Sunday, December 30, 2007
Courage & Cowards
However I take issue with Simon Hoggart who wrote in his column on Saturday in The Guardian criticised world leaders for calling the assassination ‘cowardly’ as he feels that although it might be evil to shoot someone and blow yourself up - is not cowardly. Perhaps for the presumably brainwashed individual who did the act it is not cowardly – but if it was organised by an organisation such as Al-Qaeda or members of the Pakistan military then such as act is cowardly because it is a blatant attempt by those wishing to prevent democracy to derail it by using violent methods. If you fight in the shadows and only send your minions against those individuals brave enough to face the world seeking a democrat mandate then it is done by those who completely lack the courage that Bhutto had.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Resignation over Ming's U-Turn on EU Treaty Referendum
I am resigning from my position as chair of the local Warwick and Leamington Liberal Democrats and as a member of the Liberal Democrats as of today.
I can no longer support or campaign for a party which is losing its way under its current party leader, Ming Campbell. Whilst over the years I have met friends and colleagues who do care about national and local issues similar to my own, I feel the current leadership is muddled and misguided.
The last straw was the recent announcement by Ming that the Liberal Democrats will no longer support calls for a referendum on the European Treaty. I was only three when this country voted for entry in the EEC and I believe in the last thirty years the British people have not had a direct say with each set of moves towards further political integration.
I was pleased when the Labour Party promised a referendum on this issue because it would have created a genuine open debate and given people information to make their own mind up. However because the French and the Dutch voted against the Constitution it has been slimmed down somewhat and repackaged as a Treaty.
This has given Gordon Brown the opportunity to break the promise given by the Labour Party and say there is no need for a referendum. And I believe Ming is also wrong and insincere when he says the Treaty is substantially different from the constitution and there is no need for a referendum. This is an old-fashioned con-trick. Is it any wonder why people are so cynical about politicians when they break their promises?
Unfortunately, it seems those who are pro-Europe are basically frightened of a referendum because they fear they will lose. To me, this is cowardice and weakens our democracy. Our representative parliamentary system continually lets us down on this issue because all the major parties have denied the British people a real say in Europe for the last thirty years.
Now that Ming is calling for a referendum on our membership which is just a foolish smokescreen which will backfire. If people wish this country to leave the EU then they can vote UKIP. The Tories play the Eurosceptic card but it was they - under Heath, Thatcher and Major - who led us into Europe, signed the Single European Act and Maastricht without any referendums.
I believe what people want is a vote on this Treaty. I fail to see why, over the years, countries like France, Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark can hold referendums whilst the British are continually denied. If I was given a vote then I would probably vote for the treaty – however I feel totally disenfranchised that I am not given such an opportunity.
I remember seeing Ming talk in Stratford-upon-Avon in late 2005 about values in a modern age of spin. I fail to see values when he breaks his word on such a key issue.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Boris opens his mouth again
Firstly where does he get his evidence? It seems probably that he is basing this simply on that he sees some children who like to play, and get absorbed, by videogames. And he sees that literacy rates are falling and he makes a massive assumption based on his own prejudices and ignorance of videogames. Still, what more can we expect from a 'Conservative'.
Simply because the UK has the highest console ownership per household in the UK does not mean that this is a credible link to falling literacy rates. I would expect the UK to have the highest proportion of tea-drinkers in the EU - but I wouldn't blame this on the price of fish. There has always been a reaction to new technology and social trends - radio, film, TV, rock music, the internet etc which have in their time been whipping boys for the social issues of society. In my experience, those who don’t grow up with the particular thing they are complaining against, normally hold these reactionary views.
Kids, along with their parents, have many distractions these days. Should parents remove televisions, computers, CD players, DVD players, ipods, and mobile phones along with videogame consoles? Maybe their rooms should be Spartan and only have selected approved classics neatly placed for them to read? I grew up with videogames and I also enjoyed reading books as kid. It is possible to do both. No doubt reading does encourage literacy along with imagination. Apparently some academics in the late 19th and early 20th century hoped reading of literacy would encourage the masses to have 'sensibility' and intelligence to replace the falling belief in religion. Fat chance there as can be demonstrated by the World Wars, which was started by nations with high literacy rates.
At the end of the day we should know that something maybe purely educational and something maybe purely entertaining but most things are somewhere along the middle. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with enjoying a hobby, which is mainly entertaining if it doesn't harm others. Unlike television and books, videogames are primarily a two-way interactive experience, which can be valuable in itself. Videogames, on the whole, are imaginative in that they take players to other worlds and situations where the choices they make count. This can include solving puzzles, dexterity and so forth.
To improve literacy we should look instead at our schools and at parenting. In my experience at a comprehensive school in the 80s, literacy wasn't pushed particularly and wasn't made interesting enough. Politicians continually spout about the importance of the three Rs but why do they continually fail to ensure that this is put in place? I would say Thatcher, Major and Blair have done more to damage literacy rates in their failed policies than Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have ever done. Over the last thirty years there seems to preference for empathy, group learning and coursework teaching methods instead of traditional competitive methods such as learning by rote, book reading and exams. Secondly parents do need to read to their kids when they are young and help them with their homework and regulate their kids recreational and homework time. So yes, that does mean 'regulating' playing videogames (especially if their kid are playing for 8 hours a day!) but that includes the other modern distractions I have mentioned.
To say the answer to improve literacy rates is to pull out the Nintendo is simply knee-jerk and ill conceived.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Welcome to Bush Country
Bush had to withdraw his crony Miers from being appointed to the Supreme Court even though she had no experience at being a judge. Apparently senators found her answers to written questions were "incomplete to insulting". If Bush wanted to promote his trusted allies and to reward those who helped him rather than promote on ability and experience then why didn’t he go the whole hog and try to get his mummy, Barbara, onto the Supreme Court? I mean it’s not that America is short of any lawyers to choose from. Meanwhile the Republicans are fighting like cats in a bag over this failure to get her selected.
Then vice-president Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby was charged with perjury by the 2 year inquiry into the unveiling of a CIA agent to the media. ‘Plamegate’ is about whether the Whitehouse purposefully exposed the identity of an anti-Iraq war Senator’s wife, Valerie Plame as a CIA due to spite. So far Bush’s brain, Karl Rove isn’t off the hook either. Maybe this will go right back up to Cheney and Bush. Certainly the buck seems to stop anywhere but Bush. Maybe he can blame Saddam on his brain leaking or perhaps he will ‘liberate’ another country to distract us.
Last week also saw the number of US troops killed hit the 2000 mark. So far Bush or Blair haven’t come up with a feasible exit strategy from their desert crusade. In fact Blair looks like he now wants a fight with Iran, who have ‘shockingly’ made anti-Israel remarks. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel should be wiped off the map. Great - now we have two nuts rattling sabres in the Middle East. However Iran has been making anti-Israel remarks since the Revolution so this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. According to the rabid right-wingers – by ‘liberating’ Iraq this was supposed to set off peace and democracy throughout the region. Hmmm – looks like Bush’s big game of Risk for beginners will have to continue.
It has been noted that those Presidents who manage to get re-elected for a second term often get themselves mired in scandal or simply lose steam in the troubled 2nd term. Clinton had Monicagate, Reagan had Contragate and Nixon had the original gate – Watergate. So in politics it seems few leaders come out with a record unscathed. If you failed to get re-elected you are a failure like Carter and Bush’s daddy and if you do get re-elected then you are treated like a lame duck. President Blair is in his third term and seems to be suffering from pinning his hopes to closely to Bush’s agenda. Like Bush he will probably be remembered for the Iraq War and squandering opportunities back home.
Of course, if the US had a decent system of electing Presidents rather than relying on a 2-party system with an electoral college and the necessity to have millions of dollars to spend then it likely Bush wouldn’t be there in the first place. In 2000 more Americans voted for Gore than Bush but this doesn’t count – as the votes in smaller populated States have more proportional weight that those living in more populated States. Still we have a similar problem of electoral credibility in the UK. Blair won with 55% of the seats despite only 22% people voting Labour. Notice how Bush and Blair do nothing to change this and yet are so keen to impose democracy using guns on other countries?
Bush’s approval ratings have fallen to 39%. I wonder what it takes to disillusion the remaining 39%? If getting thousands of Americans killed in a needless war whilst cronyism, greed and self-interest reigns supreme back at base meets with approval by the die-hards then what more can George do to prove his talent for incompetence? I suppose if he was to beat his Dad’s lowest approval rating of 29% he will have to ask the faithful to read his lips whilst he increases taxes. Now that would be scandalous and unacceptable.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
I often see that some people within Britain or outside believe that as a country we dwell too much on the past. Personally I don’t think this is the case at all. It’s true that some people, particularly politicians, might have a slightly misplaced and arrogant pride in British history and have a tendency to cling to this whilst being suspicion of change. Yet I find most Britons know very little about the history of their country beyond a few sketchy outlines. Also it is perfectly possible to have pride, good knowledge and be able to celebrate the past as well as embracing modernity.
Why is history important? Although few, if any, events are identical, history can give us warnings from the past. If we do not learn from our mistakes then we are doomed to repeat them. Also history can be fascinating. It tells us how we got to where we are now. It can give us a perspective on current issues. For example – most of us are related to people who came across through waves of invasion and immigration. It should also give us a sense of shared identity. If you are born or if you move to a country then its history is part of its rich culture.
I realise that schools are often criticised for various ills of society but I am concerned about the way some subjects including history seem to be taught today. In my secondary school, despite having a good teacher, my history lessons from the age of 11 to 16 seems somewhat patchy to say the least. I left school 17 years ago but I fear things have become worse. Now I love history as it’s full of great stories but like any subject it can be taught in a leaden way depending on what topics are picked, the methods of teaching and the teacher itself. Unfortunately the curriculum picks dull areas of history.
For instance I would say the highlights of English history could be William the Conqueror (Battle of Hastings), Richard I (The Crusades), John I (Magna Carta), Edward III (Hundred Years War), Richard III (Battle of Bosworth Field), Henry V (Battle of Agincourt), Henry VIII (Battle of Flodden), Elizabeth I (Defeat of the Spanish Armada), Charles I (Civil War) , George III (War of American Independence & Napoleonic Wars) Victoria I (Crimean War) as well as World War I and World War II. Now this is mainly Kings and Queens, battles and wars from 1066 onwards. However these are the leaders and events which have dramatic shifted the history of this country.
Some of the above is covered by history in schools but I’m also sure that a lot of this isn’t. With so little time – how can the curriculum possibly cope by squeezing so much history into 3-5 years? Well the problem is that it seems to have plenty of room for subjects like the feudal system, social reform, the Corn Laws, education improvements, public health, industrial revolution etc. Now this might seem outrageously dismissive – but that stuff might be worthy but it’s BORING! It’s hard enough to get kids to read books let alone history books but going on about the Corn Laws will never compete with the Battle of Trafalgar and Waterloo.
I remember in the first year we were doing dinosaurs. I meant dinosaurs are interesting (especially for kids) but wouldn’t that be better served if it was taught in science (another fascinated subject ruined by dull teaching). The waves of invasions by the Romans, Vikings, and Saxons etc can be rattled through as a primer to 1066. I believe English kids should have good basic knowledge of 1066 to 1945 within their first three years at Secondary school and those who choose to continue with History should be able to go more in depth in certain areas. Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland kids could have the same but with more emphasis on their history.
Critics of this believe it’s just about learning dates by rote. Yet not knowing dates is like trying to find somewhere but never using a map or compass. History is about who, what, when, where and why. Critics would complain it’s too aggressive or nationalistic – but it’s about telling real events and making it interesting and these include the ups and downs along the way. This should include more shameful chapters like slavery. It’s amazing how popular kids books like Horrible Histories and TV programs like Simon Schama’s History of Britain is more interesting than things being taught in school. Again critics would complain that it’s too English or British-centric – and yet the history of Britain is often about our struggles with other countries.
One of the most recent near catastrophic events still in living memory is World War II. However, to my knowledge, the unfolding events of this war aren’t being taught in schools today. I remember we were taught about the events leading up to the war but not the war itself. Finally there is too much emphasis put on empathy – it is all very good and well if kids are imaging what it is like being in a World War I trench – but if they don’t know who’s fighting whom, when, where and why – it’s all seems very disjointed and pointless.
Unfortunately I fear that most people of my age and younger have been turned off history at an early age because they were given DULL history topics to begin with which has been quickly forgotten and yet they don’t know about the supposedly famous events in British history. England should expect better…