Britain in debt, Big Brother & shoelaces

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Couple of articles that caught my eye in the 28th March edition of the Spectator magazine:

To comprehend the scale of the sickening task awaiting George Osborne if he becomes chancellor, consider the following. If he were to raise VAT to 25 per cent, double corporation tax, close the Foreign Office, cancel all international aid, disband the army and the police, release all prisoners, close every school, and abolish unemployment benefit he would still be unable to close the gulf between what the UK government is spending and what it raises in taxes. <Fraser Nelson>

Nineteen Eighty-Four? Yes, please.

Jade Goody was propelled to a very strange form of modern stardom by the reality TV show Big Brother, and even learned of the cancer that finally claimed her life last weekend on the Indian version of that programme. The title of the show was Orwellian. But what the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four could never have predicted is that the citizens would subject themselves to the scrutiny of the cameras voluntarily. The deeper threat to human dignity in 2009 is not state surveillance but pathological exhibitionism.

In so many respects, what Orwell foretold has come to pass — with the crucial difference that it has been embraced by consumers not imposed upon them by the totalitarian state. The controversy over Google Street View in recent days has been more than matched by excitement at the technological wizardry that enables us to see eye-level panoramic images of places all over the world. It is a service provided by an internet search giant, not a sinister intrusion by the Thought Police. Orwell envisaged language drained of poetry and passion by the state’s imposition of Newspeak. In the event, it was the citizens themselves who invented this lifeless shorthand, in the text language that now routinely appears in the examination papers of our teenagers. As for the Junior Spies of Nineteen Eighty-Four, today’s children are already culturally primed to berate their parents for smoking, breaching environmental guidelines, or buying products that are not Fairtrade. The state does not have to get involved.

What Orwell thought would be coerced has happened voluntarily. But what would have amazed and appalled him most is the cult of celebrity which promises the most ordinary, untalented people fame in return for unfettered access to their lives. That is what the real Big Brother did for Jade Goody. In the novel, Winston Smith is told by his torturer O’Brien that ‘posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history.’ Jade was promised and granted, in death, precisely the opposite by the real Big Brother. It is an outcome much stranger than the imagining of any novelist. <The Spectator>

The big news of the weekend though is how Zosia learned to tie shoelaces in about 30 minutes! The art of tying shoelaces has been on the list of things to teach Zosia for a while now. It kept coming up in school reports that she couldn’t tie shoelaces. I have no idea why because she’s not until now had any shoes with laces to tie so it wasn’t a big deal as far as we were concerned but I assume it is on a list somewhere for “Skills every 5 year old should have”.

Anyway, we bought some spring/summer shoes yesterday with laces and as soon as we got home we started teaching. I tried first as an introduction, which ended in an overdose of impatience. Mum then took over and within 30 minutes or less – job done! Mum and Zosia came to see me (glued to the PC!) to demonstrate her newly found skill. I’m really proud of her and shocked at how fast she picked it up and didn’t forget it.

I do think there’s something to be said for allowing kids to pick things up when they are ready to do so. Reading and writing are next. She has been writing a fair number of words for a while now but this can be expanded. She’s taking a great interest herself in how to read. So much better to learn something because you want to, rather than because someone says you must!

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