Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

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Regrexit? Fixit!

June 26, 2016

As I’ve outlined in my previous post, I think there are good reasons for supposing that Brexit will, in fact, not happen, but this is far from certain. If, like me, you voted Remain and are quite appalled by the result, what practical measures can you take? If you voted Leave but wish you hadn’t (for whatever reason), how can you make amends? Note that if you voted Leave and still think it’s a good idea despite the wave of chaos you have unleashed, this piece is not for you.

Well, you could post things about how awful it all is on Facebook, to be read by a group of friends who think broadly the same as you do. You could make attempts at tweeting pithy comments that will demonstrate once and for all how silly the whole thing is. Both of these are approaches I have adopted in the immediate aftermath. Neither of them is ultimately very helpful.

However, if you want a more constructive approach, there is a third way – why not write to your MP?

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Thoughts on Brexit

June 19, 2016

The Remain vs Leave campaign will enter the history books as a low point in UK politics – hyperbole from both sides with a bonus helping of unvarnished racism from the Leave side, culminating in the horrific slaughter of an MP by a man with suspected links to white supremacy. These are dark times.

The tone of the “debate” has been pretty low and plenty of words have been written elsewhere about it but, in my opinion, three of the most alarming statements from the Leave camp are:

  1. Nigel Farage, in response to a journalist observing that he’d started smoking again: “I think the doctors have got it wrong on smoking
  2. Michael Gove, on being asked to identify economists who supported Brexit: “People in this country have had enough of experts
  3. Gisela Stuart, backing up Michael Gove: “There is only one expert that matters, and that’s you, the voter”

All three signify a rejection of the value of knowledge, rational enquiry, and expertise. Farage obviously dislikes the well-supported conclusion that there’s a causal link between smoking and lung cancer, and therefore feels comfortable substituting his own “expertise” on the subject for that of the experts – no surprise, given that he’s a climate change denier as well. Gove and Stuart (a Labour MP, alarmingly) are upset that economists weighing in on the merits of Brexit are mostly unsupportive of their position.

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Immediate thoughts about the Paris attacks

November 14, 2015

A response to the November 13th attacks in Paris written in the immediate aftermath; it is apparent that the perpetrators were radical Islamists linked with Islamic State. I have a certain amount of difficulty trying to square my ideals of a tolerant, rational, multicultural, open society with the unhappy reality that such a thing is wide open to attack from those who don’t share such ideals. I don’t have answers, just thoughts and questions at the moment, some of which are here.

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Corbyn and the Overton Window

August 16, 2015

Far from the riotous spectacle of the Republican presidential candidate nomination fiasco lies the far more dismal spectacle of the Labour Party leadership election. It is unfortunate that we have to go through this but there was a disastrous misjudgement by the allegedly Great British Public at the general election, Ed Miliband resigned, and here we are.

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My Manifesto

May 6, 2015

10 quick points, in no particular order:

  1. Privatised utilities brought back into public ownership – privatisation has made utilities less efficient, less accountable, and various shady businesspeople obscenely rich.
  2. An end to PFI as a sneaky way of getting stuff without paying the cost upfront. All that happens is that spivs and scoundrels make squillions from it. New hospitals, schools, infrastructure etc. to be paid for through taxation.
  3. Progressive taxation – top rate back up to 90p, and a massive crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance by both individuals and corporations. Anyone who mentions the Laffer curve to be given a thorough kicking.
  4. Massive government R&D investment in renewable energy and nuclear power (sorry, Greens, you’re wrong on that one). We should aim to be world leaders in technology for fighting climate change.
  5. Private sector and all the management crap out of the NHS. And schools. And the rest of the public sector. Happy for private sector to sell me fruit and veg, not happy for them to try to run a health service.
  6. A tax on multiple home ownership (possibly depending on the value of the home) that makes it financially disadvantageous to own more than one. Reduction or elimination of the rentier class – make them work for their money (owning stuff doesn’t count as working).
  7. An evidence-based approach to all Government policy where there is uncertainty about the best way to approach something – pilot projects, double-blind trials (where possible), results to be published.
  8. Pledge that if the Republicans contrive to win in 2016 we will have nothing to do with them – that will be the end of the “special relationship” until sanity returns to the White House.
  9. Openness and transparency in the negotiation of international trade deals (TTPP et al). Private companies can’t be allowed to wield greater power than elected governments.
  10. More benefits for the less well-off. We’ve had 30 years of wealth being transferred upwards – time to reverse the flow.

I might add more if / when they occur to me.

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Steiner Schools – a letter to my MP

October 20, 2013

Occasionally I manage to drag myself away from the car-crash spectacle of right-wing politics in the US long enough to worry about what’s going on in the UK. And what’s going on seems to include the Free Schools policy, a spiffing wheeze promoted by the Government to free kids from the state-sanctioned tyranny of having to learn about observable reality from people who are competent, and instead to allow them to be taught by anyone who fancies having a go at it. The less people know, the less they have to worry about, right?

A number of interesting cases seem to be emerging from the woodwork – there’s the Al-Madinah Islamic school in Derbyshire which fell dramatically foul of Ofsted recently, and the Jewish Yesodey Hatorah girls’ school was caught censoring exam questions on evolution (in addition to promoting fairly low expectations of its pupils’ career prospects).

But, one might argue, we know that religious schools are going to be like that – their anti-science and misogynistic tendencies are well documented, we can watch out for it and take steps to tackle it. Far more insidious are Steiner Schools – schools run by devotees of the mysterious personality cult of Rudolf Steiner. And, thanks to the Free Schools policies, a few Steiner Free Schools are springing up. Following a talk from Andy Lewis of The Quackometer at my local Skeptics in the Pub meeting in which he talked about the dangers posed by these schools, I felt motivated to put finger to keyboard and write to my MP about it.

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The Great G4S Olympic Fiasco

July 14, 2012

From The Guardian:

The security firm had been committed to supply 13,700 guards as demanded in its contract, worth £284m, which it now says it is unlikely to be able to fulfil. Overall, the 23,700-strong security force for the Games will include a mix of military, private security guards and at least 3,000 unpaid volunteers. [Chief executive Nick] Buckles said it would cost G4S between £314m and £324m to fulfil its contract and pay penalties.

Let’s do a little bit of maths…

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