The Problems With South Korean Education

For one day a year the entire peninsula of South Korea comes to a screaming halt.  For one day a year elementary and middle schools open late, airports and train stations change their schedule, post offices and government buildings, the stock exchange remains closed until after 10am, losing the country a bob or two and police are ordered to escort any delayed student to his/her school.  A population of almost fifty-million stays locked up and off the road for up to three hours.  This is the day that nothing is allowed to stop the countries high school students getting to their final exam, an exam that determines whether they make it into university or not. Whether they become a have-not or a never-had, a dreamer, a worrier, a beggar or another victim who takes his own life in some dark dingy basement.  This day is the most important day in life.

With 80% of Korean students expecting to get into a university the competition is intense.  Other countries seem to weather this event much more easily.  The options available are still the same, Korea offers a huge range of courses to cater to almost any candidate, but it is for those positions which will hand its recipient an almost guarantee of a stable and prosperous life that is most at stake.  Those relatively few placements for prestigious universities like Seoul National etc., are the ones that become like the golden ticket to these poor suffering little sots.  So what can the country do to make it feel even terrifying?

The authorities think that by closing down all other businesses and organisations and threatening those who have no need to venture out during these precious hours is helping, but this of course can only add to the stress and fear that these already uptight and exhausted kids are going through.  Knowing that the streets are like a ghost town because nothing is allowed to stop you getting to your exam will only intensify the significance of it all, and that won’t do anyone any favours!  The students are smart enough to know, I hope, that they know that getting into university is important, they know what’s at stake, they’ve been studying since they were two-years old.

The education in Korea is like no other in the world.  Students rise early and study late, some working more than eighteen hours a day, not including the hours they put in doing their homework.  The government sees this as progress and what needs to be done to compete on the world stage, it has after all grown from being one of the poorest countries during the 1960s to now being the 13th largest economy in the world.  But that growth was primarily down to an increase in mass production, cheap labour and industry, not in the fields that many potential university students hope to study in, namely Law, Medicine and Diplomacy.  These branches of education are considered the most affluent above all else.  Using your brain so that you don’t have to use your hands; getting someone else to do the manual whilst you sit and watch and reap the rewards of your accountancy firm, law practice or dental clinic etc.  The parents pray that their sprog will succeed, some bowing mindlessly three-thousand times in Buddhist temples or churches in the hope that their God will hear their pleadings and bargainings over all others who are stood by your side, but there can only be one winner and that is the one who employees these young upstarts and forces them to work every hour of every day for a little sparkle of silver and the promise of a day-off when their grandfather kicks the bucket.

All this stress, hope, praying, yearning and begging to get into an average university to study something you have no interest in really, to then get a job where you will bossed around by someone who sees you as just another drone willing to do his bidding and be told that your weekends are in his pocket because he is your supervisor and he wants to go off singing with his little concubine.  So, what’s the hope?

Don’t be told what to do or which field to apply in, this is your life, your future, you’ll regret spending twenty years behind a desk with nothing to show apart from insufferable piles and the constitution of someone twice your age.  Don’t listen to those family members who say what you want is beyond your talents and is impossible in this country.

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Reality TV’s Real Purpose

It has been a political hot potato for as long as people have been having children.  How the hell do you deal with the rotten oiks when they don’t listen nor do a bloody thing anyone else says.  Whether you try to be a fun-loving parent or a hip, cool and stylish teacher chances are those in the 13-19 year-old bracket will think you’re as uncool as… well maybe that’s the point I’m trying to make, I can’t even suggest anything that is cool, because these rascals will throw it back in my face!  Even if you try to be cool in front of them, they’ll just stab you, take your wallet and spend your money on getting dreadlocks!

Anyway, the point I think I’m trying to make is that there is a solution to these riotous ruffians, and it is something that I think will entertain both sides of this regatta of controversy.  I think my proposition should be taken up by government and sold to the rest of the world, with me as the Simon Cowell of the mix… But from the outset though this should only involve those ungovernable, lawless, vicious, those ‘gosh-darn-it’, crooked types.  Those kind who have received a sentence from Her Majesty’s most finest, should be clapped in irons and be forced to compete.  Those who abide by the law of the land have nothing to fear… yet!

‘Big Brother’s National Conscription’, yes, that’s another reality TV show and instead of getting them to sit around in an over-sized bedroom complaining about how someone else has called them a ‘bitch’, they compete against one other in the same predicament by completing several tasks not too dissimilar from what the real army folk do. Shit…! as I write this though I have suddenly remembered that there was  something like this called ‘Bad Lads Dad’s Army,’ so I am obligated to update my idea… So, you know the Japanese movie Battle Royale? where a class of students are forced into killing each other off, well lets bring that to the TV executive table.  Come on, there are much worse things on TV these days than a reality TV show about juvenile delinquents whose head could be blown off at any second… who’s seen True Blood?

So how would it work? If they committed a crime they serve out their sentence on the TV show, which of course will be shown live on E4, 24 hours a day.  Rather than costing the taxpayer money to keep them inside a prison for their duration, money will come in for advertisers, (prisoners could be made to sell different products too as part of their punishment. A kleptomaniac would be made to sell padlocks; a murderer – life insurance etc ).  They will train like soldiers, be treated like soldiers, and at a time when military spending is being reduced, it won’t cut into the defence budget because the revenue will come from advertisers.  It will teach those involved practical and linguistic skills as well as team skills, structure etc, and if they still misbehave their head gets blown off.  This could be an end of season finale where two souls get to battle it out to have their record cleared.

There could be one or two downsides, like seeing your son’s head pop off at any moment, but at least he would have gone out doing what all teenagers want to do, being on television displaying no discernible talent whatsoever.  Morals reasons… meh, society has done far worse things, like allow  taxpayer money (not mine, I live abroad!) to go to the Queen’s 60th jubilee celebrations.

Will this work, you bet your arse it wouldn’t because Britain is a (fairly) liberal society that (apparently) deplores sadistic violence, though the number of viewers of Sky News seem to rise year-on-year (honestly), but it could make a good movie, any takers?

Jimmy Carr – The Artful Tax Dodger

Sixty-six percent of the Guardian’s poll stated that Jimmy Carr was morally wrong to play his taxes the way he did.  Morally wrong, well, what do you think? I would agree, but he is a comedian and has said a plethora of immoral things in his career, but we all laughed heartily at that.  “But it’s not illegal to speak your mind and say how you feel.., but dodging tax is, and it’s against the law!” But it is against the law to incite racial violence or to say things which could become libelous, so then free of speech has been impeded, you see how difficult it is to know where the line is drawn.

Jimmy Carr has been using an off-shore Jersey scheme to funnel the amount he pays in tax in the UK. It is not illegal, but has been heavily condemned by David Cameron who sees it as ‘morally corrupt’. The Prime Minister has allegedly started to put together a set of new laws that will stop this ‘safe-haven’ system.

But another issue concerns Take That singer – Gary Barlow who has also been keen to avoid the tax man by putting money into a similar Jersey ‘K2’ scheme.  A donor to the Conservative party, there has been little light on this signer who was very prominent during the Jubilee celebrations and was even awarded an OBE for his efforts (for which now there have been calls for him to return it).  Mr David Cameron has not been so keen to berate him as he has been to tear into Jimmy Carr.  Why, because if you start looking into who proudly donates to the Tory party and pays less that the required amount of tax then the numbers could rise quite high. Labour stalwart, Dennis Skinner demanded a list of those politicians closet to David Cameron to publicly show how, when and where they pay their taxes.  Ed Miliband has remarked that he thinks politicians should avoid giving the public lessons on morality and instead put in place laws, but it is still the responsibility of these elected so-and-so’s to lead by example, rather than ‘do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do.’ If they cannot be the ones who lead our society by the morals they set out then we really are fucked!

OK Jimmy Carr should have paid his taxes, everybody should, everybody should pay their fair share.  Such speakers as Will Self came out months ago when the whole debacle over the reduction of the higher tax bracket was in the news. He believed that someone with his level of wealth should help out those less well-off in society.  So it would have been morally right for Jimmy to have done the same, but he didn’t break the law.  The line between tax evasion and avoidance is clear, one is knowingly disclosing false figures to HMRC and the other is setting up a charity or off-shore fund where you receive substantial tax breaks.  Jimmy Carr just showed that if you have money, you can find those who can find those little holes to avoid paying less.  His career will possibly take a slight sip, but he will ride it out because it is not his responsibility to demonstrate a high degree of morals to the public, we have our politicians for that.  And it should be the politicians who seal up all the holes that have let these wealthy individuals get away with paying as little as 1% tax.

Liam Fox’s Real Agenda

In politics it’s often not what you know, but whom you know.  This has been clearly the case of Dr. Liam Fox MP, the Defense Secretary and his ‘best man’ Adam Werritty.  News has been flowing thick and fast about the allegations that Mr. Werrity used access to Dr. Fox to set up several lucrative meetings with defense contractors in Dubai, as well as accompanying the MP on numerous trips around the globe.

This, at least on moral grounds is totally wrong, completely and totally wrong, if proven, but I bet that if anyone who wanted to be considered a capitalist, or who just wanted to make a few extra quid on the backs of your chums, well then I think would have to hang our heads in shame as we are all probably guilty.  I’m not saying that it is right, of course it isn’t, but as Henry Kissinger said – “Ninety percent of all politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.”  I mean Mr. Fox is a conservative and that stands in favour of business and enterprise, so he, if he did, probably meant it, right?

Over two years Mr. Werritty has been heavily present in over eighteen meetings as well as twenty-two in the Ministry of Defense (MoD) without any official position.  He has travelled as far afield as Australian, US and Bahrain as well as other regions in the Middle East.  In one particular incident the pair were at a dinner table in Dubai where per chance they began talking to representatives of a defense contractor.

David Cameron has come out publicly and said that he thinks Dr. Fox is doing a fantastic job in a very difficult position, I mean he’s not Secretary of Culture for a start, I mean he has a job that actually means something.  According to The Telegraph, Mr. Cameron said; “It is clear, as Liam Fox himself said yesterday, that serious mistakes were made in allowing the distinction between professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to be blurred.”  But will he fire him as a result of this; you can probably guess that is very unlikely.  He even admitted that the Secretary had ‘been completely’ honest and that ‘no important information’ had been spoken to, or handed to Mr. Werritty, who shares secrets with their best man?  So we have some comfort in knowing that information, which could be ‘Top Secret’ has never passed into the hands of some irksome civilians, perish the thought!  Even more cause for concern is the fact that officials in Whitehall are pondering on how Mr. Werritty makes his money after both he and Dr. Fox have admitted that their best buddy relationship does not provide financial gain despite the fact he is a businessman, who according to sources was paid £10,000 last year for an introduction by a Dubai business.  Currently both are keeping their cards close to their chests and not providing any details of their monetary agreements.  What has been amusing is that Mr. Fox has continually stated that he nor Mr. Werritty have taken any money in any deal that would seek to benefit others who are involved, but that’s a little too ‘left’ for me to fathom.  I have always thought that the Tories were meant to be hardened capitalists, that’s why they are currently looking to reduce the tax on the rich and seeking to set up as many ‘academy’ schools as possible.  They want business to take the reigns and lead nearly every aspect of our society, so why then do we expect that someone who has been voted in by a democratic system to adhere to those principles that got him that power and do what is best for others when he is a businessman at heart.

The Hope For British Newspapers

The News of the World, a newspaper with over 2.5m readers, has been part of the British way of life throughout its lifespan.  It has brought sleaze, titillation, filth and above all scandal to our Sunday mornings.  For almost a 150 years it has brought sleaze, scandal and outrage to people’s Sunday breakfast, but, as of the 10th of July 2011 the newspaper will end its publication over the phone-hacking scandal that has seen its advertisers run for the hills like a donkey from a Chinese abattoir.

The newspaper will see its doors close and its keys handed over to Scotland Yard who will begin to sift through all the databases and private emails, ledgers, documents and rubbish bins in the hope to bring to justice those who sort to illegally obtain information by listening to private voicemail messages.  From celebrities to members of the Royal Family, from victims of appalling crimes to soldiers of senseless wars. 

So the question is, where will people go now to get their fill of outrage.  Unlike America, which has the National Enquirer, a publication so bereft of facts and realism that it makes ‘Snow White’ look like the movie ‘Monster’ with Charlize Theron.  But in the UK a good percentage of people enjoy nothing more than reading about celebrities getting their fingers caught in another’s backside over their burnt toast.  Because while some of the facts were loosely fitted together at the best of times, we knew deep down that the stories did have some original content and more importantly, the sots who were the subject of the allegations were always people that came low down on people’s lists of popular persons, such as any footballer and/or pedophiliac pop star; Pakistani cricketers or Prince Harry.  Publicly we would openly condone these stories, saying: ‘You’d never catch me reading such twaddle,’ yada, yada, yada!  But privately we all flicked through those pages like a heroin addict with a crispy £20.

It is suggested that the News of the World is as British as fish ‘n’ chips or damp summers. And its true the British do like a good gossip, it is part of the ‘over-the-fence’ housewife culture that followed after the Second World War, when neighbours needed to be vigilant against ‘the common enemy.’  It is just an evolutionary path, but unfortunately the lines between heresy gossip and going through another’s private phone messages to get information have now been so ruined that the whole newspaper industry will have to be almost remodelled to stop such outrageous practices in the future.

On the larger scale too this affects every newspaper, especially those under the Murdoch ‘News Corp’ blanket, because with the Internet and social websites gaining more and more readers through blogs and other postings, this sort of scandal reiterates their belief that the industry is in rapid decline, when in fact it needs to be as creditable as possible, by not dealing in rumours and claptrap, but in hardened concrete facts and doing so in a manner that fits with a legal practice that doesn’t infringe on the well-being of others.  The public needs to be informed in almost educational way that encourages people to make decisions based on facts and hardened truths and not exaggerations.  Journalism is of paramount importance to Britain as we have some of the greatest freedom of press laws in the world, but just because they have the freedom does not mean that they should be free to do as they please.  Any industry that affects and relies on the public needs to be governed and monitored fairly and lawfully, with any that do not hold up such high ethical values should be relieved of their duties.  Newspapers need the honesty of Sir David Attenborough, the credibility of Sir Michael Parkinson with the leadership of Sir Winston Churchill.

Newspapers are a priority to the British media.  I implore you go and buy a few today.

Nick Clegg and the House of Lords Reform

The crowned portcullis, symbol of the Parliame...

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Nick Clegg does not seem to be having the best of luck these days.  A month ago his AV referendum went up in smoke and now it seems his plan to change the way the House of Lords is elected is going the way of the Dodo too.  But what did he really expect?  Firstly, nobody this side of the solar system has any respect for him and those that say they do are just trying to steal his parking space, but secondly it’s the House of Lords for God’s sake, what was he thinking; they’ll never change.

According to a study conducted by the Times newspaper, almost 80% of elected peers would be against such reforms planned by Mr. Clegg, believing it to be unconstitutional.  He planned to reduce the number members down to 300, each an individually elected peer and eventually hoping to remove all hereditary entitlements.  Each was to be given a 15-year term, but not surprisingly almost all those surveyed by the newspaper said that they would oppose any and all plans.

All the main parties made reforming the House of Lords part of their 2010 election manifestos, but now it seems that it is unlikely change leading some commentators to suggest that the government could implement the Parliament Act 1911, which effectively bypasses the HOL.  This last time this occurred was in 2004 when the Commons passed the Hunting Ban.  But it is easy to see why in the hell the Lords wouldn’t want reform.

Back in the day you didn’t have to do much to find yourself a seat in the HOL, all you needed was to be popped out of Baroness’ cherished hotspot and in a number of years your Lordy Lord father would pop his clogs and low and behold you’d have a seat.  Now it is a little bit more difficult, but not too much.  Hereditary peers still exist and they get paid to sit around for as little as 136 days a year for no more than six hours a day for just under £70,000.  It seems the perfect job, why would you want to give that up, and why would you allow some snotty upstart politician that suffered badly in one electoral vote, who has turned his attention to the system that has given you most afternoons off? A Lord without a peerage is like a shire horse without anything to tow, all it is, is a bucket load of rancid old meat!  Even when the Times put out this survey to all 789 members only 300 or so could be bothered to fill it out and return, what does that say about how futile a system it is?

The Deputy Prime Minister has long stated his view on the House, “I have always supported 100% elected,” And the Conservatives have also tried to sound out how they will attempt to improve the current system, “We will seek to build a consensus for a mainly elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords, that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy,” (Conservative Election Manifesto 2010) but with more than double the amount of peers than either political party, do they really seem likely to change current law and insinuate anarchy in their ranks?

Do we need a House of Lords really?  Surely the point of electing a government in the House of Commons is so they that can implement the laws they put forward in their manifesto and not to see them fall short because the House of Lords is closed for the day due to a day trip from the residential home where the majority of members live.  They are mostly unelected, stuffy and completely out of touch with the modern world.  Any group of persons that vote against a bill that bans fox hunting because they consider it ‘traditional’ instead of a senseless and wretched blood sport should be stripped down to their briefs and given a 10-second head start before a group of starved wolfhounds are let off their lease.

I think the public would have more respect for Nick Clegg and his viewpoint if he were to take a few stark-mad, slightly loopy Lords and take them out onto Dartmoor and release them back into the wild doing a decent thing for his career and for us – the ever accepting tax payer!

What’s the Point in a Protest?

What’s the Point in a Protest?

Do you remember several weeks ago when the whole Arab world was alive with political reform? Protesters took to the street in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as well as other countries dotted around the region.  Though Libya is struggling with what looks like an all-out civil war, the results of the other aforementioned two saw democratic joy and ‘power for the people’.  But does protesting really work?  I mean do the governments or the dictators, whether corporate or power-hungry mad dogs like Gaddafi really pay any attention to them? We will all remember those two million or so people who were so enraged at the prospect of going to war with Iraq that they politely asked their boss for the morning off work to head down to central London and stomp up and down the streets waving banners and wittingly calling Tony Blair – Tony Bliar.

I get just as annoyed and dismayed as the next person on all sorts of social, political and constitutional issues, but would I do anything about it?  What’s the point?  Let’s take the Iraq war in 2003.  I think that it is super that so many people marched against the invasion.  To see so many people angry at something so important, where people’s lives would be lost, it was truly a wonderful democratic moment, but I didn’t head down because I had something else planned for that day.  I don’t remember what it was, but I probably thought that it was important.

I also would have thought that the government have an ‘agenda’ to adhere to and that despite so many people speaking out against it they would turn a blind eye and dive head first into Baghdad.  Low and behold that is exactly what they did.  If two million can’t make that much of a difference what good would two million and one make? If you compare the success of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt with that of the UK one could be swayed that Tony Blair was in fact even more of a brutal tyrant than that of Murbarak and Ben Ali for not heeding, but perhaps not as terrible as the rotten apple that is Gaddafi.

To find the time to protest is clearly another issue that a lot of people have.  A common cliché is that a thing for a student to do is to protest, whether it be because of tuition fees, G20 summit or because their favourite 24-hour bacon sandwich shop has closed down due to health and safety.  Of course they protest because they all have so much free time on their hands, and just because they have heard of Karl Marx they think they’re socialists with an upstanding moral agenda and that they fully understand everything that is wrong in the world.  And good luck to them, but the truth is most people work 9 to 5 with a 40-minute lunch break and this is certainly not enough time to get yourself into London, make a banner and stride up and down Marble Arch, especially when there’s trouble with parking.  Unfortunately, once you start working your social issues begin to change, you start picking up a regular pay check, you get married and have children, then suddenly when you do here there is a march on something you feel so passionately about you can’t find anyone to babysit your children.

Now though you don’t need to even leave the confines of your workstation to make your point.  There are dozens of campaigning websites where you can attach your name to all manner of worthwhile causes, such as Avaaz.com and its ‘Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of Sky‘ crusade.  This is more convenient and it gets millions of more signatures on its books.   But I think that the real reason why protests don’t work more in this country is because whenever anything is planned for the UK there is always the chance that the rain will come and ruin everything.  Maybe we should protest against that!