Archive for the ‘education’ Category

The Grauniad Dabatlog has produced a rather fancy network visualisation of the sources cited in Anders Behring Breivik’s personal manifesto/horse-shit compendium. This is great as I now don’t need to worry that I perhaps should have made one. It’s very pretty and you can click on stuff, and see that some of the sources are thinktanks and some of them are newspapers, and well, it’s very pretty and you can click on stuff. It also comes with a piece by Andrew Brown reprising his “Don’t be beastly to the creationists!” shtick but with Melanie Phillips, for some reason.

Unfortunately it’s almost completely intransparent, and gives little indication of what data is being visualised or on what basis, and there is really no obvious conclusion to draw from it. But did I mention pretty and click? If forced to take a view, I would reckon that the underlying data is probably a matrix of which sources appear together with others and the layout algo is a force-directed graph (aka the default in pretty much any visualisation toolkit), probably weighted by appearance count. There’s some sort of proprietary metric called “linkfluence” which appears to be given by(indegree/outdegree)*len(neighbourhood) or words to that effect.

As a result, the only information I got from it was that he linked to Wikipedia, the BBC, and big news sites a lot. Well yes; Wikipedia, bbc.co.uk, etc, generate a hell of a lot of web pages and people read them a lot. Obviously, to say the least, you need to normalise the data with regard to sheer bulk, or you’d end up concluding that Google (or Bing or Yahoo) was his inspiration because he did a lot of web searches, or that he was a normal man twisted by SMTP because he used e-mail.

In fact, I thought they actually did that until I realised that RSS.org is about the other RSS, the Indian extreme-right movement, not the popular Internet syndication standard. Harrowell fail. Anyway, it does show up rather nicely that the groups “European nationalists”, “Counter-Jihad”, and “American Right-Wing” overlap. However, I feel there’s something missing in the characterisation of MEMRI and various other sites as just “Think Tanks” as if they were just like, say, IPPR.

Also, an emergent property of the data is that there is an Axis of Barking running vertically through it: the nearer you are to the top of the diagram, the more extreme and crazy. MEMRI, FrontPage, Gates of Vienna, Melanie Phillips are near the top; the Wikipedia article on the Russo-Turkish War of 1878 is at the bottom. And the MSM is somewhere in the middle. (Although I do wonder if they allocated the sources to groups before or after running the force-directed graph.)

It seems to be one of those command the exciting world of social media with just one click! things.

Anyway, upshot. I want to avoid Project Lobster producing a diagram like this one. It’s too impressionistic and fluffy and reliant on basically aesthetic reasoning. (I think we’ve had this point before.) Of course, that’s partly the difference between the underlying data sets; it was at least thinkable if unlikely that there would be no grouping in Breivik’s sources, while presumably political lobbying is nonrandom and subject to intelligent design.

Elsewhere, a reader passed this along which I need to actually watch (isn’t video time consuming?). There’s a shindig in Warsaw in late October. And I want this on a T-shirt.

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I’m increasingly annoyed by official-media consensus that young people will suffer more than anyone else from the recession. Not that I especially doubt this; I doubt the reasoning, which appears to be that they’ve all gone soft and they’re not like we were in my day. As a general principle, I believe this is usually wrong, being unfalsifiable and all, and also being a projection of one’s own fear of death.

But on the specific case, I dispute the facts. It wasn’t a great time to be young; by definition, when you’re young your only source of income is wages, and the labour share of national income has been flat for years. Indeed, real wages have been flat for donkey’s years. A personal example; I was offered a job at Euromoney Institutional Investor on a salary of £16,000 per year, but on a six-month contract. Even at Mobile Comms International, it was a while before I was earning more an hour than I had been Pritt-Sticking the flaps of substandard envelopes whilst waiting for Bradford City’s second season in the Premier League. However, it improved, and I’m well aware I learnt a hell of a lot there. I spent around 20% of my post-tax income on my railway season ticket.

At the same time, both rents and house prices shot through the roof. This was crucial; the whole idea that home-owners got rich from the rise in the value of their property was dependent on someone buying it from them. People retiring and trading-down was a factor that had to match people trading-up; at bottom, there had to be first-time buyers, who are generally young. The net effect of right-to-buy and the great property bull run was to transfer wealth from first-time buyers to sellers; in the aggregate, the Bank of Mum and Dad was borrowing from the kids.

And, of course, there were tuition fees, top-up fees, and for a cohort including me, both the fees and no student grants. Meanwhile, we were told we ought to consume and keep the economy going, take part in the creative industries and volunteer, but do this while joining the job market, to borrow heavily to pay for further and higher education, to accumulate savings on deposit, to save for retirement (or in other words, to pay others’ pensions), that we were a bunch of unserious greenies, that we were politically apathetic, that we would face the consequences of climate change (after it became respectable to worry), that we were all drug fiends and music characterised by repetitive beats was against the law, that we weren’t getting on the housing ladder, that we were borrowing too much money (this from the people who brought you Citigroup) and that people who were slightly younger ought to be punished for playing hooky in order to demonstrate against the Iraq war. To cap the lot, we were told we were drinking too much. If we were, who could guess why?

Actually, if I was younger, I think I’d be delighted by the crisis. I’ve got plenty of schadenfreude and indeed klammheimliche Freude as it is. Things I need (somewhere to live, somewhere to do interesting things) are likely to get cheap, and me minus five years doesn’t care about the cost of huge cars or Vertu mobile phones because he doesn’t have any money but does have more sense. The strength of ideological drivel is reduced; there has been a catastrophe in the intellectual environment, a meteorite has plunged into the credibility of the market monkeys, and as usual, this is followed by an adaptive radiation, a blossoming of new species into new or newly unoccupied niches.

Even when me minus five years starts working for the clampdown, at least he or she gets to save for their retirement in a low asset price world, and to bore me minus ten years with tales about how they staged bio-hacking parties in abandoned bank C-level offices, and how this gets them off inevitably joining the Conservative Party, or functional equivalent. Which is, after all, the claim to intellectual legitimacy of most of the people who spent all that time ordering me to simultaneously save, work, borrow, volunteer, spend, rebel, invest, and obey.

I suppose they must have meant one of those.

Is anyone else disturbed by the fact Ed Balls appears to have been replaced by Chris Dillow?

Ed Balls, the schools secretary and only member of the Co-operative party in the cabinet, will today propose that 100 schools over the next two years become co-operative trust schools owned and controlled by the local community. He will tell the annual conference of Labour’s sister party that he is putting up an extra £500,000 so trust schools have extra financial help to become co-operatives. The move comes as Michael Stephenson, the new general secretary of the Co-operative party and a former political officer at Downing Street, claims co-ops could be on the brink of a revival in Britain. “Co-ops are an idea whose time has come back.”

He is looking at how to persuade Labour to bring the co-operative model into railways, schools, housing and other public services, arguing that Labour, searching for new ideas, can find intellectual renewal in those behind co-operatives. The Co-operative party has already succeeded in persuading Network Rail to review its governance structures to see how it can make rail users part of its board.

The actual policy is fairly milksopful, but still; it can hardly blow up too badly. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown announced an insulation push, but for some reason, not an air-source heat pump in sight. It’s been badly received; there could be more, although that’s hardly an insight, but I’m not impressed by Tony Woodley trying to make “lag the loft” a smear analogous to McCain’s tyre gauges.

If this is officially policy amateur hour, I’d point out that my own pet scheme on this issue deals with the problem of what if this winter’s really bad and WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN CODGERS? rather well. To recap, I propose to fund it out of the existing bill for fuel subsidies capitalised over several years, and make it subject to individual choice, and voluntary-but-automatic. Those who don’t want to or can’t take advantage of it can just continue to receive cash. Full implementation of it would eventually reach one-third of UK households, and the bill is £1.98bn, all of which is existing spending. So we could chuck in the £910m from the gas pushers to fund an extra payment for the opters out.

Oh yes, and there’s this. I’m beginning to picture some sort of awful inquiry commission wanting to know just what I was thinking, and how I can claim I didn’t know cooperatively-owned prefabricated guerrilla hospitals linked to some sort of leftwing cross of Facebook and CVSTrac were going to grow to enormous size and attack our cities.

OK, this is outrageous stupid shit of the sort we expect from our gallant allies. Simply, a graduate student at Nottingham University is writing a thesis on terrorists, and as part of this he gets a copy of an Al-Qa’ida training manual from a US government website. Being a postgrad and therefore by definition permanently broke, he got a friend who worked in the university administration to print off the 1,500 pages rather than paying the shared printer fees.

Now this seems silly – 1,500 pages? Seriously? Wouldn’t it have been better to search that lot rather than read it through? Don’t they have grep at Nottingham? But that’s not the point. The point is that “someone” noticed the document on the administrator’s computer and grassed them to the police, who predictably freaked, arrested everyone under the Terrorism Act, kept them locked up for eight days, arrested his family, seized all computers they could lay hands on, etc.

The key detail is that both people have names that might give rise to suspicion of being insufficiently willing to condemn, etc, etc. Now, yer man has been released, however, the administrator is Algerian, and is going to be deported on “unrelated” immigration matters. Yeah, right.

Further, the university:

A spokesman for Nottingham University said it had a duty to inform police of “material of this nature”. The spokesman said it was “not legitimate research material”, but later amended that view, saying: “If you’re an academic or a registered student then you have very good cause to access whatever material your scholarship requires. But there is an expectation that you will act sensibly within current UK law and wouldn’t send it on to any Tom, Dick or Harry.”

Right, sunshine. There is no such thing as “legitimate” research material, just as there is no such thing as “legitimate” thought. We all have the right to read what we damn well like, and as a fucking university you have a duty to stand up for this. As soon as you accept that reading X, Y, or Z, even though not illegal, is the sort of thing They don’t like, you’ve already lost. Ecrasez l’infame.

The University of Nottingham’s vice chancellor is Sir Colin Campbell, who can be reached on +44 (0) 115 951 3001, and by fax on +44 (0) 115 951 3005. More people to shout at are here.

Hat tips: Kings of War, IRG.

The Obscurer is usually Blairite Pravda, but now and then it does something worth reading. Have a read of this story. One Anthony Bailey, a rich PR man, is apparently running a Labour Party entity called the “Faith Task Force” charged with raising donations from the rich and religious.

What is fascinating is exactly what Jamie Dowson’s story doesn’t point out. For a start, Mr. Bailey claims to have raised £7 million for the City Academies program. Yes, the same one at the heart of the police investigation into cash-for-honours. And honour – or rather, influence – is what he got for the cash. He is, it turns out, an “advisor” to the Department for Education and Skills and a member of its “Gifted and Talented Task Force”.

Wonderfully, even Lord Levy was suspicious of where his money came from, rejecting a £500,000 donation to the Labour Party from Bailey’s own pocket on suspicion that it came from abroad, in breach of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 1999. That law, let us point out, does not restrict donations to a nonparty pet project like the academies.

Bailey appears to be the Vatican’s chouchou flack, running a supposedly ancient order of chivalry for them. But let that pass. What worries me more than that is his client list – including the House of Saud and the Syrian Government. Lovely. And what about this?

As chairman of ‘Painting and Patronage’, a regular cultural exchange of artists between Saudi Arabia and Europe, Bailey has presented paintings by Prince Charles at exhibitions sponsored by British Aerospace.

Paintings by Prince Charles? In Saudi Arabia? Sponsored by BAE? And this chap gets to “advise” government on the prime minister’s pet policy? Actually, let’s not let the order pass. His order of chivalry “bestowed honours” on Margaret Thatcher and donated charitable funds to “pro-life causes”. I wonder how much of the charity came from either the Saudis or BAE? And did any of that money wander into one of the Blair academies?

It all has a smell of John Latsis’s £2m bung to the Tories, which was also backed up by lavish funding of Prinny’s various hobbies. It goes without saying that the link with the cash-for-honours case is tastefully elided.

Update: Via Labour Humanist, Bailey’s official biography according to his website. And what do we find? Not only is he on the board of a thing called the United Learning Trust that has been given not less than 12 schools to run, but he’s an Ambassador-at-Large for the Gambia. Yup, that’ll be the same Gambia whose president claims to be able to cure AIDS by magic, and whose private Ilyushin-62 C5-GNM is on a UN Security Council blacklist.

This post from PZ Myers raises a very important point about decentralisation and local accountability. What if the quacks get control? Families and schools are always a problem with regard to liberty – no-one has the right to experiment on the public without their consent, but youth is the one experiment that is performed on everyone.

It may be your right to believe that heliocentrism is an atheistic doctrine that must be suppressed, but it’s surely a grave infringement of the liberty of others to enforce it on their kids. Not to mention an infringement of the children’s liberty. The glib answer is that you can always send them somewhere else, but this instantly crashes into all the problems of “choice” as a solution for schools (inequality, oversubscribed schools, self-fulfilling signals, lack of real choice in many places), not to mention that it implicitly accepts that the people left behind will just suffer.

Robert Waldmann remarks that there is no evidence that any society has ever put too much money into education. I think he’s right. But this is rather what I was getting at in this post. Education is an investment that cannot be readily replaced if it goes wrong – in the example it’s much more like the hole in the ground that you can’t replace in 50 years than the Ethernet switch, which you can swap out in half an hour. Hence, it’s not enough to say that if the creationists (or paedophiles, fascists, jihadis etc) get a school, it will eventually fail. By then the damage is done, it cannot easily be put right, and it bears most heavily on those least able to put it right.

Everyone’s vexed (h/t to Dan Hardie) about the spankin’ new city academy in Peterborough that, courtesy of Perkins Engines, will be offering education with a total ban on “unstructured play”. It’s the most expensive state school ever built at £46.4 million, but hey! Perkins put up all of £2 million out of that, always assuming that (unlike most City Academy sponsors) they didn’t get a sweetener from the DFES and actually bothered to pay. Well, it’s impressive that they managed to come up with a form of schooling that will punish the sporty kids and the geeks alike – no mass football, and no sneaking off to the library either. Do they even have a library, I wonder?

The obvious reference is Dickens, and Dsquared mounts a defence of Mr Gradgrind in the comments. But this is wrong. This isn’t Victorian, it’s 18th-century – panopticon-a-gogo. I’m surprised they haven’t promised to isolate a newborn to see if they speak Blairite by default. But if you think that’s nightmarish, cheer up. The worst is yet to come.

Teh Grauniad’s education diary reports on Hylton Red House School in Sunderland, which has got its very own call centre that will apparently

raise aspirations, develop career paths and help youngsters to develop skills

Raise aspirations from what? And which skills will it develop exactly? I think I can guess – mindless obedience to a script, tolerance for management-by-fear, and therapy-babble sales motivation. (I was once fired from a call-centre job for hanging my jacket on the back of my chair.) Ideological state apparatus, anyone? You’ll be glad to know that this exercise in regimentation is brought to you by the private sector. Or not really. The corporate sponsor is actually a nationalised industry, EDF Energy. That’s EDF as in the French state electricity company, the biggest generator of power in the world. I wonder what their French workforce, mostly communist, would make of it.

This is doubly depressing because it’s pointless. I recall when call centres were touted as The Future for Yorkshire in about 1996. It was already clear that this was not going to last, because the cost of telecommunications was falling fast. Therefore, it was going to get outsourced, and sharpish. It’s a special case of a more general principle, which is that it only makes sense to specialise in a low-margin, labour-intensive commodity product if your comparative advantage is cheap labour. And that ain’t going to happen so long as we share a planet with Bangladesh.

In the same issue of Educashon Grauniad, Blairite poohbah David Puttnam pleads for schoolchildren to be allowed more freedom to fiddle with the computers, pointing out quite rightly that there is a big gap between setting up a LAN party for your mates and school IT lessons on PowerPoint. Pity about that. Meanwhile, we’ve got a call-rate to keep up.

I strongly object to a society where suggesting that schools should have playgrounds makes me feel like a deranged idealist.

PS: Note that the Crooked Timber thread also shows that Dan Hardie and Dsquared are gradually heading closer and closer to a genuinely explosive blogwar, like Britain and Germany in 1911..

Ah, those fine Blairite institutions. South Maidstone is apparently to be blessed with a school where some rich person gets 51 per cent of the votes for 20 per cent of the money, but something has gone terribly wrong. Specifically, the Tory-run Kent county council is trying to do something unfashionable.

According to our sources, Kent is selling something called “Senacre”. It is meant to get £18 million from this. Out of this, the council is meant to pay the traditional 80 per cent share that the public put into the new academy. Kent is concerned, though, that they may not get more than £16 million – but surely, property values only ever go up? Heavens forfend! – but there’s worse.

Kent, we hear, intends to use £2m of the “capital receipt” from “Senacre” to provide facilities for children with special needs and a workshop for vocational trainees. But central government considers this to be “backtracking”. According to DFES, “SEN (special educational needs – tyr) and Vocational is not a priority in the Academies context.” Academies will have better exam results, because chavs and mongs will be eliminated. It’s nice to see it put so clearly.

It gets worse. One might recall that the whole point of this policy was that the god-like private sector would bring expertise and cash in. But in this case, the Sponsor doesn’t seem to be quite the man he said he was. A certain DFES minister is trying to set up “an acceptable mix of sponsorship” with £1 million – so half the figure these folk are meant to find according to the law of the land – and another mill, to come out of Kent’s capital receipts. To put it another way – south-eastern suburban churchgoers’ status needs will be subsidised by force from the disabled and the working class.

Kentish readers, or readers of Kent, are requested to identify what Senacre is. (Update: it’s a well-respected special school.)

Ah, those fine Blairite institutions. South Maidstone is apparently to be blessed with a school where some rich person gets 51 per cent of the votes for 20 per cent of the money, but something has gone terribly wrong. Specifically, the Tory-run Kent county council is trying to do something unfashionable.

According to our sources, Kent is selling something called “Senacre”. It is meant to get £18 million from this. Out of this, the council is meant to pay the traditional 80 per cent share that the public put into the new academy. Kent is concerned, though, that they may not get more than £16 million – but surely, property values only ever go up? Heavens forfend! – but there’s worse.

Kent, we hear, intends to use £2m of the “capital receipt” from “Senacre” to provide facilities for children with special needs and a workshop for vocational trainees. But central government considers this to be “backtracking”. According to DFES, “SEN (special educational needs – tyr) and Vocational is not a priority in the Academies context.” Academies will have better exam results, because chavs and mongs will be eliminated. It’s nice to see it put so clearly.

It gets worse. One might recall that the whole point of this policy was that the god-like private sector would bring expertise and cash in. But in this case, the Sponsor doesn’t seem to be quite the man he said he was. A certain DFES minister is trying to set up “an acceptable mix of sponsorship” with £1 million – so half the figure these folk are meant to find according to the law of the land – and another mill, to come out of Kent’s capital receipts. To put it another way – south-eastern suburban churchgoers’ status needs will be subsidised by force from the disabled and the working class.

Kentish readers, or readers of Kent, are requested to identify what Senacre is. (Update: it’s a well-respected special school.)