Government, energy & environment

The depoliticisation of the West

The British Prime Minister was elected by a mere 25% of the electorate in 2001 and only 59% of the population bothered to vote. Back in 1950 84% managed to find their local polling station and even as recently as 1997 72% managed to find it. Why the change? The main reason is probably a lack of real choice. The UK, US and Australia are effectively two party systems and all the parties appear to have embraced the same centre-right policies making them virtually indistinguishable. More importantly, the cynical manipulation of voters has created a culture of cynical voters. Over in mainland Europe the turnout at the recent European elections was even worse. Only 45% of the 350 million registered voters managed to cast their vote despite the fact that voting is compulsory in several European countries. Moreover, many of those that did vote voted for anti-integration and independent parties which has effectively created the first ever real opposition to the EU.

Ref: The Atlantic Monthly (US), June 2004. Telegraph issue 673.

Penny for your thoughts

According to Pravda, 20% of Russian parents would consider the use of bribes if it meant their children got in to the right school and 10% of teachers willingly accept such bribes. According to the authorities the only way to stop such bribery is to increase the wages of teachers and university lecturers.

Ref: St Petersburg Times (Russia)

Terrorism fuels academic courses

Terrorism and disaster are among the fastest growing areas of study in the US with more than 100 colleges and Universities developing courses like "Terrorism and Apocalyptic Violence" Partly funded by the Department of Homeland Security, the new disciplines are intended to educate government officials and other managers about various 'first response' aspects of terrorism including crowd control, public health and dealing with the press.

Ref: New York Times (US), 1 September 2004

Sins of the father

The UK government has announced plans to observe the habits and whereabouts of children of well-known criminals. The idea is to target children using known risk factors and then to use surveillance to ensure that the children don't follow in their parents’ footsteps. Meanwhile, the Children's Minister has been attacked for supporting the creation of a child database. This would contain confidential information on the country's 11 million children and would be used to monitor behaviour and assess risks. Once upon a time both ideas would have been technically complex, expensive and ethically suspect. But with the advent of remote tracking technology and increasing public concern surrounding street crime such moves will probably get the green light in the not too distant future.

Ref: Guardian (UK) 16 August 2004 and 29 July 2004.

10 hour school days and other new ideas

An experimental scheme that keeps primary schools open at least 10 hours per day is expected to be rolled out nation-wide in the UK. The early starts and late nights are intended to help working parents who will pay extra for services such as breakfast and after school activities. Other new ideas championed by the government include truancy fines for parent sand a return to basics campaign with the re-introduction of school uniforms and competitive sport into the public (state) school system .Finally, the government has promised to review the size and scope of school reports in primary schools. Currently teachers of 5 year olds are forced to assess pupils on 117 factors and produce 100,000 word reports per class of 30. Meanwhile, over in Australia, an education conference has predicted that parents will soon start suing schools who fail to deliver academic results or fail to teach children properly.

Ref: Weekly Telegraph (UK) Issues numbers 675, 677 and 686, Sydney Morning Herald 20 October 2004.

Crime trends

Burglaries and car theft are down and gun crimes, muggings, rape, drug possession and violence are all up according to the latest British Crime Survey. What's interesting about these figures is the fall in domestic burglary which has declined by 45% over the past decade. Even more interesting, the fall is greatest in London. Why the shift? Part of the reason is increased levels of home security but only 25% of people install burglar alarms. Another reason is low unemployment. However, the main reason has to do with globalisation. Products like VHS recorders,DVD players and hi-fis have become so cheap that they're hardly worth stealing. Flat screen plasma TVs are in demand but they've also become so large that they're almost impossible to steal. The new items of choice for burglars are cash, cheque books and mobile phones because they're small and they don't shout 'stolen' when you're walking down the street. The other reason for the shift is to do with drug trends. There is correlation between the type of drugs someone takes and the type of crime they commit. The drugs of choice are now crack and powder cocaine and users tend to be addicted to street crime which takes less skill and planning than domestic burglary.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 29 May 2004, Weekly Telegraph (UK), number 679

Education trends

It varies by country but there is undoubtedly a trend towards private education in many countries. Schools are becoming commercialized in the sense that they are selling a standardised product and with private schools there is a growing feeling amongst parents that if they're paying for it they can decide what 'it' is. In most cases the 'it' is high marks which translates into a good job and money. Parents are also demanding discipline and traditional values which is in effect an abdication of parental duties. What parents are effectively saying is, "look, we're both really busy (working to pay your school fees) so if you can teach my child good manners, right and wrong, a sense of family and civic duty we’ll do all the fun stuff at weekends".This abdication of responsibility and the single minded focus on academic achievement is likely to result in an increasingly selfish,narcissistic society and will lead to growing (class) division.

Ref: Sydney Morning Herald 9 August 2004.

Fantasy politicians

In a recent poll the majority of people said they’d like Bart Simpson to be President of the United States of America. Funny as this might be it could actually happen in the future. Not Bart personally of course, just someone famous who’s on TV. George Orwell once said that people would vote for a pig if it stood for the right party. These days voters are a little more selective, but not much. Once upon a time politics was about believing in an idea. These days it’s about finding out what other people want and then making them believe you can give it too them. Increasingly it’s also about having the right kind of face. And if that face happens to be recognised by a few million people so much the better.

Looking after number one

The results of the recent US and Australian elections sharply define the aspirations and concerns of ordinary people in the two countries. Most people seem to have taken the view that it’s better to vote for the devil you know although the subtle message of “vote for me or you’ll die” seems to have got through according to some observers. In the US the trend towards conservatism is showing no sign of changing and there is now a sharp divide between the views of urban, suburban and rural America. Moral values, religion and sex still rule. In Australia concerns were similarly focused on moral values and the war on terror. However, the subtext of the Australian result was also about the primacy of the self. People are up to their eyes in debt and are fully absorbed by their own material circumstances. They are selfish, self-absorbed and self-obsessed. So why would you vote for an untried foreign policy and unknown interest rates? However, under the surface something might be stirring. In a recent poll 83% of Australians thought that society was too materialistic and that things that really matter were being ignored.

Ref: Various including Sydney Morning Herald (AUS), New York Times (US), Washington Post (US) and LA Times (US).