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A little bit of everything

This is the part where I pass comment on a random selection of current stories...


School is where I wanna be, yeah!

If your child is not in school...
Fine. Your local council can give you a fine of 60, which rises to 120 if you don't pay within 21 days. If you don't pay the fine after 28 days you may be prosecuted for your child's absence from school. Check your local council's rules on when you can be fined. [source]

The prosecution can be "up to £2500 and 3 months imprisonment", and even better - it depends upon the absence of the child. If your child takes themselves to school and they don't go, you the parent can become a criminal for it. Mr. Jon Platt, who took his daughter to Disneyland in term time, ended up in a legal circus costing some £12K before reaching the Supreme Court where he was swiftly kicked in the balls by a judge who made it quite clear that it is the state that decides what is best for a child, not the parent. It has been reported that a late child may also be counted as an absence, which might explain why almost 20,000 parents were prosecuted in 2015 alone.

Okay. So a child must always attend school every single day without fail.

Fair enough. In that case, there are a few expectations that must be met:

  • Schools will provide suitable cultural trips to other countries at reasonable costs. You can learn a lot by interacting with people from other places, something many English people are spectacularly bad at.
    If a school fails to provide suitable cultural experiences, the parents should be permitted to do it themselves including during term time.
  • Schools must have a zero tolerance for bullying and violence, from other students or from the teachers. That a child may be a ginger-haired Jew of Polish origin should not be a reason for discrimination.
    Turning a blind eye or making excuses to cover for a child being victimised by others will be sufficient reason for a parent to keep their child from school.
  • Batshit crazy subjects must be optional, with no penalties for choosing not to attend the lesson.
    I have no problem with my daughter attending Religious Education provided it is a balanced examination of the contemporary monotheistic and polytheistic beliefs (note - in my experience most RE lessons were God indoctrination, I would not accept that), however should such a subject as Creationalism turn up, I would consider my child to be wasting her time even attending.
  • Teachers must cater to all students in their class, not just the ones they like.
    My boarding school maths teacher had a nasty habit of going off on tangents and racing ahead with the mathematically abled students. Those less gifted with numbers would either be told to catch up in our own time, or implied to be simply not putting in the effort. In the end, I simply walked out of his class and went to the class of the next level down. Much better. But this sort of behaviour is unacceptable in a teacher.
  • There must be no shame in advancing or being held back. It happens in France. Bright students skip a year, ones that struggle retake the same year. If class sizes are large, a teacher will struggle to pay enough attention to every student in the course of a lesson. So those who are bored, or those who are struggling, can be assigned to a level suitable for their current learning. And if that means being held back, or a 12 year old in a class of 15 year olds, there should be no shame in this. Everybody has different abilities, and if you think about it, taking a large group of children and trying to teach them all the same thing at the same time is a little bit weird.
  • Parents with children in schools in different counties must be permitted to take a child out of school in term time if they have another child in a school in a different county and the holiday periods do not happen at the same time. This is not unheard of in places near to county borders where different LEAs schedule their lesser holidays at different times.
  • No, children should NOT pay to use the cafeteria to eat their own food.

And here is the one that will cause the most upset:

  • If attending school without fail is so important that a failure to attend may criminalise the parent, then the relevant LEA must pay the parent £60 per lesson missed per child because:
    • Industrial action by teachers (the cause is irrelevant, child is not in school is what matters)
    • "Teacher's training days" that happen during term time (if parents can take their children on holiday only during the breaks, then that's when teachers can be "trained")
    • Any closure due to weather incidents where public transport is still running (in other words, if the weather isn't bad enough to cancel trains and buses, it's not bad enough to cancel school)


To be honest, I fear that there is little desire for things to change. Work out what twenty thousand £60 fines amount to and you'll see that taking a hard line on this will obviously benefit the local councils. Of course, if the parent doesn't have £60 to pay within the required time, it'll double. Or multiple absences... you see where this is going.

What would be a more rational approach is to accept that some children will be taken on holiday during term time. School is not a prison. As for disruption, it is quite simple. The school should email or fax (whatever) a short list of what the child would have learned that week for the parent to get them up to speed. A teacher should not be expected (and, indeed, should refuse) to spend time re-explaining something that was previously explained to the class during that child's absence. The fines and legal action should come into play if term time absences are too frequent ("too" being at the discretion of the headmaster) especially if said absences are seen to be affecting a child's grades and/or the parent is not capable/not willing to bring the child up to speed before the return to school.


My mother took me out of school for, I think it was two weeks, to go on a cruise around the Azores, Madeira, etc on the SS Canberra back in... um... 1983 I think. It was a last minute arrangement (she was already in Southampton, I wasn't, I had to get there before the ship sailed!). The school were obviously quite upset about it. This was, of course, the same school where the teacher called me a distraction and often made me sit in the corner facing the wall. Was I a distraction? Quite probably, yes. But in my defence I had a learning disability that nobody seemed to notice, and it wasn't until I was thirteen that anybody realised that I was quite short-sighted so all those teachers that sat me in the back of the class and then expected me to copy stuff off the board? Ain't gonna happen. I simply couldn't read it. Suffice to say that the history with that teacher and that school was sufficient that the LEA paid for me to go to a boarding school for five years. Draw your own conclusions.

Anyway, I got to see a weird rotating building on one of the Azores (I don't know which), I hated Lisbon (unfriendly people), there was an epic traffic jam in Madeira, and also in Madeira I met a girl who was very pretty but didn't speak any English other than to say she didn't speak any English. So we passed time in a huge swimming pool playing around and communicating with each other in a variety of ways that didn't involve speaking. I got to see the ship's turbines and generator room (talk about a racket), survived a hurricane so ferocious that you could feel the ship shaking as the back end plunged back into the see and the propellers hit the water while turning. I did fancy dress as a washing machine (!) and won a prize for the most original outfit they'd seen. And along the way mom tried to hook me up with a cute Irish girl called "shi-von" but spelled, as is typical for Irish girls, nothing at all like that. Siobhan I think. Unfortunately she was seasick...a lot. The ship's library wasn't terribly good, but it became one of my regular haunts. The arcade quickly got boring, the games were the same, but books could be changed for other books. So it wasn't unusual to find me in a deck chair on deck near the smoke stack but in a shady place working my way through a book. A proper book, with words on both sides... not like those ones at school with big Ladybird style print and a colour picture on every opposing page. I had a functioning imagination, I didn't need pictures.

I had fun. I was a brat. A met lots of interesting people. And I did so many more things than I ever would have had I been at school....sat at the back (where I couldn't see) facing the wall. I got to see other people, other cultures, other ways of doing things. Maybe that's part of why I wouldn't ever vote Brexit? I opened my eyes.

If such an opportunity should ever arise for my (fictional) daughter, I would simply factor the £60 fine into things and stuff the school. It'd be a one-off, not a monthly event.


In two hundred metres, turn left

So the English driving test is going to remove the necessity of reversing around a turn (something useful to know how to do) and instead replace it with instruction on how to use a satnav device.
I'm sure you know in which orifice they can shove that incredibly stupid idea.

While we're at it, let's define "satnav". Will I need to know how to use a TomTom? I don't, never have and never will. No aspersions to the brand TomTom, I just don't need it because in the rare times I want guidance, my phone can do it via Google Maps.
But, really, that's best for homing in on things or working around road closures. The simplest way is to just know how to read a map. You know, one of those dead-tree books with coloured lines all over them in intriguing patterns.


French voting

Well, recent voting events have been insane. They gave us the crapfest that Brexit is becoming, they gave us Trump - who has barely been in office long enough to get his chair warm and he's already dropped a seismic bomb in Afghanistan and taunted North Korea. Now? The French have come up with an election that nobody can attempt to call. The candidates are, listed in approximate order of current polling:
  • Emmanuel Macron - a pro-EU man, an ex-banker, who is sufficiently disillusioned with mainstream politics that he founded his own party. People like him, probably because they too are fed up with the mainstream.
  • Marine Le Pen - representing the National Front. So you can pretty much guess where that is going to go. I suspect a fair amount of her fan base are not people who sympathise with the National Front but are rather angry and fed up with mainstream politics. One might want to look to the UK (and maybe also the US) before electing her as a protest vote. She hates the EU with a passion (obviously) but is quite happy to accept campaign funding from them. Typical selfish asshat logic, Farage/UKIP were just the same.
  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon - is a Communist, in the capital-C sense of the word. For the workers, sort of anti-EU, blah blah. He's basically come from nowhere to grab a good fifth in the polls, neck and neck with Fillon. His message is rather anti-establishment, another potential warning to the mainstream that their behaviour resonates with nobody.
  • François Fillon - was pretty much in line to be the next president until it was discovered that he paid his wife (any maybe other family members) a lot of €€€ for... that's the question, isn't it? He's from the same party as Sarko and, well, he's basically a French Tory.
  • Benoît Hamon, freefalling in the polls, is of the same party as the current president, Mr. Hollande. Hamon, however, is pretty far left with ideas such as a guaranteed minimum payment for everybody, paid for no doubt by the 90% tax on rich people, plus a desire to legalise cannabis when sane people are trying to get people to give up smoking entirely...
  • There are six other candidates, they barely register.

The way the vote works is that every candidate goes into an election. He or she who gets over 50% of the vote wins immediately. With polarised opinion and 11 candidates, that's unlikely to happen. So the top two will go into a head-to-head second election. These can be extremely interesting as let's say you are a socialist and the final choice is between Fillon (right) and Le Pen (far right). Who do you support? Those were the two expected at the start of the year. Now it's possible that it will be a vote between Macron and Le Pen (with Macron winning) or Macron and Mélenchon (much harder to call).

I can't vote, but if I could I would vote Macron. At any rate, it'll be an interesting few weeks to come.


The rogue state

So some hackers have released some vulnerabilities to numerous versions of Windows held by the NSA, and days later it turns out the NSA apparently has means to interfere with interbank transfers. Couple that with Trump's "oooh, pretty" approach to warfare, not to mention that any incursion into North Korea will be yet another in a long list of American military failures - recall that direct or indirect action in Afghanistan (2001-2014, 2015-now), Iraq (2003, troops withdrawn in 2011, chaos continued, leading to troops returning to 2014), Libya (2011), sort-of-half-heartedly Syria (2011), and Yemen (2015) are still ongoing problems, some of which blessed the world with the appearance of ISIS following in the footsteps of Al Qaeda.

It seems clear to me who and what the rogue state is. The ones that pick fights they have a track record of not winning. The ones who fail to see the consequences of violence in other sovereign states. The ones who think that rules that apply to them don't need to apply to others. The ones that seem to think that hacking is fine if it is by the good guys (their definition). Need I go on?
I'm sure some day soon Trump will trot out the Bushesque "rogue state" rhetoric, if he hasn't already over North Korea, he might first want to take a good hard look in the mirror, and think carefully about the words of Carl von Clausewitz's who says that one is never to launch a war that one has not already won.


Known to security services

The Stockholm truck attack, now that running over people with large vehicles is now a 'thing' for cloned terrorists.

Known to security services.

How many times have we heard that recently?

And how many more times?


Goodbye America

So, you guys want my bank passwords and such to enter your country?

It's not going to happen.

I don't care about Facebook. I hardly ever use it, there's nothing of interest there. As it happens I don't actually remember the password. Firefox does that for me. And as it happens, if I log in from an unknown device, they send me an SMS with a code.

My website? I do care about that. You aren't having the password. No, I don't know it. It's something like forty characters of line noise. But that won't help you. Even if you had the password (and no, there's no way in hell I remember all that) you won't be able to log in. Why? Because the server expects to be handed a key. An encryption key. Part of a public/private pair like PGP. Only two copies of this key exist. One is on my computer for WinSCP to use, and the other is a backup copy.

My bank account? I know the password for that. You aren't having it. Because it is unlawful for me to willingly divulge this information to anybody (including bank employees) for any reason. If I do, I will be entirely liable if my account is cleaned out. I will be the one guilty of a transgression under my laws, those laws that form part of my contract with the bank. Your American laws do not overrule existing arrangements.

As such, I am technically unable to visit America. Period. This includes passing American airspace in transit to somewhere else.

It's a shame, there are places I'd like to see, people I'd like to meet. But while the Land of Liberty is going to be hostile to foreigners, I will simply remove it from my list of "places I'd like to see one day". I hear Canada is pretty in the Autumn......


The hypocrisy of Brexit

Funny how, given that Turkey joining the EU was a Leave campaign lie, one of the first meetings May had was with Turkey.

Now, more recently, perhaps having realised that Britain's Special Relationship with America is such an unimportant part of The Donald's life that he didn't even tweet about his meeting with Theresa May, and realising that there's going to be little hope of a sensible trade arrangement with European countries... so May goes to talk to.... Saudi Arabia!


They may be the origin of much Islamic violence. Sod that, they have money!
Their record on human rights is pitiable. Sod that, they have money!
Sucks to be a woman there. Sod that, they have money!

Once upon a time, being British meant higher aspirations, better ideals, standing up for what was right.
Next May will be off trying to cut a deal with North Korea...or Zimbabwe...or anybody else who doesn't think the UK is a laughing stock of little consequence.



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David Pilling, 22nd April 2017, 02:42
School... a lot time spent doing nothing (moving chairs, playing chess, staff meetings), wouldn't notice if I'd not been there for all that. OTOH key concepts often explained only once, not there, tough. Need to develop model which does not assume everyone is there all the time. After all people can be ill, or be thinking about something else one Thursday afternoon. Then again every year in history started with 1066. 
Canberra 1983 - just post Falklands. 
May be that the thing is how to use Sat Nav safely. Cars have changed, parking sensors, electric parking brakes... 

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