Thursday, 9 December 2010

May You Live in Interesting Times.....

Fascinating, truly fascinating. 

A number of things going on today which may keep me from doing the stuff I really should be getting on with. 

The Tuition Fees vote - another of the "quick, get it through before anyone has a chance to look at it properly" pieces of 'progressive' legislation from the Coalition (how can they be quite so morally bankrupt this early in their tenure?). It's heartening to see students out on the streets and occupying university buildings. When I was at uni in the late 80s/early90s (when you would have thought there was something worth protesting about), the political activism seemed to revolve around whether to re-name the student union building in honour of Bruce Forsyth (far more significant than Steve Biko, wouldn't you say?) and electing odious little creeps like Derek Draper. 

Even if the new proposals had been given adequate time for discussion about quite how 'progressive' they are (not as much as Nick Clegg says, by most independent accounts), there remains the fundamental, ideological (there - I said it!!) question of whether and how much the recipients of education should pay for  their own education. We somehow managed to fund higher education during the post-war austerity era and the economically-challenged 1970s. Mandatory grants for all but the very wealthy. Because there was a consensus that education had a worth beyond simple earning power. Of course, far fewer people actually went on to higher education then, and there is an important argument to be had about whether 50% participation is either achievable (less likely once these changes are enacted) or desirable (while qualification to Level 4 is desirable, is the university model necessarily the right one?). The fact remains that for most young people, the prospect of that level of debt will be a significant deterrent to furthering their education. And that's without even taking into account the much more important factor of removing EMA (another post, I promise you)

Possibly because I have spent all my working life in the public sector, I know very few people (graduates or otherwise) who are massively wealthy; very few, in fact, who are in the 40% tax bracket. I never planned or desired to make shedloads of money, but instead wanted to do something with my life where I felt I made a difference - hence, local government. It's safe to say that what I gained from my degree was the ability to think, plan and analyse - at no time (apart from pub quizzes, when I usually let everyone down spectacularly) has my knowledge of American history, politics or literature been of any use in the real world. It does, however, inform my world view and allows me to analyse and question what I'm being told by the media/government.

Which brings me on to......

Wikiwars - I'm still equivocal about the whole Wikileaks thing. In general, I think that having things out in the open is "a Good Thing" and that withholding information is " a Bad Thing" (straying into Sellar & Yeatman territory here), but I'm also not stupid enough to think that there are no occasions when secrecy is required to protect national security. So far, I see no evidence that lives have been put at risk by any of the leaked cables - reputations, maybe, but that's hardly 'national security.'  

What is fascinating, though, is the cyber-response to governments' clumsy attempts at damage limitation. In the main, hackers will always have at least a temporary advantage over governments/corporations because they can think on their feet and adapt their approach instantaneously when one avenue is closed to them, and it's fun watching the game of noughts and crosses currently playing out across the web. Far from limiting damage, the attempts to shut Wikilieaks down has prompted guerrilla retaliation which has brought it even more publicity. People who couldn't care less what some ambassador said about a country they've never heard of are now taking an interest, just in case their Christmas presents don't arrive because their Mastercard payment might not have gone through!

And for those of you who doubted the US government has no appreciation of satire, I leave you with this little gem......

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