As always, a busy time for me, had to go travelling for a bit to meet students on placement, one or two job interviews, some conferences, etc. So no time for blogging, so time for a catch up…
How can 4,352,251 people be so dumb?
Of course the big political story of the last few weeks was the European parliament elections. The results showed a jump in support for UKIP. Of course this had the tabloids (who are largely to blame for this given their tendency to blame foreigners for everything) both dancing a jig, but also having kittens over the obvious threat this poses to the Tories chances of re-election, given that the main loser to UKIP was the Tories.
Of course inevitably the result will be the Tories panicking and inventing more laws to clamp down on the perceived threat of migration. Of course as I pointed out in a prior post, its questionable if the UK has anything to fear from migration (the tabloid myths simply dont stack up when you examine the statistics) and indeed that UKIPs solution (leaving the EU) is unlikely to have any effect in curbing it.
One has to consider the negative economic effects. Migrants into the UK tend to be of working age who contribute more to the UK economy in taxes than they take out in the form of services, so the consequences if lots of them leaving is likely to be a drop in economic activity, tax take and inward investment.
And similarly the effect on the UK economy of the UK leaving the EU is likely to be negative. And far from this restoring powers to parliament, the result would be that the EU will continue to pass many of the UKs laws, except now the UK government will have no authority to overrule or veto those laws, as it will have to implement them without question in the interest of maintaining a free trade agreement with the EU. And even before the UK was out the door, its likely the EU would have its pound of flesh by imposing crippling terms on such a deal to the detriment of traders in London (this probably explains why UKIP did so badly in the capital itself!).
And as I previously mentioned the integrity of the United Kingdom itself could be threatened by a in/out referendum. Euro-scepticism is a largely English phenomenon, its interesting to note the marked difference between polls in England and those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where UKIP did not do nearly as well. UK independence Party? They should call themselves the English Bankruptcy Party.
And of course, contrary to what the tabloids would have you believe there seems to have been no real change in Brussels. The EPP (centre right) will, looking at the results, likely form an alliance with the liberals and centre left and carry on regardless. Indeed given that the pro-EU parties (of both right and left) will now need to co-operate more rather than squabble, the chances of the euroskeptics or the Tories getting their way is actually reduced. The EPP is proposing to make a Federalist the new EU commission president.
In part this is because politicians in Europe understand what is going on here far better than those in Britain. A good deal of UKIPs support is the usual anti-establishment populism which has been seen in other EU countries before. Generally such parties do well, until they get the slightest whiff of power .and then collapse! Obviously its easy to throw rocks when youre the guy outside the glass house. Furthermore as Ive illustrated many of UKIP or the other far right parties proposed policies are simply unworkable and would be hugely unpopular with the very people who support them (next time someone says we should have an in/out referendum point out to them that this means taxes going up, youre mortgage or rent going up, cuts to pensions and the NHS, etc.).
Indeed one need only look at the drumming the previous flavour of the month that was the BNP took in this election (losing both theyre seats), to see whats in store for UKIP longer term.
But in short the many who voted for UKIP perhaps need to take stock of their actions. Where you really voting for further xenophobia and bigotry? Did you really want it made harder for the UK to negotiate with the EU? And do you really want these sorts of nutters we see in UKIP as youre local councillor? Already ones gone due to racist remarks he made :crazy:.
We had the same thing happen in Ireland last election. Many didnt want to vote Fianna Fail (the party in government) due to the mess theyd gotten the country into. So many went and voted for Sinn Fein. When asked why they didnt vote for someone sensible like the labour party or Fianna Gael instead theyre response was oh theyre too left wing…so they voted instead for a party to the left of not just the labour party but many of the socialists instead !?! :??:
Of course a perfect example of how this anti-government populism can backfire when said party gets into government can be demonstrated by the liberal democrats… although we should really now refer to them as the liberal democrat (note lack of plural!) as theyre down to just one seat in the EU now.
Cleg mania seems to have been replaced by Cleg phobia. Theres been calls from within his party to resign and even a very typically liberal attempt to oust him which amounted to fisty cuffs at ten paces.
Would the lib dems do better in the next election without Nick Clegg? I doubt it. The problem is that they are the victims of the Tory policy of using them as a shield against public opinion. Of course several years means that this shield has now been cut down to a small buckler.
If the lib dems are to survive the next election, they need to set out their stall and put clear blue water between themselves and the tories. Id even consider, if I were them, challenging the Tories on some issue (say bankers pay or the 50p tax) and essentially either forcing the Tories into a climb down or walking out of government and triggering an early election.
There is more evidence of a growing housing bubble within the UK. Prices are set to rise, which risks worsening already dangerous inequality within the housing sector, between the haves who got on the ladder at the right moment and the have nots who for various reasons didnt. This situation will only get worse with new lending rules which make it harder for anyone without a fixed income, such as those on contract type jobs, to get a mortgage, even if they are actually better paid than someone on a regular salary. And of course if this bubble bursts the consequences will be another recession and a crash, except this time there will be no bailout.
And it seems likely the Tories are deliberately provoking this bubble in the hope of creating a spurt of short term growth to make their numbers look good before the next election even if the whole economy crashes shortly after. While theyve been keen to claim that their help to buy scheme isnt contributing to the bubble, theres lots of things they are doing which clearly are contributing.
A policy of very low interest rates and quantitative easing into infinity for example. This means that anyone putting money into savings is getting hammered. I was slow to set up an ISA this year and then realised I shouldnt have bothered. I would have actually been better off just converting it all into Euros and putting it into my current account in Ireland. As the Euro is gaining value against the pound, this would have netted a better return than the interest on any British savings account. With these realities facing them it explains why many have been putting money into property instead.
The governments options (labour, tories or the lib dems) unfortunately are either to be a little unpopular now or very unpopular tomorrow. They have to either interfere to try and stabilise the property market, even try and bring down the costs of homes (by for example mandating that a certain percentage of all housing developments in London must be either council flats or affordable homes sold off at a discount) or try and discourage the sort of casino landlords who now dominate the housing market. And of course, raising interest rates would help by both making buy to lets more expensive and risky, but also encouraging savings.
The only other alternative is wait for the crash and face the situation we face in Ireland (or in places such as Spain and Greece), where many live in negative equity, tied to property they cant sell (without losing hundreds of thousands) and cant rent out without supplementing the mortgage from their own income .which means they cant retire, even if theyre past retirement age!
More bad news for universities
One thing that gets to me as a lecturer is how universities have become ever more commercially orientated to the point where some are probably more corporate, greedy and money grabbing than many corporations, led by an increasingly unacademic corporate culture.
And one of the areas where we see this at its most ferocious is the issue of student recruiting. While most of my students are pretty good, I sometimes wonder where the university finds some of them. Some have dubious if not non-existent qualifications, cant do the basics such as applied maths (critical for an engineering degree) and no motivation to work.
Well the Guardian has a piece out demonstrating some of the practices of recruitment teams at a London university. This includes recruiting people who can barely read and write, or have zero computer literacy skills or indeed hanging around outside job centres or tube centres like a bunch of spivs. A previous expose from the Guardian talked about lecturers giving classes to virtually empty classrooms (paid for by the taxpayer) as part of some elaborate student loan scam.
The student fees policy has had many negative effects. Its led to much inequality, with a divide between those who can afford to go to uni via the bank of mum and dad, those who will have to scrape by on a student loan (theyll likely never repay) and those who cant hope to ever go to uni regardless of how bright they are. But this corrupt commercialisation of universities is actually the thing that worries me the most, as it threatened to kill the golden goose which the UKs universities have been for the country.
Im sometimes tempted to invent a new sport, university executive fights. It works much like cock fighting, you put two university vice chancellors or recruitment agents in a cage, toss in a fiver and watch them tear each other apart for it! :))
I missed that film Noah the other month, although thats probably just as well. The idea of Russell Crowe as Noah makes about as much sense as casting Bruce Willis to play Jesus (Die Hard with a Crucifixion? :>>) or Schwarzenegger to play Moses (Hasta la vista Pharaoh? :)) ).
Oddly enough this film was criticized by both the religious right and the atheists. Naturally the Richard Dawkins brigade were against anything remotely religious as a theme for a movie. On the other hand the religious right criticised the film for NOT mentioning God. They also felt that the film pandered to namby pamby environmentalism, which they are effectively allergic too.
Of course one has to bring up the matter of the Ark itself. As others have pointed out, the idea that you could get by with just two of every animal ignores everything we know about genetics and evolution. And the ship Noah would need to hold all those animals, insects, plants (trees wouldnt survive being submerged underwater), fish (ditto fresh water fish) and birds would be colossal, bigger than any ship ever built to date (nevermind how they all got to the ark trees and fish cant walk and kangaroos cant swim!).
Indeed even building the much smaller boat mentioned in the bible would have represented a serious engineering challenge. Wooden hulled boats like the Wyoming (largest wooden ship ever built), built with modern techniques, iron reinforcing and steam driven bilge pumps still foundered in far more timid conditions than any Ark would have endured (even though it was about 2/3s the size of Noahs supposed Ark).
Now the response of the believers in the Ark myth is to paper over these cracks by repeating the phrase god dunnit until blue in the face. But one has to consider that hed have had to bend and twist the laws of physics and reality so severely that if all he wanted to do was kill off a few million naughty people he could have easily had a plague wipe them out, or got them addicted to junk food or something.
Or perhaps a more realistic appraisal is to realise that at the time the bible was written allegorical literature was very common. One would often tell a tale which would make a good story in of itself, but which carried a moral point. Thus when Jesus brings up the parable of the Good Samaritan, he wasnt making bigoted comments about Samaritans (in truth there probably was never any guy by the side of a road, no Samaritan nor anything else, it was just a story). It was a tale with a moral point.
However for bible literalists, accepting that the bible isnt literally true isnt an option. Thus they are forced to support utterly implausible propositions such as Noahs ark or the world being created in 6 days or even a pre-Copernican view of the universe. Which is why Id argue they arent really Christians to begin with as the simply dont understand the point of the bible.
With no sign of the missing Malaysian airways flight, the mystery of what happened to it deepens yet further. The latest from the searchers is that if theres one thing they are sure of, its that the plane ISNT in the area where theyve been searching.
Ive talked to one or two colleagues who are experts on aviation and they can only think of a handful of scenarios that would explain this ranging from pilot suicide to a failure of the Aircrafts air supply system (this would cause the crew to first turn around when they realised the danger, but also to act erratically, possibly turning off things they shouldnt have before losing consciousness as the plane continued on autopilot till it ran out of fuel).
However they would be keen not to put too much weight to either theory. Past experience has seen many strange aircraft disappearances where the actual causes turned out to be radically different. Take the story of Air France flight 447. There was much speculation regarding this planes disappearance, which later turned out to be not true, once the black box was recovered. So it is like I said a mystery, one which may never be solved.
Glasgow Art school fire
It was sad to see one of Glasgows most iconic buildings going up in flames over the last week . I used to live around the corner from this Art school and would go past it often on my way to work. And spare a thought for the students. Many were setting up their final year portfolios at the time the fire started and saw their whole course worth of work going up in smoke.
Word is the building might be restored, but it is still a bit of a loss for the city.