THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Previous month:
April 2007
Next month:
June 2007

May 2007

Truth and illusion in Vegas


I don't know why, but the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas makes me sad. It's a tribute, in its way, to the most beautiful city in the world but something about it is troubling. Imagine the chutzpah of building a "Grand Canal" on the first floor. Very Vegas. It would have been way too easy to build it on the ground, right?

They came close to pulling off something truly magnificent here. I don't "get" gambling, but I can accept the slot machines in all the lobbies. Bugsy Seigel's ghost would haunt the owner otherwise (if he doesn't already). The Venetian is after all built on the site of the Sands, where Frank and the Rat Pack played. Did they really need a "food court" in their "Grand Canal Shoppes" (sic) though? It makes their Venice" reek not of - well, Venice - but of congealed fat.

Dscn0688Even in the "fine dining" establishment overlooking the canal, classic Italian food is spoiled by extra fat. it's hard to enjoy the food while watching obese people go by who need motorised wheelchairs to get to their next burger. They look like Jabba the Hut on a skateboard.

I don't golf, gamble or frequent night clubs. So, I can only think of two reasons I would ever want to live in Las Vegas. Firstly, although I am built on a fairly lavish scale, I would never feel fat again. Secondly, I would never be tempted to be unfaithful to my wife. I don't understand why the famously powerful cosmetic effects of wealth don't work in the flyover states of the USA.

As a real estate guy born and bred, I admire Steve Wynn immensely. This isn't his hotel, but he is Bugsy Siegel's successor as the genus loci of Las Vegas. He is the business genius who, with his Mirage and Bellagio hotels, single-handedly saved a seedy mob gaming town from decline. He invented the "destination hotel," a concept which has since been adapted to make culture, art and history-free Dubai another unlikely tourist destination. The Arabs do it with more style though.

I am glad to have seen Mr Wynn's town, but I don't think I will be back. I am looking forward to returning on Sunday night to the dirt and reality of Moscow.

Edukashun, Edookayshen, Education

Link: Willetts must have known it would horrify Party | Dt Opinion | Opinion | Telegraph.

All three comment pieces in the Daily Telegraph today were about the Tory Party and grammar schools. Alice Thomson says it best however, with these words

The Tories seem to have ditched what they always held dear - a belief that those who worked hard and were talented would be rewarded - to embrace the socialist principle that all must have prizes

Boris Johnson, usually the Conservative Party's voice of sanity, for all his Eton-nurtured capacity for intellectual wrangling is unable to save the party from Willett's appalling gaffe. It was a speech that did not need to be made. No potential Conservative voter is pleased by it. Secretly, I suspect that, despite the huge opportunity presented for mischief - a goal so open that even the talentless Prescott couldn't miss it  - few Labourites are either.

For Conservatives, health is the third rail of British politics. In our hearts, we know that only Labour could ever reform the National Health Service. The Conservatives have only to mention it for voters to panic. One day, God willing, it will be Labour's destiny to clean up the mess it made of British healthcare. The last 10 years have simply shown us that it is not yet that day.

That is not true for education. Comprehensive schools are a greater disaster for Labour voters than for Conservatives. The working classes of the North of England have no hope of buying themselves either into a private school or the catchment area of a less foul State school. A Conservative government could, by reforming schools, do something for them that Labour never can, because education is for them as the NHS is for us. They are secretly waiting for us to solve the problem.

Until Willetts put his foot in his mouth, that hope alone kept alive minority Tory votes in Labour heartlands that could one day have been built upon. No-one even seems to have noticed that many of our immigrants in the past 20 years are from communities, such as the Indians and the Chinese, who value education much more highly than the native English. Their votes are up for grabs too. Immigrants are naturally more aspirational; naturally more Tory.

Boris tell us that the end of Grammar schools was politically inevitable in a democracy because;

it became an arithmetical and electoral certainty, over time, that the rejects outnumbered the successful

What tosh. He should not fall into the elitist trap of describing those who failed to get into Grammar Schools as "rejects." In doing so he  defames the work of generations of dedicated teachers  who were able to provide excellent education to those who went to Secondary Modern schools; education carefully targetted to their abilities.

I was taught by some of them. I took the 11+ but my area went comprehensive that year and I was never told the results. Instead, I was sent to the local secondary modern school - rebadged as a comprehensive. There were some superb teachers there, doing their best. They were as bemused by me as no doubt the Grammar School teachers in the next town were by some of their new intake. However, they had long shaped the destinies of the majority of children in my town. Their former pupils were respectable, hard-working and better-educated than their children and grandchildren are today. They are the ones failed by Anthony "I will close every fucking grammar school" Crosland's public school ultra-leftism, every bit as much as people like me.

As for the electoral arithmetic, what defeatism on Boris's part! The kind of ignorant chavs who think that selective schools are wrong because their little Shane, Wayne or Sheena will never pass an exam will not only never vote Conservative, but will probably never vote at all. They are irrelevant. It's all about triangulation, Boris. Margaret's policy to steal Labour votes was to sell council houses. Everyone was astonished by the aspirational instincts she unleashed in the Labour heartlands. Your equivalent could be the restoration of educational opportunity to the working class.

No-one, in their hearts, truly believes in comprehensive schools. Don't listen to what Labour politicians say about it. Look at what they do when it comes to their own children. Cherie Blair, Diane Abbott, Ruth Kelly and Polly Toynbee would be secretly delighted if selective State education was brought back. Of course they won't say so. They will kick, scream and defame, but so what? Triangulate them and move on.

Willetts has a point to precisely this extent. It is best not to hark back to the past. We should not speak of "Grammar Schools" or "the 11+". We need new branding and some less crude (and less final) selection mechanism. If he will apply his two brains to devising such a system; one that Kent Conservatives would accept instead of their Grammar Schools, he will be on to an election-winner.

More than anything else, this is what the Conservatives can do for Britain's future. No nation can long survive the huge waste of human potential represented by the present system. To compete in the world, we need to maximise the potential of every pupil. Even the Socialists know it in their hearts. Even as they ranted against us, they would be secretly, guiltily glad that we had saved their grandchildren from Crosland's evil legacy.

Las Vegas

I am visiting this remarkable place for the first time, attending a conference and staying in the Venetian Hotel. It is a strange combination of elegance and crassness. To get to my room from reception involves walking through a sea of slot machines, with (as far as I can tell) zombies sitting at them. At least they might as well be zombies for all they seem to be enjoying their strange solitary gambling. Give me a flutter on the gee-gees any day. Still, each to his own.

The hotel is like Venice the day after the builders finished. Everything is slightly too gaudy, too perfect. On the other hand, reception felt the need to apologise that this was the only room available. What on earth are the others like? It's nice to be back in America, if that's where I am.




Tories to 'sever links' with academic selection

Link: Tories to 'sever links' with academic selection | Uk News | News | Telegraph.

Perhaps to a shadow education secretary who went to the King Edward's School in Birmingham and a leader of the Opposition who went to Eton College this makes some sense. Perhaps to them, embracing the failed educational radicalism of the 1960's is in some way hip. To someone who actually went to a comprehensive school, it is nothing less than a betrayal.

Nothing has damaged Britain more in my lifetime than comprehensive education. Ask my young relative who was reduced to pleading with his teacher to be allowed to work in a store cupboard so that he could be away from the chaos in his classroom. Ask Frank Chalk. The Soviet Union was never so ultra-left as to believe that one size fits all when it comes to schooling. The British Conservative Party is now officially to the left of the CPSU.

If the Grammar School system "entrenches advantage", why has social mobility declined since it was - for the most part - abolished? According to research from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science;

  • In a comparison of eight European and North American countries, Britain and the United States have the lowest social mobility
  • Social mobility in Britain has declined whereas in the US it is stable
  • Part of the reason for Britain's decline has been that the better off have benefited disproportionately from increased educational opportunity

The researchers concluded that social mobility has declined over the last 30 years in Britain and that this is in part due to:

the strong and increasing relationship between family income and educational attainment

Precisely the relationship in fact  that was, for a brief time in British education, broken by the Grammar Schools. Comprehensive schools are so destructive of working class opportunity that they might as well have been designed to keep clever working class children "in their place."  Sometimes, I think they were.

h/t Bel is Thinking

Churches incensed by 'stop smoking' signs

Link: Churches incensed by 'stop smoking' signs | Uk News | News | Telegraph.

This is a tiny story, not particularly significant in itself, but the final sentence is chilling.

A Department of Health spokesman said the Government was anxious to work with religious organisations to ensure that their responsibilities under the law were clear.

Government spokesmen don't feel the need even to respond to critics any more. "Work with ... to ensure their responsibilities under the law [are] clear" is Labour-speak for "make sure they do as they are damn well told."

Second Life

Home It may be the future of the internet; a more natural way for people to interact online. For the time being, it's merely a weird alternative universe with six million virtual inhabitants. At times, to be frank, it seems to be populated mainly with sex-crazed teenagers and people trying to sell them pornography.

SL (as it is known) introduces the puzzling concept of virtual sex. Subscribers control their "avatars" (the figures who represent them in SL) in their various contortions. Frankly I can't see the point, but it seems that many can.

After a complaint from a German TV station, the owners of SL have recently ejected a man in his 50's and a woman in her 20's for causing their avatars to indulge in virtual paedophilia. I should have thought it better the sick chap in question gets his kicks digitally, with the aid of a consenting adult, than in real life (or "RL" as it is known in SL).

Germany's legal system is so advanced, apparently, that his virtual actions may have been criminal. O tempora, o mores.

Idiotically, an accountancy watchdog in Britain is calling for regulation, warning that SL could provide a venue for money laundering and other nefarious activity. On the more positive side, a British law firm has just opened an SL office. Sweden is opening an embassy. Mercedes, Toyota and BMW all have showrooms. Some tech companies even hold shareholder meetings there.

If you have a "second life" of your own feel free to look me up. My SL name is "LastDitch Writer" and my house is a dinky chalet proudy flying the cross of St George. Here are eight words I never expected to write. Look out for the Tardis on my lawn.

A Brownian Constitution

Link: Looking for a voice: The Brown Premiership ?

Guthrum comments on the fact that Gordon Brown is talking of a new written constitution for the United Kingdom. That is something we certainly need. Under New Labour's iron party discipline, Parliament has become the obedient instrument of the Executive and the "separation of powers" has collapsed.

If we could simply adopt the US Constitution, doing a "search and replace" to change "United States of America" to "United Kingdom" I would be happy. I could even accept (reluctantly) the deletion of the right to bear arms. However, I guarantee that a Brownian constitution will neither restrain the powers of the State nor protect individual rights. Brown is the last man on Earth to promote our right to pursue happiness in our own way. His draft will be laden with false "rights" which merely amount to imposing obligations on others.

We desperately need a new Constitution to protect us from the State, but this hugely authoritarian Government is the last one that should be trusted with the job. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Thanks for the optimism - and the cynicism

Link: Thanks for the optimism - and the cynicism | Dt Opinion | Opinion | Telegraph.

Dsc_1987Young Sam Leith - a future Daily Telegraph editor if ever I saw one - writes very well. His is probably a more accurate summary of the Blair years than anyone older could write. In his terms, my Doctor Who is Tom Baker and my Prime Minister is Margaret Thatcher, but what of it? The issue now is who will be the "real" Doctor and the "real" Prime Minister for those - like my daughters - voting for the first time at the next election.

In my ageing cynical heart, some optimism stirs. I don't know for whom my daughters will vote, but I am sure Gordon Brown will no more be their generation's "real" PM, than he will their "real" Doctor Who.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Link: 'Private' Brown under constant scrutiny | Uk News | News | Telegraph.

Scottish_stalinistThis article today in the Telegraph is an insight into life at the court of Labour's Red Tsar. I would not knowingly employ such an unbalanced individual to clean my office. Thanks to the utter cowardice of Labour's "big beasts", terrified as they are of his spiteful nature, he is about to lead our country.

Gordon Brown's track record is not promising. All reports are of an arrogant individual incapable of listening to advice. That's bad enough in a Minister focussed on one area. If he stays in post long enough,  as Brown has, he can hope to develop some expertise. However, a Prime Minister who will not listen to advice must end up as a jack-of-all-trades  "Minister for Everything". Even if Brown is the genius he believes, he can not do it.

He has squandered billions by his arrogant incompetence. He will now be entirely unchecked. As Prime Minister, he need suffer no criticism from colleagues. The political untermenschen around him now need not only fear his legendary rages. He will be able to hire and fire them at will. I could almost feel sorry for them. They face utter degradation as not one of them has the strength of character to face him down. They will grovel until, if they have the merest shred of manhood, they will wish they had never lived.

Alas, my sympathies are entirely engaged with my fellow-citizens. Good luck.

The Failings of Grayling (Part 2)

In fairness to Professor Grayling, this post could be written about most British academics. I only single him out because I have been reading one of his books,  “The Meaning of Things.” I read it in response to his rebuke that I had judged him harshly on too little data. He is, alas, neither better nor worse than the average British academic.

Consider, for example, Roger Scruton's observations based on an academic career partly at the same college as Grayling;

By 1971, when I moved from Cambridge to a permanent lectureship at Birkbeck College, London, I had become a conservative. So far as I could discover there was only one other conservative at Birkbeck, and that was Nunzia—Maria Annunziata—the Neapolitan lady who served meals in the Senior Common Room and who cocked a snook at the lecturers by plastering her counter with kitschy photos of the Pope.

One of those lecturers, towards whom Nunzia conceived a particular antipathy, was Eric Hobsbawm, Hobsbawmthe lionized historian of the Industrial Revolution, whose Marxist vision of our country is now the orthodoxy taught in British schools. Hobsbawm came as a refugee to Britain, bringing with him the Marxist commitment and Communist Party membership that he retained until he could retain it no longer—the Party, to his chagrin, having dissolved itself in embarrassment at the lies that could no longer be repeated. No doubt in recognition of this heroic career, Hobsbawm was rewarded, at Mr. Blair’s behest , with the second highest award that the Queen can bestow—that of “Companion of Honour.” This little story is of enormous significance to a British conservative. For it is a symptom and a symbol of what has happened to our intellectual life since the Sixties. We should ponder the extraordinary fact that Oxford University, which granted an honorary degree to Bill Clinton on the grounds that he had once hung around its precincts, refused the same honour to Margaret Thatcher, its most distinguished post-war graduate and Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. We should ponder some of the other recipients of honorary degrees from British academic institutions—Robert Mugabe, for example, or the late Mrs. Ceausescu—or count (on the fingers of one hand) the number of conservatives who are elected to the British Academy.

While Grayling is intelligent and articulate the abiding impression left by his book is that he is unremarkable in his thinking. His opinions are as groomed as his flowing locks. There is no cliché out of place. Had he spent his life shaping his views to qualify as one of “the Great and the Good” of our Establishment, this is precisely where he would have arrived. One can predict his view on almost any given subject without effort.

Continue reading "The Failings of Grayling (Part 2)" »