Monday 25 February 2013

Cardinal O'Brien - inappropriate ?

I hate the expression 'inappropriate'.  It is particularly over-used in schools. And in more general usage it has become a euphemism for anything from 'a bit naughty' to 'absolutely fucking outrageous'.  But I had to suppress a giggle (which in itself was probably inappropriate) when I heard that Cardinal O'Brien (Stonewall's 'bigot of the year) is standing down because of inappropriate behaviour towards young priests. 

Given the track record of the Catholic church - predatory sexual behaviour and the mis-use of positions of authority would seem entirely 'appropriate' with that particular organisation's ethos.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Everything becomes a commodity ?

I'm delighted to see that the  proposed sale of our local Banksy 'Slave Labour' mural has been stopped. 

I realise that in many circles the jury is out on Banksy's political credibility.  He straddles the mainstream and has now done pretty nicely  out of his public acts of subversion. 

But  at the moment that's quibbling - the mural in Wood Green was a much-needed  little bit of thoughtfulness and culture in what is otherwise a depressingly barren bit of North London.   The area's other  'attractions' are restricted to 'Shopping City'  - apparently one of the oldest shopping malls in the country - a couple of multiplex cinema chains and a brace of Witherspoons pubs. 

From whichever way you look at it, the mural - a child worker making union jack flags   sited outside a Poundland shop at the time of the queen's jubilee  - is a very apt reflection of our times. And we want it back where it belongs.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

What are we eating ?

It looks like Nestle is the latest next big business to be in the shit over contaminated food ingredients.  I suspect there will be many more of these stories to come.

In my previous life - working on packaging reprographics - I gained a bit of an insight into the murky world of retail. I used to do work for one of the particular brands recently featured in the horse meat scandal. 

Whilst we worked for them, as part of a cost-cutting exercise they shifted much of their production to Eastern Europe. As a result we were asked to retouch the picture on the front of the box so as to remove a layer of meat from their lasagna. More generally in the fifteen years or so that I dealt with the retail sector there was, predictably,  a huge shift in the supply base - whether it was food or textiles - away from suppliers in this country or Western Europe. 

The big businesses involved sat above this whole  process like Pontius Pilate.

They issued ethical sourcing policies which suppliers were to sign up to, committing them to maintaining decent working conditions and rights for their workers, and to 'transparency in the supply chain' (telling the retailer what they were doing and how they were do it). Having then indemnified and insulated themselves from any sort of shit sticking. the retailers largely left the suppliers  to it. But at the same time the brief every time that a contract was up for renewal was  to pursue more savings. And this crusade was on a 'no questions' asked basis. It is no surprise then that in the pursuit of fulfilling this quest - child labour, sweat shops - and shit unverified ingredients -  are all simply just part of the process. The stories emerging  over what is in the  food we eat is not an isolated scandal - it is endemic to capitalism - and I'm sure there is more to come. I'm also sure that somehow the retailers will manage to come up smelling of roses.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Gove loses the historical plot

Amidst the euphoria over Grove's humiliating climb down over the Ebacc, the proposed new framework for the national curriculum has gone relatively unnoticed. 

I can't speak for other subjects but for History the changes can only be described as daft and dangerous.

Daft - because you only have to look at the curriculum for Key Stage 2 to see the crazy body of knowledge that Grove now seriously expects kids to have before they turn up at secondary school.

Dangerous because, whilst no primary  school is ever really going to cover all this, undoubtedly some will try. And they won't be primaries in the inner cities because like my lovely local primary school that I had to spend a week in as part of my secondary training - they are  quite rightly too busy teaching seriously disadvantaged kids the basics of literacy and numeracy.

The changes, by further increasing and institutionalising the gaps between childrens' experience before they start secondary school, will have the same regressive and divisive effect that Grove originally intended with the Ebacc.

And the history is pretty dubious too:

Here's the KS2 History framework in all its glory:

"Pupils should be taught the following chronology of British history sequentially:
Early Britons and settlers, including: 
the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages
Celtic culture and patterns of settlement
Roman conquest and rule, including:
Caesar, Augustus, and Claudius
Britain as part of the Roman Empire
the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire
Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlement, including:
the Heptarchy
the spread of Christianity
key developments in the reigns of Alfred, Athelstan, Cnut and Edward the Confessor 
The Norman Conquest and Norman rule, including: 
the Domesday Book
Norman culture
the Crusades
Plantagenet rule in the 12th and 13th centuries, including:
key developments in the reign of Henry II
the murder of Thomas Becket 
Magna Carta
de Montfort's Parliament
Relations between England, Wales, Scotland and France, including: 
William Wallace
Robert the Bruce
Llywelyn and Dafydd ap Gruffydd
the Hundred Years War 
Life in 14th-century England, including: 
the Black Death
the Peasants’ Revolt 
The later Middle Ages and the early modern period, including: 
Chaucer and the revival of learning
Wycliffe’s Bible
Caxton and the introduction of the printing press
the Wars of the Roses
Warwick the Kingmaker
The Tudor period, including 
religious strife and Reformation in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary 
Elizabeth I's reign and English expansion, including: 
colonisation of the New World
plantation of Ireland
conflict with Spain
the Renaissance in England, including the lives and works of individuals such as Shakespeare and Marlowe 
The Stuart period, including: 
the Union of the Crowns
King versus Parliament
Cromwell's commonwealth, the Levellers and the Diggers
the restoration of the monarchy
the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London
Samuel Pepys and the establishment of the Royal Navy
the Glorious Revolution, constitutional monarchy and the Union of the Parliaments."

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Marriage overdue reform

I am listening to the radio this morning and fuming whilst a succession of otherwise intelligent and educated people tie themselves in knots trying to argue against gay marriage.

Although there is some comedy value in hearing a bunch of otherwise disturbingly repressed individuals - Ann Widecombe and a whole bunch of more-catholic-than-thou Anglican clergymen in particular - so obsessed with sex. 

Because their main argument is that gay marriages are not about procreation. Even if gay couples can adopt and provide a stable and loving environment for a child they can't - and you can almost hear these repressed homophobes choking on their own priggishness as they say it - have 'proper sex'. 

To quote Fawlty Towers - the psychiatrists would have a field day with that lot.

As a determinedly unmarried heterosexual (because as Shakespeare's Brutus says honest men don't need to take vows), I will be cheering on from the side lines when the House of Commons drags the marriage laws into the 21st Century. 

But mostly I will be reading Engels'  'Origins of Family, Private Property and the State' and reminding myself where all this nonsense comes from.