Schoolboy error

Settle down at the back, there. Today we’re going to learn basic numeracy.
Do pay attention, Sir Michael Wilshaw (Chief Inspector of Schools, head of Ofsted, the agency that inspects schools…) This will be on the test.
On Breakfast TV this morning, you said that UK schools were failing to keep up with the rest of the world, and that one in 5 ten-year-olds were failing to reach the average.
LOL, LOL again.
Nobody on BBC Breakfast challenged this. The discussion continued as if he had said something both meaningful and scary. (And, of course, nobody said – “Surely this slide down the world’s literacy league tables coincides with the past decade’s massive expansion of school inspection activity?”)
OK, I naturally assumed the “average” word was a slip of the tongue. I told quite a few people because I was amazed that the chief inspector of schools didn’t understand the concept of a mean. But, on the BBC website, some more savvy person (maybe someone who’d studied Maths at the age of 11, as Sir Michael clearly hadn’t) had changed the reported words to refer to expected standards. Maybe I’d dreamt it.
But it turns out that Sir Michael had said the same thing on Newsnight the night before.
As the Guardian reported, a flurry of well-earned Internet derision followed the Newsnight speech. Ofsted press office said it was just a “slip of the tongue”.
Impossible that he and his press office didn’t spot any twittered mirth. But, there he was on BBC Breakfast, this morning, with his tongue still slipping wildly and disgorging the same scare story, using the same silly “average” word.
To misquote Oscar Wilde, to misuse one statistical concept may be a misfortune, to misuse two begins to look a lot like innumeracy.
I’ll be charitable and take it that he “really” meant “expected standard” but was more interested in getting in a soundbite than in communicating meaningfully. (In that case, of course, he’s failed basic literacy requirements instead.)
As the Guardian blog showed, Sir Michael isn’t alone in his innumeracy. The Secretary of State for Education is equally challenged by the statistical concept of averages. This is priceless:

Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.

This sort of thing would normally inspire pity. He’s obviously not very bright but, in a fair world, he could probably get useful work that didn’t need academic skills. In the real universe, he’s Secretary of State for Education.
In which role, he’s hellbent on promoting the ludicrous Academies. These obviously make perfect sense if you’re a business person who wants to get your hands on public money that’s earmarked for education but make no sense to anyone else.
The process seems to be –

  1. Ofsted “inspects” a school
  2. They declare it to be “failing” and in need of “special measures”
  3. The school has to choose between becoming an Academy or being closed
  4. An Academy is set up, it gets the money that the local authority would have paid to the school
  5. The school becomes Outstanding in the next inspection

But there’s a hiccup. A few awkward schools are refusing.
Heads are rolling resigning or knuckling under. And now, intransigent (locally elected) school governors are being dismissed and replaced by government appointees – who by an amazing coincidence turn out to be very pro-academy. (Downhills Primary, Nightingale Primary):

“We have therefore decided to appoint an interim executive board to give the school the leadership and expertise it needs to improve.
“Those connected with the school will then be consulted on whether the school should convert into a sponsored academy under the leadership of the Harris Federation.”
The hand-picked interim executive board will be chaired by Les Walton, the chairman of the the Young People’s Learning Agency – the academies’ funding body.
Other members include the head of the Harris Federation, Dr Dan Moyniham, and Dame Sylvia Morris.
Dame Sylvia has just retired as head teacher of St Saviour and St Mary Overy Primary School in Southwark. She was made a dame in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for services to education, and mentors new head teachers in four London boroughs….
At a parliamentary committee hearing in January, Mr Gove labelled campaigners against the academy plan for Downhills “Trots”, claiming they were politically motivated and linked to the Socialist Workers Party. (from the BBC)

One can only hope that Mr Gove is himself politically motivated. Otherwise, the whole operation looks a lot like straightforward theft.

Getting really cross

“Sell everything you own and buy yellow precious metal, fashioned in the form of one vertical long stick crossed with a horizontal shorter stick. And wear it publicly at all times, as a sign of your devotion to me. Blessed are the jewellery wearers for they shall inherit media attention” Book of Ratner ch19.v4

(As Jesus directed his followers in a previously little-known apocryphal bible book covering the Jewellery Company Years)

Determined cross wearers Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida (a former nurse and a former British Airways worker) have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights

Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida take cross fight to Europe.
Shirley Chaplin said “hiding” her cross was akin to denying her faith
(headlines on the BBC report)

I can’t see that it matters what styles of jewellery people wear. I think that their employers have behaved insanely (although I bet they were a real trial to employ). Although, if you know that a job has a uniform and you refuse to stick to the uniform rules, you shouldn’t really take that job.

The problem is that the cross ladies picked this fight on purpose. To bolster the picture of the UK’s imaginary condition of “discrimination against Christians”.

Christian Concern website (find it yourself, if you want, I’m not keen to post a link) is always willing to place itself at the centre of any case that it can use to promote the fantasy that we live in a parallel universe in which European Christians are beingpersecuted.

Increasing numbers of Christians have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere, often due to equalities legislation and the promotion of homosexual rights. Some Christians have been threatened with disciplinary action, suspended, and even sacked for refusing to act against their consciences. At Christian Concern we vigorously resist any restrictions on freedom of speech and expression for Christians.(from Christian Concern)

What? Equalities legislation and homosexual rights are a threat to Christians?

Passing blithely over the irony that people who feel threatened by human rights legislation are resorting to the European Court of Human Rights for redress, do they claim that they are being compelled to become homosexual in order to get human rights? No, I think I get it, maybe they claim the right to persecute gay people is the human right that they are in danger of losing?

Christians have been sacked for refusing to act against their consciences? I would have much sympathy – nay, admiration – if their consciences were telling them they had to resist the government’s ongoing programme to attack the poor and the NHS or if they were campaigning against wars or using their resources to feed the hungry and house the homeless…

But their Christian consciences aren’t stirred by such insignificant social issues. Their moral sense is roused by rules about wearing jewellery in work.

And their consciences can only be accommodated by following the Book of Ratner and wearing jewellery with malice aforethought.

Oh, and spending vast resources on getting their own way through the courts. What would Jesus Do? Well, the same, obviously. I believe he was working on his latest designer jewellery collection for Argos when he was crucified. He thought the cross shape would be really great for the brand.

History lesson – WMD

This is an object lesson in how to get WMD. Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble or anything. Well, this chap didn’t.
Public records, released under FOI for a 2006 BBC TV Newsnight programme and discussed in a New Statesman article, showed how the ~1960 Israeli government managed to get its hands on nuclear weapons materials.
The BBC reported that the programme has shown “Secret sale of UK plutonium to Israel “ Secret indeed. Even secret from government ministers and quite probably the sitting Prime Ministers, and over the objections of Defence Intelligence, the MOD and – sometimes – the Foreign Office.
The New Statesman has the fullest account. Read it.

Kelly and his colleagues .. (i.e. the Defence Intelligence staff who mounted a pretty spirited attempt to uncover what was going on and try to block it) .. however, found their views were being challenged. Chief of the challengers was Michael Israel Michaels .. who was a senior official at the science ministry under Lord Hailsham during the Macmillan government, and went on to serve at the technology ministry under Benn. He was also Britain’s representative at the IAEA.(my emphasis) quotation is from New Statesman

Mr Michaels was in fact so keen on the idea of supplying Israel with bomb-making materials that he just carried on doing it, even after Tony Benn became Energy Secretary. Michaels just didn’t think to bother ministers with the knowledge.

Mr Benn told the programme that civil servants in his department kept the deals secret from him and his predecessor, Frank Cousins.
He had always suspected that civil servants were doing deals behind his back, but he never thought they would sell plutonium to Israel. He told Newsnight: “I’m not only surprised, I’m shocked. It never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government. (From the BBC)

“Michaels lied to me, I learned by bitter experience that the nuclear industry lied to me again and again.” He thought Wilson may not have known that Britain was helping Israel to get the bomb. (From the Guardian)

Astonishingly, Michaels had the effrontery to complain to the BBC Trust about the programme, rather than to give disbelieving thanks that he hadn’t been arrested for treason.
From the Trusts’s ruling on his complaint about Newsnight

Summary of the finding
The complaints concerned an investigation carried out by Newsnight, and presented by Michael Crick, that looked into the British government’s involvement in assisting Israel with its development of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. The item was based on recently released government papers suggesting that Michael Michaels, a senior civil servant and the British government’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, had acted with dual loyalties when he had ensured the supply of plutonium and other radioactive materials to Israel without the knowledge of the Minister responsible, and possibly without the Prime Minister’s knowledge.
Both complainants felt that the inclusion and repetition of Mr Michaels’ middle name (Israel) was unnecessary and, therefore, anti-Semitic.
They also objected to the suggestion that he had dual loyalties, which they felt implied disloyalty……..
The Committee concluded as follows:
The use of Mr Michaels’ middle name did not breach the guidelines on harm and offence.
It was satisfied that there was no intention to endorse a stereotype, and it was not anti-Semitic. In general, the use of the name had been as a form of shorthand to highlight Mr Michaels’ association with Israel.
With regard to “dual loyalties”, the Committee was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence put forward to suggest that Mr Michaels might indeed have had dual loyalties in his dealings with Israel. However, the Committee concluded that this was not the same as suggesting that Mr Michaels had been disloyal.
The Committee also felt that the report had raised the possibility that the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, might have known about the shipment to Israel. The item therefore did not breach guidelines on impartiality…
The Committee did not uphold the complaints.

Dystopia, UK

You just try getting to sleep in an undeclared war zone. Given the noise of helicopters and exploding vehicles, I suspect that there must be a film crew remaking Apocalypse Now outside my house.

The UK media has reported the riots with instant guesses about what’s happening and/or repeats of each other’s copy. The posh papers have been full of instant punditry. Online, these stories have been twat magnets for the far right’s minor army of hangers and floggers.

The BBC site provided a selection of UK riot stories from around the globe. Among the quotes, there were quite a few perceptive ones, such as this from the Chinese Renmin Ribao

“The Olympics will be hosted next year; the security situation in London, which has always been a first-choice site for terrorist attacks, will be even grimmer. British police now face two main problems. First, as the government cuts police funding in order to reduce the deficit, British police will carry out massive layoffs. With insufficient manpower and financial resources, they will inevitably be overwhelmed with problems in maintaining social order. Second, after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the credibility of the British police has declined and there is still a very long way to go in rebuilding the credibility of the police and restoring public support, says Qu Bing, Institute of European Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.”

Obviously, there’s an element of irony there, for anyone who can remember the build up to the Beijing Olympics. But this one from Iran takes the irony biscuit:

Iran called for London police to exercise self-restraint in dealing with protesters in Tottenham, north of London. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast referred to Saturday night’s massive protests in Tottenham, which came following [the killing] of a young black man by Scotland Yard police and called for the UK government to avoid any police’s harsh treatment with protesters.

Make your excuses and leave

The UK is daily seeing revelations of levels of institutional corruption that would have raised eyebrows in Amin’s Uganda. News International seem to have gone for full-scale subversion of any British institution they can get their hands on.

There’s an embarrassment of revelation riches. Scandals are spilling out at a rate that reminds you of the way that a convicted criminal might ask for hundreds of offences to be taken into consideration when he knows he’s going to jail anyway.
As a random instance: The Sun targeting Gordon Brown’s family. Including getting access to his disabled child’s medical records. And even having to invite the buggers to the funeral.
Hacking Brown was not even a well kept secret. It should have been the subject of a court case.

An unexpected ruling by a judge six years ago effectively covered up the chance to publicly expose evidence of the illegal targeting of Gordon Brown, which had been unearthed by a startled team of provincial detectives.
Operation Reproof, by Plymouth police, revealed the first of what became many systematic attempts to gain illegal confidential information on the prime minister and his family, but their findings were suppressed.
The Guardian has now been able to document the facts.
Files buried in police archives detail the discovery of an extraordinary nationwide network of private investigators, whom a corrupt local police officer was feeding with information filched from the police national computer (PNC) (from the Guardian)

Unlike Plymouth Police, the Metropolitan Police were allegedly so entangled in NI’s web of corruption and blackmail that they couldn’t do anything except contribute to the cover-ups.

(Even where NI misbehaviour involved a police detective, Detective Chief Superintendent David Cook, a Crimewatch presenter targetted for daring to investigate the murder of a NI-employed private detective, whose partners – also NI-employed private detectives were suspects. )

You can’t really blame them when it seemed that every member of the British establishment was either cowed or complicit (or, more likely, both.)

Thus, it’s been left to people like comedian Steve Coogan and actor Hugh Grant to mount almost the only serious challenges to the evil empire.

I am pleased to see that the BSkyB bid finally looks unlikely to go through unchallenged. The Murdoch machine has almost brought the BBC to its knees in pursuit of its tv ambitions, so – blameless as Sky channels might be, in terms of hacking dead teenager’s phones – I’d like to see it fail.

Also, it’s nice to see that News Corp investors are finally questioning the company, although it seems a mite hypocritical for institutional investors to insist that Murdoch must have known what his papers were doing. Can investors really have been unaware of the nature of the business they were investing in? If so, I suggest sending them 412 scam letters immediately, because they have money to invest and are naive enough to believe anything.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher signed some Faustian deal with Murdoch, British society has been paying the price. Maybe, as Harriet Harman implied in an interview this week, all UK political parties should get together and ask News Corp “Can we have our country back, please?”

Machines of Loving Grace

Another work of genius by Adam Curtis was on BBC last night. In the UK, Episode 1 will be on the BBC’s i-player, In any case, it will probably be repeated a few times before the next episode (Monday, 30th. )

Amazingly thought-provoking. It fills your mind with images and ideas. I would certainly disagree with some of his arguments. (I can’t believe that Ayn Rand was really a major influence on the development of Silicon Valley individualism, no matter how many techy people called their kids Rand, for example. ) The programme is so engaging that I found myself arguing political/social/ecological points with the tv screen.

Curtis presents masterly transparent propaganda. Propaganda in the purest sense – spreading ideas, trying to make people change their minds. Transparent because he is explicit about what he is saying and communicates in a form that makes it explicit that he is spreading ideas. With blinding creative skill. He wants to make the viewer think creatively and recognise and question other propoganda.

Even if you’re not in the UK, you can read an interview with Adam Curtis and watch an intro clip on the Register.

The Register interview actually makes his point of view a lot clearer than the first episode. (But watching the programme is a pure joy. The interview is no substitute)

Challenging Utopian theories about the web:

I was suspicious of it because I hadn’t noticed power had disappeared. The real bastions of power are as they were, and are more concentrated. So I decided to trace those ideas back to their source. It leads you back to an absolutely fascinating area, which you can loosely call cybernetics, and also information theory.(from the Register)

He has a blog on the BBC. This is a source of major treats, such as “A is for Atom” which has an old documentary he made which dealt with the design of reactor at Fukushima Daiich. Or Rupert Murdoch – a portrait of Satan

Weather news

Here at Whydontyou towers we’re saddened to find that this blog has been updated so rarely in the recent past* that its reign over the realm of Whydontyou has been challenged by an alien blog called ydontyou (which I am buggered if I’m going to post a link to.) It feels like the identity theft that we are all meant to worry ourselves sick over.

In case you’ve ever visited it and think we’ve changed completely, that site has nothing to do with the one true whydontyou blog. (Which – to be fair – has nothing to do with the ancient kid’s tv programme that we stole our name from. Oh bugger, pot -kettle, I fear.) However, I see that the evil usurper is trying to be a blog of random posts by anyone who cares to blog. Which:

a) tempts me to post anonymous posts there (but I won’t because the spacetime continuum could be disrupted by the paradox and some strange singularity would occur.)

b) puts me in mind of the income-challenged real media which seems to be getting ever more desperate keen to replace paid journalistic copy with opinions and photos from anyone who cares to send in free content. (Almost by definition, normally lunatics.)

It was bad enough when the media, overwhelmed by the volume of wikileaks material, asked people to submit their own findings from the mass of data. How lazy can you get? How mean, also, to replace professional researchers with free labour? Even unpaid “intern” researchers hope to make contacts and have something to put on application forms. Public content-providers don’t even get that carrot.

But now it’s the winter. It is strange enough that snow in Southern England has occupied the main headlines on the BBC and Guardian websites for days.

You might expect the media might report the existence of snow on the weather pages and traffic delays on the traffic delay pages and leave news pages to focus on people at risk of death from cold – the homeless, the poor, the very old and very young.

Instead, you get calls for “Your stories and your pictures of the snow” – always for unpaid submissions.

Snow is beautiful in reality and can look beautiful in a picture. Snow is cold.

However, snow as a major citizen journalism project is completely uninteresting. Other people’s snow stories and photos are pretty much like other people telling you their dreams.

You’d be forgiven for thinking nothing serious was happening in the world….

Ffs, surely Cheryl Cole has got a new hairstyle or gained or lost a few pounds. And surely the about-to-be-wed prince-and-princess’s old school and university pals haven’t run out of amusing anecdotes yet? By toutatis, I’ll soon have to google if I need to find out to find out who won Strictly Come Dancing/ the Apprentice/X-Factor/Britain’s Got Talent (insert name of standard tv-celeb news items. Sorry I’m struggling here because my brain fails to distinguish any of these programmes)

Shape up, mass media.

* Even spammers see us as not worth the bother. A desultory spam turns up every week or so. Gone are the glory days of a couple of hundred a day.