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  • Hogarthian virtues



    Hogarth would have been proud of these stills from a biting satire on China's political record. The People's Republic executes more of its citizens than any other nation, many for minor crimes such as tax evasion. A similar idea occurred to a French designer for a much slicker but less effective piece of photographically based work:

    The attractive official logo is the work of 70-year old Han Meilin, known as the 'Chinese Picasso' who was apparently paid less than 10p for his work. Even allowing for different standards of living this seems remarkably low. Meilin's design alludes to Chinese calligraphic seals and has a recognisably oriental feel to it. The design works well - and so much better than the much derided 'streetwise' (and according to some fellatio-themed) 2012 Olympics logo:

  • Rub a dub dub

    67bcb08e7bab64ed98d29284b4d13818.jpgAn ancient family story describes a domestic science lesson (that's what they were called then). A teacher told an unenthusiastic child to 'put some elbow grease into it!' Some time later she was found searching high and low in a cupboard in a desperate attempt to find the stuff.

    Call me a reactionary fuddy duddy if you want, but here are some juicy hand-picked factoids about effort from today's media.

    In spite of all the campaigning to get kids to propel themselves to school, at many well-to-do London primary schools all pupils still arrive by car – most in gas-guzzling Chelsea tractors. The physics 'A' level now covers half the syllabus it did 10 or 20 years ago. As a result, British students no longer win the world 'Physics Olympiad'. 

    54% of state school teachers won't send their brightest pupils to Oxbridge because a degree at some of the best colleges in the land  'wouldn't be right for our pupils'. And only 1% of children's television shown in the UK is made here: the rest is bland cartoons and unchallenging sitcoms about 'American teenage obsessions like dating'. Age-specific educational programmes and programmes like Grange Hill that tackle British issues and values just don't get made any more.

    6ed7777e8dd3774e877aa7b7ce5ad11e.jpgAnd then there's cleaning products... Have you noticed how they almost always promise 'no need to rub'? That'd be too much effort. Gullible media-softened saps that we are, we put our blind faith in the miracle product. Once we let the genie out of the bottle, it will solve all our problems for us. Then with a warm glow and a clear conscience we swoosh the stuff down the drain, with no thought for the environmental consequences.

    Harrumph. Diaphania shuffles off to Tunbridge Wells making disgusted noises... 

  • Ladele lack of judgement?


    The unanimous decision of an employment tribunal that a Christian registrar working in Islington was unfairly discriminated against because she refused to perform partnership ceremonies for gay people has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy. That individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion is rightly enshrined in law – but in this case the law is once again proving itself to be an ass.

    The full judgment upholds a complaint of 'direct discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief'. Miss Ladele (who was in post before same sex partnerships were introduced) affirms that 'a civil partnership is a marriage in all but name... I feel unable to directly facilitate a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God's law' Two colleagues of Miss Ladele (one a Muslim) took demotion (with no loss of pay) to avoid performing the cermony and Miss Ladele was initially accommodated informally by the altering of rotas. But the working atmosphere (particularly with gay and lesbian colleagues) deteriorated and she was informed that she was required to stick to the terms of her contract and perform the ceremonies for people irrespective of their sexuality.

    One council diversity specialist told me he was in complete despair at the judgment. He sees it opening the door to any employee refusing duties on the grounds of religion or belief. "Imagine a BNP supporter refusing to serve immigrants on the grounds of 'belief'!"

    I'm not convinced that an employment tribunal establishes formal legal precedent in this way. But I am absolutely sure the tin marked 'registrar' now lists gay partnerships as one of its key ingredients. Anyone signing up to the job must take it - or leave it.


    A number of lawyers are conviced that the case deserves to be overturned on appeal. Headoflegal writes:

    "if as the Tribunal says, Ms. Ladele's stance is based on her belief that marriage is a life-long bond between a man and a woman, why didn't she kick up this fuss about marrying divorcees?"
  • Send in the droogs

    In Anthony Burgess's A clockwork orange the droogs are Alex's violent pals. Now we all get our kicks on the internet and look like meeting fewer and fewer people for real are we becoming a generation of un-socialised droogs, just as Gordon Brown is desperately trying to manufacture national allegiance?

    A new report claims that British children are being 'raised online' spending at least 20 hours a week connected to the internet. In August 2007 Microsoft proudly put the figure at more like 34 hours. The IPPR report states that 57% of young people have come into contact with online porn. 117 videos featuring the term 'happy slap' were posted on YouTube last week, and 312 were posted as 'street fights'. Microsoft claim that internet use increases social interaction – but is this the kind they mean?

    Just what does the availability on the internet of instant gratification of every kind do for tolerance? In the real world, gratification isn't instant. Things don't go to plan and people don't always behave predictably. How are today's kids learning to react?

    Also this week, one third of teachers are reported as having been subjected to classroom violence, with 75% threatened by their pupils. Another report shows four times as many teachers finding knives on their pupils than in 2001, in spite of the increasing use of metal detectors in schools. Across the country, the quality of teaching is suffering as teachers struggle to cope with multilingual classes. In more than one in 20 schools, English is a minority language:

    In the borough of Newham, nine out of 10 schools have a non-English first language majority. The same is true of a third of schools in Leicester and in Blackburn, and a quarter of schools in Birmingham.

    Outside school, people are not mixing like they used to. Every community used to have a pub, church and post office at its centre. They were the hub of local life - places where we met new people and learned to get along. Now 2,500 more post offices are to close and in Langton Green in Kent: 

    Gone are three of the village's four pubs; gone are the two police houses; gone is the horticultural society; gone is one of the two grocery stores, one of the two butchers, the last dairy farm, the YMCA playing field, the doctor's surgery – all in recent memory – and now, gone is the post office. Gone too is the wildlife from the village pond, seen off by a new drainage system which draws in the oil and detritus from the road.

    Publicans say that tradition and the fabric of society is being destroyed by the loss of four pubs per day across the country. Around one church per week is closed.

    Another 2008 survey reports that 15% of people don't speak to any of their neighbours from one week to the next. And 65% said that in the future people will have more contact through the internet than in person:

    "There's a real issue with people being dislocated from the communities where they live," said Ginny Lunn, the director of policy and development at the Prince's Trust. "Everybody needs to take responsibility for communities and make sure people aren't isolated, otherwise we could face a generation of people who will become unconnected from society."

    Pundits say cash will solve the problem. The Government says things are improving. And L'Oreal says you're 'worth it'. At the grassroots, plenty of us are still trying, giving our time, building places like community orchards so that people can connect again. Margaret Thatcher's most memorable line was 'there's no such thing as society'. Don't let it come true.

  • The Temple veil torn

    fe2ca5100806c5094d1384f1c1d9522a.jpgLondon's most ancient Inns of Court, the Inner and Middle Temples, are celebrating their 400th birthday. They are doing it by letting the hoi polloi in their hundreds tramp through their exclusive acres. One highlight was a talk by Lady Butler-Sloss, former President of the Family Division and some time Coroner to the Princess Diana Inquest. She dismissed the Home Office as hopelessly inefficient and the new Justice Ministry as a thoroughly bad idea which she hopes will be dismantled as soon as possible.

    Between the Embankment and Fleet Street lies a complex of buildings and gardens that together form a self-governing liberty, independent of the City of London. Oldest is the 12th century Round Church, built by the crusading knights templar to recall the circular church of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. Master of the Church Robin Griffith-Jones was fairly spell-binding in a 30 minute talk on the church's history. The Da Vinci Code got almost as short shrift as the knights templar, once King Philip IV of France decided to find them guilty of urinating on the cross and ritualised sodomy. Griffith-Jones conceded some sections of the order may have been guilty of these crimes, but the sin of the majority was to be part of a highly powerful organisation that acted as royal bankers - and refused Philip IV a loan.

    The buildings passed to the Knights Hospitalier and then in 1608 James granted them to the Inns of Court, on condition they maintain the church equally and that they educate and house legal students. The south side of the church is in the care of the Inner Temple, and the other is maintained by the Middle Temple - so that when rival organs were being tried out in 1682 an armed guard had to be maintained to prevent the Inner Temple sabotaging the victorious Middle Temple's instrument, and vice versa.

    Sir Walter Raleigh, Dickens, Attlee, Ghandhi and Nehru were all once members here. We visited the chambers of John Cherry QC and were shown the clerk's room and their impressive rolls of red tape (which are in fact pink). I expected Rumpole at any moment.

    The Middle Temple hall has a stunning hammer beam roof begun in 1562 which is 'perhaps the finest example of an Elizabethan Hall in the country'. This is where Twelfth Night was first performed in 1602. Unlike the Temple Church and Inner Temple Hall, the blitz left it relatively unscathed, thanks to fire watchers on constant duty with buckets of sand and brushes to push incendiaries off the roof.

    Though it is modern, the hall of the Inner Temple matches the style of the 18th century structures around it. In the Parliament Chamber, one of the country's most senior former judges spoke about the judiciary and the Inns of Court. There was something surreal about the ease with which we took our seats in this establishment holy of holies. Lady Butler-Sloss must be legal royalty, since she has the clipped accent of the Windsors - but she was far from standoffish. She praised the collegiate structure of the Inns of Court and the tradition of dining and partying together which means judiciary mix equally with barristers and their pupils.

    Perhaps because she had noticed that, unusually, she knew few members of her audience, she became mildly indiscreet at question time. The European Courts were championed for their ability to 'trump' the Government and the new Justice Ministry, which attempts to administer courts, prisons and the probation service, was trashed along with the 'hopeless' Home Office. We were told the Mohamed Al Fayed had employed a total of 60 lawyers to work on the Princess Diana Inquest.

    For the fascinating surroundings and the warmth of our welcome, an entirely satisfying visit.