August 20, 2009

'Challenging' BBC Programming

First posted on Samizdata November 3 2008

What BBC types mean when they talk about their commitment to 'challenging' television that 'pushes the boundaries' is really a commitment to making shows that offend the sensibilities of old fashioned white people. Socially conservative whitefolk are the only politically permissible target for contempt, and mocking their foibles, tastes and standards of decency as meanspiritedly as possible is progressive and therefore right by definition.
America is the ultimate target for scorn because it is largely made up of and run by such people.

August 19, 2009

School Uniforms

Posted on Samizdata July 2009

I was in constant uniform related trouble at school, so much so that I was called into the heads office. To be fair he actually tried to rationalize uniforms to me, comparing them to workplace dress codes. When I told him that the comparison didn't hold water as I was free to choose my place of employment but not my school he reverted to the age old 'you will wear it because we say so.'

In other words
'We will force you to pretend that you endorse our 'community' our values and what we stand for, despite the fact that we can't convince you of their correctness using reason and logic'

To this day I have no problem with wearing a suit to work but despise school uniforms and all they stand for.

Anti-racism and authoritarianism

Posted to Samizdata in July 2009

Whatever you believe about race these days in the privacy of your own head is pretty irrelevant. Having the wrong opinions about these issues is professional and social suicide so broadly speaking people with a stake in society don't.

People higher up the socioeconomic pyramid aren't less racist than those lower down because of any greater enlightenment on their part. They are because they have far more to lose by refuting the orthodoxy.

The defeat of racism in this manner has given the current cultural establishment the idea hat such authoritarianism is a fundamentally legitimate means by which to stamp their political and moral assumptions upon the populace.

The elite's ideas about the evils of racism at least had the virtue of being essentially correct. Most of the other opinions they want to violently foist upon us are not.

Grade inflation

Comment to Samizdata 18 August 2009

I want to make a distinction for a moment between the value of education andthe value of grades. The value of the former is absolute. The personal value of being exposed to information and ideas can't be diminished by other people being exposed to them. Quite the opposite in fact; conversations between 'educated people' in the informal sense of the word are synergistic. When a group of people is talking from a higher shared base of knowledge and understanding there is a net gain for everyone in the group. Compare the quality of debate on Samidata with that in your local pub if you doubt this. However as many people have pointed out, education has nothing to do with grades.

The only purpose of a grading system is to enable third parties such as Universities and employers to make comparisons between student A and student B. A grade has no value in and of itself but only relative to and in comparison with other grades. In this it is just like money.

This should be a statement of the bleeding obvious, but given the education system's determination to print A grades the way the bank of Zimbabwe prints bank notes, it seems that is isn't.

The media obsesses about grade inflation every year but as usual it asks entirely the wrong questions. Are the A Levels easier than they were ten or fifteen years ago?
While the answer is obviously yes its also a pretty pointless question.

Generally speaking graduates at whatever level compete for jobs and university places with others of the same age cohort as themselves. Therefore the question we want to ask is not. "Is an A grade in 2008 the same as an A grade in 1988?" This is no more important than obsessing about what a pound today is worth today compared to twenty years ago. As long as it remains useful measure of value, whether the currency system has base units of 1 100 or 1000 is of little importance.

The real purpose of grade inflation in my view is that it serves as a political tool to obscure the vast differences in quality between a state education and a private one.

The grading system now in place serves to obscure information rather than reveal it.

If they set the grade ceiling is low enough that anyone reasonably bright and industrious can hit the highest grades they can mask the gulf.

It also means that they can determine who fills the places in the higher education system in accordance with their social engineering project and their egalitarian ideology rather than by academic merit. After all if every applicant to Oxbridge has maxed out grades they can use any criteria we want to distinguish between them .

Damn, I hate these people.

May 18, 2009

A thought provoking quiz

This is the most fascinating political quiz I have ever taken. The questions are both educational and deeply unsettling.

It reminded me that people, however famous are much more complex, contradictory and interesting than their reputations.

Its also also illustrates just how fragile and specific to our time and place the social consensus whether on moral and political isssues really is .

Taxation and Violence

I think it almost irrefutable that in the final analysis the power of government rests on its ability to inflict or credibly threaten violence. The capacity of the state to collect taxes and enforce its laws ultimately depends on its capacity to send scary people to your home, smash down your door, seize your property and deprive you of your liberty. The many intermediate stages such as official letters, court dates and so on between ultimate cause (nonpayment of taxes) and ultimate effect (dragged from your home in handcuffs) don't change this fact one iota and the relationship between citizen and state will always be defined by the latter's greater capacity for force.
I would regard this as true whether the state in question is a liberal democracy or a tyrannical dictatorship.

Furthermore the frequency with which the last resort is employed is also immaterial. No country has used nuclear weapons since 1945 but to claim that their existence has not influenced the course of subsequent history is absurd.

My own libertarianism stems in large part from my belief that violence and the threat of it are things to be used only as a last resort. People who decide upon the rates and the allocation of taxation should ask themselves if the things they are spending money on are so critically important to the health of the nation that they justify the threat of violence involved in its collection.

March 11, 2009

Status displays, and authenticity.

The day before yesterday, I was drinking with my girlfriend in a winebar about thirty seconds from our home. This wine bar, whose utterly forgettable name is nowhere to be seen on the shop front, is a standing room only place. Everyone is huddled around the rectangular counter so drinking there has a a cosy communal feel.

On this occasion we found ourselves next to two middle aged Americans, in their mid to late forties.

A man and a woman, both were attractive, and dressed with the kind of slovenly elegance, popular among creative marketing types and the more dapper members of academia.

As my girlfriend was munching her excellent Tomato spaghetti I overheard much of their conversation. It was an exceptionally graceful, grown-up sort of conversation.
I gathered that they were in Hiroshima on business of sort but in what field I couldn't really tell.
The man in particular held forth on a range of topics; Experimental Jazz, the underratedness of South African wine, American fiscal policy, Darwinian evolution, and its applicability to financial markets, the influence of Hinduism on the political and economic development of India. The woman interjected frequently with insightful observations of her own on every subject. Impressively the transition between each subject was completely natural and fluid. Listening to them was akin to watching a pair of figure skaters gliding across the ice. Like butterflies they never alit anywhere for long but fluttered gracefully onto the next topic once they had demonstrated their mastery of the previous one to each other.

I suppose there is such a thing as a technical excellence in conversation, much as there is in a golf swing or a swimming style. I also suspect that there was some unconsumated sexual attraction between the two. Familiarity between men and women seems to quickly degrade the technical quality of their conversation, as impression management gives way to affection. Had they been husband and wife I am sure their discussion would have been far less enjoyable for me to listen to.

As me and my girlfriend left the wine bar I began to wonder about the authenticity of their interests.
Did the man really love south african wine and French cinema? Maybe he prefers Budweiser and lesbian pornography. There is no way to know.

In a way asking about sincerity in this context is missing the point a little. The purpose of the such an exchange is to demonstrate a mastery of social cues, erudition and intelligence. The subjects at hand are merely the tools by which this is accomplished.

I couldn't help wonder though. I am not particularly nostalgic for my childhood. All things considered, being an adult has been the more enjoyable state for me.

Nevertheless a child's interest in subjects is rarely feigned. If a 6 year old tells me how he feels about his favorite Toys, we are having a genuine meeting of minds. He is sharing a part of his inner world.

Game playing is typically associated with children, but in the social realm adults seem to be far more avid game players than children.