Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Some thoughts on the Internet, freedom and laughter

The Internet has, in many ways, opened up a world of information to the common man. Wikipedia can make an idiot feel intellectually empowered, Facebook catalysed the North African spring and without e-media we would have never known the joys of Rebecca Black. From a liberal perspective, one could comfortably conclude that the Internet is inherently democratic and a friend of freedom – be that freedom of information or the freedom to drool over one of your crushes on Facebook, from the safety of a dark room.

For all its merits, the Internet definitely has a dark side. Before the invention of the Internet, sexual deviants and criminals would quietly think their weird thoughts, cut off from their peers due to fear and social pressure. Now, the Internet has meant these (pardon my use of language) ‘weirdos’ can now anonymously connect with likeminded people, sympathetic to their views, across the globe. The Internet has facilitated the rise of religious extremism, sexual deviancy (see OctopusGirl.com. WARNING: NOT FOR THE FEINT HEARTED/ under 18s/ normal people) and paedophilia. Should the Internet be more strictly censored and regulated to protect the viewing public? Or is freedom of information key to human progress?

Although not directly related to ‘human progress’ (or anything useful for that matter), one of my favourite pastimes is manically laughing to myself in front of a computer screen. The Internet and comedy are meritocratic – if something is funny, people will laugh at it- and the two go together like rice and peas. Youtube and Twitter have enabled your average bloke on the street to try their hand at comedy – often with spectacularly funny and bizarre results.

This post has been completely pointless and indulgent, so I’ll leave you with some painfully funny stuff that I believe would have never come about without the Internet…


Viva la interwebz.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Private schools, state schools and inequality

In one of my recent seminars the question being discussed was 'Does a commitment to meritocracy require the abolition of private schools?' and I found it a very difficult question to respond to. Although, as a social democrat, I feel like the commitment to equality of opportunity lays the very foundations of a just society, private schools do have their merits. At the heart of the question lays a conflict between dogma and pragmatism, and a conflict between heart and head. In this post, I will outline the merits and demerits of scrapping private schooling and what I believe needs to be done to promote equality in the educational system.

Everybody 'loves' equality
In a lecture of around 100 people, we were asked to put up our hands if we agreed with the concept of equality of opportunity and astoundingly all but one in the lecture theatre raised their hands, with the maverick stating that she agreed with the idea of equality of outcome (crazy commie). Although in a liberal democracy you'd expect a high percentage of people to at least say they agree with the idea of meritocracy, my only qualm with the massive show of support is the fact that I attend a university disproportionately consisting of 40% private school intake (outdone only by Oxbridge, Durham and Imperial). I felt a certain sense of irony seeing such large support for meritocracy from young adults who had obviously benefited from a 'leg up' in their early life, but was I being too cynical?

The case against private schools
We live in one of the most economically unequal developed countries in the world - an inequality perpetuated by our current two-tier system of education. Can we honestly we say we live in a meritocracy when privately-educated individuals compose over half of our government's cabinet? Scraping the private education system would mean parents can not buy their children social and economic advantage and one could reasonably conclude that this would result in a more just and equal society. If this was a realistic policy, I would wholeheartedly support it - sadly, this isn't the case. I believe that although inherently unfair, private schools have their place the educational 'market'. I will explain why.

The 'socially-exclusive' Bullingdon Club at Oxford. Can you spot The Prime Minister and The Mayor of London?

In defence of private schooling
We live in an economy largely dominated by the free market, where 'freedom' - for better of for worse - is expressed by exchanging capital for advantage. The defence of private schooling, in my eyes, is a purely pragmatic argument. 30% of private school students attain at least three As at A-level, compared to less than 10% of comprehensive students. Although this illustrates the vast inequality between the two systems, the parents of private school children, in practice, pay twice for their child's education. There is no way of avoiding paying for the state system through taxation and the parents of privately educated children are still contributing to state system and 'topping up' the Department for Education's resources. This may seem like a weak, fatalistic argument, but these parents are also more likely to be paying the upper rate of income tax - disproportionately contributing fiscally.

Conclusion - the problem with state schooling
I believe that the problem with inequality in schooling does not primarily stem from the existence of private schools, but the decline of grammar schools since the late 1970s. The previous tripartite system was inherently elitist but, paradoxically, promoted a form of rough meritocracy. Grammar schools gave children from less advantaged backgrounds the opportunity to study in a more intellectually challenging environment and consequently go on to university. My interpretation of events was that secondary modern schools were failing and the Labour government of the time responded by closing down grammar schools, hoping there would be a 'levelling out' of educational outcomes. Since the decline of grammar schools, educational inequality has grown and, although testing a 12-year-old's intellectual ability and streaming them accordingly seems harsh, growing inequality will be an inevitable outcome of the failings of our current state system.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In defence of dub

Today's topic is the past, the present and the future of dubstep - a genre of music which has recently been subject to intense popular and critical ridicule. Dubstep is a a genre of electronic music which originated in the town of Croydon, Sarf Landan in the late nineties and early noughties, and has recently been filling dance-floors across the UK and even the US. Early dubstep was quintessentially british, sparse and often included reggae samples. Early pioneers of dubstep, such as Burial, Kode9, and DMZ, made dark, ambient music, which reflected the supposed monotony of suburban life in the noughties and was very much of its time. Early dubstep was the most progressive electronic music coming out of London since the decline of UK garage and most felt optimistic about dubstep's imminent movement in to popular culture.

An example of an early dubstep track...

It is unfair to say that good dubstep is no longer being produced as there are notable cases of Djs bringing dubstep to the forefront of british music, whilst still retaining a fair few characteristics of early dub. Magnetic Man and Chase & Status have both charted highly by bringing elements of dubstep in to popular music, rather than betraying its roots. Sadly, dubstep's movement to the mainstream has often meant perversion and americanisation and modern dubstep now has a stigmatised image caused by acts such as Skrillex and Excision. The song 'Bass Cannon' by Flux Pavilion, I believe, perfectly illustrates the current state of british dubstep. Mainstream dubstep has become less about music and more about noise. This movement of dubstep from its origins has seen many write dubstep off as a faddy 'joke genre' which, I believe, is totally unjust. The equivalent would be of someone writing off UK Grime, having disliked one of Dizzee Rascal's pop songs.

An example of a modern dubstep track...

All hope is not lost though. The origins and characteristics which made dubstep so unique are now surviving in a genre coined 'post-dubstep'. Post-dubstep is an umbrella term for new music being produced which is heavily influenced by early dubstep. Post-dubstep retains dubstep's dark but mellow characteristics, whilst breaking in to genres as diverse as jazz. Notable acts in this fledgling movement include Burial (a god amongst men), Jamie xx, Mount Kimbie and Submotion Orchestra. Other than Jamie xx's limited popular success, post-dubstep seems to be another underground movement and I hope, for the sake of music, it stays that way.

An example of a post-dubstep track...

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Ok, this is the beginning of my blog being the biggest thing to hit the web since pornography or Rebecca Black so I feel like I should introduce myself a little. I am a 19 year old (as from today) reading politics at The University of Bristol with a heart that beats to the left (like Cable's, apparently), with a strong continuing commitment to the ideology of New Labour. I went for the blog name 'The pinnacle of cynical' because I'm a sucker for things that rhyme and pretence. Please enjoy today's topic of pirates...

Today's blog is about David Cameron's response to the ongoing international embarrassment which is Somali piracy... apologies to anyone that was expecting an insightful analysis of Peter Pan from the title. Although this blog will be used to slate David Cameron, when slating is due, I am actually very impressed by the legislation being proposed to protect sailors and an industry which is haemorrhaging millions of pounds a year due to piracy. Somalia is a lawless, failed-state which has been largely ignored by the international community, almost certainly due to there being little economic or strategic advantage to the West 'sorting things out'.

49 of 53 of last year's hijackings were committed by Somali nationals and, until today, it was illegal for ships of the United Kingdom to carry firearms in order to defend themselves from pirates. I believe this legislation, although less than perfect in an ideal world, is an absolute must in tackling this ongoing problem. I believe that the threat of combat taking place will deter many pirates, pirates which have been making a killing (pardon the use of language) hijacking defenceless targets. Although many will condemn this aggressive stance towards piracy - the facts speak for themselves. To date, no cargo ships have been boarded, when armed guards have been present, which is promising evidence for things to come.

Somalia is a country in dire need of international intervention and I believe that piracy and their national problems are only going to get worse without proper democracy and the rule of law. Until things improve in Somalia, tougher sanctions are needed to combat piracy. Today's announcement by David Cameron is a step-forward in eradicating international piracy and it's nice to see that Cameron has some sort of backbone. Credit when credit is due. Well done, Mr Cameron.