Posts Tagged UK

Work till you drop… it’ll stave off Alzheimer’s!

Histopathogic image of senile plaques seen in ...
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Well, well. First we get this reminder from the Telegraph (reminding us of who is really working for whom) and then barely two weeks later, this from the BBC:

Keeping the brain active by working later in life may be an effective way to ward off Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests.

There’s a silver lining to every cloud, and the populace must be told about it.

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Something is destroying British education, says former Chief Inspector of Schools

Henry Hazlitt
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Chris Woodhead, a man many teachers loved to hate when he was Chief Inspector of Schools under the Conservative and then Labour governments, 1994-2000, has written a book in which he expresses his views about British education. An excerpt was published in the Times (online), May 10, 2009.

Fifty years ago the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch asked whether we could maintain educational standards while making education more “democratic”. The experience of the past 12 years has taught us we cannot.

John Holt, in Freedom and Beyond (1972), wrote about a fallacy of universal education: the idea that if everybody was equally educated, everyone would have a better job. (I don’t have the book, and could only find online this excerpt, which is not quite what I was looking for, but close).

Woodhead, in this excerpt, does not closely examine this fallacy, or delve too deeply into the possible meanings of “democratic”. He refers to Murdoch writing 50 years ago, which certainly predates Holt by about 25 years.

Woodhead goes a little deeper into what he means by freedom:

By freedom I mean an appreciation of what the greatest human beings achieved; a sense of what other people in other ages knew to be important and possible; a liberation from the tyranny of the majority view; a release from the monotony of the quotidian. I want every child, every “disadvantaged” child in particular, to walk as far as they can down that road to freedom.

Why “every disadvantaged child in particular“, and would this mean that disadvantaged children would be given preference (in an ideal, Woodhead world) to others? It’s impossible to tell from this excerpt alone, but leaving that aside, this concept of freedom seems rather threadbare: there is no suggestion, for instance, of the freedom to create new, exciting realities, only a typically conservative reliance on the past – “what the greatest human beings achieved… what people in other ages knew…” Nor is there any awareness of any form of tyranny other than “the majority view”. What about the tyranny of ruling elites, or of the state?

Woodhead goes on for a couple of pages which could easily have been expressed in a single word: egalitarianism.

I am reading a fascinating biography of Murray Rothbard, which mentions an essay of his on egalitarianism (pdf warning). Rothbard is an exciting thinker to read: highly knowledgeable, and with a flowing, readable style which leavens the erudition with a mordant wit. I am looking forward to reading Rothbard’s essay: I expect to learn much about the history of the egalitarian concept, as well as a barrage of solid arguments against it. Another great thinker whose essays and books are available on the Mises Institute website is Henry Hazlitt. In The Science of Thinking, Hazlitt makes this suggestion for choosing what books to read:

you should endeavor to get, in as short a time as possible, the greatest number of important facts and the main outlines of the best that has been thought. So if you sincerely intend to master any subject, the best way to begin is by the selection of the most comprehensive and authoritative work you can secure. … If you take up the most thorough book first you need merely glance through the smaller books, for the chances are that they will contain little that is new to you, unless they happen to be more recent.

I recommend Hazlitt, and Rothbard. If you want to learn about freedom and egalitarianism, reading Rothbard will be more profitable than reading Woodhead.

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When is a dangerous drug not a dangerous drug?

Judging from this BBC report about the possible downgrading of the drug ‘ecstasy’, the answer would appear to be “when the British government puts it in the ‘dangerous’ category”.

Over the past few months in Japan, there have been a number of cases of young people arrested for possession of marijuana (which name has an interesting etymology) , including university students, which naturally has created a panic mentality amongst university administrators. When an advisory announcement was made by my university, requesting that seminar teachers bring students’ attention to the criminality of drug use. In Japan, cannabis is illegal and possession is a criminal offence.

The advisory notice warned that drug use is illegal, a criminal offence, can lead to addiction, crime and in the worst case, death. The advisory notice made no distinction between “hard” and “soft” drugs (this Wikipedia entry has a very clear and useful Venn diagram which I wish I’d discovered sooner), and lumped cannabis together with glue/thinner, and all manner of depressants and stimulants.

The advisory notice asked full-time teachers, especially seminar teachers, to bring the facts to the attention of students. Although I technically do not have a seminar, I teach a group of 16 students 6 times a week. I took the opportunity to introduce my EFL/cross-cultural classes to the legality of cannabis in different countries, particularly  the UK. It was educational, for me as well as for the students.

Students found it interesting to learn that the penalties for cannabis use vary widely around the world, being less strict in the UK (compared to Japan) and rather more strict in China. In the UK, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had advised (since 1979!) that cannabis be classified as Grade C, which it eventually was in 2004. However, the council’s recommendation was overruled and it was reclassified as a Class B in January, 2009.

And today the BBC writes about another drug which the government is trying to reclassify, once more against the advice of its scientific advisory panel. Not only that, but one of panel is forced to apologize after remarking that ecstasy is less dangerous than horse-riding. Yes! What a ridiculous notion! Typical egg-head nonsense!

Horse-riding deaths: 100/year. Ecstasy deaths: 30/year.

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I made the mistake of checking my email first thing this morning, breaking rule #2 of Tim Ferriss’ list of 9 things Not To Do. However, thanks to this temporary transgression, I learned about a remarkable fellow Brit I had never heard of.  In my iGoogle was a new entry by James Atherton at Recent Reflections “On Yorick”, referring to an article about a Shakespearean theatre company which had been using a real skull for its productions of Hamlet, until it recently decided to stop doing so. Atherton’s blog entry is prompted by the fact that the skull in question belonged to a pianist, Andre Tchaikovsky (no, not THE Tchaikovsky) with whom he crossed paths many years ago, and leads to a reminiscence of his brief visit to Finchden Manor and meeting the charismatic founder,  George Lyward. I have printed out some of the articles at that site, and plan to read them at my leisure, when I have any. Here’s Atherton’s impression of Lyward. It made me want to know more:

Mr Lyward was indeed charismatic (in the Weberian sense). But his charismatic quality was one I had never before (or since) encountered. He made me feel that he was privileged to meet me. I was a callow 28! An upstart tutor on a social work course who had never done any social work in his life. A fraud, basically (although not deliberately so; I was so naive then that I did even know that there were some things a degree in European Studies did not equip you for). And Mr Lyward was honoured to meet me. It was not an act.

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British news: migration

“It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder,”

said a UK immigration minister, according to this BBC news article. The article contains a link to an interesting map showing “total numbers of Eastern European migrants in each local authority who registered for work between May 2004 and December 2007.”

The issue seems to be getting a lot of play in various newspapers and media. I wonder what’s behind this? The obvious answer is the recession (digression: a recession is when your neighbour loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours). It could certainly not be that there are others at work behind the scenes, taking advantage of the present situation to further an agenda of increased border controls and more rigid surveillance of the population. No, siree!

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Is evolution a fact or a theory?

School Gate is a (UK) Times Online blog about schools and schooling in Britain. I read it to keep abreast of what is going on in British education. Today’s entry is
This Science expert says that children should be taught creationism at school

The comments are particularly interesting and mostly well informed, but even more interesting is the post and comments on the September 10th blog entry Sarah Palin, the creationist debate and what our children should be taught about the big bang…

This second one has received a flood of comments, many of which are intelligent, informed and informative. If you want a quick education about creationism and whether evolution is a fact or a theory, or the difference between macro- and micro-evolution, head on over there. Some are downright hilarious, like this one:

Can’t we just form two queues? Those from lineages that have never evolved over there. Those who wish to continue evolving over here.
It’s sad for the children of creationist parents, of course, but maybe that’s evolution at work.

My faith is that some people are credulous, superstitious fools that are a burden for the rest of us, and I expect my faith to be respected by anyone invoking faith-based arguments.

Perhaps the best one is by Meredith. I won’t reproduce it all here, just follow the link. Meredith points out the difference between a fact and a theory.

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