Archive for January, 2010

Most Unexpected Sentence Ever?

January 28, 2010

Just spotted the following sentence in a column by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian for January 27th. I love it.

It was a typical Thatcher lurch into Leninism.

Zombie Nazis: Fun for all the Family.

January 23, 2010

Zombie movies. I have to confess I was never the biggest fan (I know Bruce Campbell mainly from the TV show Burn Notice for example), but I saw the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead and loved it. I soon discovered that rather than boring gore-fests for misfit teenagers, zombie movies were in fact sophisticated pieces of social criticism, tackling issues such as racism, prejudice, consumerism, and class conflict (even if some people would just prefer the zombies without the message). So I now enjoy a zombie movie, especially 28 Days Later, even though I’ve never gone back and watched the old classics.

All of which is a roundabout way of bringing us to Dead Snow, the story of the fate of a group of young Norwegians who come into conflict with a bunch of zombie Nazis left over from World War II. This is an excellent movie, and more than lives up to the hype. Witty and inventive, it also more than meets the viewer’s expectations for gore and gruesome deaths. But surely, in a zombie movie involving Nazis there must also be some of that biting social criticism, referring to the dangers of the electoral rise of the ultra-right across many countries in Europe over the last decade or so? Well, no. Not really. It’s just fun. And well worth seeing. Although obviously, what the film really needed was a T-34 appearing to remind the Nazis and the audience just who really did the heavy lifting in the defeat of Nazism.

Suffer the Children

January 22, 2010

The Righs of Free-born English (middle class)men in peril

Yep. You read the headline right. Someone has had the audacity to claim that Labour’s education policies are hurting and belittling the English middle classes. And not just any someone. It was Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, which had the “best A-Level results of any co-educational school in England”. Brighton College, unsurprisingly, is a fee-paying institution (and therefore benefits from Labour’s decision to preserve its charitable status), and its schedule of fees for the current academic year can be found here (I particularly admire the fact that things like music and support from its dyslexia centre cost extra. Clearly the sort of forward-thinking we need in education). Quoted in the Daily Telegraph (where else you might ask),

Mr Cairns said: “We do need to raise working-class aspirations but at the same time we need to celebrate the success of middle-class children and celebrate that fact that we have so many parents out there spending their time instilling the necessary soft skills and values and in their sons and daughters that they need to do well in life.
“The Government seems to think that the only way to raise aspirations in the working-class is to have all sorts of quota systems that, in turn, damage the middle-class children. That’s muddle-headed.
“There are only 12,000 places at Oxford. Instead of finding more extravagant ways to engineer admissions we should be expanding our best universities and raising the aspirations of all pupils to get into them on merit.”

In fact,

The threat of “quotas” to dictate admission to leading universities risks blocking the chances of hard-working children from relatively wealthy homes, said Richard Cairns, head of fee-paying Brighton College.
He called for the brightest working-class pupils to be given “elite” training – outside ordinary state comprehensives – to allow them to progress at the speed often reached by more affluent peers.

In other words, middle-class and upper-class parents can afford to pay for their children to go to exclusive schools where they get more attention and better facilities and resources, and it’s only right that their ability to pay gets rewarded in the universities their little darlings attend. Not that we might see any irony in the head of a boarding school talking about how middle class parents spend their time to instill their children with the necessary skills to succeed in life. Lest we be cynical about the headmaster’s philanthropic intent, it’s important to bear this in mind

Currently, Brighton College provides free sixth-form places to bright pupils from Kingsford [community school]. Five are currently at the fee-paying school and another three have already been through the scholarship programme.

I had a quick look round the Brighton College website but didn’t see any total student numbers, so I am unsure what proportion this is. It might be a very large proportion. Or it might not.

I would certainly agree that there is some muddle-headed thinking on display in this article. But I might place it somewhere differently than he does. I might of course be being unfair. It could be his speech included a long analysis of the relationship between class, money and educational attainment, and of how by the time you get to university level it is too late to try and even out the differing educational chances caused by economic inequality. I have my doubts though, especially given this remark.

Speaking before a conference in east London on Friday, Mr Cairns said: “India and China have a middle-class that seems to have doubled in size over the last 10 years, yet here we have a political system that seeks to reduce and diminish the ambitions of children born into middle-class homes in an attempt to raise the aspirations of the working-classes.”

Hmmmm. I wonder if the rapid economic development from a comparatively much lower base in those countries over the last ten years might have played a part in his gaining an impression of a rising middle-class compared to the UK. As for the children of the middle-class in often over-priced and over-rated fee-paying schools, I’m fairly confident that the 7% or so of children from fee-paying schools will continue to dominate access to the UK’s elite educational institutions (at a rate of about 7 times their proportion of the school population). I’m think they’ll manage to muddle through into the same types of well-paid jobs and lifestyles that their parents have envisioned for them, even if a few who have been well drilled to over-achieve in exams and interivews miss out on Oxford and Cambridge because of the nasty lefties trying to even out the advantages that the money of the dedicated and caring parents of the English middle class in no way provides.

Also posted at Cedar Lounge Revolution

A traditional funeral

January 21, 2010

Interesting story on the BBC website about the funeral of a former internee called Jim Gallagher in Derry. Shots were fired over his coffin, which had a tricolour draped over it. In itself, the firing of shots over the coffin of someone who has died peacefully is unusual, but not entirely exceptional, as seen at the funeral of founding INLA member Johnnie White in Derry not long ago. What makes this especially interesting is that the BBC said that he had been involved in the Republican Network for Unity, a coalition of people mainly formerly involved in the Provisionals opposed to the current political dispensation. It raises questions about that organisation and a possible relationship to paramilitaries, although it is possible that it allows dual membership with other groups. Be interesting to see if there is any follow-up on this.

TJ Hooker: Legend

January 19, 2010

I’m lucky(?) enough to have access to the channel Quest, which shows some truly awful TV, such as this. However, much to my delight, it also shows TJ Hooker, a splendidly silly cop programme from the 1980s stariring William Shatner, which re-established itself in my affection some years ago when I caught the occasional episode on Channel 5. It is mostly remembered now I would say for having an extremely young Heather Locklear in it, and thus to act as a comparison for how she looks now, nearly 3 decades and much cosmetic surgery later. The Guardian has today given TJ Hooker its due, and fair play to it for doing so.

I realise that I ought to have done better for my first post for over a month, but there you go.