Thursday, December 08, 2005

Your Pedagogical Pedant-General goes walkabout

... at the Sharpener.

Who could ever have thought that your mild and self-effacing Pedant-General would have such a rant inside him?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The WikaBlog Strikes

The great Tim Worstall supplies, via his piece at Open Democracy, a new vernacular for the clichéd "hat tip":
"... a full-throated cheer with mass tossing of headgear and marching bands."
Marching Bands are duly despatched in the direction of Squander Two - give or take the tricky Northern Irish connotation - for his discovery on the WikaBlog of InkyCircus.

Looks like a good read.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Told you so

Cameron wins.* Just as I predicted. And quite some time ago at that...

* Explanation of exactly what it is that Mr Cameron has won is given here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The result of the Conservative Party Leadership Election is....

.... not announced yet.

So we will have to make do with this remarkably succint status report from my correspondent in the "Big Apple":
" the new water meters have everyone in an uproar, the new library will not be built, and the piles of leaves I was going to pick up this weekend are now all covered with snow, so I won't have to worry about them again until April. Other than that, there is no news on the Rialto: Natalee Holloway is still missing, the war in Iraq is still raging, and Brad and Angelina are still together. All is well."

Carry on.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Phonics Roundup

So where are we?

I got very cross here and here.

ninme was so staggered by the idea that children might not be taught how the alphabet works that she missed the point. This is entirely understandable.

Unity followed up with a lovely little insight into where all the research has gone wrong:
"All the research which describes the psychological process of reading is based on assessment of people who can already read - ergo, it tells us quite nicely how people read once they've learned to read but next to fuck all about the process of learning to read itself."
Brilliantly simple.

Timmy puts his customary free market view on things here.

The site administrator at the Reading Reform discussion board picked up on this and linked to me, prompting the delightful "Lesley" to intone with a sigh:
" What a very, very, very satisfying read.
I only wish I'd written it myself!"
Well, Lesley, the feeling is mutual. This is superb:
"Bethan is nothing more than a whole language dinosaur whose time has come. One can sense the desperation in the plodding predictable prog-prose of a creature who knows the show-case in the museum beckons.

Cue David Attenborough in hushed tones..

"And here we see a group, found together in late 2005, reassembled in its natural habitat, the education department of a prestigious university.
There, by the glow of the searchlight, the mighty psightvocabodon is devouring whole words. Beside him the smaller, but equally ferocious guessisaurus and predictoraptor search for clues amid the bushes. And last, but not least, the superficially alluring picturedactyl, seducing its victims into its welcoming arms, lies in wait for small humans."

"We shall not see their like again."
"the superficially alluring picturedactyl": Absolutely top notch.

Friday, December 02, 2005

More On (Moron?) Phonics

I see today an illustration of spectacular, almost divine, clarity of the correctness of my decision to drop the Times from my regular reading matter in favour of the Torygraph.

Following on from my little rant yesterday, both have letters and both have Leading articles, but only the Telegraph seems to make any sense, so I shall start here.

From the leader, the money quote is:
"the life-chances of up to four million children could have been harmed by the abandonment of synthetic phonics as the means of teaching reading."
FOUR MILLION CHILDREN. I think we deserve to know how this came about. Who recommended dropping phonics? Why?

From the letters to the Editor:
Having a non-photographic memory, I could not have learnt to read using the "look and say" method. If I had been born later, I could have ended up illiterate.
A recent visitor at my manifesto would be delighted to see the subjunctive mood used correctly here.

All good stuff. Now let's look at the Times. The Leader is generally OK:
"... it has permitted a “pick and mix” approach in which rather too many teachers have plumped for the fashionable but flawed “whole word” or “look and see” formula. As its critics have noted, “sit and hope” would be more accurate."
"Look at the pictures" might be another passable description of this method.
This is admirably followed up with:
"One in five children is falling short of the level desired. Only 60 per cent of children obtain these scores in each of the modern “3Rs”. A sharp gender gap is becoming embedded, with boys falling behind girls at a young age and never quite recovering. [My emphasis]"
We will return to this, but there is more that is laudable in this leader:
"One of the many mistakes that the “whole word” lobby makes is in insisting that children be allowed to learn to read at their own pace and that it should be a labour of love, not a chore. This is patronising, destructive nonsense. Children need to learn to read as soon as is possible. Until they can, they are left in a state of academic limbo. To teach them to break words into key sounds is not to return to Victorian schooling. It is to liberate them to enter a world of learning."
Nicely put.

But then the ball is dropped. That which is given with one hand is deftly taken away with the other. The Letters Editor must be having an off day. I shall, naturally, take the second letter first:
Sir, It is a big mistake to order all children to be taught to read by the phonic method. Much research has shown that the method is best suited to girls, while boys, with superior visuo-spatial skills, are best taught by the look-and-say method because of their ability to recognise the shapes of words.
"Much research", indeed? Doesn't really fit with the Leading Article, does it? If boys have such an innate "ability to recognise the shapes of words", why does that not apply to individual letters?


But then we have to deal with this moron:
Fifty years ago the battle raged in the opposite direction. The phonic synthesis method used by most teachers was decried as “barking at print” by proponents of look-and-say (whole word recognition) and the Sentence method.
The "Sentence" method!!!!

He [David Bell, Ofsted Chief Inspector] is equally right to insist that it should not be the sole method, since it does not get one very far with a word such as “laughter”.
Quite so. English is indeed full of irregularities. So what? A child of two is able to cope with this irregularity - the verb "to be", the plurals of "man" and "sheep" - with little difficulty: you just don't expect them to deal with it before they have burbled "dada" for the first time.

What our correspondent does NOT tell us is that he is talking total tosh. A child taught with phonics WILL be able to decode
Try doing that with "look and say". Indeed, if the same child came across a picture of our intrepid letter writer in a newspaper, he would be able correctly to decode the caption that reads
and will understand the full force of the meaning of the word to boot.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Someone Needs a Sound Flogging

And that someone is Dr Bethan Marshall, quondam "Senior Lecturer in English Education" at King's College, London.

Before I set out the details of this case, I might add that your clairvoyant - almost mystical - Pedant-General worked himself into a frenzy just yesterday on this very topic. I suggested that it might be a good idea to...
Ask every single teacher, LEA administrator, teacher training college troll and DfES troll one question:

"Do you now or have you ever AT ANY STAGE since you were out of nappies agreed with or advocated anything other than the Synthetic Phonics method for teaching children to read?"

Any one that answers "yes" to be relieved of whatever position of responsibility into which they may have connived themselves, then rounded up and put in a field where all pupils leaving primary school without the ability to read should, accompanied by their parents, beat them with big sticks.
So to the Today programme at 0810 this morning and the publication of Jim Rose's report on the use of phonics for teaching to read. (Listen again here) First up, we had a little explanation of the difference between Synthetic and Analytic Phonics, nicely done by Aunty's reporter.

In a nutshell, when trying to read the word "street", analytic phonics would break this into a beginning - "str" - and an ending - "eet". Synthetic Phonics first teaches children the 44 distinct sounds of each letter of the alphabet plus key combinations of letters. These can then be used to render "street" as "s", "t", "r", "ee", "t".

So far so good. Let's see what issues are raised by this relatively non-contentious discussion of the topic:

Question 1: How does analytic phonics teach a child the beginning "str" without an understanding of the sounds of the individual letters? i.e. How does analytic phonics work if you have not already covered synthetic phonics?

Question 2: Given the inevitable answer to question 1, what is the purpose of analytic phonics at all?

The BBC (aren't they nice?) has an excellent little page on their website if you want to read more. It contains this quote:
"[Synthetic Phonics] also helps children to break down unknown words, experts say."
I bet "experts" would say that. Indeed, we can now ask some more questions:

Question 3: How on earth would you expect a five year old to read a word he had not seen before unless he can identify and sound out the individual letters?


Questions 4, 5 & 6: Errrrmmmm, we use an alphabetic (as opposed to symbolic) language. Isn't this the whole point? Why - for goodness sake this is incredible now that one thinks about it - on earth do we ditch the whole advantage of an alphabetic system to try and teach children as though our language were symbolic? Are these people mad? (actually - don't answer that. Particularly if you have children of primary school age)

Fast forward to 0850 and we get the accused on the blower to discuss this tricky topic.
Jim Naughtie: "Do you think that the Govt has got it right to make Synthetic Phonics central to the teaching of reading?"

The Accused (Dr Bethan Marshall): "No I don't. I think that what they have listened to is a very very powerful lobby group with enormous commercial interests that are set to make enormous amounts of money out of schools having to change their reading schemes."
She then goes on to say that a survey by the National Reading Panel the US shows "absolutely no difference in success rates between synthetic and analytic phonics."

The press release for this survey is here. It dates from April 13th 2000. The first paragraph of findings might - just, at a pinch - support her claim.

The panel's review focused on the following areas: alphabetics (phonemic awareness and phonics instruction), reading fluency, reading comprehension, teacher education, and computer technology.

Phonemic awareness is knowledge that spoken words are made up of tiny segments of sound, referred to as phonemes. For example, the words "go" and "she" each consist of two phonemes. Phonemic awareness is often confused with phonics, which refers to the process of linking these sounds to the symbols that stand for them, the letters of the alphabet. ...

The panel found that the research conducted to date strongly supports the concept that explicitly and systematically teaching children to manipulate phonemes significantly improves children's reading and spelling abilities. The evidence for this is so clear cut that this method should be an important component of classroom reading instruction.

This would appear to support some analytic phonics. The problem is that the VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH blows her out of the water:
"The panel also concluded that the research literature provides solid evidence that phonics instruction produces significant benefits for children from kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulties learning to read. The greatest improvements in reading were seen from systematic phonics instruction. This type of phonics instruction consists of teaching a planned sequence of phonics elements, rather than highlighting elements as they happen to appear in a text. Here again, the evidence was so strong that the panel concluded that systematic phonics instruction is appropriate for routine classroom instruction.

For children with learning disabilities and children who are low achievers, systematic phonics instruction, combined with synthetic phonics instruction produced the greatest gains. Synthetic phonics instruction consists of teaching students to explicitly convert letters into phonemes and then blend the phonemes to form words. Moreover, systematic synthetic phonics instruction was significantly more effective in improving the reading skills of children from low socioeconomic levels. Across all grade levels, systematic synthetic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell. [my emphasis]"

Synthetic Phonics doesn't improve success rates? Not from my reading of this survey.
Whatever. I'm sure this is a minor point.

JM: Why use a study from the States when we have a more recent study here that shows the opposite?

BM: No it doesn't show the opposite. The Clackmannanshire study was an extremely small study and used schemes such as the Oxford Reading Tree which relies very heavily on analytic phonics rather than synthetic phonics, so it was a very blurry study and a VERY VERY small one."
Errr... My eldest is being taught entirely using Synthetic Phonics (and he is at a private school. How odd...). He is also using the Oxford Reading Tree.

There is then some largely uninteresting discussion about the motivations of the various lobby groups etc.

JM then brings in Nick Gibb, the Shadow Education Minister for Young People.
NG: The Reading Reform Foundation are a group of teachers who have been volunteering to campaign for phonics in their own time because they know that it works.

JM: Just to be clear: they do not have a financial interest in this.

NG: Not the Reading Reform Foundation. There are those like Ruth Miskin and Chris Jolly who do.
"A powerful lobby group with enormous financial interest"? Shove off. NG continues:
The Clackmannanshire study wasn't a small study. It followed 300 children, divided into 3 groups. One had pure synthetic phonics, one had analytic phonics and the third used a combination of methods and the results were staggering. [His emphasis] In fact they were so staggering that they had to move the other 200 children onto the synthetic phonics programme [My emphasis] and they had a reading age 3 years ahead of their chronological age by the time they were 11.

JM: I haven't read the study in detail, but the interesting thing about it is that it did follow them over a long period.

NG: Yes, it was a longitudinal study. Children were followed over seven years. It was very powerful. When you look around the country at the schools that have used phonics, such as St Michael's in Stoke Gifford, they went from 78% of children achieving level 4 in English at age 11 to 95%. These are staggering results [His emphasis] and often in the most deprived parts of Britain.

The Accused is then allowed back in and mutters some piffle about real comprehension versus "sounding the word out". She also moans that the Clackmannanshire study had only 300 pupils versus 5000 used in the US study.

NG responds superbly:
"The US study doesn't say what you say it does. ... Of course you have to have comprehension and all those other things, but it is easier to comprehend a word if you can actually decode it."
He then summarises the enormous body of reports and reviews that have come out in favour of synthetic phonics before the Accused sums up with this:
"If you come across children that do not respond to this method and you [as a teacher] have no other strategies in order to encourage them to help them to read then you will disadvantage as many children as you advantage."
So let's summarise Dr Marshall's arguments against a "first, fast and only" use of synthetic phonics:

BM View:Rebuttal
"government has been knobbled by a powerful lobby with huge financial interests at stake"This is her first objection. It is an ad hominem attack. Read from that what you will.

In any case teachers volunteering doesn't sound like a "powerful lobby group" to me, particularly when they are proposing to drop a system that has completely failed a generation of state school pupils.
National Reading Panel study in the US shows absolutely no difference in success rates between synthetic and analytic phonics."From the press release to the report itself:

"Moreover, systematic synthetic phonics instruction was significantly more effective in improving the reading skills of children from low socioeconomic levels. Across all grade levels, systematic synthetic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell."
On the Clackmannanshire Study: "[the study used] the Oxford Reading Tree which relies very heavily on analytic phonics rather than synthetic phonics, so it was a very blurry study and a VERY VERY small one "The Oxford Reading Tree scheme is not tied to analytic phonics at all. Ergo, this blurry accusation is wide of the mark (if not a desperate cling to dogma).

300 children in a well designed study (i.e. including a control group) followed for SEVEN YEARS is small? Compared to the US Study which although bigger (5000 pupils), did not follow those pupils for long: the study ran for less than 2 years. [Study announced on March 28, 1998 here, and results announced April 13, 2000. Not much time for studying in between... ]

More importantly, said study does not support her refusal to accept synthetic phonics anyway, so its longevity isn't really an issue.
"Synthetic phonics only teaches you to sound the word out. It does not improve comprehension "HOW THE F*&!@*% DOES SHE THINK A CHILD CAN UNDERSTAND A WORD IF THE CHILD CANNOT ACTUALLY READ IT?


Besides, Clackmannanshire showed reading ages of 14 for pupils aged 11. You cannot have a reading age of 14 without comprehension.
"Synthetic phonics is taught mechanistically. There is no joy in reading "HOW THE F*&!@*% DOES SHE THINK A CHILD CAN ENJOY READING IF THE CHILD CANNOT READ?

We know what happens with "discovery learning" and that related fashionable nonsense: you get children who look at pictures.
"If you come across children that do not respond to this method and you [as a teacher] have no other strategies in order to encourage them to help them to read then you will disadvantage as many children as you advantage."You want the US Study? You can have the US Study:

"Moreover, systematic synthetic phonics instruction was significantly more effective in improving the reading skills of children from low socioeconomic levels. Across all grade levels, systematic synthetic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell. "

So your chosen study reveals that the most disadvantaged children show the greatest benefit from the use of system that you don't like.


And your balance of probabilities?

Condemn every single child in the state system (apart from those schools brave enough to ignore you) to appalling levels of failure


95% of children achieving the required levels of reading and comprehension, with the most disadvantaged children having the most to gain.

Sod off.

Proof that the state run education system is in the hands of unreconstructed wreckers who care more about their dreams of a socially-engineered utopia than for the children in their care is embodied in this woman.

I have VERY strong views on this topic. It is insane that teacher training and policy-making appears still to be in the hands of total morons. The knock-on affects are huge:
Poor teaching and poor teaching methods affect those at the bottom end of the scale the most;
Without the ability to read, children will fall behind very quickly;
A child that falls behind feels excluded, frustrated and bored at school;
Child that are excluded, frustrated and bored misbehave, disrupting others;
Misbehaving children who have fallen behind are ripe for exclusion from school, particularly if they are the bottom of the heap anyway and have little support or encouragement at home;
Children who get expelled are more likely to find other ways of occupying themselves;
Once beyond school age and without the necessary schooling (or attitude or commitment or self-esteem) will find it all but impossible to find (or sustain) decent paid employment;
Those with a bad attitude, who have been variously failed by then rejected by authority, and who have no jobs are not exactly going to stay on the straight and narrow.

We end up picking up the tab.

P-G Prescription: I think Dr Bethan Marshall needs to spend a bit more time in the classroom. In a sink estate. Where none of the children have been taught synthetic phonics. I'm sure her classmates will be only too happy to adminster a synthetic phonic flogging.

UPDATE: A very warm welcome to visitors from the RRF discussion board on this topic. You may wish to have a little look at my next post for a little follow up.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I am SO stuffed

Andrew Randomly Notes the 10 Commandments (gaah! can't say that: it has hideously judeo-christian overtones) the unbreakable laws of our new social contract. (via DK as usual, who got it from Chris at Strange Stuff)

Given that your "over-stuffed leather armchair" of a Pedant-General is:
  • white
  • male
  • heterosexual (I'm sorry, but the Guardian would hold this as relevant)
  • married
we can safely assume that I am basically stuffed. I might as well give up now.

But then, seeing as I am also:
I have got nothing to lose really.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Relentless March of Reason

Hurrah, hurrah, and Thrice Hurrah!

First this and then this. Extraordinary! Is there no limit to the reasonableness of our Nu-Labour apparatchiks?

It is almost enough to make one believe that members of the Labour party are in fact almost human.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Breast-Feeding and Jury Service

You can always count on your hidebound and old-fashioned Pedant-General sticking his nose in where it is least expected and even less welcome. This time, it is to the thorny topic of breast-feeding. [maybe "thorny" isn't quite the word I am looking for, most especially in this context. Ouch.]

I have been mulling over this topic for some time - haven't we all? - but have been prompted to publish by this little quip from Mr Seat. His, otherwise laudable, suggestion that breast-feeding mothers should move to Scotland - Lord alone knows our birthrate is miserable - misses one crucial point: Jury Service. Keen-eyed followers of this will, of course, have noted that a court room is not
"a place where children are"
and is therefore not covered by the bill.

Oddly enough, I have a very personal angle on this. You will have noted that the youngest master P-G is still but a babe-in-arms, albeit an absolutely huge one. So it was with a degree of horror that Lady P-G received a letter from HM's Court Service, informing her that she was in the frame for jury service. There was a certain amount of consternation in the grace and favour apartment, but this was overcome and a letter duly dispatched to the clerk of the Sheriff Court, explaining that - whilst Lady P-G understood the gravity of her duty - the youngest master Pedant-General is still at his mother's breast and is therefore part of the bargain, unless the clerk might agree to a deferral: if the clerk wished to avail himself of Lady P-G's services in the capacity of Juror now, he would have to put up with a certain degree of mewling and puking as well - an "all or nothing" deal, possibly even "double or quits" if you will. We suspected that his presence (youngest Master P-G, that is, not the clerk of the court) might not be conducive to the orderly conduct of the criminal justice system, endearing though he undoubtedly is. (Again, youngest Master P-G, that is, not the clerk of the court - I have no comment as to the endearingness or otherwise of the clerk).

To his immense credit, the clerk agreed (to the deferral, not the endearingness of the youngest master P-G: he appeared to have no comment on that). Let us not have complaints on the inflexibility of this nation's civil servants.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Compare and Contrast

How interesting. How absolutely fascinating.

I was fulsome in my praise for Neil Harding in my post this morning largely because of the valuable service rendered in the pursuit of reason:
He has conducted the discussions in such a manner as to allow the issues to be thrashed out properly. This is sterling work and, sadly, a rare occurence in politics. What is even more notable and infinitely precious is that he has faced up to the force of argument arrayed against him and chosen the path of reason over dogma. He has been convinced to change his mind.
Complex issues require complex arguments, detailed analysis and, most of all, time. It takes time properly to argue an issue - the ID card battle chez Harding took almost a month to reach a conclusion - time which is not (and cannot be) afforded in any MSM outlet. Furthermore, complex arguments and detailed analysis tend not to play to the lowest common denominator and are hardly ratings winners. So it is therefore unremarkable that political debate in the MSM is too constrained to allow for anything but cheap shots.

On this note, you don't get much cheaper than the behaviour of the Immigration Minister, Mr McNulty, which prompted this letter from the author of the LSE's report on the cost of implementing ID cards:
Sir - What is going on with this so-called "debate" on ID cards? While appearing on the BBC's Hardtalk last week, immigration minister Tony McNulty claimed that, at a recent meeting in the House of Lords, the LSE had "admitted" that its estimate of the cost of ID cards was "hopelessly wrong". We made no such statement, and no one who attended that meeting could possibly make that inference.

This is typical of how debate over ID cards has degenerated into grand-standing and misrepresentation. With some minor adjustments, we stand by the figures we published in our June report. The reason our calculations differ from those of the Home Office is that we focused on the cost of implementing the scheme across government, while the Home Office estimated merely its own departmental costs.
Where to begin? Who is to blame? How can the race to the bottom be halted? It's enough to make you wish for a benign dictatorship...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Neil Harding Repents

The eponymous, nay egregious, Mr Worstall brings a bumper crop in this week's Britblog round-up.

Most notable is his first entry: Neil Harding, whom I referred to earlier as a moron, has been brought back from the dark side. This is a major victory for the blogosphere and one in which I am proud to have played my part, humble and tangential though we all agree it to have been.

However, we must all reflect on the man that is Neil Harding. He has argued his case extensively and forcefully. This has been an extraordinarily tough battle covering an enormous chunk of his output - and I dread to think how much of his time - for the best part of a month. The discussion threads in each one of these posts are equally extensive. What is noticeable is that whilst the debate has been heated - both sides having heavily entrenched positions - it has remained civil throughout. The ball was played, not the man.

P-G Prescription:
I disagree, very very deeply, with Neil's position on a great number of important topics, but where previously I dismissed him as a moron I must now repent. Neil has shown himself to be principled but fair. He has conducted the discussions in such a manner as to allow the issues to be thrashed out properly. This is sterling work and, sadly, a rare occurence in politics. What is even more notable and infinitely precious is that he has faced up to the force of argument arrayed against him and chosen the path of reason over dogma. He has been convinced to change his mind.

This requires a commitment to reason as the arbiter of men and very substantial guts on his part. This sort of behaviour is worthy of the deepest respect.

Neil's objections are primarily technical in nature - that the technology will not work - rather than principled - that ID cards change the fundamental relationship between the citizen and the state. We therefore still have some work to bring him fully into the fold.

(HT: Longrider, who has been active in the discussions chez Harding also)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Peel's Principles

A correspondent in the top letter to the Torygraph today reminds us all of Sir Robert Peel's Nine Points of Policing.

I reproduce them here, in full, for two reasons. Firstly, Sir Robert's prose is of superlative quality. No mention of "diversity" or "partnership" or any other meaningless flim-flam. Secondly, they were correct at the time and - tellingly - remain true today. I have added a little emphasis for good measure.

Sir Robert Peel's Nine Points of Policing

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

Would Sir Robert, I wonder, approve of this sort of behaviour? Or this? Or this?
But I suspect this gentleman dreams wistfully of the day when he might be able to apply them.

Unreliable Evidence

This lucky gentleman extrapolates from his unprotected tomato crop - which I can only assume to be an unalloyed benefit - directly to the perils of global warming.

In turn, I shall extrapolate from the outside temperature measurement (provided by my lovely toasty warm car) of 2 degrees below freezing to suggest that all residents of Southern England are morons.

We Are Completely Surrounded By Morons

You might well expect your moustachioed, hidebound and vigorously reactionary Pedant-General to use the photograph above as evidence of the assertion in the title to this post. But, as is so often the case, you would be wrong.

I submit that these three gentlemen are noble, fine, worthy citizens acting in an entirely rational and sensible manner, though I grant you that we must note the caveat that two are New Zealanders and the third American.

My gripe is with a much more pernicious group: the leader writers of the Times. Consider this outpouring of effluent. Whether or not the Old Farts have indeed "dropped a clanger" by awarding the Rugby World Cup to a country that punches so far above its weight in terms of population and where over half the adult male population plays the game regularly (as opposed to one which doesn't), the following statement is extraordinary:
"The haka has increasingly become a tool of intimidation."
What do they expect? It's a WAR DANCE.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

How right they are

Deogolwulf would be SO proud:

Songs of Innocence, Introduction
You are 'regularly metric verse'. This can take
many forms, including heroic couplets, blank
verse, and other iambic pentameters, for
example. It has not been used much since the
nineteenth century; modern poets tend to prefer
rhyme without meter, or even poetry with
neither rhyme nor meter.

You appreciate the beautiful things in life--the
joy of music, the color of leaves falling, the
rhythm of a heartbeat. You see life itself as
a series of little poems. The result (or is it
the cause?) is that you are pensive and often
melancholy. You enjoy the company of other
people, but they find you unexcitable and
depressing. Your problem is that regularly
metric verse has been obsolete for a long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Curriculum Crapulissimus

Your self-critical yet earnestly pedagogical Pedant-General is nothing if not a "follower-in-the-footsteps-of-Socrates". I know enough about the ugly, messy, hilarious and infuriating business of rearing children to know that I know really very little indeed.

To demonstrate just how little I do know, I shall make a wild assertion, entirely unsupported by clinical trials or any credible scientific methodology:
The process of bringing up children to be worthy, law-abiding and productive citizens shares one remarkable similarity with the efficient operation of a market ecomony: It is not possible to gather sufficient information to allow it to be planned from the centre.
To paraphase a popular slogan untimely ripped from a televisual advertisement, whilst I may be entirely ignorant on these matters, I do know a man who isn't. But then, she isn't a man either.

Enter the simply inestimable Dr Miriam Stoppard, who rounds on the absurbd plan for an infant curriculum with vigour, precision and decades of experience in the field. As usual, all I can do here is to implore to read her article in full, then write to your MP (or other such freeloading bandit or loser as may claim to represent your best interests whilst frittering away your hard-earned cash on taxis and fact-finding trips to the Caribbean).

I can do one more thing though: I can demonstrate just exactly what a crock of sh*te [forgive me - this topic always makes me cross] is the idea that "the man in Whitehall would know what is best" for my children.

The idea that there can be an infant curriculum is just so obviously laughable as to be, well, obviously laughable. Every child is unique. Each develops in his own time and in his own way, with his own character, with his own likes and dislikes, his own strengths and weaknesses. Worse still, the mark of a healthy, normal child - the irrefutable evidence of a parent that is doing a "good job" - is the degree to which the child appears to be an individual - i.e. that resists attempts at box-ticking.

Consider, if you feel up to it, the three young masters Pedant-General. They come from the same stock [aspertions to the contrary will be met by stinging writs from a pretty vicious lawyer wot I kno - what are you saying about my wife?]. They have been raised by the same people and under the same conditions of faded glory, noble rot that sort of thing. In short, they share both nature and nurture, yet they could not be more different.

The Eldest Master Pedant-General:
  • walked at 16 months;
  • talked at 16 months;
  • had conquered the word "Paediatrician" [which I can still barely spell. Ninme, before you get excited, you spell it wrong in the US] at 18 months;
  • wants to be a scientist;
  • probably will be an artist of some sort (see here and here, bearing in mind that he is only 5 and a half);
  • indulges his own interests regardless of what his peers might think, yet;
  • is incredibly easily led astray and joins into small child mob bad behaviour unless kept on a very short leash;
  • can't kick or catch a ball to save his life;
  • frankly isn't remotely interested in being able to kick or catch a ball;
  • talks loudly and incessantly, particularly in the morning;
  • has no time for jigsaws;
  • cannot be prised from a book - indeed I have had a letter published in the Times on the topic of his fondest for books;
  • never follows instructions when building lego: he builds what he wants to build;
  • can discern - correctly - citrine from quartz, malachite from tourmaline and a Tornado from an F14 Tomcat;
  • goes about in a sort of amiable daze, deeply consumed with his own thoughts.
By contrast, the Middle Master Pedant-General:
  • walked at 14 months;
  • talked at 18 months;
  • wants to be a cowboy or Robin Hood;
  • currently is a knight and a very chivalrous one at that;
  • is canny beyond measure - his favourite phrase when caught in the act of some misdemeanour is to bat his eyelids at Lady P-G and say "Mummy, you're so boooful". Those who suggest, scurrilously, that her teeth are Lady P-G's softest part will need to revise their estimation of her on seeing her reaction to this;
  • has a natural eye for a ball;
  • loves jigsaws;
  • doesn't really draw;
  • climbs anything and everything - he is a regular little spiderman;
  • Runs with the pack, but knows how to deflect trouble.
The youngest:
  • walked just before his first birthday;
  • isn't talking yet;
  • weighs more than his middle brother and can pin him to the floor if required (He sometimes does so when it isn't strictly actually required, but there we are);
  • doubles up as an automatic custard-eating machine - you never know when you might need one;
  • might actually be a Pterosaur, rather than a small boy. It is possible that this might discount him from the analysis on the basis that he is an unreliable data point, but hey, who said this was a scientific survey.
In short, I defy anyone to come up with a meaningful and useful checklist that would capture , codify and compare the qualities of these three children, yet they are all fantastic in their own way. Even at the earliest stages of their lives, when you have to beat off the Health Visitors with a big stick to stop them measuring and weighing and charting, such an approach is fruitless. In my experience, there are two types of Health Visitors: ones that measure and ones that don't. A measuring Health Visitor frets when junior fails to gain his statutorily decreed 0.348kg or whatever it is that week. By contrast, a good Health Visitor peers round the door, looks at a happy gurgling thing chewing a rattle and declares:
There is nothing wrong with your child. Need anything else?
There is only one box that needs ticking: It would be labelled:
Is this child happy, healthy and displaying an interest in the world around? Or not?
We don't need a government inspectorate to answer that and no government inspectorate is going to be able to create the conditions for it to be answered satisfactorily if such conditions do not exist at the time of inspection. In essence this approach is almost a parody of this ghastly Nu-Lab government. It is about symptoms, not causes. It is about equality of outcome, not opportunity. It is about state control not individual freedom.

What we do need is are parents that are prepared to put in the time, love, effort and commitment - not money, mark you - to encourage their children to be the best that they can be. If that condition is not met, no amount of nannying and no amount of taxpayers' money is likely to improve the lot of the hapless child. Why is this not blindingly obvious?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

All Hail the Kirk Elder!

On the day that the European Court Of Auditors declined, for
the eleventh time, to give the EU's accounts a clean bill of health, we rely on the Kirk Elder to tell us how these things are really run.

Freedom of Information - An Alternative View

My extensive network of informers tells me that many of you (You know who you are. So do I...) believe that your secretive and sneaky Pedant-General is keeping files on you all. Paranoia being a useful state in which to keep the citizenry, I am certainly not going to give you the satisfaction of confirming your worst nightmares. Suffice to say the your furtive Pedant-General mutters darkly every time the words "Freedom of Information" waft towards his "shell-like".

With this in mind, consider this missive received via the electric pigeon at the Grace and Favour Apartment this morning from a chum of the P-G:


With only 6 weeks of family time left in Sydney as bub three grows big and strong, our thoughts are already shifting to the place that is currently 30 degrees colder [Russia that is - keep up at the back there] .... where, it turns out, everyone's tax records are for sale again.

For the last couple of years, this database has included everyone's personal, financial and tax details - [Chum's Name deleted to protect the innocent. Oh come on - who am I kidding: he's in it up to neck...], Khordorkovsky and Putin included.... and it is the reason a lot of expats only give their office address to state bodies. This from the tax office that currently demands that all personal tax payments come from a personal account in the name of the taxpayer - your company can't pay your tax for you.

Hope you are well

Black Marketeers Peddle '04 Taxpayer Database

Moscow Times, November 7th

By Anastasiya Lebedev
Staff Writer
The black market has a hot new item for sale -- a database listing Moscow taxpayers' 2004 incomes along with contact information, Vedomosti reported on Tuesday. Available both online and in disc form for as little as 1,400 rubles ($49), the database contains last year's tax data leaked from the Federal Tax Service, the report said. It is the third such list of sensitive information to go on sale since November 2004.

Uncovered at a kiosk at Savyolovsky market in Moscow by reporters -- who were able to verify their own incomes -- the appearance of the newest, 2004 version of the database highlights a lack of official action in dealing with the issue. Federal Tax Service spokeswoman Yelena Tolgskaya was unable to confirm a leak, adding she was confident the service's information protection system was secure. But an outside party should handle any investigation into the matter, she said.

Law firm Pepeliaev, Goltsblat & Partners advises complaints be directed to the Prosecutor General's Office, said Yelena Ovcharova, a senior lawyer at the firm, confirming the disclosure of tax information is a criminal offense in Russia.The prosecutor's office would have to take action if people registered their complaints, leading possibly to a criminal investigation and charges against the tax officials behind the leak, she said. "The problem is that people frequently just give up and don't complain," Ovcharova said.

The Prosecutor General's Office could not immediately provide information on how often it received such complaints. A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police force, said ministry officials were too busy with preparations for this Thursday's Police Day holiday to comment.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Food and Sunlight

That frightfully nice chap Squander Two poses a suitably multicultural conundrum.
What do Muslims [in the Arctic Circle] do when they have to fast during the hours of daylight and the sun doesn't set for two months?
Your well-travelled, -read and -worn Pedant-General, noted polymath that he is, naturally has the answer.

I know the answer because a chum of mine did an "Officer Under Training" tour scrubbing nuts [you know what those Navy types are like] on one of HM's ships whilst it trundled round the Arctic. One of his fellow trainees was a floppy on loan from the R Saudi Navy. After a few days it was noticed that his performance had degraded somewhat (though I am also led to believe that this was a pretty remarkable feat in itself...) and it was eventually discovered that, indeed, nary a morcel has passed his lips since crossing the Arctic Circle.

Frantic signals followed, as the Captain was loathe to have a death on his watch, even if it would have raised the ship's average IQ and operational effectiveness fairly substantially. The Chaplain of the Fleet duly conversed with the uber-Mullah of the R Saudi Navy. A fatwa followed that decreed that the sun could be considered to be below the horizon between 9pm and 3am, during which time the fast could be broken.

So that would appear to be the answer. As with all these things, however, it does beg a number of follow up questions, such as:
  1. What happens to the Muslim population of Scotland when Ramadan falls over the summer? Even in Glasgow - where most Scots Muslims reside - the longest day affords only a few hours of darkness and, as we know, you can't prepare food until after dark. Do they all get a special dispensation? If not, why not?
  2. How will the inhabitants of Longyearbyen get along when they are part of the the "Ummah"? Or are the ambitions of the Caliphate tempered by a dislike of Arctic regions?
  3. When Allah dictated his requirements for the way-the-world-ought-to-be to Mohammed, why didn't he include a little bit about life in the Polar Regions? After all, they were inhabited at the time.

P-G Prescription:
The Floppy gets 10/10 for devotion to the cause, but he has a good crack at winning himself a Darwin Award for his trouble. Muppet.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

P-G Sets the Pace

No sooner do I alert the world to the definitive answer to the nonsense being peddled about Intelligent Design, than I find that the REALLY big guns have taken up the story.

Well, well, well: P-G sets the pace.

Friday, November 11, 2005

One Year On: E.J.Thribb on Arafat

Whoever said that Islam takes itself too seriously badly needs to read this.


Thursday, November 10, 2005


I came across Popper's concept of Falsifiability the other day when I was looking for something erudite on the balance between freedom and security.

It reappears rather marvellously here. A textbook application: Sir Karl would have been proud.

Now, let's have no more of this nonsense.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Libby for Defence Minister

I remarked earlier that Libby Purves might make a suitable candidate for...


This was, of course, a little flippant. I suspect, however, that she would make a very passable SoS for Defence.

That is all.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Law and Order - An alternative Solution

Following the publication of DK's manifesto, I am delighted to provide a little addendum to my policies published as part as my brief as the Home Secretary to the benign dictator.

I seem to recall muttering darkly on this very topic a little while ago.
Hang the Prosecuting Attorney.
Now that's a policy I can endorse....

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Oh my life....

Your nervous and jumpy Pedant-General has plenty to be going on with.
  • There are morons with which to contend.
  • I have Lady P-G's never-ending plans for extragant shows of bonhomie to fight off.
  • I have an unenviably brimming "in-tray". (I must confess, though, that Her Majesty's Office of Pedantry in unencumbered by deluded dunderheads trying to foist "Management Information Systems" or other such modern fiddle-faddle upon it and hence remains one of the most productive and efficient agencies of the state.)
  • The arrival of the third young master Pedant-General caused Lady P-G to declare fondly:
    "two children just seemed so... manageable"
    She is correct. Unfortunately for the Gentleman Usher of the Cat'o'Nine Tails - who is tasked with keeping your dashing and elegant Pedant-General in top top order - the mewling and puking doesn't just happen in the nurse's arms.

In short, I have my plate full.

So pity your overstretched and desperately poorly remunerated Pedant-General when an old school chum introduces him to this.

Gaaah! Treasure Hunts and fancy electronic gadgetry in one all-consuming pastime.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The DK Manifesto

... is now posted.

Look on, ye mighty, and despair...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Enough Good Eggs to make a Decent Omelette

Blogrolling. That's what we need around here. Especially when it is raining outside. Strengthens the character something marvellous.

What we can't have is dithering. Shilly-shallying is not what we want. Nor, in an ideal world, would we want any Stumbling or Mumbling. That would not do. Not in the least.

However, the world - at least when I last received a report from a rather soggy Gentleman Usher of the Cat'o'Nine Tails from his vantage point in the OP atop the grace and favour apartment - is not ideal. So we will have to make do with the "snotty nosed little provincial oik" as he is. To confound things, he is rather good. Good enough, certainly, to be listed as an egg of that quality. Besides, he sends me a pleasing amount of traffic and, "hit-hound" and "page-view junky" that your grasping and miserly Pedant-General is, that is always a good thing.

At the other end of the scale, we have this stout gentleman. His arrival in the dreich end of the Scottish Blogosphere has been heralded already by a bewildering array of the great and the frankly terrifying.

Quite what the the Senior Citizen from Peebles would make of this lot I dread to think. We, the crusty old editorial team at "Infinitives Unsplit", doubt that
we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,”
actually number more than one and hence cannot really be plonked under the "Group Blogs" heading. However, hailing as it does from the other side of the pond, we further doubt that such staff would be acquainted with the "Royal" use of the first person plural pronoun. Ergo, they must be sinister. I wouldn't put it past them to have plans to conquer the world and subject us all to as much hatemongering as we can collectively shake a stick at.

So that's settled.

Impeccable Lineage

The great Tim Worstall directs us all to this.

The diabolical DK does so also. He very charitably - if mildly inexplicably - lists me as an "influence", whatever that might be.

Of course, regular readers of this little ennui of mine know well that your affable, aristocratic and august Pedant-General is of the most impeccable lineage.

With a father of this calibre, what else would you expect?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Some Light Relief

Following on from the nonsense about ID cards below, I think we all need some light relief.

Thankfully, your jovial and "Hail-Fellow-Well-Met" Pedant-General has just the very thing: A small conundrum for you to solve:

Picture the scene:
  1. Your precise misdemeanour is not known, but suffice to say that the bastards have caught you for it.
  2. You are miles from nowhere and there is no help in sight. In short, you are on your own. (don't worry - there isn't a bacon sandwich involved in any of this).
  3. The aforementioned bastards have tied you up in stout hessian rope and have hung you (upside down) from a tree.
  4. To compound matters, a very hungry lion has discovered you and waits below, licking his lips in anticipation.
  5. To compound matters even further, the bastards have placed a lighted candle below the rope that holds you out of reach of the lion, so that, in due course, the rope will burn through and that will be you.
At this stage, you would be permitted - even expected - to say "απορεω".
Pictorially, your situation is as shown below:

So, the question is: what do you do?

I will allow you a moment to consider your options. You may then click here to reveal the answer.

No peeking!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Complete Delusion on ID Cards

"Harding is a moron, Harding is a moron, nana na na, nana na nah!"
OK, now that we have dispensed with the childish insults, let's get down to business.

In this extraordinary post, Neil Harding cannot understand why everyone with a brain is agin ID cards and yet, amazingly, he is not.
This made me think of two scenarios, either I am totally deluded in supporting ID cards or there is something unrepresentative about bloggers (remember opinion polls find a majority of the population in favour of ID cards).
I respectfully suggested that - because the research is not there to support his thesis - he is, indeed, completely deluded. I also suggested that he read the Register post on this topic. You can read it here. It is thorough and a jolly good read.

Neil then responded.
A MORI poll in April found 80% in favour of ID cards, admittedly a YouGov poll in July found only 45% in favour, but this still suggests that the 99% of bloggers in opposition to ID cards are unrepresentative.
Ah bless. As any fule know, giving the news report of research is not a link to the research itself.

Why? Because looking at the actual research (you know, doing some actual hard work and thinking and things) gives you the CONTEXT in which a question was asked.


The MORI Poll:
This was released in April 2004, not 2005. You can read the survey questions here. Does it show 80% support for ID cards? No. It shows 80% support for ID cards given that the Government are going to introduce them. These are not even close to being the same thing.

Let's look a little more closely:
Q1 How much, if anything, do you know about the Government's proposals to introduce a national identity card scheme for all UK citizens?

A: 73% only know "just a little" or less. Fully one third know absolutely nothing about it.
How do you support something if you know nothing (or even "just a little" about it? Not exactly an informed choice really...

The interviewer then explains the background:
Let me tell you a little bit about it. The Government is planning to bring in a national identity card scheme so that every person in the UK is uniquely identifiable. Current proposals are to start issuing cards in 2007/08. The Government says that cards will be phased in, with cards issued to people as and when other documents are issued such as new or replacement driving licences or passports. [my emphasis]
This is the preface to the support question. It is clear that ID cards are being presented as a fait accompli, which rather negates the whole purpose of the survey: the public is not being presented with a choice.

The kicker for me, though is the last question:
Q11 The Government is thinking of making the public pay for their ID cards much as we already do for passports and driving licences. How much, if anything, would you be prepared to pay for a national identity card?

A: 31% not nore than £25. And a stonking 48% would not be prepared to pay anything.
So the MORI poll can be summarised as follows: 80% support the plans for ID cards..... given that:
  • 73% of those sampled know little or nothing about those plans and...
  • half do not want to pay at all and...
  • 79% do not want to pay the £30 that the safety elephant wants to charge.
I would say that those are important caveats. In that they destroy the validity of the trumpetted result...

Let's go back to the moron Neil Harding:
... admittedly a YouGov poll in July found only 45% in favour ...
But Neil? How can this be? The public must be right, surely? MORI says 80% in favour, and yet YouGov finds only 45%. How odd.

What could be causing this extraordinary change in public opinion? Let's find out what YouGov actually says:
Q: Are you in favour of, or opposed to, the introduction of a system of national identity cards in Britain?

A: 45% in favour, 42% opposed, 13% don't know
No persiflage, no "given that ID cards are going to be introduced, what do you think about...", just the straight unadulterated question. My, my - a different answer....

Of course, we don't know the level of prior knowledge of the YouGov sample, but it strikes me that the crucial question in YouGov lacks the obvious bias in the MORI poll. In fact, the bias in the MORI question is so outrageous as to make it completely and entirely meaningless.

This is interesting as well:
Q: Do you think that, if [my emphasis] the government sets out to introduce identity cards, it can do so smoothly and efficiently, or would the introduction cause a lot of disruption and inconvenience?

A: Would probably be disruption and inconvenience: 84%
That doesn't bode well.

And so is this:
Q: The government has estimated that the total cost of introducing a system of national identity cards would be around £6 Billion. Do you believe that this amount of money should, or should not, be spent on introducing identity cards?

A: 66% thinks this money should not be spent on ID cards
Does this feel like 80% public support, Neil?

And it gets worse:
Q: Another estimate of the total cost of introducing a system of national identity cards is higher: between £10 billion and £19 billion. Do you believe that this larger amount of money should, or should not, be spent on introducing identity cards?

A: 81% thinks this money should not be spent on ID cards
81% against. Just think about that for a moment. 81% of the population thinks that the ID card scheme is not a good way to spend OUR money. Hardly a vote winner, eh Neil?

For good measure, let's have a look at what the Home Office thinks. Full pdf here (469k download)

This report is fascinating, mostly because of the way that it is constructed. Only the BME part of the study that actually looked at whether or not there was support for the cards per se. The UK population peice only looked at uses and costs.

Again this survey is ludicrously biased. Appendix 2 gives the interview script, which starts:
Q.1 As you may already know, the Government will be introducing national identity cards. Identity cards are likely to be coming in in a few years time, so what type of information do you think should appear on them?
Read: ID cards are coming. You have no choice.

Q2 then asks whether the interviewee has heard of the term "biometric information": fully 71% of the sample said "no". [Chart 12, page 31] This suggests to me that the sample doesn't know much about the ID card debate....

Never mind, let's press on and look at costs. The sample here was divided in two. Half were asked:
Q.7a A 10 year passport currently costs £42. If a combined passport ID card lasted for the same time, approximately how much would you be prepared to pay for it?
The respondents had to give a number for what they would pay. 69% said that [Chart 21, page 41] would pay the same or less for the combined passport/ID card than they currently pay for a passport.

The other half were asked:
Q.7b A 10 year passport currently costs £42. If a combined passport ID card lasted for the same time, would you be prepared to pay the same as this, more than this or less than this?
The respondents to this simpler question were considerably clearer: 89% [Chart 22, page 42] would only pay the same or less for the combined ID card and passport.

Let me rephrase that to be completely clear. 89% think that adding an ID card either adds no value or actually subtracts value from a passport.

Let's recap:
MORI: 80% support, given that three quarters of the sample know little about them and the sample has been told prior to the question that they are going to happen anyway, declining to 21% who are prepared to fork out the actual cash that Charlie wants to extract from you for the pleasure of allowing the state to declare that you exist.
YouGov: 45% support on a properly constructed unbiased question, declining to 19% support for this use of the actual sum of money likely to be extracted from taxpayers. 84% think the government will stuff it up. If nothing else, this last figure at least gives us confidence that the sample is reasonably compos mentis.
Home Office: Can't actually bring themselves to ask about support in the clear. Somewhere between 69% and 89% [either way a comfortable majority] do not see that it would be worth paying more for an ID card to be bundled with a passport.

80% support Neil? Do you really believe that? If so, don't let the identity register find out about your mind altering substance consumption...

So, Neil's 80% is shaky at best and declines sharply towards 20% support when the actual (or even out-of-pocket) costs become clear. But we are still some way away from the "99% against" of the blogosphere.

I suspect that we have a number of factors to consider here. Firstly demographics: bloggers are not representative of the population at large. They think about things a bit more. They are better informed (because they do things like finding the original research rather than relying on news reports) and are likely to have suffered a bit more education.

Secondly, it is just possible - crazy idea here, but I shall float it anyway - that ID cards are a bit like the EU constitution: the more you know about it, the more you begin to see that you don't like it...

YouGov supports this:
Do you support the introduction of ID cards? 42% No
Is it worth spending £6B on their introduction? 66% No
Is it worth spending £19B on their introduction (a more realistic figure)? 81% No
Do you have any confidence that this will not be an inconvenience? 84% No

Bloggers have looked at it more carefully than the population at large (remember your MORI poll with the 80% support? you know, the one where 73% said they knew little or nothing about ID cards) so their view is more likely to concur with the response levels once all information is taken into account.

Just one last thing: I suspect further that if a pollster were to ask:
ID cards reverse the relationship between the citizen and the state. Do you think this a good thing?
and I think you will see that the view of the general public might be uncannily close to that of the bloggers ...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


... is the only word for this kind of behaviour.

Being given the opportunity to command a Battalion of Infantry is probably one of the best jobs in the Army. This man's feeling of duty to his soldiers and obvious moral courage should give all of us mere mortals pause for thought.

A very brave man.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pride comes before a fall

It had to happen really.

No sooner do you make a flippant comment like:
Celebrate today and Sink a Frenchman: Hurrah!
than you find that something like this comes along:

You Should Learn French

C'est super! You appreciate the finer things in life... wine, art, cheese, love affairs.
You are definitely a Parisian at heart. You just need your tongue to catch up...

Oh the ignominy....

Happy Trafalgar Day!

Presumably this fellow will be having a tot of rum at some stage today. I suspect that Brussels would be able to provide the other two components of that (in)famous Naval recipe if he were to choose to partake.

Mr Seat also has a suitably modern interpretation of Nelson's signal.

Celebrate today and Sink a Frenchman: Hurrah!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Test Case!

Tim Worstall has a superb quote of the day, which you will all, of course, have read already - Tim being top of your reading list every morning.

It would appear that Libby Purves has been presiding over a cat-fight of unprecedented ferocity and the Telegraph gives us a report, the transcript and adds a leader for good measure, even if it is a model of fence-sitting.

But your entrepreneurial Pedant-General sees an opportunity. It is time to test my hypothesis...

The Scene:
A Radio 4 studio for the broadcast of "Midweek" - a mild-mannered review of arts and eclectica hosted by Libby Purves.

Joan Rivers: Outspoken New York style comedienne
Darcus Howe: "Outspoken writer and Social Commentator", or as the Torygraph puts it:
"... magnate of the race relations industry, droning on in his habitual psychobabble about the "narrative" of his broken marriage"

The relevant excerpt:
Joan Rivers: I'm so bored of race. I think people should inter-marry. Everybody should be part this, part that and part everything. Race doesn't mean a damn thing. Everybody should just relax, take the best of their cultures and move forward.

Libby Purves: That's a very American approach.

Darcus Howe: That's not an American approach. America is one of the most savagely racial places in the world.

Later ...

Howe: ... since black offends Joan.

Rivers: Wait. Just stop right now. Black does not offend me. How dare you. How dare you say that. Black offends me? You know nothing about me. How dare you.

Howe: The use of the term black offends you.

Rivers: The use of the term black offends me? Where the hell are you coming from? You have got such a chip on your shoulder. I don't give a damn if you're black or white. I couldn't care less. It's what the person is. Don't you dare call me a racist. I don't know you. I want an apology.
So... before we delve into the detail, we should remind ourselves of the rules regarding the giving and taking of offence:
  1. Offence can only be given, not taken
  2. In order to "take" offence, it is therefore necessary to be certain that offence was intended - that the "giver" intended to offend. This may be obvious, but where it is not, the motive of the "giver" should be questioned, but giving the "giver" the benefit of the doubt.
  3. The "taking" of Offence where none was intended is itself offensive: the taker assumes malice on the part of the unwitting "giver". Assumption of bad faith where none exists is offensive. Interestingly, there is no need to refer to rule 2 here. If A says something innocuous and B "takes" offence, A knows that B has broken rule 2: B did not clarify motive. A knows therefore that B has assumed bad motive and A does not need to clarify B motives. B has given offence.
There can be little doubt that Joan has taken offence, but was it clearly intended?

Let us look at the evidence:
Joan Rivers: I'm so bored of race. I think people should inter-marry. Everybody should be part this, part that and part everything. Race doesn't mean a damn thing. Everybody should just relax, take the best of their cultures and move forward.
Of course, we don't know the discussion that precedes this or causes Joan to pronounce [actually this is just laziness on my part - I'm sure we could dig up the "Listen Again" page from the BBC website] on this topic, but she has laid out her stall fairly clearly: she is, in the vernacular, "colour-blind".

The response is interesting:
Libby Purves: That's a very American approach.

Darcus Howe: That's not an American approach. America is one of the most savagely racial places in the world.
This is a throwaway remark from Libby. Darcus appears to be differing with Libby's interpretation, not with Joan's colour-blindness. Indeed, he could be said to be agreeing with Joan: Joan's declaration of boredom with the race issue is a tacit admission that race remains an issue. She thinks (and I agree with her) that it ought not be. However, this stance could be construed as a threat to Darcus's worldview - where race is at the root of everything.

So far so good: Joan's position is laudable, even if it is just an expressed aspiration rather than a commentary of the current state of affairs.

Then the kicker:
Howe: ... since black offends Joan.

Rivers: Wait. Just stop right now. Black does not offend me. How dare you. How dare you say that. Black offends me? You know nothing about me. How dare you.
Here, Howe declares that Joan is a gratuitous "taker" of offense. Howe breaks rule 3 above and Joan has no need to refer to rule 2 before taking him to task on it.

That Joan then continues for the rest of the program in a huff and says some fairly rude things about Howe is by now irrelevant. Howe made the first move by projecting bad motive onto Joan where it was completely clear that none existed. In the context of a discussion on race, I can hardly think of a more offensive thing to do.

P-G Verdict: Howe continues to assert that Joan is a racist for some time. A custard pie for him as a first warning. He is up for a flogging on the steps of whatever club would have him as a member if he is not VERY careful.

Libby's handling of the debacle - that this is merely a "language" issue - is also worthy of comment. She ducked the problem rather than challenge Howe to back up his ridiculous - and profoundly offensive - assertion. It is possible that Libby genuinely didn't see the offensiveness of his remark (in which case she is a subconsciously lefty-liberal hand-wringer), but it is more likely that she did not have the courage to challenge him, fearing a torrent of abuse in her direction and, which would be worse in the lefty-liberal hand-wringing world, risk showing up Darcus Howe to be the bigot that he is and more of a fomentor of racial tension than a campaigner for its reduction.

Some bedtime reading for Libby would be in order.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I fought the law...

... and I won!

Technically, of course, I am also the law but only as relates to the splitting of infinitives and grammatical hairs, not parking tickets.

That's one in the eye for the Police State with a sharp stick and knobs on.
[Thumbs nose at authority and exits stage left with a swagger, saying "Ner ner ner ner"]

An Explanation for our American Cousins

The charming and polite akakakakaky posts a comment to my rather pleasingly perceptive prognostication earlier.
Now, just for information, you understand, who is David Cameron and what is he trying to win?

Suppressing the desire to wave dismissively in his general direction and say "Pshaw...", I feel that perhaps we owe an explanation to our insular and blinkered cousins across the pond. Here goes:

David Cameron is the "shadow home secretary": [UPDATE: actually he isn't: he is the shadow Education Secretary] that means that his job is to try to berate the govt minister in charge of the Home Office. The Home Secretary's remit covers the police, security, prisons, immigration, the passport office and just about everything else that is going to the dogs in this once-fair-but-now-benighted land. [UPDATE: no idea what to do about this passage. That it is not relevant does not detract from its underlying truth] It is a mark of his fantastic success in this role that you have never heard of him. [This still holds though...]

He (David Cameron that is, keep up at the back there) is currently bidding for the leadership of the Conservative Party (note the capital C), which is a little like your republican party, except without the frothing lunatic fundamentalist Christians. You will, no doubt, recall a certain Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister until she was stabbed in the back in an earlier form of the leadership contest in which young Cameron is currently engaged. Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative.

Conservatives (in this country at least) tend ought [thanks DK] to stand for a small state, personal and economic freedom in the form of free markets so could classically be called "liberal" or more accurately "libertarian". They are not to be confused with the Liberal Democrats who aren't really liberal, but are certainly confused.


Right. Ummm... Gosh! Andrew notes that I may have been mistaken. Mea Culpa.

A few edits there. Nothing to see, move along now.

By way of apology, here is some more advice that your average redneck philistine any visiting Americans may find find useful on the rules of cricket and visiting the UK in general.