Politics, Technology, Uncategorized

Fires, fears, fake news: Just another day in the UK (beware: app teaser also included)

Today, my friends, we’ll have to welcome back the termagants of youth. We thought they were pacified by Labour’s dramatically increased majority – the lowering of tuition fees assured, they shall retreat once again into the amicable embrace of millennial apathy. Nope – c’est pas vrai! They surge once again, emerging from floods of unbottled hatred, brandishing the scythes of social media, Twitter-storms abounding in their wake. Each digital onslaught is echoed upon the planes of reality, raging rallies beside ruthless retweets: our beloved Spectator caricatures, rendered in alarming Technicolour, circulate within the propagate realms of Twitterfeed. Naturally, this week has issued a multitude of conquests. Not only have we isolated the latest bacterial strain of “fake news” – we’ve managed to tie the knot between two differing branches of activism. Digital campaigning has managed to obtain new levels of recognition, with co-founder of the YouTube centric “Novara Media”, Aaron Bastani, emerging triumphant from behind the glossy, impenetrable surface of the smartphone, making his debut before a protesting crowd championing the slogan “#MayMustGo”. In our current climate, “political affiliations” are almost akin to marriages: unwanted, costly, and frankly, rather pointless.  It is no longer necessary to be forsworn, shackled within the yoke of party policy: as of now, such urbane activities as “letter-boxing” and “street-campaigning” are considered almost futile; erstwhile neighbourhood representatives of the Labour, Green and Tory parties are few and far between. Those desperately clutching the title of “party executive/financial coordinator” to their shrivelled bosoms, whilst they rattle collection tins and batter letterboxes in an increasing bid for attention, now need to wake up and sniff the neoteric aroma of a WiFi transmission, taste the wondrous swipe of a Samsung S8 as it glides across their tongues. Let us jump from the sinking ship of the last several centuries, and instead embrace the strengthening impact of the digital revolution: online campaigning, Facebook livestreams of hustings and electoral events – all tangible, happening, now.

Almost every day, every hour of the televised run-up to the recent General Election has been speckled with prevarication.  Each article concerning our esteemed Rameses II and Nefertari (you choose) has been coated with a sticky encrustation of falsity – blatant, exorbitant sensationalism is an ever-increasing facet of the mainstream media, otherwise referred to as “scaremongering”. Most recently, certain falsehoods regarding the Grenfell Tower inferno have been brought into prominence. Two of the most odious specimens of bottom-feeder journalism have again obliged us with a few farcical examples, in honour of the election. We are, indeed, so cordially obliged.. 

It is, quite frankly, hilarious. Let’s sit back, chew on our popcorn and observe the Sun, now begging the public to ignore these “hyperbolic” rumours of their impersonation of a Grenfell Tower victim relative –  those who have unequivocally guilty of blatant sensationalism since their inception! According to these well-informed individuals, Corbyn’s all set to requisition the homes of the rich – in true Bolshevik, vodka-swigging style. Sigh.

Indeed, a stupefying number of news outlets today are scraping the much abused, beaten barrel when it comes to reporting. Those on the left seem determined to encourage recognition of the apparent “demonisation” of the working class, spread throughout the media, akin to the journalistic blitzkreig directed towards Jeremy Corbyn. A human wave attack, masquerading as a peaceful penetration? Allow consumers to put their much-squeezed brains into practice, and judge.

The Press retains power – a monopoly of social and political discourse, a rigid handling of public perception. Only from the Spectator can we obtain “better arguments” – for the “price of a cup of coffee” (that accursed adage) we are chained to a limited multitude, a bleating babble. Must we return to the confines of the intellectual wheelchair, allowing us to navigate this minefield of knowledge? No.

Which do we prefer? The carefully aligned postulations or the universal bleating of twitter? Answer: there’s absolutely no difference. All amount to speculation – may we remain Spectators, or die.

Or stay tuned, for the launch of my new app, designed to eliminate fake news once and for all, spreading enlightenment to all and sundry. OK, I know you don’t believe me yet. But just wait and see, and follow me on Twitter @CatTranfield – you’ll be the first to know.

 

 

 

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Politics

Greening’s Grammars: Irresolute Ideology vs. Rampant Realism

To my twelve year old self, the terms “school”, “education”, and the “Church of England” evoked instinctual obedience, abhorrence and then, finally, through a desperate struggle, a veneer of supreme indifference. Following Justine Greening’s declaration on grammar schools, and Theresa May’s Easter epistle on Anglican archaism, I am again experiencing a similar reaction, ranging from slight exasperation to untempered, fully-fledged repulsion.

Oh Jesus, you think. Here she comes, the latest millennial warrior; an avenging Amazon, emblazoned with righteous anger, determined to knock traditionalism back into the body bag of the twentieth century. The return of the grammar school: a 1960s relic, dragged into a twenty-first century environment. Perfect! Adulation for Anglicanism, dragging us further back into the antiquated realms of the nineteenth century. Why not?

So, grammar schools. What do we know?  How do we win the right to besmirch their gold-paved corridors with our plebeian soles? Apparently, your eleven-year old sprog has to pass the elusive “11-plus”: a scintillating combo of words, numbers and symbols, which supposedly affirm their “IQ” levels. Be prepared to surrender a good chunk of your salary, working-class parents: your darling Tommy, unless he’s a born genius, will have to be grilled through six months’ worth of tuition, costing on average £35 an hour. Is your wallet smarting yet? I’m not done. Then, you’ve got to factor in the cost of workbooks: an average of £8 each. Be prepared to buy up an unlimited number – they’re pumping out new editions every week (marketing. Yes, it always works).

According to Greening, and those backbenchers she hopes to impress, grammar schools will improve “social mobility”. Welcome to the havens of the secondary school system: clean, quiet, strongholds of learning. The “diamonds in the rough” or rather, the “diamonds of the classroom, twinkling IQ points”, cannot be tainted by rubbing shoulders with their inferior, low-IQ classmates – otherwise known as “the Great Unintelligence”. Never mind sticking them at the back of a classroom – let’s just chuck them out on the rubbish heap. You passed an “exam”, consisting largely of circling numbers and symbols, at the age of eleven. Congrats! Welcome aboard – you’re definitely going to succeed in life. My inner oracle confirms it.

But here’s the thing: you’re not judging kids based on their intelligence levels. You’re judging them on their ability to tick boxes and circle letters in a so-called “IQ test”, in which success usually depends upon a sizeable chunk of tutoring. Here, you’re clearly limiting yourselves to a marginalised portion of society: they’ve already got off to a good start. Average “working class” parents, who may already find it difficult to supply their children with necessary revision materials, are obviously unable to meet these terms. Those who score well in the “11 plus” are more likely to come from a privileged background: wealthier parents are clearly able to supply their tuition needs.

“Social mobility.” What’s that when it’s at home? According to Dictionary.com: “the movement of individuals, families and households from one (lower) social strata to the other”. And grammar schools will achieve this – how? Yes, you may get the odd pupil who isn’t trailing familial wealth and support behind them, but these are four-leafed clovers in a sea of un-plucked, disregarded dock leaves. The rest are discarded, flattened out before they’ve even begun. (You need to pop that bubblewrap, drag these molluscs out of their shells, and throw them in a frying pan full of East Indian, culturally diverse spices. Ding! The oven vomits up freshly-browned class warfare. That’ll soon sort them out. Social mobility: achieved.)

I am in no way discrediting the principle of examinations, at any age. Better to have a few hard whacks at eleven, than to trundle through early puberty, without any true academic axe to grind against. I’m no protective mother-bird, anxious to cushion my little sprog against failure: but as soon as high school is reached, there is no shortage of academic tomahawks, trust me. At my secondary school, the multi-cultural, St Trinian’s-esque prototype, we were stuffed into pidgeon holes as soon as we hit twelve. Streamlined teaching is a facet of secondary education; it is a common practice within our loathed comprehensives – that is, if there are any teachers available to impart this coveted knowledge.

Through the implementation of the grammar school policy, Greening is ostensibly pouring money down a sinkhole. Propping up a few more pearl-encrusted citadels of learning will not rectify a broken education system, smarting beneath a chronic lack of funds. The “academic wasteland” of the local comprehensive will remain, looming in the shadows, chock full of forlorn, lost souls, who will go to their graves with the epitaph: “here lies Fiona, the one who failed her eleven plus”.  Why not divert the splurge into our existing comprehensives? Greening is pouring an avalanche onto already crisp, fresh spring-grass, whilst parched scholastic deserts across the United Kingdom cry out for relief.

Picking grammar schools is akin to choosing a crystallised glass of Cabernet Sauvignon over a bottle of good old Pinot Grigio. It comes down to personal preference – a parent’s irrational, self-indulgent desire to retain some semblance of “choice”. Greening’s latest axiom – “ordinary working families” – is contrived in order to garner the support of the lower middle class. It is an example non-specific, generalised terminology with which the majority of the populace will identify, mistakenly believing that the state is addressing their intimate concerns – a classic vote-winner.

Is it ideologically sound? Yes. Is it realism? No.

Otherwise known as “hypnotic language”, this technique has, alas, been used with great success by certain politicians and charismatic leaders (thinking here particularly of that man with the badly-dyed cranial appendage, currently wreaking havoc in the United States). This is the nature of abuse within our misshapen political relationship – falsehoods delivered beneath the guise of love. Perfume sprinkled over garbage.

The idea of the “grammar school” is the manifestation of a desire to propagate a sequestered generation, cushioned within the insular world of “like-minded” individuals. Their success is purely case-study based and therefore, supremely reductionist: it incites instinctual trust, whilst founded upon an entirely anecdotal premise. When leafing through the obituary section of the Telegraph, you will observe the many notable, British-born individuals of the “baby-boomer” generation, many of whom are either: privileged disciples of Eton, or indigent grammar school attendees. Clearly, an entire demographic has been eclipsed: the working classes who were cast off this intermittent social-aspiration ship, now left to drown in obscurity.  5% were allowed to trickle through those hallowed halls, and soar to the heights – leaving 95% stuck on the ground, unmentioned.

Having attended four different schools throughout my childhood, each of varying positions within the hallowed league tables of the Telegraph, I consider myself a wrung-out dishcloth as far as the education system is concerned. I’ve experienced polar opposites: the good, the bad and the beastly. Private, failing, secular, non-secular. One aspect, however, has remained clear: educational attainment is not affected by institutional prestige. Whilst attending what many viewed as the worst institution in my local area, second only to Borstal, I met a variety of individuals, each of varying degrees of intelligence, each possessed with a fierce desire to learn. We were perpetually underfunded, when compared to the numerous non-secular schools in the area. Parents were constantly yanking their kids out of the school throughout Year Seven; the most common response to the frequent “Where have they gone?” apart from the obligatory “Arrested/JDC/deportation” came the oft-repeated adage: “x has gone to the Christian school/the grammar”. Teachers sucked their teeth, remarking to themselves: “She dodged a bullet, that one.”

Nevertheless, we thrived, defying societal expectations. We engaged in scholarly discourse surrounding the prevalence of domestic violence, mitosis, and how to put a condom on a banana (trust me, it’s harder than it looks). We dabbed concealer on our adolescent acne (one of the least-esteemed rites of passage), and engaged in numerous debates whilst stuck in interminable lunch queues. We shed blood, sweat and consecrated tears over Islam v. Christianity (my answer: neither), I befriended individuals who were – oh, shock horror! – different from me; I joined the debating club, the science club, the Young Chamber of Commerce. We were the guinea pigs, injected with every ejaculation sprayed from our famed, reputable teaching profession: each erratic discharge infusing us with heightened academic vigour.

Agonising? Exasperating? Hell, yes. Did I occasionally want to chuck a chair out of the window, and run screaming for the hills? You bet I did. Take the good with the bad; an inexorable firing in the comprehensive kiln can create an individual of iron-clad resilience.

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Identity politics, Politics

Fast and Fascist: Our youthful despots

What is the ultimate difference between a Stalinist, totalitarian state, and the average, 21st century university campus, populated by the fluorescent-haired, bespectacled creature known as the “Tumblr feminist” or the “social justice warrior”? (A better-suited term would be social justice pariah.) The answer: one was headed by an overweight, sadistic despot, whereas the other is propagated by your average tax-evading teenaged son or daughter.

Universities possess their very own hierarchy, almost reminiscent of the blatant class warfare of the 1930s-50s, so successfully satirised by Tom Sharpe. However, we are no longer trading in old English surnames, country estates and inheritance funds (although there are, of course, exceptions to this rule) – instead, it’s an endless competition, a continuous swarm, a catwalk of connivance: the battle over who is the most racially, sexually and religiously ostracized. Step aside, Miss Universe, and welcome Miss Diverse to the stage. There is no longer a middle ground. According to O’Neill, university students have effectively transposed the “fascist model” of the 1930s; they are akin to the Brown Shirts of Hitler’s book-burning, intellectual-murdering regime, obliterating all semblance of free speech. You step into a lecture theatre; they’ll take your coat, whilst they check your white privilege. You’re pale: check. Heterosexual: check. Christian? Check. Your coat’s made of tweed? You must be middle class: check. You’ll have to dodge the flying pens and hard-backed copies of Critical Race Theory as you make for the nearest exit.

But how did this police state begin? It didn’t simply spring up overnight; it’s a product of a prolonged roasting inside a scholastic prison, in which we are condemned to boil from childhood to young adulthood. I served my sentence in a multitude of these, where I was introduced to identity politics and “social justice warriors” in all their youthful, untried, 21st century flesh. Yet I survived. I’m torn, scratched, bleeding, doubting my sexuality, ethnicity and indeed, my sanity, but I survived. How’s that for a victory?

Yes, Millennials are annoying. They’re whiny, bratty, selfie-obsessed; they spend inordinate amounts of time watching funny cat videos and tweeting under: #relationshipgoals. But we are all, to a certain extent, moulded by our environment. Repeated exposure to radiation will leave you with cancerous cells – just as constant dipping into the educational bloodbath may eventually leave you infected with AEDs (Avaricious Entitlement Disorder). According to social learning theory, we tend to reproduce behaviour displayed in our immediate environment – which for most millennials, has largely consisted of the warm, stifling, deodorant-peppered air of the high-school classroom. It sends us forth, armoured in Benjamin Zephaniah, clutching our rape kits to our educated bosoms. These are the people trawling university campuses across Britain and the U.S, armed with their fascist fanaticism. You can’t clap or whoop in order to express your appreciation; perhaps it will “trigger” a few delicate females within the audience. One cannot use the word “slave” without having their current livelihood snatched from under them before they can say “Martin Luther King”.

Such is the regurgitated result of our current education system, in all its mangled glory. Perhaps some of the blame can be directed towards those who have, arguably, helped create these mini-monsters? If you repeatedly pacify a bratty, wailing toddler, it will continue to stamp its feet and wail some more – because it knows that this works. Every single stage of our adolescent lives has been managed by an elusive, extraneous source, which is fiercely rooted within our “auspicious” education system. Some have referred to it as the “nanny state”; the oppressive, governmental influence, robbing us of our fundamental rights in a manner which is largely incongruous: “we can have sex, publicly, on Brighton beach – but we’re not allowed to smoke on it”. (Brendan O’Neill, people – talking about the real problems). Kicking these rather inane issues aside, let’s carve down to the bones.

It’s largely a matter of operant conditioning. You felt safe, secure, validated within school classrooms: each time you highlighted a so-called “minority opinion” in all its stinging fluorescence, you were rewarded with a gold star, a house point, a glowing remark on your report. English literature exams: “Jane Eyre is built largely upon colonial wealth”, “Atticus Finch is a segregationist” – tick, tick. Drag out the injustices, the more the better. Mandatory appreciation of a marginalised race every October – bang. We played the diversity card. The human resources department gets another smattering of government funds.

Two more years of gruelling advanced qualifications aren’t enough for some; instead, it is necessary to popped back into the fiery ovens of academia for a second roasting. University modules: “Empire and the Colonial: Race, Genders, Sexualities”. Let’s break out the brush of the marginalised, and flick multi-coloured drops across our whitewashed curriculum. The real squirts of knowledge and logical reasoning can only be drizzled on a university-cooked pie. Young adults must march directly from the cooking pot to the slaughterhouse, where they must pay to be eviscerated. Seated upon an intellectual throne, they are free to survey the masses, whilst aping the behaviour of their esteemed lecturers, who repeatedly cave to their demands.

Millennials are not a monolithic group. Those shaking their heads and declaiming in horror: “Jesus, this lot are our future policymakers!” – have no fear. There are tons of other young whippersnappers roaming free from the cage, already with one leg up the industry ladder; there’s more than one way to get into parliament, and university is no longer the sole option. They’re out there, people. You just need to get better at looking.

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