How to get into Harvard

The director of Harvard admissions has said that being a ‘Harvard legacy’ – the child of a Harvard graduate – is just one of many ‘tips’ in the college’s admissions process, such as coming from an ‘under-represented state’ (Harvard likes to have students from all 50), or being on the ‘wish list’ of an athletic coach. For most applicants to Harvard, the acceptance rate is around 5 per cent; for applicants with a parent who attended Harvard, it’s around 30 per cent. (One survey found that 16 per cent of Harvard undergraduates have a parent who went to Harvard.) A Harvard study from a few years ago shows that after controlling for other factors that might influence admission (such as, say, grades), legacies are more than 45 per cent more likely to be admitted to the 30 most selective American colleges than non-legacies. More »

Episode 11: The T-Shirt Cannon

David Cameron

David Cameron

At sporting events in the US, the organisers sometimes set up a fun thing called a T-shirt cannon. This is what it sounds like: a cannon, or rather a bazooka, which emits a thud and sends a T-shirt across the arena where it softly thwacks into one of the punters. Who doesn’t want to be hit in the face by a free T-shirt?

The T-shirt cannon was brought to mind by the latest round of policy announcements from the Tories. More »

Iran’s Deep State

Tikrit 2015

Tikrit, 2015

At the beginning of March a photo emerged of Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force (the extraterritorial element of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard), smiling as he despatched troops into Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace and now a front line in the fight against Isis. Ben De Pear, the editor of Channel 4 News, tweeted it alongside a similar photo, of a dozen men in desert fatigues and with smiles as wide as Suleimani’s, making victory signs to the camera. They were US marines in Tikrit in April 2003. More »

The Mandela Complex

In December 2013, a group of people living in shack settlements in Newlands West, Durban, entered and squatted a development of 16 nearly complete apartment blocks on Castle Hill, about ten miles north-west of the city centre. They stayed for more than a year before they were evicted on 17 December 2014. The developer calls the site Hilldale; the squatters called it the Mandela Complex. More »

Episode Ten: Ukip’s Five Year Plan

It is morally wrong that five independent fee-paying schools should send more students to Oxbridge than the worst performing two thousand secondary schools combined.

Agreed.

The increasing ebb and flow of people across our planet is one of the greatest issues of our time.

Yes.

On the major issues of the day – immigration, the economy, our health service and living standards – the establishment parties have repeatedly and knowingly raised the expectation of the public, only to let us down, time and time again.

Yes, broadly speaking. The IMF’s statement yesterday, to the effect that the fiscal projections in Osborne’s most recent budget are unlikely to be met, shows that they’re still at it.

The Government continues to signal its intention to widen engagement in international conflict while, at the same time, implementing a crippling round of further military spending cuts.

Yes.

To help protect the enduring legacy of the motor industry and our classic and historic vehicles, Ukip will exempt vehicles over 25 years old from vehicle excise duty.

That gives it away – all this is from Ukip’s manifesto. If the whole manifesto were like that last proposal, all lounge-bar populism and talk of political correctness gone mad, Ukip would be a less disruptive force in British politics. More »

In Granada

In Granada late on Good Friday I watched a paso or float of the Mater Dolorosa making its ponderous way towards the cathedral. The life-size statue was dressed in a black and silver robe. She was swaying gently from side to side and looked like a beautiful beetle with the many legs of the men carrying her (the cuadrilla) sticking out from the black curtain underneath her. Their load was so heavy that they had to stop and swap out for a fresh crew every few hundred metres. The float was accompanied by a marching band, candle bearers, incense-bearers, the women wearing mantillas and black lace, the teenagers in chorister’s robes. Around the float were the nazarenos or penitentes who wear caperuzas – tall, tapering hooded masks – and often carry wooden crosses. The similarity to Klu Klux Klan garb is coincidental; the nazarenos’ hoods point symbolically towards the heavens. More »

Episode Nine: Polar Bears

At an earlier stage of this general election, I thought about proposing one of those drinking games in which people have a shot or swig every time a Conservative on the campaign trail used the word ‘plan’. I’m glad I didn’t go ahead with that. Anyone who’d taken up the suggestion would now be in a clinic. It was already bad, but the Tory manifesto takes it to another level entirely. Guess how many times the word ‘plan’ occurs’. For purposes of reference, the Labour manifesto uses it 27 times. Answer: 121. It’s almost as if they were trying to stress the idea that they have a plan. More »

Episode Eight: Unicorns

I’m having trouble suspending my disbelief at the Labour manifesto. The party promises that it will:

Cut the deficit every year
Raise the state pension by whichever is the highest of inflation, average earnings or 2.5 per cent
Protect spending on health, education and foreign aid
Hire an additional 8000 GPs, 20,000 nurses and 3000 midwives
‘Guarantee people a GP appointment within 48 hours, and on the same day for those who need it’
Reduce tuition fees
Not raise basic or higher rate income tax, or VAT, or National Insurance
Give every child a free unicorn
Make rich people, tax avoiders and non-doms pay for it all

I made up one of those promises. If you’re trying to guess which is fictional, here’s a clue: not the most unlikely.

Episode Seven: Panic the Kippers

To understand the Tories’ general election campaign, you have to grasp its central premise: that the Tory route to power lies through a collapse in the Ukip vote. If the Ukip vote stays where it is, and the SNP vote stays where it is, the popular vote is more or less a draw. Thanks to the party landscape and the geographical distribution of the vote, that puts Miliband in Downing Street. So the Tories badly need Ukip to go away.

This helps to make sense of things that would otherwise be inexplicable. More »

Mind Your Tone

In the brave new world of know-biz, universities now issue ‘tone of voice’ marketing-correctness drills to staff charged with handling the ‘brand’. The comms and marketing wonks who write them face a tough challenge: to pander to their institution’s special-snowflake syndrome, while spouting the same commercial cobblers as everyone else. More »

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