The ‘Prevent’ strategy in practice

I took a look at my primary school’s website today, out of nostalgia. I had generally remembered it rather fondly as a fairly diverse and laid-back environment (to be contrasted against my secondary school, with its strict uniform policies, school prayers and extremely heavy workload). Therefore, it was a little alarming (but also amusing) to look at the website’s description of the school’s values. They include:

‘How British values are promoted at Broomgrove Junior School.’

‘Our curriculum is designed to ensure that our children have the opportunity to learn and reflect on the British values that underpin our lives.’

‘The School Council ensures that all children can influence decision making through the democratic processes.’

‘through promoting British values, our children will become responsible citizens for the future’

You might spot a theme here. Even though only a couple of teachers from my own time are still around, I doubt the entire ethos of the school will have changed particularly heavily over fifteen years: There haven’t been huge changes in local demographics, even if the local university has expanded.

While the ‘Prevent’ strategy, in which David Cameron and Theresa May have tried to prevent radicalisation by encouraging schools to promote ‘British values’ (and to report suspicious children, and those who don’t speak English at home), I’m beginning to suspect that all it served to do was to force teachers to spend their precious time and effort in updating their schools’ websites and vision statements.

Yes, British Chinese people do exist.

I met an academic from mainland China at this conference in Massachusetts (which has just finished). (This man barely spoke English, and he spent most of the conference talking only to other Mandarin speakers, so I’m not sure why they bothered coming.)

After spending ages trying to explain my work to him, naturally the question was asked as to where I was from. Cambridge, in the UK, of course. But where was I from originally? The UK. And so it continued; it was completely inconceivable to him that there would be ethnically-Chinese people who had never lived in the PRC or Singapore, and who don’t speak Mandarin.

This is by no means the first mainland Chinese person that I’ve met who thought along those lines.

‘Go back to where you came from’, and sometimes ‘Where are you originally from?’, have the implied message ‘you’re not really one of us’. These statements are now commonly recognised as forms of racial harassment. But the implied message ‘you should be one of us, not one of them’ is also based on the idea that a person’s identity is determined by their body features (such as skin colour), and can be just as effective in depriving a person of the rest of their identity.

Stonehill Campus

Arrived in Stonehill College, Easton earlier today for the first (very long) day of the conference.

I noticed that campus security is maintained by full police officers, with guns and all. I should hope they are less strict than our porters are about not walking on the grass or standing up when the gong sounds.

A few observations about Boston

As part of my journey to the Gordon Research Conference on granular materials, in Easton, Massachusetts, I’m spending today and tonight (it’s currently 8pm Boston time, which means it’s too-late-and-I’m-about-to-collapse-from-exhaustion-time in London) in Boston. This being my first trip to the US (indeed, to anywhere west of Wales), I’ve made a number of observations in the last eight hours.

  • I usually take an aisle seat on planes, and can usually put my elbow on the arm rest without blocking the aisle for anybody. There must have been a lot of really fat people on this flight.
  • The first piece of American English that I heard upon arriving was a video that they showed at Immigration and Customs (where we waited on and on…), featuring a woman saying the word ‘Really?’ with a rising intonation. So, so far, all my prejudices and stereotypes of Americans are being confirmed.
  • It’s just as oppressively hot here as it was in England a few days ago (in the low 30s, Celcius). However, there are beaches, yachts, large gardens and such, and everyone seems just a little bit happier than they are in Cambridge.
  • Chinese food here is very affordable, but actually quite nice. (There seems to be a healthy community of Cantonese people here, and their Chinatown makes London’s look quite pitiful.)
  • Things are big. Fire engines here go faster and are louder.
  • Hershey’s chocolate tastes like vomit.
  • Hershey’s is still better than other confectionery here, which have that horrible corn syrup stuff.

The Blackwave Party’s Trident policy

The UK Parliament will be voting on Trident renewal tomorrow.

Our Party strongly believes that nuclear weapons are unethical and that possessing nuclear weapons is hypocritical, even (perhaps especially) if done in the name of ‘deterrence’ or ‘self-defence’. On a more practical level, we believe that merely possessing nuclear weapons, without any intent to use them, is dangerous not just to other nations but also to ourselves, because of the possibility of an accidental provocation or other forms of human error. We also believe that the money spent on Trident, estimated at £205bn a year, could be put to much better use, especially in education.

However, we acknowledge that thousands of workers’ jobs depend on the maintenance of the nuclear submarines and its related systems, and that a decommissioning of Trident could lead to ‘tens of thousands of defence engineers’ being put out of work.

Therefore, our Party’s policy is as follows. If elected, we shall scrap Trident. The money saved will be spent on setting up technical colleges throughout the country. These will be used to retrain people to become carpenters and glaziers, with course fees heavily subsidised or even waived. Then, for every worker made redundant by the decommissioning of Trident, I shall personally go and smash all the windows and doors in a town (or village or London borough).

This policy will guarantee full employment, increased spending on education, and a better-trained workforce. The money spent on repairing broken windows and doors would also boost GDP. Any damage or destruction would be instantly repairable, and minimal compared to the damage that an accidentally-triggered nuclear war would cause.

In fact, money could also be spent on training people to become doctors and nurses. This would relieve some of the pressure on the NHS. Again, full employment will be guaranteed by a group of Blackwave Party thugs, whose responsibility will be to break the legs of the people who complain about their windows being smashed up.

We hope that all Members of Parliament, especially Labour MPs who go on about employment, will see the good sense behind our proposals.

Meditation without the Internet

I regularly sing at St Clement’s Church, Cambridge, one of the oldest and most traditional churches in Cambridge. However, it was only yesterday that I noticed the sign that they put outside:


The church doesn’t have a toilet inside, but I suppose wifi is more important. (And now that I know that there is wifi, I expect I shall be even more distracted during choir.)

Doubling in backgammon

You are playing backgammon (wlog as white). (The rules of backgammon are explained more clearly here.) At any given point during a round, there are six possible outcomes of the round, with corresponding values:

  • white wins by a backgammon (+3n)
  • white wins by a gammon (+2n)
  • white wins (+n)
  • red wins (-n)
  • red wins by a gammon (-2n)
  • red wins by a backgammon (-3n)

At the start of a round, n=1 and both players have control of the doubling cube.

When it is Alice’s turn, she may offer a double if and only if she controls the doubling cube. If Alice offers a double, then Bob must accept or decline. If Bob declines, then Bob forfeits the round and Alice gains n points. If Bob accepts, then Alice ceases to control the cube, Bob gains control of the cube, and n is multiplied by 2.

(There are other rules.)

The problem

Suppose that both you and your opponent can perfectly calculate the probability of each of the above outcomes.

  • It is your turn. Should you offer a double?
  • It is your opponent’s turn, and they have offered a double. Should you accept?

For a harder problem, suppose that you assign probabilities p_i to each of the above outcomes, and your opponent assigns different probabilities q_i, but you know both the p_i and the q_i.