Getting piggy with it

I’m presuming everyone’s heard the story by now about Cameron’s “indiscretion” with a pig, as part of an initiation ceremony to some toff club at Oxford. I’m not sure if anyone’s seen cassette boy’s response to it tho….or John Oliver’s…..

I’m hoping Jeremy Corbyn has the good sense to let this one keep sneaking into questions during PMQ’s for the rest of the time Cameron is in office, e.g. “we have to cut down on government pork….” “The government has made a pig’s ear of the economy….” “….and the chancellor is now relying on China to save our bacon…” “what does the PM plan to do about the police….”

Of course, jokes aside there is a more serious story here. These posh clubs for spoilt rich kids (the Bullingdon of Oxford, the Skull and Bones of Yale, etc.) serve two purposes. Keeping them away from the riff raff, but serve as an initiation into the Good olde boys network. Given that they now have the dirt on one another, this means that they can pressure one another to act in their favour – which creates a massive conflict of interest as it essentially means that the PM, Chancellor and many other Tories (such as a possible future PM Boris Johnson) are all at risk of being blackmailed into doing things not in the interest of the country.

The quiet privatisation of UK universities


In amongst recent announcements by Universities minster Jo Johnson was some welcome news, in terms of a Teaching Excellence Framework, but there was also some very worrying hints of what’s to come.

Certainly, as I indicated in prior posts, there is a need to curb falls in teaching standards. An attitude seems to have taken over the management of many UK universities which takes the view that teaching just happens magically by itself and that they can lump other responsibilities onto lecturers, requiring them to bring in income, do research and consultancy and fill out research grants. Inevitably where staff are judged against meeting such targets, teaching standards will slip and have been slipping (if not collapsing in some Russell group uni’s).

It is suggested that the fee’s universities can charge will be linked to their teaching excellence rating. This would be useful. Currently the ridiculous attitude of university management is that its better for me to devote hundreds of hours to getting a few tens of thousands in funding. While I’m happy to do this outside of term when I’ve some time free. But when the student’s are around, I’d argue that as they essentially pay 90% of our salaries, they should come first. Obviously in the current setup, this will be considered as the equivalent of playing hooky. In the post-TEF scenario where a small drop in teaching standards could cost us, say £1,000 a student in fees… of the student’s I personally teach that”s a cost to the uni of £282,000 a year (or a gain of the same if I can bring up standards)….well that’s a no brainer!

However, the devil is always in the detail. My main criticism of the REF (the Research Excellence Framework) is that it has been turned into little more than a pissing contest between the management of different uni’s. The danger is the TEF will include the same. The Jonty De Wolfe types who run the UK HEI’s will pour over the details and ultimately find ways to use and abuse the system, much like the REF. This is particularly likely if the TEF ends up ranking lecturer’s based on their contribution to Pedagogy (i.e. the scale of their Pedafile).

Also it has been argued that the real reason the REF exists is to simply justify why a handful of the UK’s elite uni’s gain most of the country’s research funding (ten receive over 50% of all the funds). If the rules of the REF are written such that Oxford and Cambridge do well, yet other uni’s who are rated highly by students and employers do badly, then its likely to have an impact of funding. This could easily put some of the UK’s universities onto a downward spiral towards bankruptcy.

Which brings some other elements of Jo Johnson’s speak into focus. He said “We need to be prepared for the fact that some providers may exit the market”….or to put that in English, he’s saying the government is willing to accept the bankruptcy of a uni or two. Now, as I’ve discussed before, I would question whether the government will stick to such a commitment once they realise the enormous political price they’ll pay. Consider how Nick Clegg’s decision to support tuition fees cost his party 49 seats and saw his majority collapse to a point that only strategic voting from Tories actually prevented him loosing his seat too.

Jo Johnson has also suggested he would like to see private universities enter the UK HEI sector. Such private uni’s have a less than glowing reputation in the US, being considered little more than corrupt and dubious degree mills. And they also have a reputation for collapsing (often leaving students in the lurch). Of course, given that many of the UK’s uni’s have been subject to de-facto privatisation over the last few years, this is merely the next logical step. I had to laugh when I heard it suggested that Scottish universities might loose their charitable status as a result of SNP reforms. The reality is they’ve not been charities for many years.

So while there is some good news here, I’m afraid most of it is bad news. At a time that the Germans are getting rid of tuition fees, the UK is looking at ways of putting up fees….massively! And the UK HEI sector has only itself to blame for this turn of events. As what we are seeing is the inevitable consequences of three decades of slow creeping privatisation. Like the frog in the pan of water, we’ve stayed in too long past boiling point.

A brief history of Drax and UK energy policy


A key feature of any nation’s energy policy is to play the long game, with long term planning, based on sound scientific advice. However this has been precisely what has been lacking in the UK, which has gone through six energy ministers in a decade. When Amber Rudd took over as energy minster she likely inherited a well thumbed copy of a book on her desk from her predecessors labelled “the half-arsed approach to energy policy”.

And Drax, the UK’s largest power station is a prime example of everything that is wrong with the UK’s energy policy. The plant was built in the 1970’s as part of a centrally planned energy policy centred on large coal fired stations using UK produced coal. However, this policy ignored the issue of climate change, which even in the 70’s was something that scientists were expressing concerns about.

Consequently one…

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National anthems and Tory doomongering


The other night on Question time the Tory MP Elizabeth Truss (of expenses scandal fame) was rattling off all the Daily Mail-esque myths about labour under Corbyn. E.g. that labour plans to abolish the army, build a monument to the IRA, sell the country to China, etc. Indeed I thought I might put in a coupon on my blog for Tories to cut out and forward on to their favourite right wing news paper.


Based on something Corybn or his cabinet member _______________ (delete as needed) said / mumbled /sneezed /comments attributed to him by tabloid hack / in 19__ it is now Labour policy to (delete as necessary) kill santa claus / Nationalise all breweries / Steal all our children and make them work in the mines / Replace the Queen with John Prescott / Bring in 200 million Syrians and 1 billion Romanians / Turn Faslane into a Soviet Missile Base / or _______________________.

This will mean (delete) The end of the UK / The triumph of Beelzebub / The Dead raising from the grave / The Communists, Indians, Chinese, Romanian Gypsies, Roswell Alien, Scottish taking over / The apocalypse / The Rapture / The end of Corrie


There was much made of Corbyn not singing the British national anthem. Was this a sign of Republicanism? Was he anti-British?….Or maybe its because the British national anthem is a bit crap, and more than a little racist towards Scots. Okay, our Irish one ain’t much better (it has several sectarian references) and there has been discussion about changing it (this is why Ireland’s Call is used at Rugby matches). But at least we are having that conversation, which is long over due in Britain (what’s wrong with Land of Home and Glory…or the Vindaloo song?).

Then again, at least the UK anthem isn’t as bad as the French one. I mean, have you ever heard the lyrics to it? Its downright nasty (blood gore, cut throats, eat frogs legs, etc.) and the French get kids to sing it! I got kids singing a song like that in English, I’d be reported to child services pretty darn quickly.

But anyway, certainly it has to be said that the chances of labour winning is reduced with Corbyn in charge. However, before the Tories get cocky or carried away, they need to consider that this raises the stakes, should they screw up in the next five years. Keep in mind that when there is a change of government 10% of the time, its because the people are convinced enough by the opposition to change horses. But the other 90% its because the party in power screwed up royal and the public voted for the other party to get these dittoheads out of office.

The Tories have committed to many policies recently that have the potential to be very destabilising, and that could easily cause so much damage to the country as to cost them the next election. The EU vote for example carries huge risks, regardless of which way the vote goes. Their policies on energy has seen the UK fall rapidly from one of the top ten places to invest in Green energy to the bottom ten, just as we head into a potentially cold winter with only a hairs whisker of spare capacity (how many Tory voters will suddenly think Corbyn has a point if their policy of privatised energy leads to power cuts and soaring prices?). And their policy on universities could lead to uni’s failing, something I’ve pointed out before will likely entail a very heavy political price (anyone who doubts that, go ask the lib dems!).

And of course all it takes is some scandal involving Cameron or Osborne getting up to something naughty and that could easily throw the next election. After all, if we were to make claim’s about Tory policy based on what Cameron said back in his Bullingdon days it would now be Tory policy to refer to the public as “plebs”, the abolition of all state funded education (cos the riff raff don’t need it), privatisation of the NHS, that the wealthy should have the right to park in disabled bays…..oh wait some of those are true!

Hence, rather than full steam ahead and lurch to the right, I’d argue the Tories are better aiming for a more middle ground strategy, else they will simply embolden labour and close ranks around its new leader.

Happy Birthday…please pay


If I were to start typing “Happy Birthday too you….” I’d be besieged by lawyers before I even finished the post. This song, first published by a pair of sisters in 1893, has been copyrighted by the Warner corporation who have been charging anyone who dares use it.

Now, okay you can understand them charging other movie studio’s to include it in films. Should you ever wonder why Americans in movies only sing “for he’s a jolly good fellow” at birthday’s this is why. But charging care homes and children’s Birthday party’s? I mean can you imagine explaining that to a five year old, no the clown can’t sing you that song, it would cost him $1,500.

Quite clearly this demonstrates the absurdity of copyright laws and illogical extremes they’ll be taken too by companies.

Mixed messages and Pedofiles


In the university where I work there’s some discontent over promotions and how staff are rated. The uni has been putting much greater emphasis on research, in particular research that con contribute to the REF and revenue raising by bringing in money via grants. Its a trend that is all too familiar across UK universities these days.

Now if your working in a Russell group, research led university, then okay, this is kind of the primary role of such institutions and they are heavily dependant on research funding (hence why they are so worried about this EU referendum, given how much funding comes from the EU). But the vast majority of the UK’s universities don’t fall into this category. Their primary means of funding (and I mean +90%) is through teaching.

And its worth remembering that good research takes time. Most Russell group uni’s have a significantly higher staffing levels to cope with this, as well as more PhD research students, well equipped labs and of course, the technical support staff to keep everything running smoothly. By contrast a number of universities I’ve taught at have been cutting back on support staff…because as they see it, the best way to encourage research, it would seem, is to make it much harder to do!

While research is an important part of being an academic, life is about priorities, and in the absence of new staff to take over the teaching load, its inevitable that any time spent on research is time not being spend focusing on teaching and looking after students, which undermines one of the key selling points for most of the UK’s universities . You can after all get a free university education in several other countries such as Holland, Ireland (we have “fees”, but a fraction of those in the UK) or Germany.

Anyone watching the university rankings recently will have perhaps noted a trend whereby research led university’s are slipping down the rankings and a number of the ex-polytechnic’s are gradually creeping up. This, I would argue, is because Russell group uni’s are crap at teaching undergrad’s. If I had a kid and he/she wanted to go to uni I would sit them down and ask them, what do you want out of it? If you want to become an academic or a professional researcher, go to a Russell group uni. If you want to get a good degree and then get a job, then stay away from them, go to a well ranked non-research led uni instead.

For the reality is that in most research led uni’s the bulk of the day to day teaching is handled by overworked teaching assistants and PhD students, with the professors too busy jetting off to conferences or chasing research grants to have any time for undergrads. The only way an undergrad gets to see a professor in those places is if they bump into them in the lift. I’ve even heard stories of some Russell group uni’s getting their professors to make a video tape of their lecture’s, which they then play each year….so you’re basically paying 9 grand a year to watch a couple of videos! The university’s minster himself recently bemoaned this drop in teaching standards, although he sidestepped the issue of what’s driving it.

That said, for a research led uni, the primary degree is really just a taster session, the really serious learning starts with the Masters or PhD…..or indeed the post-doc that follows. It should also be remembered that those who follow a more academic, research led career, tend to be good self-learners, a trait that isn’t shared by the bulk of students (that’s the whole point of lectures! Do you think I do them for fun or something?).

But like I said, any uni trying to copy this model without the resources of a research led uni is going to just piss off its students, develop a really bad reputation and see student numbers, and thus overall revenue, plummet. And its worth remembering that to many UK university’s the bulk of what research they do generally comes to them via ex-students and industrial contacts. So long term, such a policy will reduce the levels of research, not aid them.

The Pedofiles
Given these facts you may question why so many university managers are pursuing such a crazy policy. Well some form of an answer become apparent when you learn that they have also begun to place particular emphasis on research into Pedagogy (the theory of learning and education). All of us academics are now expected to gain qualifications in Pedagogy as well as undertake research into it. Or put it another way, we’re all expected to maintain a folder somewhere on our PC where we record all our Pedagogy…..or a Pedofile ;0

If you think about it, this is silly. Humans have been teaching each other since the first cave man showed someone how to light a fire. By contrast technologies such as Graphene, computers or electronics have only been around for a few years or decades. Unless you are working in a particular discipline such as IT (where computers have brought about changes to teaching methods) or psychology, Pedagogy is a dead research area. You’re wasting your time conducting research that is of very little value to anyone.

And of course, such emphasis on “Pedofiles” directly contradicts the pressure on us academics to produce “REF worthy” research (which has to be of a certain standard to count), as very little if anything in this field is going to count as high impact. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that for many of the senior staff in many UK uni’s the only original research they’ve done recently is in Pedagogy. Hence they are emphasising its importance purely to justify their own position and bloated salary.

And of course the emphasis on REF related research is driven by the fact that setting and meeting research “targets” is a good way for these mangers to justify a future salary increase or bonus. The fact that they are setting in place policies that are likely to infuriate both staff and students, lower academic standards and probably in the long term undermine research, does not matter, as they’ll have changed jobs by then.

In short, UK universities are becoming a perfect proof of the so-called “Dilbert Principlewhereby those who are the least technically competent in any organisation are swiftly moved into the position where they can do the least damage and be kept out of the way of the competent staff – management. Unfortunately, like many privatised public services, we have the problem that while the private sector has various means to “cull” the numbers of management goons from time to time (via the occasional merger, restructuring or proxy blood bath), university’s, and other ex-public sector bodies, don’t.

So if Osborne is keen to save the Treasury some cash, here’s a piece of advice. Sack every member of staff in every UK uni above the grade of head of department (along with all their minions, PA’s and other hanger’s on). You’ll eliminate the main obstacle to progress and the efficient running of universities, while saving a lot of money in the process.


Britain’s Shame


The migration crisis has shamed Cameron. While he’s mubbling about taking in 20,000 over 5 years the Germans are suggesting they can cope with half a million a year. Ireland is proposing to take in the same number a year as the UK (despite us having only a 1/12 the UK’s population). In a desperate effort of bait and switch, the story of a young British Jihadi killed in a drone strike a month ago was resurrected, in the hope of getting the media to change the subject.

Of course the idea that the government can fight its way out of this situation with smart bombs from 10,000 ft is naive and foolish. Only action on the ground will ultimately remove ISIS. Which means either supplying substantial resources to the Kurdish fighters (which NATO won’t do, as that would upset the Turks) or deploying ground troops (which NATO certainly ain’t going to do, because we all know how that panned out last time and again the Turks know how that one will pan out, likely spreading the conflict across the border into Turkey, something that’s already a risk).

Certainly, one has to say that the German’s in their haste to help are setting a dangerous precedence. They could be seen to be encouraging migrants to make the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean and to ignore EU policy on refugees . This has to stop. If there’s anything sensible on this issue Cameron has said, its the idea that we should be prioritising those who come in via the proper channels, those who enter the EU illegally go essentially to the back of the queue.

Indeed, at the risk of sounding like Farage, there is also a need to ensure that some Syrians are encouraged to return once the war is over. The refugee’s from Syria now arriving are the middle class and white collar workers. Doctors, nurses, engineer’s, shop keepers, etc. The loss of so many of these probably poses a greater threat to ISIS or the Assad regime than any number of smart bombs, something that’s probably not immediately obvious to ISIS and its fanatics….although I suspect they’ll figure that out once power plants start going down and their battlefield casualties soar because they don’t have the staff to treat them.

If Syria has now burned an entire generation of it professionals, then the country is in very serious trouble, as it will make rebuilding the country post-war very difficult. We need only look at Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan for proof of that.

However all of this requires a common EU policy on migration and refugees. And the very EU states who are complaining most about these refugee’s, notably the Hungarians, British and more recently the Dane’s, are the main obstacle to such a policy.

Of course the real issue here is that Cameron tied his hands several years ago, with that ridiculous pledge in the Tory manifesto to get migration down to the “tens of thousands”, a figure divorced from any connection with reality (given that over 80,000 British or their families return to live in Britain each year and nearly twice that number of students enter). Its a pledge designed purely to satisfy the UKIP bigot brigade and the Tories are forced to stick to it, or risk splitting their party.

Three No’s to Brussels

And of course, this brings us to the thorny issue of the EU referendum. Recently UKIP launched its no….or sort of no campaign. This means there’s now three separate no campaigns, something even uncyclopedia were making fun of (you know its bad when a satirical website reports stuff as fact, because the truth has become funnier than fiction).

And despite anything anyone might say, the anti-EU campaign will be primarily fought on one issue – immigration. And naturally images of hordes of migrants coming off boats has the bigot brigade practically foaming at the mouth. So Cameron’s failure to confront the UKIP wing of his party is what has effectively trapped him on the issue of immigration, and threatens to trap him on the matter of any EU referendum.

I recall speculating that once it became obvious that Cameron’s position on Europe was unworkable, he’d likely fudge the issue. The legislation passed as I understand it contains no specific timetable, so if Cameron’s re-negotiations with the EU stall (news flash, they stalled several mouths ago when it became obvious he couldn’t control his back benchers), he can just kick it into the long grass of the next election.

I feel this is increasingly likely, particularly if Corybn wins the labour leadership on Sunday. Cameron was relying on labour to do most of the heavy lifting in a pro-EU campaign. However, if they now adopt a more neutral stance as a party (or if Corybn actually campaigns against the EU), that would force Cameron to take a more active role, something that will almost certainly split his party….and then split the country if you follow the noises coming out of Hollyrood and the latest opinion polls.

In short, Europe is faced with a very large and messy crisis, which there are no easy or simple answers too. While Cameron has gotten himself into a massive mess of his own creation, one which has even fewer easy exit strategies.

California drought – A cautionary tale


I wrote this a while ago and forgot to put it up! I’m in the process of moving house.

Figure 1: California and the Western US has been plagued by recent droughts Figure 1: California and the Western US has been plagued by recent droughts

A cautionary parable told by environmentalists is that of the lily pond. It goes as follows. We have a pond with lilies growing in it (or in some versions pond scum) and gradually spreading. If the lilies cover the entire pond, they will cut off the sunlight and oxygen and kill all life in the pond. The lilies double in area each day and will take 30 days to cover the entire pond. Assuming we wait until half the pond is covered before taking any action, at what point do we act? Well day 29, one day prior to the pond being covered! Of course by then it will likely be a case of acting too late…

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Weekly Roundup

Getting it wrong on the refugee crisis

The Tories have looked on the growing crisis over refugees not as a humanitarian crisis that they need to pull their weight on, but as a cynical opportunity. They’ve been suggesting that the masses of migrants proves that there is a need to restrict the movement of people across EU borders.

However this amounts to muddling up two distinctly different issues. Internal migration between EU countries by workers, which the British benefit from, being able to travel to other EU states for work (or retirement in Spain or Southern France) and external migration from outside the EU.

Certainly some of those coming across the Med are not refugees but economic migrants and yes they are exploiting a lack of EU co-ordination on this issue. However the solution is more co-operation by EU states on this, a common policy on migrants, and agreement to share migrants and a firmer policy towards returning non-refugee’s home, particularly if they break the rules (such as breaking into the channel tunnel or arriving illegally by boat). So in many respect’s the Tories and UKIP have got it ass backwards.

However, if the Tories think they can use this to argue for changes to internal EU travel, think again. The Germans, who have taken in far more than any other EU state are very clear that unless they see some movement on Cameron’s part to take on his fair share of the burden, then the British can forget about any form of renegotiation.

The UK reported to the UN over disability cuts

And speaking of human rights violations, the UK is now being investigated by the UN for possible human rights violations over its welfare reform policies. It is alleged that these are discriminatory towards those with disabilities, who have suffered disproportionately worse than any from the recent cuts to welfare. Figures released last week by the DWP that thousands of claimants died within weeks of being declared “fit for work.

So on second thoughts, maybe the Syrians shouldn’t come here. If IDS and Osborne keep this up we might have the disabled and unemployed sneaking onto trucks to Calais to try and claim asylum from a British government, who discriminates and persecutes them!

Shot on Camera

Of course a shocking story over the last week was the shooting death of a journalist and cameraman live on air, in the US. This inevitably lead to more calls for Gun control, which politicians, afraid of the gun lobby, promptly ignored.

Of course the usual reaction of the gun lobby is to suggest that the solution to a crazy person with a gun is to encourage more carrying of guns by people to defend themselves…like in the wild west, how did that one work out? Indeed, studies have shown that regions with concealed carry laws have higher rates of gun crime.

But returning to the wild west, there-in lie the problem, in those days many towns far from encouraging the carrying of firearms actually had quite strict laws against the carrying of guns, often requiring for example that guns be deposited at the sheriff’s office as people came into town (he’d issue them with a receipt). The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral came about when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (who had been deputised by the town council) attempted to enforce local gun control laws.

Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. And now the gun lobby will hide behind lawyers and lobbyists rather than settle things “like men” as it were. Perhaps the Ok Corral would have worked out differently if the Clanton’s had their lawyer in tow?

Oddly enough thought, the Republicans seem keen on allowing guns in some places…but not others, such as Republican rallies, the G. W. Bush library and (irony of ironies) all Trump hotels and golf courses.

Osama Bin Corbyn

You know your opponents are getting desperate when they start making stuff up. Take Carmichael and his Ferrero Rocher” allegations against Nichola Sturgeon.

Well now there’s ludicrous claims regarding Jeremy Corbyn and comments he made after Bin Laden’s assassination. He said at the time that it was a tragedy that Bin Laden wasn’t captured and brought back for trial in New York. However, it was implied by the right wing media that he said that Bin Laden’s death was a tragedy (leaving out the second half of the sentence). Quite clearly Corybn’s opponents have been going over his past with a fine toothed coob looking for anything that might be used to smear him….even if its not true!

Of course, there are many who would agree with Corbyn, and not necessarily the usual leftie tree hugger types. But in reality it was no surprise really that they killed him. Given that Bin Laden used to work for the CIA, the US didn’t want him showing up in court and pointing this inconvenient little truth out and dishing out the dirt on the US.

Old big nose is back

And speaking or right wing hatchet jobs, Rebekah “Sideshow” Brooks has apparently got her old job back. So much as predicted, the Murdoch’s have gotten away with this scot free, despite admissions by Brooks herself to bribing police.

A shed load of rent

As the London property bubble continues there’s been a new trend in London, the renting out of shed’s as converted “studio” flats. One prospective tenant showed up at a apartment to find his “double bedroom” was a shed in the lounge. Meanwhile wholesale “social cleansing” continues across the city. Hence why there is an urgent need for measures to ease the problem, such as rent controls and greater building of social housing.