Hungary’s Education ‘Reforms’

Last month Hungary’s teachers were out on the streets of Budapest. Thousands marched, demanding the government reduce child poverty and increase their wages: they earn 53 per cent of the average pay for university educated workers, the second lowest among OECD countries. Teachers’ salaries have decreased drastically since 2005 and government spending on primary and secondary education has dropped 14 per cent since 2008. More »

Unreliable People

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

‘Wild’ would be a generous way to describe the use of historical detail in The Imitation Game, the movie about Alan Turing. ‘Based on’, ‘sourced from’, so they say, but what in The Imitation Game isn’t invention? And why? Anyone who’s read Andrew Hodges’s biography of the mathematician, or Mavis Batey’s book about Dillwyn Knox, with whom Turing worked at Bletchley from 1939 until Knox’s death in 1943, will ask themselves why the movie made up so much when the tales of Turing and his colleagues are unbeatable stuff. More »

Diversity Funding

Last week, the chairman of the Arts Council England, Peter Bazalgette, the creative mastermind behind Big Brother (and descendant of the ‘sewer king’ Sir Joseph), unveiled ACE’s new strategy to increase diversity in the arts. ‘We are not doing well enough,’ he said at the launch of the ‘Creative Case for Diversity’ at Sadler Wells. The arts are not ‘reacting fast enough to the changes in society’: ‘we can and must do better’. From 2015, arts organisations will be ‘monitored’ as to whether they ‘better reflect’ minorities and local communities, and this will affect whether they continue to receive funding in 2018. In other words, diversify or die. What will define this ‘better’ reflection of diversity? In his speech, Bazalgette remained vague. ACE says it is ‘considering launching a consultation’. More »


I stayed up late the other night, following the café siege in Sydney on the Guardian website: ‘What we know so far…’ the live updates page said. Below that, like the punch line to no kind of joke, was a bullet point: ‘Uber were criticised for charging minimum $100 for people trying to leave CBD during the siege. They have since offered free rides.’
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Birmingham’s Library Cutbacks

Birmingham City Council has unveiled its proposed budget cuts for 2015-16, including substantial reductions to funding for the Library of Birmingham, the £189 million project that opened in September 2013 and within a year was facing a financial black hole. Weekly opening hours are to be cut from 73 to 40, and around 100 of the 188 staff will lose their jobs. More »

High Moral Purpose

Western just war theory progressed in lockstep with justifications of slavery. Infidels waging unjust war had put themselves beyond the moral pale and were fair game for enslavement – a humane act, since the alternative was death. We no longer ‘believe’ in slavery (modern-day servitude notwithstanding). But as in the crusades and modern humanitarian bombing, human lives are small fry in the face of high moral purpose. More »

In Hong Kong

HK 2

It looked like the last day of term outside Hong Kong’s Admiralty station this morning as dozens of youngsters carried their rucksacks, boxes and blankets to the entrance. Across the road it looked like the last day of Glastonbury, people packing up their tents or sitting around. The main site of Occupy Central, a movement demanding ‘genuine universal suffrage’ for the 2017 Hong Kong election, was being cleared after 74 days of civil disobedience. More »

We Can’t Breathe

‘We live in a post-racial society,’ Obama enthused, referring to his own victory, soon after entering the White House. It sounded hollow at the time, though many wanted to believe it. Nobody does today. Not even Toni Morrison. But the response of tens of thousands of young US citizens to the recent outrages in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York is much more important and interesting than the vapours being emitted in DC. More »

Damn the Dishes

Serial is the world’s most popular podcast. It reached the five million download mark on iTunes in record time. It’s a spin-off from This American Life, which has been a staple of American public radio since the mid-1990s. Serial first aired as an episode of TAL in October, but now has its own home online. TAL is what you turn on when you’re doing the dishes. Serial demands to be listened to, then listened to again, compulsively, ritualistically; damn the dishes. More »

In Grozny

In the lobby of the House of Print, Grozny’s nine-storey press building, there used to be eight or ten gas masks in a box. I remember thinking that it wasn’t many for such a big building, and being told, jokingly, that if something bad was to happen, the masks were only for the security personnel. I thought about those gas masks last week, as pictures of the House of Print on fire appeared on the internet. More »

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