Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hicham Yezza: "He looked funny at me"

Wanted to post this the other day, but life, as always, gets in the way.

Anyone that hasn't read the story of Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza should do so. Now. Right now.

For those to lazy to click... Hicham is being deported to Algeria. On Sunday. The problem? Rizwaa was looking at some al-Qaeda training manual. Now wait, this isn't about guilt-by-association. No, Rizwaa is a Masters student at Nottingham Uni. (Or was - I'd be having second thoughts about staying there if I were him. Or if I were me. Which I am.) Rizwaa coulnd't afford to print the document, so passed it to Hicham, a member of the IT staff, to print it off. Someone found the document on Hicham's computer, informed the Uni. The Uni informed the Police. The Police arrested both Rizwaa and Hicham and detained them for 6 days.

Eventually, they were both released. But then Hicham was immediately re-arrested, "on unrelated immigration charges".

Hicham was originally arrested on May 16th. 2 weeks and 2 days later, he may well be flying back home, after his ten year stint at the Uni. There is a campaign of sorts to have this stopped.

The entire story is preposterous. "Our" approach not just to foreigners, but to education and social understanding too, is equally preposterous. Things are getting worse still, but people get away with it because it only happens to, you know, "the others". The dark-skinned. The funny-accented. The people that look and act a bit suspicious - or "differently", as some might say. Tut.

The government want us to learn, so they deny us knowledge. The government want us to show respect, so they throw dignity in the gutter. The government want us to engage, so they ignore us. The government want us to be safe, so they instill paranoia into our every action.

This government, this attitude, is leading us into a place where only the weak and dirty are "respected". Hurrah.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tough on Beer, Soft on the Causes of Beer

We're all turning into a bunch of pissheads apparently. The Scribe's theory is that the majority of people drink to convert them from "work" mode into "non-work" mode, which makes this para kind of funny:
"Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said the government was working harder than ever to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions."
Emphasis, and the theory, are all mine I'd like to stress. Now we just need someone to venture into that government department and see if alcoholism levels are going through the pretty roof.

(BTW, does "Primarolo" mean "First Rolo"? Who gets that one?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Just an expression - Camden De-budgeted

After reading that Camden got hit with a £9m budget reduction following a DCLG "error", I went looking a little more. No details on what the error was yet, but I love what these Camden Council minutes say between-the-lines:

"As this was discovered at a rather late stage in the budget setting process, it would have a knock on effect on other Council resources. The Committee expressed their disappointment and displeasure at the DCLG’s ineptitude in its over estimation of these funds." (emphasis mine)

Ha, yeah, I bet they did. "Expressed" is probably a polite word for it.

Tele-Leaks and Versions of Reality

In a curious story, the telling of which almost overshadows the "real" "news" that it holds, cabinet meeting minute notes were "leaked" yesterdaywhen a photo was taken of Caroline Flint on her way in. If that's not reason to start banging more photographers up as terrorists, I don't know what is.

Anyway, said photo reveals that, despite the government's calm approach to the "cooling" housing market, in reality, they "don’t know how bad it will get".

However, according to another FT article, the most important thing is to appear to be doing the right thing. I'm not sure if the FT added the emphasis, but right at the bottom, in bold, appears:

"But it is vital that we show that at this time of uncertainty we show [sic] that we are on people's side."

Does that sum up politics today?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Education's Future - Mass Production, or Networked Knowledge?

Hurrah for the news that MPs have noticed (finally) that 'teachers spend too much time "teaching to the test"'. And hurrah for them picking up that alternative forms that still involve testing are likely to lead to the same problems - namely, kids being taught only what they need to know, without necessarily being any brighter, more enthused, or ready for the world.

This idea is one that needs embiggening though, throughout the rest of British society. The notion that measuring "things" (generally people, but not always) through "ritual" (generally exams, but not always) leads to those "things" tailoring themselves to the "ritual" is ubiquitous. Meeting targets becomes more important than doing what the targets set out to measure.

I know I've mentioned it before, but the latest issue (41) of The Idler is worth picking up. An article in it proposes seeing education as a "web", rather than a stilted, "linear" progression of knowledge. That is to say, learning comes from a social context, and an individual curiosity born from motivated passion. We learn by being interested, or amazed by something, and we remember it by figuring out how to apply that knowledge.

Schools and testing bear very little of this. There is, on the whole, a list of things our children must learn. Then we see how much of that they've remembered. There is little opportunity to explore an area for oneself or to do things that aren't, or can't be, marked easily.

This is not an easy question. Obligatory education for every child demands a certain way of thinking, and often the scale of the challenge threatens (or, indeed, over-rules) the original nature of the mission. Here, equality and efficiency rapidly become the keys to a sustainable system - education for all means a) the same quality of education for all, and b) a system that delivers this equality for as many people, but for as little money as possible.

Still, it's amazing to see that, back in March, Jim Knight suggested class sizes of 70 pupils. (Interestingly just the following day, a study supported smaller class sizes.) Can you imagine a classroom that size? Even with 3 or 4 helpers, the fragmentation occurring and/or the "surveillance" needed to control it would be... 'unhelpful'. One can only assume that economic questions, of overheads and of scaling factors, can lead Jim to such other-wordly conclusions.

The paradox inherent here, of course, is "equality" vs "individualism". Should smaller groups, or one-to-one teaching, be encouraged if it means those more "naturally" suited to learning gain more from it? Or should all children be subjected to the same despotic system in the name of fairness?

But fairness assumes that we all learn in the same way, and that our own priorities are the same as everyone else's. ("You don't like Maths? But Jimmy loves Maths! How can you have any Physics if you don't eat your Maths?!") Or, at least, that we all are capable of learning the same amount in the same way. Maybe that's it - maybe standardised tests aren't built for pushing people at all, but for pulling them back - for making sure they learn in the right way so that equality is maintained. (N.B. Equality is also standardisation, which makes industrial people management planning so much easier, but that's another story.)

In amongst ever-greater amounts of personal-customisation, web2.0 "choose your view of the world" perspectives, and potentially greater interaction with strangers from around the globe, is the era of large-scale education feasible? Or is it likely to be encouraged as a way of keeping the ever-blossoming population under some kind of control until they're old enough to be arrested? Or are we facing an educational fork, where those with the know-how (and the tech to go with it) can "afford" to run their own education systems, while those without are left to the management policies of the state?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

When CCTV Fails: Swoop on the Swooshes

In a damning endorsement of this blog (well, says me), Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville has blasted the nation's CCTV systems, claiming they only solve 3% of London street crimes, and just don't live up to the "preventative" effect that ubiquitous surveillance promised all those years ago. Tut.

What's the problem with them then? "Criminals [are] not afraid of cameras", put simply. Oops. Ah yes. Old-time readers will remember this very problem - that surveillance is more likely to worry those already afraid of the law (generally the good, law-abiding folk) while those with something to nick, or something to prove, probably won't be that deterred anyway. Net result? The two-sided CCTV coin is actually a lot bigger on one side.

What's DCI Neville's response to this brilliant insight though? Could it be to re-think the entire CCTV Nation* policy, to re-work the relationship between state watcher and citizen watched?

His logic is, of course, infallible. "If criminals see that CCTV works they are less likely to commit crimes" - ah yes, the fault is with the camera not providing enough feedback, and on criminals having far too much understanding of just how crap the police are at actually using CCTV footage.

And the solution? It would be illogical to suggest anything other than better CCTV then. Which Neville does with aplomb, although one could posit that this is because he's heading up efforts for more image recognition in CCTV. In this case, that recognition stretches to tracking people by identifying brand logos and sporting emblems on persons' attire.

Now that's brilliant thinking. I'm sure I've pointed this out before, but haven't you just given away "the big secret" there, DTI Neville? So after all this investment, what you're basically doing is not preventing criminals from committing a crime, but from wearing Nike swooshes? How long does it take a sub-culture of recklessness to work out that nobody's watching CCTV cameras? How much less time does it take the same sub-culture to, uh, read a BBC News article?

Furthermore, what reason do all those criminals that don't pander to the "latest" fashions have to be afraid of this new technology? In fact, are they even less likely to be caught, once the police are solely focusing on those that can be tracked easily?

Maybe some day we'll invent a camera that identifies just where the polic[e/y] mind goes abnormal and strange. Until that day, I guess we'll have to continue blogging.

* Most excellent Banksy link via Richard V.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Time Management vs Time Value

I was finally tempted into buying issue 41 of the Idler the other day, and am now very glad that I succumbed on this occasion. Page 29 introduces an article titled "The Truth About Time", written by Brian Dean of Anxiety Culture. It does a neat little job of breaking down our (namely the UK, but others are included) approach to time-management, and the rather "odd" manner in which we are very rarely focusing on what we're doing right now, but always looking at some deadline in the (relatively short-term) future.

The alternative pointed out is a slightly more abstract idea of "dancing" with time, where one focuses on the present moment, but in a grounded relationship with both the past and the future - resulting in longer-term plans (Japanese 50-year business "plans", for example) and a more "incremental" approach to achieving them. "Our" approach, on the other hand, dispenses with a step-by-step movement by constantly fixing our sight on the next "hurdle", and so short-term gains end up winning out over both the "present" and the long-term benefits.

IMHO, the same attitude has infiltrated out general lifestyles as well. Our common perspective on happiness, for instance, is to focus on saving up cash to purchase the next "hit". No matter what form it takes - a holiday (sorry, "experience"), a games console, or a late-night beer session - the emphasis is still on getting through the "dull" bits in order to arrive at the next milestone for a "well-earned" spat of enjoyment.

Perhaps this explains our cruddy relationship with the elder generation, and our increasing fixation with looking (and acting) ever younger. Age reminds us of time, something we've grown to ignore because the yin-yang ideas of responsibility and now-ness scare us to wittery-buggery. So we spend our days trying desperately to distract ourselves from them, in an endless loop of trying to grab the next small wave, the latest promise of beauty, or glory.

Maybe managing our time is like categorising parts of a river, then. The more fences we put in to work out where we are, the more we end up seeing only fences, and ignoring the fact that the river is stagnating into puddles around us.

Happy thoughts for a bank holiday weekend, then. Go and grab a copy, find that sunny patch, and Idle Away.