Archive for February, 2013

Man Cannot Live by (Horse)meat Alone


I think it’s time we all calmed down about the horsemeat “scandal”. While I agree that it’s distasteful (no pun intended) that horsemeat, in whatever percentage, has turned up in some processed food, the world hasn’t ended. Horsemeat is not toxic, and is widely eaten in other cultures. Apparently, it’s lower in fat and healthier than beef. It is, therefore, probably far healthier than some of the “meat” that is used quite legally in a lot of processed food.

I would have been more concerned if unfit meat had been discovered, something that posed a genuine risk to human health. Apart from the slight risk that the veterinary drug bute might be present, this hasn’t happened. How many drugs are animals that we intend to eat pumped full of? Anti-biotics, growth promoters and God knows what.

I think this whole “scandal” shows more about the British attitude to animals than anything else. This is a country that allows animals being transported to slaughter more space than a human commuter: if animals were carried in the same conditions that your typical tube traveller has to put up with, there would be an outcry. Remember the foot and mouth crisis of 2001? The thousands of livestock animals slaughtered for having something not dangerous to humans, and which most infected animals would recover from? With the smoke from pyres blackening the skies all over the country? Where were the protests then? The silence was deafening. The only objection I remember was when a cute calf was threatened with death. Only then did people shout, and even then, they didn’t question the mass slaughter.

This has the hallmarks of something similar. We are more concerned that a noble old racehorse, or that Penelope’s old pony, has ended up in a cheap burger, than with the fact that the Food Standards Agency has had its budget slashed. More concerned with thinking certain species as cute, than with livestock being fed the ground up remains of other animals. More concerned to have cheap meat, then moaning when we find out what’s in it. If the British took their attitude to animals to its logical conclusion, they would all become vegetarians.

Perhaps one day, the British will be able to have a sensible, grown-up debate about such things. I won’t hold my breath.


How Foreign is the Past?


Heading rapidly towards midnight on another Saturday, with Tears for Fears “Songs from the Big Chair” on the ipod. I was 16 when that album came out, and yet it seems like yesterday. As soon as the opening song “Shout” started, I was back there in 1985, my mind a flood of images from then. So long ago, how can that be? The power of music to do that never ceases to amaze me, never ceases to render me speechless and wordless to describe it. It doesn’t matter what type of music it is, some pieces have this transportive power. I see my 16 year old self, so different; was it really me? If he saw me, what would he say? And if I met him, I don’t doubt I would be surprised at the things I had forgotten. And yet, if we did meet, I think we would have a lot to talk about. Assuming we could understand each other.
The past really is a foreign country, one for which you will never get a visa, let alone revisit.

Restructure Blues


I hear that Stoke City Council’s benefits section is undergoing yet another restructure, with more redundancies likely. This time the hard-pressed assessors have all been placed and so are not at risk. Despite this, several of them have decided to leave the council, despite the poor state of the jobs market. A widespread feeling of having had enough of being bullied and ignored is now more deeply rooted than Japanese knotweed. And who can blame them?

The principal victims of this restructure seem to be the team leaders. While I wouldn’t wish anyone to be out of a job, I can’t help a feeling of schadenfreude: it wasn’t that long ago when one of them was threatening assessors to work the Vanguard way or else their jobs would be at risk. The person concerned should now think on that, and reflect. (Fat chance).

I will conclude, first by wishing those former colleagues who have left in the recent exodus all the best for the future; and second, with a quote:

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams we would be reorganised.

I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.

Believe it or not, that was written 2000 years ago.
Draw your own conclusions.

The Myth of Choice


Education has been a political football for decades. Successive governments have constantly interfered, and all have blamed hard working teachers for their own policy failures. They have been aided in this by their unaccountable liebstandarte, Ofsted.

The current incumbent, Michael Gove, seems to be the worst yet. For all the politicians’ trumpeting the idea of “choice”, he ignores it whenever it’s inconvenient. Take the recent case of a London school turned into an academy: Despite 96% of parents being opposed to the move, Gove forced it through anyway. (See Twitter link above). You can have as much choice as you want as long as you agree with me. The Henry Ford school of education.

This makes it clear that it has nothing whatever to do with parental choice. It’s yet another example of this government’s unstated policy of dismantling the public sector and privatising what remains. Academy schools are outside local council control, and are therefore accountable to noone, except perhaps the shareholders of the sponsoring businesses.

I for one do not want my public services run by a business or for private profit, and I want them free from political interference. Regulators must also act in a fair and impartial way. It is high time teachers were praised and supported for the hard work they do, not demonised for the incompetance of politicians.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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