There’s a reason for stereotypes

There is a reason for stereotypes.  They are based, at least in part, in fact.  Yorkshiremen are quite thrifty, Scottish people are renowned for their somewhat unappetising habit of deep frying seriously unsuitable stuff, and as for the French… well, that’s a whole separate post…

This was brought home to me when I read this article on the BBC News website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20091451.  I didn’t even watch the video.

For my friends from over the pond, I apologise for what follows, but please know that I don’t consider it applies to anyone I know personally.

There is a stereotype in the UK that Americans are, how do I put this politely, somewhat less intelligent, as a collective whole, than we are. You know this. George Dubya really didn’t help this image, I’m afraid, but it’s a long-standing thing. Bearing in mind that I know at least two college professors, I know for a fact that some Americans are really rather smart, but the overall stereotype is, however, hard to shift.

Now, I don’t profess to know an enormous amount about electoral procedure, but there are a couple of lines in this article that really do the stereotype of the less-than-smart American no harm at all.

Firstly, there is this one:

“When Americans go to the polls in the 2012 presidential election, in some states they will be asked to show photo identification and proof of citizenship for the first time.”

You’re kidding, right? You don’t ask for ID already?! And you’re not worried about election fraud? How can you possibly ensure that people aren’t voting a dozen times?! I am astonished that showing ID is considered a new idea.

The second is this one:

“Other new laws prevent citizens from registering to vote on election day”.

Now I know it’s April the 1st. No one is that stupid, surely? You can REGISTER TO VOTE ON THE DAY?! For the love of heaven, I have never heard anything so dumb.

In the UK, you have to have registered several WEEKS ahead of any election, so that your home address, etc., can be verified in advance. How is this NOT standard policy?!

If I had had any inkling that it was so easy to commit voting fraud in the USA, I would have been able to personally nip over and ensure that Bush Jnr never made it to Pennsylvania Avenue at all.

Perhaps I am being overly judgemental. If I am, I am sure my readers will let me know in no uncertain terms.

But if this is the level of rigour we can expect from the most powerful nation on Earth, what are the standards being set by electoral inspectors who tell other nations how to do it?!  I would imagine some of them are American.  Is it ‘do as i say, don’t do as i do’? I doubt they will have much credibility once the more nascent democracies of the world catch on to how behind their own country’s practices are.

My mind is boggled.  I am truly amazed.  Dear America, if you don’t want people to think you’re thick, you REALLY need to fix your electoral practices,

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Cavalier or Roundhead: Which One Are You?

Huzzah for BBC4.  For those of you outside the UK, BBC4 is an award-winning television channel that makes mostly documentaries and is considered a “thinking” channel. Or at least a channel that makes the viewer have a think for a bit, anyway. It is quite intellectual, quite serious. The programme after mine is entitled The Seven Ages of Stardust. Almost every programme is educational and fascinating, even the quizzes.

A programme has just ended entitled “Cavalier or Roundhead: Which One Are You?”.  It was a fascinating look at the ideas behind the civil war and how those ideas still polarise us today.  Cavalier represents panache, pleasure and individuality. Roundhead represents modesty, discipline, equality and state intervention.  Having already spoken about Oliver Cromwell recently and how, he wasn’t actually a Bad Man, this leapt out at me from the programme planner. 

So which are we? Which am I?

Well, personally, I’m a fairly hedonistic person – I like drinking alcohol, I like shopping on a Sunday, I like stained glass windows and coloured paint and frescos in churches and mince pies at Christmas.  Oliver Cromwell would have disapproved of me, thoroughly.  

And yet I believe in the role of the State in the life of the individual. I believe that some legislation is necessary to keep us on an even keel.  I like CCTV (as long as there is actually someone watching it).  I especially like it when it has a microphone and shouts at people who drop litter (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-10694692), as I think litter is one of the most unforgivable crimes committed on society as a whole.  I like rules about seatbelts and laws against drink driving.  I dislike soft sentencing policy and am unconvinced about rehabilitation.  I like consumer law and protection and fighting for the individual against the greedy and unscrupulous, using the law as a tool, a weapon for good.  And I really dislike fox hunting for sport. If you want to chase some vermin across a field, I’m sure London has some rats you could borrow.  

But at the same time, I dislike the recent obsession with individualism at any cost. “I have the right to…” has become a positively pernicious worm in our society.  I’m worth it. You’re worth it. Don’t change me. Be yourself. Just do it.  Tattoos, piercings, hair dye, binge drinking, underage sex, wear what you like, do what you like, say what you like, expect respect but don’t give any to anyone else, no respect for authority, no respect for the law, no respect for other people or their stuff. Anti-social behaviour, vandalism, graffiti, damaging cars for no reason.  And, for some reason, more varieties of mascara than any single human species should ever need.  

As an aside, Holly Willoughby advertising a new whitening toothpaste by saying it is “always part of her beauty regime” is just stupid. This product has only just been invented. So she must have had unnaturally white teeth already.  Either that or it is neat bleach in a tube. Because her teeth are so white, they glow. They would give a polar bear snow blindness. Disingenuousness in advertising is gradually tipping over into outright lying. Mascara adverts are just the most obvious example.  The touching up and airbrushing of images and using lash inserts and post-production Photoshop (no, really) to make the effects look better than they ever possibly can in real life.  Every so often, an ad gets banned and another makeup company gets told off (http://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2012/10/Parfums-Christian-Dior-UK-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_196932.aspx).  But the lies continue and yet another mascara gets made and marketed even more intensively than the last.

On the plus side, this individualism leads to Darwinistic results. I don’t want to wear a bicycle helmet. Fair enough, don’t. Darwin will take care of the rest.  Dying of your own stupidity is what the Darwin Awards were invented for. Just please don’t breed first, as that ruins the gene pool for another generation.  

For those of my friends who don’t wear a cycle helmet, please make sure your Will is up-to-date.  Even if you aren’t killed outright, if you suffer a head injury, the lack of helmet would be considered contributory negligence and no one will compensate you for any damage done as a result.

And if you think you’re getting a replacement brain from somewhere, you watch WAY too many movies.  You only get one set of eyes, one set of teeth and one brain. If you don’t protect them, that’s your decision, but they aren’t going to be replaced. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Bones and joints and even some organs can be replaced. But if you wear out your eyes, teeth and brain through neglect, chances are, you aren’t getting new ones. Well, not real ones, anyway. 

Sorry, I digress.  Cavalier or Roundhead. So which am I? I seem to be a bit of both. I like Oliver Cromwell. He did some good stuff (like letting the Jews back into England so he could borrow money from them – if you were unaware of the world’s first recorded act of ethnic cleansing by legislation, click here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Expulsion). He did some bad stuff too, but overall, I think the effect on England (I said England, not Britain – I am aware that Celtic societies have a different view of him) has been a good one.  He has shown us the danger of extremes.  Cancelling Christmas was a corker and there’s no way England will ever allow itself to go there again.  We need a bit of Cavalier and a bit of Roundhead.  

But our society is becoming more polarised.  Society as a whole is becoming more Roundhead – more CCTV, more legislation on food and diet and healthcare and benefits and taxes and plastic bag use, new Police and Crime Commissioners – whilst, on an individual level, we are becoming more Cavalier – drink til you puke, take whatever highs you like, legal or not and to hell with the consequences, have sex, have LOTS of sex, have a baby if you want one, never mind who is going to pay for it, talking of not paying for it, have a Caribbean holiday every year, throw yourself off a building, a bridge, a mountain – hedonism at full tilt.  How are these two ways of thinking going to co-exist? They will collide (every Saturday night in most towns) and we have no idea what the consequences will be.  It probably won’t be all out civil war.  But it’ll probably still be quite interesting to watch.

So, dear friends, which are you – Cavalier or Roundhead?

Education, education, education

Today’s piece of twaddle from the news is on the subject of education.  Now education is a bit of a hobby of mine, so I have decided I am qualified to comment a bit. Or rant, depending on how you look at it.

Essentially, the news article is about Cultural Literacy:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20041597

For those of you immediately seized by a question, allow me to clarify.  The reason I have given Cultural Literacy capital letters is not because I have suddenly developed Germanic tendencies, but because it is a book title.  It was written by an erudite Englishman who lives in America (not a population particularly widely renowned for erudition – and yes, i am aware that that is a cruel and (possibly) unjust generalisation, but I only say what I see).

E.D. Hirsch is a literature professor whose students cannot read very well and seem to know little about local history, despite living at the location where the Civil War surrender took place.  Now, I can see how this would be a galling way to spend one’s time – teaching reading instead of literature – but Mr Hirsch decided to look deeper and try and understand why, exactly, his students could express themselves verbally but not read or write with the same ability.

His conclusion, as apparently evinced in said book, is that his students had been taught skills but not facts.

His latest fan is one M. Gove Esq., who believes that fact-based teaching should be brought back into British schools, but not compulsorily.  He has no plans to put his foot down on this one.

Then, being the BBC and believing in balance any cost, there is a quotation from Sir Michael Barber, who used to be an advisor to Mr Blair. And I quote:

“Take Pythagoras’ Theorem. Is that knowledge or skills? It’s not really useful unless you can apply Pythagoras’ Theorem when you need to with a mathematical problem – and that’s knowing how. Knowing what and knowing how – knowledge and skills – go together.”

Congratulations, Mr Barber, you have spouted today’s Stupidest Thing I have Read.

Knowing how to APPLY Pythagoras’s Theorem is 150% useless if you don’t know WHAT the Theorem IS or WHAT is it is FOR, What does it DO, and WHY it might be useful to know.  You have to have the FACT before you can use it to analyse or understand anything else.

This seems to me to underline a fundamental problem with modern teaching methods. It all seems to be “soft” skills.

I can still recite the sliding scale for the changing prices of corn as brought in under the Corn Laws. Useless, perhaps, but I also know WHAT the Corn Laws were, WHEN they were, WHY they were brought in and WHAT impact they had on society.

This may all seem supremely Notatalluseful, but the ability to retain information, however useful or useless it may appear to be at that precise moment, is what makes us learners.

How on Earth would a lawyer ever qualify if he couldn’t retain the fact that a T mark marks responsibility for a boundary? He may never work in conveyancing for the rest of his life, but it is an important FACT that he needs to know in order to be considered qualified to do law, whatever specialist field he decides later he wants to go into.

What about a doctor who hasn’t learned where the appendix is?! Useless? It does nothing for 99% of people for 99% of their lives (NB. these percentages are illustrative, not factual). So, yes, completely useless. Until it goes wrong. And then it could kill you. You have to know WHERE it is and WHAT it does or does not do and WHAT can go wrong and WHAT symptoms to look out for and HOW to diagnose those symptoms and thus save a life. It’s just a set of facts you need to know. Even if you end up as a psychiatrist and never treat a physical body ever again. What if your own started to play up?!

Of course, skills are important. Knowing where an appendix is is all very well, but if you don’t know anyone with the skills to remove it, you’re still going to die. But it would be good if he knew WHERE to cut, wouldn’t it?

What Mr Barber doesn’t seem to grasp is that if you don’t have facts first, then all the analysis skills in the world aren’t going to help you.

Spencer Perceval is not famous for what he did in his life, but how he died. Where did he die? WHY did he die? WHAT were the effects of his death on the rest of society? Analysis cannot exist without facts. If you don’t know WHO Spencer Perceval was, you’re going to have trouble analysing why his death was important, aren’t you?

Then, just to add insult to injury, having made us imbibe this twaddle, Mr Barber then decides that he actually agrees with Hirsch after all, saying, “Cultural literacy is important too and if you don’t know those key facts in the society you live in, you’re permanently disadvantaged.  I think that is a key fact”.

Thanks for sharing, Mr Barber. We are all thoroughly edified and enlightened as a result.

What’s in a name?

There’s a navel-gazing piece of twaddle on the bbc news website about a woman who is buying a cottage called Cromwell House and wants to change the name because he killed a lot of people in Ireland.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20027320

Seriously?! This is the most important thing you have to think about?

Surely, as long as you’re not about to dig up the house and physically move it 530 miles and across the roughest ocean on Earth to put it down IN Ireland itself, who cares what you call it? Call it whatever you like, no one really cares that hard.  He only slept there one night anyway. Big deal.

But why change it at all? Cromwell may have killed lots of people, he was the head of an army, it’s not that big a surprise, but he was also the man who allowed the Jews back into Britain and ended absolute monarchy in this country for good.

So he was not an entirely bad person and if you try to portray him as such, shame on you. It is interesting that her Irish friends seem so passionate about it, but to compare him with ethnic cleansing in Iraq seems a bit strong.  Even if entirely true, what’s that got to do with the name of a house on the outskirts of Oxford? What kind of a world do we live in where we are so revisionist, we cannot even leave house names alone? Are we going to change the name of the White Rose shopping centre because the Yorkists killed the Lancastrians? Get over yourself.

But, frankly, you really need to get a hobby if this is all you have to occupy your mind.

Hello world!

This is a blog of the opinions, thoughts, ideas and interests of Emma.

This is not the blog about cruises and cruise ships.  This is the sister blog to that blog but this one is about other stuff.  Theoretically, ALL other stuff. Cos the other one is quite specialised/ specific!

I hope you like it.