Commonwealth Games

Glasgow is currently hosting what the locals call “the friendly games”. Glasgow seems to be rising to the challenge of the games pretty well, even the neds in the East end seem to be on best behaviour…on which point, a word to the wise, don’t go wandering down any side streets or off the beaten track away from venues in the East side of Glasgow. While most of the area is okay, there are some extremely dodgy spots, the sort of people/scum who thought Benefits Street was like TOWIE :)).

I’ve been to see a few things at the games this last week. Although not the sports I hoped to see. I was looking forward to seeing those traditional Glasgow sports included, such as the 100m dash with a TV. The pursuit (where you are chased by neds down a Glasgow street, or neds are chased by a copper). Or Glaswegian fencing (with broken bucky bottles). I was also led to believe that all the shooting competitions would include a drive-by version and that the diving competition would include pool bombing :DD.

The women’s Hockey was pretty lively. Good play by all teams with the play near constant, hardly any major breaks in play. I bring this up as it was a complete contrast to the World cup where every time the ball goes out of play they stop for a wee while. Or players taking swan lake dives and are being given the last rites over the slightest contact. The only time one of these hockey players went down was when one of the South African players took a ball straight in the face….and the major delay was when a cleaner had to come on with a sponge and bucket to clean away any blood from the nice new pitch!

In short if the players at the world cup had “played like girls” it might have been a good deal more exciting with less of the primadonna antics. Or perhaps such behaviour is inevitable when dealing with our overpaid and underworked professional footballers. And of course while the Hockey Federation has moved with the times (video umpire, measures taken to avoid breaks in play such as a 40 second countdown to any penalty and anyone arguing with the ref gets 5 minutes in the sin bin to think it over) FIFA is stuck with a fossil like Blatter and his cronies in charge.

Similarly the Rugby seven’s was very entertaining, even though rugby isn’t really my thing. The Wales against Australia match was thrilling, particularly the dying seconds where unfortunately Wales lost literally with the last kick of the game. That said, I would agree with those who say Rugby seven’s isn’t really the same game. The scrum’s for example don’t really work when you’ve got only six players in one. But still definitely one to watch next Olympics. And again no rolling on the ground and crying antics as we see in football.

Table tennis isn’t really my thing. But while it might be the sort of thing we play in youth centres or hostels in the UK, its a big sport in other countries, many players household names…tho I’ve not heard of any Chinese table tennis players wrapping their Ferrari around a lamppost while drunk or biting rival players!

The Marathon and athletics programme (so far) has been a bit of an anti-climax, largely due to the low attendance of many athletes who are probably afraid of over exerting themselves before the European Championships. It was still good personally, to go along to Hampden Park and see an Atlethics session, but I get the feeling I should have gone to the Diamond League meet a month ago in Hampden.

Unfortunately, all the rumours I’d heard about chaos at Hampden were true. The bus driver, after getting stuck in traffic dropped me off at the wrong end (not his fault, he assumed logic would dictate drop off at the Mt Florida gate end), but only one gate was open to the stadium (usual security paranoia, obviously someone committed to conduct a terrorist attack would never be so impolite as to just jump the fence!) at the opposite end of the stadium to public transport drop of. But there were no signs up saying which way to go to get around the stadium :??:. Lots of people blundering around lost, an huge queues trying to squeeze through the one entrance. While I got in before it started (but I’d arrive an hour beforehand!) people were still drifting in up to an hour after the start. I would note that the Diamond league event a few weeks ago had the same problems, so the organisers can’t say this was a bolt from the blue :no:.

I’d also argue that the games have exposed the bottle necks in Glasgow’s transport system. e.g. the only direct link between Glasgow’s train and subway system is at Partick, which also happens to be the main hub for several Northside lines (one half go through Queens street, the other via Central). The word I’ve been hearing is, avoid Partick until the games are over. A second hub on the South side would solve a lot of this. It would be easily accomplished as both sets of lines more or less cross nearby the existing West street subway station, as well as providing a major commuter hub on the south side taking pressure off Central.

Similarly some way of linking Central with Queen Street (other than via a long detour out to Partick) would solve a lot of problems. There is a shuttle bus, but it hardly ever gets used, largely due to arsy bus drivers who insist on querying everyone who tries to use the free ticket service for those with transfer tickets. Rather than argue with him many either walk, go to Partick or get a taxi….so sacking this driver (or just gag him) would solve a lot of problems.

I also took a day out from the games to climb a few hills up by Arrochar…when it rained (rather predictably!). Its been 25-30’C most days up here and the minute I decide to go for a jaunt in the hills, the heavens open. As I’ve finished all the munro’s I’m now on the Corbetts and anyone who tells you they are easier than the munro’s doesn’t know what they are talking about! Still all good fun!

A slap on the wrist

Been on holiday enjoying the Commonwealth games the last few days, most post something on that soon.

Anyway one big story was the repercussions from the shoot down of the Malaysian airliner MH17 over Ukraine. Incidentally I am aware of the various libertarian fruit cakes :crazy: and other tinfoil hat wearers who are doubting Russian/rebl involvement. But this involves ignoring the blindingly obvious while applying unwavering and uncritical weighting to Russia’s less than reputable news outlets. It is rather odd to say the least to see those supposedly committed to free market small government, buying into the propaganda from a bunch of ex-communist authoritarians in the Kremlin.

But I digress, the Europeans are very angry :## with Putin over this whole incident. So angry that they had a meeting the other week in which they agreed to do…absolutely nothing (a pity there’s no smiley for tumbleweed at this point!). The British still seem keen on helping Putin’s billionaire buddies launder billions through our banks, the Germans are still planning to sell the Russians all the high tech gizmo’s they need to run their economy (and Army), while the French are even considering going ahead with a sale of two aircraft carriers to Russia :no:

If this is the raw end of Europe’s wrath, why it’s just as well Putin didn’t do anything really bad like invade Poland or something, as that would have probably led to Cameron and Merkel threatening to hold their breath until they passed out :))

Of course the worry for the EU is that they don’t want to jeopardise Russian Gas supplies. As I’ve discussed before, while there are no short term solutions here there are still plenty of things they could be doing to limit our exposure to a future shortage of Russian gas, notably energy conservation, in particular as regards improving building performance in winter.

But equally one needs to realise that Russia needs to sell the gas to Europe as much as the EU needs to buy it. Even thought there was talk of a Russian deal to sell gas to China recently, its important to realise that the pipeline to move that gas is still in the construction phase. Furthermore it will only export about 0.9Tcf of NG v’s a Chinese demand of 5.1Tcf, although further exports by LNG tanker are probable. Even so this gas will come from a separate gas field the other side of the Urals, not the ones that feed Europe, so unless Putin wants to make a large number of Natural Gas workers redundant.

Israeli war crimes
There’s also the crisis in Gaza to consider. Here again war crimes are being openly committed by both sides, Israel in particular. Israel justifies this by effectively trying to argue that not only does two wrongs make a right, but over 1,000 wrongs (at the latest Palestinian body count) makes a right. The UN is quite rightly pointing out that this is clearly a war crime yet the West does nothing, even though there is a great many things we could do, such as an asset freeze on all Israeli citizens and an arms embargo.

Of course part of the problem here is that many in western governments (or indeed the media) dare not openly criticise Israel as they fear being branded anti-Semitic and losing the support of Jewish voters back home. This is of course silly for two reasons.

It means that we assume that not only do all Israeli citizens, but all Jews, offer unwavering support for Israeli foreign policy and believe the Israeli government is infallible and has never been wrong about anything, ever…now I would argue that if anything should be deemed as anti-Semitic, it is such stereotyping.

And what about the many people in the UK and the West (Jewish, Christian, Islamic or FSM) who are appalled by Israel’s actions? Last time I checked we were supposed to be a democracy and is anyone really suggesting that we should set foreign policy and ignore international law on the basis that we might upset a tiny (deluded) minority. I can easily see Israel actions in Gaza being eventually used by some dictator to justify their atrocities. Indeed Putin has previously justified bombing of civilian areas in Chechnya on the basis that Israel has done the same thing.

Either way Europe’s reaction to Putin or Israel reminds me of the policy of “appeasement” of the 1930’s, and we know how that worked out! Clearly anything of any military use, flak jackets, IR goggles and certainly aircraft carriers should not be sold to Russia or Israel (I’d question the ethics of selling such things to any regimes with such poor human rights records, regardless of recent events). And equally the UK should be kicking the likes to Putin’s cronies out of London, if not doing them as accomplices to corruption.

Academics Anonymous

Finally managed to get this up and around the blog.co.uk censors >:-[, although I’ve had to remove a few links, though you’ll find the unedited article on my education blog, here. I mean I see posts all the time on this site that are blatant adverts for stuff, which don’t get blocked! :??:

The Guardian has brought out a series of articles out recently called “Academics Anonymous”. This series has included an expose of all sorts of shenanigans that have resulted from the defacto privatisation of UK universities that has been creeping in since 1992. As I’ve discussed previously, the UK HEI sector is becoming increasingly commercially orientated.

There has for example been a move towards greater use of temporary contracts for teaching staff, including increasingly the use of zero hour contracts. This places junior members of staff in a much more precarious financial position, which is I suspect hardly in the interest of students now paying £9,000 a year in fees. Indeed many young academics do take the view that the ladder seems to have been pulled up on them.

Furthermore universities have begun to prioritise money making and chasing research grants ahead of teaching. Attend an interview for any of the diminishing number of permanent full time posts available in any UK university and you are guaranteed to be asked questions about how you plan to bring in money. I’ve heard tales from some Russell group uni’s of lecturers and professors who have been set targets of many hundreds of thousands in revenue per year and up to ten published papers per year.

All this is in pursuit of meeting REF (research excellence framework) targets. These targets are more often than not set by over-promoted mandarins in senior management positions, who use such “targets” to rank and yank staff, as well as justify their excessive salary. And those who fail to comply with such whims have been threatened with “career harming consequences”.

This inevitably leads to the situation where teaching of undergraduates isn’t prioritised and where some research universities have become little more than PhD mills, churning out far more PhD and post-graduate students than there is demand for. Which in turn leads to large numbers of such graduates who struggle to find work.

Obviously such target setting and box ticking ignores the fact that different people have different strengths. Some academics make good researchers but terrible lecturers, some are the other way around and a lot are somewhere between the two. But this one size fits all system doesn’t take that into account. It also means good skilled teachers find their experience is not valued and struggle to get employed.

I have some experience of this myself as my own contract was due this summer. In one research led university I know I was pipped to the job by someone younger than me, who had no prior teaching experience (and not terribly good English!) purely because of recent research activity (inevitably as I’ve been in a teaching heavy role the last few years I’ve not had time to do much publishing). Now if this this was a research post, I could understand, but put yourself in the shoes of a student in that department (or the parents paying for it!), who would you rather have teaching you?

And what really has the UK academic community worried is that these trends suggest that the practices of American universities are increasingly being copied by UK uni’s. And across the water we hear all sorts of a sordid tales of exploitation, overwork and poor pay for junior staff, tales of respected teaching professors dying in poverty and of students under so much financial pressure they’ve been forced to take up jobs as strippers.

In short, if I had a sibling of university age I would be sitting them down right now for a good long talk about what they wanted to do. I would only recommend they apply for a place in a research orientated university if they planned to become an academic. And if this was their goal they needed to accept up front that they would have to be pretty darn good and willing to work very hard to achieve this.

For the reality is that in most of the UK’s research led universities, much of the day to day teaching will be handled by overworked and underpaid supply teachers or PhD students. The only way you’ll see an actual professor is if the student bumps into them in the corridor….and in fact given that many departments are increasingly switching to open plan offices off limits to students, a student would have to get a job as a cleaner or a student advocate in some uni’s if they want to see a professor!

By contrast many of the UK’s mid ranking universities provide much better support to teaching (as a glance at the NSS scores will reveal). Of course practices vary from institution to institution. Certainly if I did have a sibling going to university I would be keen they attend an open day and ask some of the ten awkward questions the UCU suggests prospective students and their parents should ask. These questions cover such obvious things as “will I be taught by an actual professor or some supply teacher on a zero hours contract?” or “what is the ratio of permanent teaching staff to students?”

Or another alternative is to go to a university in Ireland and Europe, which are less commercially orientated, operate according to more traditional lines (e.g. less use of contract workers for teaching, greater academic freedom, etc.) and often have either no fees or much lower fees. Indeed many UK students are now increasingly choosing to study in European universities, in particular Ireland and Holland.

In short if what UK universities are for is to teach we ain’t doing a terribly good job! And they are being increasingly “found out” by students and parents both at home and abroad.

Others would argue that universities exist to do research. This is important to academics, as research allows us to keep up to date with the latest developments. After all you don’t want to be given a lecture on Communications Technology where the lecturer claims that this much fangled “internet” thing will never catch on and the remote analog phonograph proposed by a Dr Graham Bell will offer much improvement on Morse code :)).

However this target setting and money chasing is completely missing the point, after all there are other ways of keeping up to date. For example I usually spend a couple of hours each week just reading through the latest scientific literature…and about half that time is spend wading through a mass of research papers that are just a rehashing of something published (often by the same team) a few months earlier :zz:, or stuff that could have easily been included in a prior publication. i.e. many academics are increasingly going for volume over quality.

And worse several of the “academics anonymous” articles raise concerns as to a rise in academic dishonesty (e.g. researchers under pressure to hit targets “massaging data” or plagiarising the work of others).

Another article points to the rise in independent research labs, which now in more than a few cases perform the sort of research we’d normally expect from universities. In my field of renewables we work with quite a few such labs actively working on technologies such as high voltage battery storage, fuel cells, Building integrated renewables, etc. And after all, much of the computer industry grew out of a series of garages in the San Francisco bay area. The aviation and automotive industries have similar roots in the barnstorming era.

Traditionally such labs and universities have occupied very different areas. Universities tended to focus on research at a relatively low level of technology readiness, or research with no immediate commercial applications, e.g. “whacky” new ideas or studying the mating habits of fruit bats in the Amazon. Corporations tend to focus on stuff close to commercial deployment, while independent labs tend to fill the gap between the two.

However, as research at the early development stage tends to have a higher risk of failing to produce anything substantive (the bulk of whacky ideas prove not to work) they are thus less likely to produce measurable outcomes. So many universities have tended to bypass such research. It’s therefore not so much a case of independent labs trying to eat the lunch of universities, but uni’s trying to eat their lunch and failing at it.

I have been able to secure a permanent contract with my university, indeed I received another offer from a different university (clearly someone values me!). But I also got an interview with a private software company, which I turned down. It would have seen me doing a mix of research, consultancy and teaching (i.e. very much like my current role as a lecturer). It occurred to me how a private company could basically do much of what universities do but at a fraction of the overhead costs, yet still pay me more (although it would have required me to move to Horsham :oops:).

Corporations also have few problems offering permanent contracts, perhaps because they realise that if you want to retain good staff, there is a need for some quid pro quo, offering skilled staff good pay and the security of a permanent contract…..Or perhaps this is because private companies live in the real world of capitalism, while the mandarins in charge of UK universities operate in a cartoon version of capitalism, forgetting in the process that they are supposed to acting towards the public good :no:.

In many respects, the creeping privatisation of the UK HEI sector has resulted in a repeat of the situation seen in other privatised public services – the same sorry tale of falling standards, a higher cost to the public of that service and the of the provision of that service (water services are supposed to fix leaky pipes not impose hose pipe bans!) is being lost amid the profit motive.

Malaysian Airlines MH17

The shooting down of Malaysian airlines MH17 has seen the finger of blame going every which way. As the news broke last night, I switched over to RT to see what they were saying. They were trying to put a brave face on it, not say anything controversial. At one point however they started trying to sell the idea that the Malaysian Airlines plane and its livery looks very similar to that of President’s Putin’s presidential jet, then started implying that the Ukrainians may have tried to shoot down the plane mistaking it for Putin (who was yesterday in the skies making his way back from Brazil).

Let’s pick this one apart for a minute. Given that MH17 was at 33,000 ft, it would have been impossible for a viewer on the ground to see the plane in elevation (thus the colour similarity matters little). From below it an observer would instead note the obvious difference between a 4 engined jet (with thus 4 sets of vapour trails out the rear) like the Russian President’s IL-96, from a Boeing 777 with its distinctive pair of large turbofan engines. As I listened to RT, I reached over to my book shelf, pulled out my copy of Jane’s Recognition Guide and flicked between the plan view of the Boeing 777 and Il-96 and thought grade A bull!

Of course given that it was likely a SA-17 “Gadfly” that downed the plane, it’s likely the plane was first observed by radar rather than visually, hence the colour of it hardly mattered. The idea that the Ukrainians would start taking random pot shots at aircraft crossing their air space on the off chance that one carried Putin, is of course ludicrous.

But, why are the Russians relying on such feeble conspiracy theories? Well probably because they realise that the evidence does stack up against them and their rebel allies. The rebels were known to be operating just this missile type in the area and to have used it against aircraft recently. The direction of flight of MH17 would have been such that it could have been easily mistaken for an attack aircraft, much like the USS Vincennes mistook an Iranian Air flight for a F-14.

The Russian lady doth protest too much me thinks!

One can only hope that Putin’s allies now realise who they are supporting, leading to Russia’s economic isolation and hopefully Putin’s removal from power.

Tory Electioneering

You don’t often find me agreeing with the Tory party, but one of their accusations against the Tony Blair government was his habit of placing style over substance. The Blair regime had a nasty habit of making big slick policy announcements of good news, often repeating the same good news multiple times, but then burying bad news on a busy news day.

However over the last few years the Tory party has if anything out spun the Blair spin masters. For example, despite all the evidence which shows that the bulk of immigrants to the UK are only here to work, pay taxes and contribute to the UK economy, they have gone to great lengths to crack down on such phantom threats to the UK, purely to appease the UKIP bigot brigade.

And more recently the Tories have been talking about withdrawing from the European convention on human rights to keep the “head bangers” happy. While they have attempted to put a democratic spin onto it, by suggesting that parliament should have the right of veto over the courts. This ignores the fact that the whole point of a human rights act is to stop politicians meddling. After all, what’s to stop a bunch of politicians scared by tabloid headlines into voting to approve torture, or delay an election indefinitely “until the present crisis is over”. Anyone with a vague understanding of how democracy is supposed to work would understand this.

The recent cabinet reshuffle is yet another example. The Tories have long polled badly with women voters, particularly given recent policies such as child benefit caps, which is hardly surprising for a party of conservative old men. So in that context one can see why Cameron suddenly felt compelled to promote so many women into cabinet. As I’ve pointed out previously, the Tory party has long been not exactly pro-women. Of course that said, given that Gove is sufficiently incompetent to lock himself in a toilet, its hardly a huge surprise Cameron wants him to go.

And then there’s the thorny issue of the Scottish question. As I’ve pointed out in prior posts there are many good arguments before and against independence, but the Tories have chosen to fight this referendum on wishy washy matters, such as this week promising to build a space port in Scotland (beam me up Scotty ;D).

This incidentally is an absurd suggestion. The best spot to launch a payload into orbit is as near to the equator as possible as this afford maximum benefit from the earth’s rotation and thus a much higher payload. Given how expensive space launch is, it’s always going to be cheaper to simply ship a satellite to a site such as Kourou or Florida, than launch it in the UK. The only benefit of having a launch site in the UK is national pride.

It might be sometime to go before the election, but clearly the Tories are already on the campaign trail. Expect a give away budget (and a rise in the deficit which the Tories justified their cuts to reduce) and more of the very “Punch and Judy” politics that Cameron bemoaned Blair for.

4,093 days since Mission Accomplished

On May 1st 2003, 4,093 days ago, G. W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The War would go on for at least another 8 years, and that just covers the period of American involvement. It is entirely possible that the fighting could continue for decades to come.

The devil’s rejects
The ISIS group, who have taken over large chucks of Iraq, have been showing their devotion to Islam by going around the region they control and blowing up mosques and holy sites! Now what would have happened had the US soldiers even accidently shelled a Mosque?

The reality is that ISIS are about as committed to Islam as Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist church (which is probably unfair to the Westboro Baptists as I don’t believe they’ve ever actually blown up a mosque or anything like that!). They are in reality little more than a rabble of thugs from around the world, using a twisted interpretation of Islam to justify rape, looting and murder. In many respects they aren’t that dissimilar to various groups of brigands and raiders who looted caravans in this region many centuries ago.

On the plus side, ISIS are now being pushed back. Unfortunately it appears to be Shia and Kurdish militia who are doing most of the fighting and not the Iraqi army (who the US trained and equipped at great expense). This is worrying, as the fear is that Shia militia might start taking reprisals on Sunni’s for the atrocities committed by ISIS, including scenes eerily similar to those in Eastern Europe under the nazi’s. In short Iraq, like Syria could be a case of another re-run of the Yugoslav civil war.

Rise of Kurdistan?
There’s also questions as to what the Kurds will do. Will they hand back territory they’ve captured to the rest of Iraq? or absorb it into Kurdistan? There’s also the possibility of them declaring independence. The Kurds, at 38 million people, are one of the world’s largest ethnic groups who lack a country of their own, so such a desire for a homeland is not really surprising. However, only a fraction of the Kurdish population live in Iraq (about 25%) and only some of those live within Kurdish held areas in Iraq. Large populations of Kurds live in neighbouring countries of Syria, Iran and most notably Turkey.

Thus if Kurdistan becomes a sovereign nation, the desire to unite these lands together will probably become irresistible. But this will almost certainly provoke conflict between Kurdistan and its new neighbours. Note that in the past both Syria and Turkey made separate threats to invade Iraq if the Kurds declared independence. So some form of conflict, either an outright war or a series of insurgencies, seems very probable if Kurdistan goes independent. It is no exaggeration to say that this conflict could go onto till we are ten thousand days past mission accomplished.

Then there’s the question as to what happens to whatever is left of Iraq. The chances of Sunni and Shia parts of Iraq splitting into two rump states is fairly likely. The possibility of war and insurgency between the two are a risk. And its equally a risk that the Shia rump state will fall under the influence of Iran (or possibly even be absorbed by Iran) with a similar risk as regards the Sunni region and whoever ends up in charge of Syria (and thanks to ISIS that will probably be the Assad regime).

And with all the oil in Iraq the cash to keep any wars going indefinitely is all too readily available.

Saudi connections
While it is all too easy to pin much of the blame for the situation in Iraq on the Americans, in particular the Bush administration and their ally Tony Blair. But there is another player in this mess, and many other Al-Qaeda affiliate operations – Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi regime both officially and unofficially supports groups such as ISIS as part of the chess game they are playing against other Arab states, as revealed in the wikileak cables. The cables also revealed that some of the strongest lobbying for bombing of Iranian nuclear facilities came not from Israel but the Saudi’s.

Islamic extremist groups also serve as a lightning rod for many angry young wahhabists within Saudi Arabia. During the Iraqi insurgency, Saudi’s rated highly as those responsible for suicide bombings. And of course, lest we forget, 19 of those hijackers on 9/11 were also Saudi’s.

But equally one has to worry that what goes around comes around. Sooner or later Saudi Arabia’s meddling in the affairs of other Arab states will come back to haunt them. Possibly in the form of their own Islamist uprising as a result of events in Iraq spilling over into the kingdom along with returning Islamist fighters.

All in all, the situation in Iraq is yet another reason for the world to break its addiction to oil. Even when you factor in recent advances in unconventional oil and gas (e.g. Tar sands and shale oil) at least 50% or more of proven reserves still lies under the Middle East. So long as the world is committed to oil as its primary energy source, these sorts of battles will continue.

Cameron Junckered on Europe

I was away in Ireland the other week, in Cork. On the south west side of the city is the Wilton roundabout (notable for its big blue modern art sculpture in the centre), one of the first large roundabouts in the city and one of the town’s busiest road junctions. Cork lore has it that back in the 70’s when it was first put in a farmer from the countryside, who had never seen a roundabout before, went and drove his tractor around it…going the wrong way and beeping everyone out of his way!

One could draw an analogy between this incident and the problems the UK has with the EU. They don’t really understand how European politics or its institutions work, so they go against the flow of traffic and hope everyone will either get out of the way, or turn around and follow them.

The Irish media were covering Cameron’s actions in attempting to block Juncker’s appointment, however the tone was less criticism of Cameron’s actions but more bafflement about how he was going about trying to achieve it…I mean it did look like he didn’t really know what he was doing. In the end only one other European head of government, the Hungarian PM, sided with Cameron. This is despite strong criticism of Juncker from several of those who voted for him, notably the Polish leader (an ex-Bullingdon club chum of Cameron). A vote in the European Parliament is due, but the balance of probability is that Juncker will almost certainly win this one too.

In the end the strong performance of anti-EU parties such as UKIP, aka the UK Tea party or the Communists in Greece and Le Pen’s National front led to much circling of the wagons by the pro-EU parties of both right and left. Cameron’s attics aided by Farage’s buffoonery were the best advert one could construct for the virtues of Juncker’s candidacy. As so often is the case in politics, a lot of very dumb and naive people who don’t really understand politics and read too much of the Daily Mail, voted one way, but ended up getting the complete opposite of what they wanted! Had they voted Tory or Labour, there’s a good chance Juncker’s appointment might have been stopped.

I would also note that if indeed Cameron is correct that it pushes the UK closer to the exit door, then the UK should expect the EU to drive a hard bargain on such an exit, something which as I’ve discussed before would likely lead to a scenario where the EU continues to pass most of the UK’s laws (via the UK’s free trade pact with them) which Parliament has no choice but to rubber stamp, having lost its right to veto anything, the UK border stays open (contrary to UKIP the EU has little to do with migration into the UK hence a pull out won’t really change anything)…oh and the UK ends up paying for some eurocrats to come over to the UK and check the country is complying with everything!

Certainly there is I would argue a need for some reform of the EU. But the way to do that is from within, not hurling rocks from the back benches of the EU’s glass house (as Farage frequently does) and certainly not by withdrawing from the EU altogether. Indeed in a week which has seen the Tour de France pass through the UK to enormous crowds should show anyone the benefits of European co-operation.

For example, one area of reform I would point too is the idea of having a democratically elected EU commission president. I doubt Juncker would win such a vote, although there are plenty of good candidates who would stand chance such as Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, ex-Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt (who gave Farage a wonderful telling off a few years back for wasting taxpayers money…he’s got my vote for that one!) or ex-Irish President and former head of the UNHCR Mary Robinson.

Such an election would also get around what I’ve always felt is the big problem with the EU – that many countries (including the UK) send their political B team off to Europe. Look at the profile of many of the EU’s commissioners and you’ll find they are minsters who lost their seat or failed PM’s who were put out to pasture. It’s a bit like Manchester United sending the B team off to play Barcelona’s B team for the European cup final. By making the post of not just president of the EU a voted position, but all commissioners (say one per country, although that would mean some end up without a portfolio) would probably mean we get a better class of politician in the job, and thus hopefully better policies.

Unfortunately the bad news for Cameron or Farage is that none of these candidates I mentioned would likely be much better than Juncker from the point of view of any Euroskeptic. Indeed, by giving the head of the EU a democratic mandate in the form of the votes of several hundred million people, and worse voting in someone who actually knows what they are doing, it would make for a much more powerful EU president. This explains why Euroskeptics such as Farage are generally against such democratic ideas, while EU Federalists are generally in favour.

Indeed by forcing a vote on Juncker, Cameron has inadvertently strengthened the hand of the Federalists, by meaning that Juncker can now claim a stronger level of democratic legitimacy.

As for the Wilton roundabout, Cork City council seem to think traffic flows have changed in the area and there’s a need to replace it with traffic lights. An apt metaphor for what we need to do with the EU. We can’t get rid of it (where else will the traffic go?) so it needs to be reformed from within.

Blogger catch up

I’ve been a little busy the last few weeks (anyone who says that university lecturers have nothing to do over the summer doesn’t know what they are talking about!) so perhaps a time for a catch up.

Getting his teeth into it
Unfortunately one of the big stories of the world cup was Suarez biting incident. He can’t be held responsible, his manager told him to get his teeth into it ;D. I was in Ireland at the time and the next day I saw a restaurant whose lunchtime special was Pork Shoulder in Italian herbs…a Suarez Special :)). Needless to say the internet is now full of jokes like this.

Seriously tho, the arguments went between those who thought he should be banned for life, to those who felt 4 months for getting the in match munchies was a tad severe. My view would be, why wasn’t he arrested? I went and bit someone, what would happen? FIFA should have handed the matter over to the Brazilian police. And knowing what Brazilian prisons are like, I suspect a few days of a privileged footballer like Suarez used to the good life being forced to endure that would guarantee he’d not be biting anyone ever again (if he was still alive!).

Well either that or make him play wearing a ski mask in future!

Diving diva’s
As always in football we have the problem of players pulling swan lake dives as a result of the slightest contact, then rolling on the ground in agony, waiting for the Priest to come on and deliver the last rites…until he gets a free kick/other guy carded, and then hop’s up right as rain. This played a direct role in several matches, notably the Dutch penalty against Mexico (admittedly the Mexicans were playing with fire, putting in lots of hard tackles like that in the box, a penalty, legitimate or otherwise, was just a matter of time).

My solution? Firstly replay’s on the big screen for the referee. Anyone diving not only gets sent off, but the opposition players each get to kick him as he leaves the field. Secondly, a new award for best diver. The “winner” being forced to wear a frogman’s suit (complete with flippers and mask) for the following season. That’ll learn em!

Football Socialism
America has been doing rather well in the world cup this time around, which means the world cup is getting a lot of attention in America this year. This should hardly come as a surprise, when you consider demographics. After all the US women’s team is one of the strongest teams in the women’s game. There’s some who reckon it’s only a matter of time before the US are actually in a position to seriously challenge for the world cup. And too be fair, they certainly did better than the English team this year!

However this success quickly attracted the ire of professional dumb blonde Anne Coulter :crazy:. She went on a rant about all these Americans supporting their team’s efforts in Brazil was a sign of “liberal bias”, the spread of socialism within the US and America’s moral decay. Naturally she was promptly flamed by her critics.

Such comments can sound utterly insane to anyone who isn’t a Tea bagging nut. You have to understand that the hard right in the US often talk in code, given that if they refer to the President using the N word people tend to get upset. Consequently when they say “liberal” they mean “reads” (and thus doesn’t rely on Fox news), “socialist” means anyone who is to the left of them (which would technically include Ronald Reagan and both George Bush’s). And “moral decay” refer’s to those who don’t buy into the extreme brand of Christianity that the likes of Coulter and Palin subscribe too.

And the idea of Americans uniting and taking interest in something abroad is not to the Tea Party’s liking as in many ways the Tea Party are just a re-run of the pre-war Isolationist movement. Indeed Coulter’s comments regarding football and its European origins is telling as it shows her assumption that everyone European is a socialist or a liberal (she’s obviously never heard of Nigel “the buffoon” Farage or “nasty” Nick Griffin). Then again she is sort of the Tea Party’s official crazy cat lady, which is an awful thing to say, given that I won’t want to put a cat in the care of this loon.

Air paranoia
And speaking of America, there is yet more paranoia about airport security from the Americans. They’re worried about the possibility of new bombs that are harder to detect. While the claim to have “intelligence” its not clear what that is. i.e. is it intel from an agent on the inside of Al-Queda…or (as seems more likely) is it chat and bravado, they’ve heard from wannabe jihadi’s on the internet?

Consider that much of this paranoia about “liquid bombs” and all the inconvenience that brought were largely based not on them catching terrorists with said devices, but that they caught some who were speculating about using them (i.e. they had never constructed a viable device…although as part of the trial the authorities did helpfully fill in the blanks should anyone want to give it a go in future! :no:). Also some of the “evidence” for this plot may have been acquired by torture and thus can’t really be considered reliable.

In truth there’s good reason why liquid explosives are not often used by the military, miners or other legitimate users – because they’re unstable, dangerous and often toxic! This is why reliable solid explosives such as dynamite were invented. The chances are, anyone foolish enough to try and smuggle a liquid bomb onto a plane would get blown up when his car went over a bump on the way to the airport, or he’d be all too obvious to the police given the chemical burns on his face and hands…plus how the blurred vision would be causing him to bump into things!

Similarly, I worry that this “plot” might just be more paranoia. Although that said, it is clear that the failure of the West to act in Syria is seeing history repeating itself, raising the risk of a new round of Islamist terrorism. While this is a threat to be taken seriously, chicken little paranoia is not a good idea as it raises the risk of missing the real threat.