translated as a bunch of young people robbing for fun. It is not about that.
"It is for 'kicks', but you've have to understand what the 'kick' is. The 'kick' is people who are victims for prolonged periods of time developing a cycle of revenge so that they then get a high from victimising someone else."
The reaction of Tom ap Rhys Pryce is quite amazing, given the prevalent tide of opinion. It is more than mere charity, it is an act of deep understanding. His interpretation of the general conclusions of this report give us all direction.
We live in a vast commercialised bureacracy. It is failing, and the only solutions being offered are those which will merely add to the bureacracy and make it even more inefficient, while doing nothing about the commercial values it promotes. And it is the commercial society which creates the Street Culture which the report uncovers.
We also live in a culture of power and money. Which are essentially the same thing. Together or apart they are the measures of status, either in the boardroom or on the sreet, and once achieved, status tends to excuse the methods by which it was achieved. We don't care how most billionaires got rich, and neither does the culture we live in. All the law really says is: Don't Get Caught. It delivers no incentive to social responsibility whatsoever because a consumerist competitive economy is not a positive force, encouraging people to take pride in being part of a community, but a negative one, urging everyone to clamber over their fellow human beings in order to escape from any resemblance of community and live in encapsulated isolation surrounded by toys, chemicals and sex. Its property laws are therefore only there as a sanction against actions which disturb the commercial process.
Every millionaire alive got rich by winning that Rat race, and every teenager mugging 'for kicks' is simply doing the same thing for the same reasons. The ones who go on to become millionaires, and there will be some, will be forgiven in turn, while their mates, who lost the race, will be known as Losers. Nothing is worse than being branded A Loser. Either in the street or in the boardroom.

Calls for more education, more punishment, 'individual responsibility' and more parenting are, of course, futile. And worse, a distraction. Until people feel genuine community responsibility, the streets will be no safer. And before there can be community responsibility, there has to be a community to feel responsible towards. At the moment, very few people live in a community of any kind.

It is impossible to say how much time and thought and money it will take to create a viable society, in which people are law-abiding because they naturally sympathise with the victim, rather than through fear of punishment, but that is what must be created, and must be started sometime, and to ask how much it will cost is almost to cause it never to happen. The cost of not creating it will always be much higher.
The current approach of blaming anyone in reach is a road to hell, and a further reinforcement of the culture of division which has created the devaluation of human life and values which the report of Professor Trevor Bennett and and Dr Fiona Brookman has highlighted.