Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Saturday, November 11, 2006
So it seems to me that Bob has an enviably cushy job - he plays records he likes, gets free tickets to gigs, goes off to festivals at the public expense, and is paid a lot more than you and me for his trouble. What I find really objectionable is his inability to complete a sentence without uttering the two most frequently used words in his vocabulary: "Bob" and "Harris". Typically, you tune in and you hear: "That was some fantastically obscure American woman, who I met when on a BBC jaunt to Austin Texas here on the Bob Harris show with me, Bob Harris. Coming up later on the Bob Harris show, some ancient T-Rex track and some more obscure Americana. Check the playlist on bbc dot co dot uk slash bob harris and don't forget to tune into Bob Harris Country next week when I'll be meeting some grizzled country veteran shortly before his imminent death. I'm Bob Harris. George from Nether Stowey writes "Dear Bob..."
- and so it goes on. Quite often, I note that the letters he reads out are obviously new to him: people say "Bob, could you play some Counting Crows at about 12.30 as I'll be driving home from Milton Keynes after the Southern Region Arm-Wrestling championships?" and Bob will say- "Oh sorry, it's 1.30 now, a bit late with that one, and we haven't any Counting Crows tonight, so here's Natalie Merchant on the Bob Harris show..." I mean, how difficult is it to prepare? And why does he have to read out the entire request, including the bit with his name? Do you think he really thinks he's important?
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Monday, October 23, 2006
This is fascinating, and demonstrates once more that we seem incapable of learning from history. By a melancholy coincidence, I was reading the excellent Philip Hensher novel The Mulberry Empire while the Afghan death toll was rising, and couldn't help noticing the parallels there too.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The Dumb Britain column in Private Eye is always good for a laugh - recent sample:
Anne Robinson: Which is the only letter in the alphabet with three syllables?
Contestant: Z.They haven't picked up this great exchange, though, which I saw on the BBC sport page:
Question on BBC1's Test the Nation: "Who was Winston Churchill - A rapper, US President, The PM or King?"
Teddy Sheringham's girlfriend, Danielle Lloyd: "Wasn't he the first black president of America? There's a statue of him near me - that's black."
You couldn't make it up...
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Friday, August 11, 2006
He was great. Backed by son Abe and grandson (!) plus an excellent pedal steel player, he ran through some of his most well-known songs, and some of his dad's, in fine style. His between song - and sometimes in-song - chat is brilliant. He's wry, clever, witty and self-deprecating; actually, quite a considerable orator. We sang along to the inevitable "Alice's Restaurant" and "This Land is Your Land." We also listened to a newly discovered wire recording of Woody, and were moved by an encore which showcased a new song, lyrics by Woody - apparently there are thousands of songs he never recorded. Two hours without a break - not bad for an old-timer!
Harriet writes beautifully, in a clear and entertaining style. She is very honest about herself and the people she encountered. The result is a fascinating book, which should be read by anybody with an interest in British post-war theatre and culture. I'm already looking forward to the second volume.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Tesco are trying to present themselves as all eco-friendly by this move - but their "biodegradable" bags will still take years to degrade in the landfill sites where they will end up. I really can't see why Tesco in Ireland can say a charge on plastic bags is a great idea, while their English counterpart says they have to continue to offer them free. Ther answer to this problem is so bleeding obvious - charge for plastic bags, and as we have seen in Ireland, use of them will plummet.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Bring back exams! Actually, that is happening, at several HEIs of my acquaintance. It seems to be the only way.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Friday, July 21, 2006
So - today's object of disaffection is management speak. The English language is the most glorious and infinitely subtle way of communicating on this planet. It might not mean much to be born English these days compared to the glory days of Empire, but being a native speaker of English is a huge advantage. The language is supreme as an instrument of expression, capable of conveying nuances of the most subtle kind. It's a lot to do with the way that successive waves of invaders have left their mark without erasing the previous vernacular. It means we have lots of synonyms, but with slightly different connotations. Freedom and liberty mean the same, don't they? But there's something stirring about the Anglo-Saxon freedom that the Anglo -French liberty doesn't manage. You can think of other examples.
So why, given the vast resources of the language, do people resort to the ludicrous gibberish that is management speak? Not only do they write in this strange hybrid language, which reads as if written by an Albanian on a correspondence course, but they talk it too. It's hideous. What sort of stuff do I mean? Using "impact" and "benchmark" as verbs, saying "delivery" for "teaching", "rolling out" instead of introducing... Using ridiculous buzz phrases - "best practice", "value for money", saying "issues" instead of problems...
It's not uncommon in certain circles to hear this kind of thing:
"We've got some issues impacting around delivery. We need to benchmark best practice, and see if we can get vfm on this, yeah?" And if it's said with a rising tone, then my trigger finger gets very twitchy.
I did enjoy a remark in the Radio 4 show Weak at the Top, featuring an obnoxious Jeremy Clarkson type. "When someone from HR speaks, it's like a neutron bomb - the building's standing, but everyone's dead."
-and HR (or Human Resources) instead of Personnel is a classic piece of management jargon. Ugh!
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Here's a lovely piece by the always entertaining John Sutherland. It is distressing that so much unintelligible gibberish gets passed off as learned criticism these days. I always pass on to students the words of Nobel-winning scientist Peter Medawar:
"No-one who sincerely believes he has something important to say will willingly run the risk of being misunderstood."
If only they all followed that advice...
Monday, July 10, 2006
Most people who work in education are aware of the situation described here. It's now reaching epidemic proportions. I'm coming across more and more undergraduates with apparently good A levels who flounder hopelessly when asked to take part in any kind of academic discourse. What's worse, the culture of target setting and league tables is creeping into HE. Already there are worrying signs of declining standards, and increasingly bizarre methods of coping with the Google generation, who just don't "get" plagiarism.
We may just have to rethink the whole process of assessment before grades become utterly meaningless.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Saturday, July 08, 2006
The worst kind are the ones which have no discernible meaning, but which have to be imaginatively reinterpreted to yield some kind of name. You know the ones - a B can kind of be fashioned by putting a 1 and a 3 close together, or a 5 stands duty for an S. Really desperate ones also use a strategically placed screw with a black cap to sort of make a 1 into an L. I saw one recently where J2NNE was supposed to spell Jenny. How do I know? Because of the most tragic aspect of the enterprise, in which the owner has to put what the plate is supposed to spell in very small letters under the actual registration number.
My all time favourite was one such, although this was not on a personalised plate. No, under a perfectly ordinary plate, someone had seen fit to have added "Jeanina Topping BSc (Hons) QTS". Maybe the car was a graduation present from Mummy and Daddy Topping...
So it's odd to be resident in a room which might have served as Sherlock Holmes's study - dark maroon wallpaper, mahogony furniture, cushions, knick-knacks and ornaments in abundance - not in Baker Street but in darkest Brum. My room didn't feature correspondence fixed to the mantlepiece with a knife, but did have a bowler-hatted and union jack-waistcoated Teddy Bear. Possibly that belonged to Watson...
Apart from its intense Victoriana, Jonathan's is quirky because of its system of naming rather than numbering rooms. I was in Whiteheath. The labyrinthine interior is navigated by means of coloured lines on the ceiling which correspond to the tube map design on the "passport" they give you when you check in. It is actually quite good fun, but the drawback is the location. For my purposes, it's fine - it's a few minutes' drive from where I need to be - but it seems odd where it is. You expect a Travel Lodge and you get number 221b.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
Thursday, June 08, 2006
If she beat "Salmon Rushdie" then this is obviously fishy...
This is an opportunity to plug the excellent Magnatune.com - this is a growing collection of music available to download for much less than you'd pay in the shops. It gives the artists a very good deal. Worth a look.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Following this ridiculous motion, which is NATFHE's last significant act before the merger with AUT, I have resigned my membership. It is grotesque to require people to, in effect, declare their non-allegiance to their government before being accepted in the academic community. What's proposed here is nothing less than institutionalised discrimination based on nationality.
The backlash has, predictably, already begun. One reason that many academics, including me, put forward in opposition to this boycott is that it singles out Israeli academics whilst leaving academics in countries with much more repressive regimes alone - China, Zimbabwe, Sudan come immediately to mind. A letter in yesterday's Guardian by Sabby Sagall, a leading light in the Socialist Workers Party, puts forward a wonderfully barmy reason for picking out Israel: "Israel is not a "normal" democratic society in which the rulers have had to accept that far-reaching political dissent or class conflict be part of the state's ideological framework. It is a settler-colonial society with a much greater degree of social cohesion. Therefore the question why Israeli academic institutions should be boycotted and not necessarily those of other societies with poor human rights records is wide of the mark. In most such societies, there are usually many dissident intellectuals who tend to suffer the same repression meted out to ethnic or political minorities. Not in Israel. There, academic institutions are part of the structure of the illegal, colonial occupation. It is right that the boycott should go ahead until Israeli universities decide to support the campaign for an end to the occupation." Brilliant, Sabby - so presumably you'll also be supporting a ban on US and British universities until their academics declare their anti-war stance? Australia and Canada too, presumably? How twisted is this logic? We should attack Israeli academics because they're not repressed?
Get a grip.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Dalrymple is always challenging the orthodoxy, but does it from a position of strength - he knows about these people, he's done his time with them, so for me, his ideas have a greater resonance than those of some well-heeled politician showing how compassionate he is. I think he's spot on about the Romantics' use of opium. I always thought that the allegedly opium-influenced poetry was easily the worst. Coleridge clearly was a great poet - but Kubla Khan is just loopy, I'm afraid.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Friday, May 19, 2006
It was inevtiable that the impasse over the pay offer would lead to local bargaining, and I'm amazed the union negotiators didn't do more to head it off, especially as they are apparently blessed with telepathic powers, according to this report, where the chair of the education committee says " one member of the committee had asked union representatives why they had not put the employers' offer to their members in a ballot.
And the unions had explained they felt this would waste time when they knew what the outcome would be."
He writes about his life, which seems to consist entirely of getting stoned, getting pissed, or both, playing computer games, and going to see bands with names like "Necrophagists". What really struck me, though, was the air of nihilist despair that hangs over the whole thing. Everything is shit, life is shit, university is shit, etc etc. The witty and clever young man I see in the classroom is transformed in the journal into a raging misanthrope, apparently devoid of any sense of hope or ambition. Sad to see someone of that age as cynical as someone of my age...
Monday, May 01, 2006
What really stinks though is the idea that the revelations have been made simply so that Tracey can "tell her side of the story". Yeah, right. If that was the case, why not simply release a statement to the media? Why go straight to Max Clifford? Couldn't be anything to do with a sum north of £100,000 could it?
-that the man has had an operation for twisted testicles, which nearly went gangrenous, but that he was having sex less than three days later;
that his wife is a Filipino (I would have said Filipina, but that's me being pedantic) and is very small;
-that he has the names of his children tattooed on his body;
-that he will not have the name of his wife tattooed on his body, because of the possibility, however remote, that they might one day split up;
-that he intends to have a protective angel tattooed on his back;
-that he breeds dogs;
-that several named members of the British military in Germany are "wankers";
-that parts of Germany are boring because nobody speaks English;
-that the woman also has a tattoo;
-that she does not want any more children as one is enough;
-that she had to get a restraining order on the father;
Too much information, and rather intimate information at that, conducted at high volume, so that most of the carriage could hear. They obviously don't teach them that discretion is the better part of valour in the army these days.
The return journey was enhanced by the presence of two groups familiar to all who have to travel on to Blackpool - the weekend revellers. In this case, a group of bullet headed thirty something men in football shirts, who had actual crates of beer to drink, and a group of three girls, who joined at Warrington. The girls looked about 17, but might have been younger. They were dressed comme il faut, that is to say in jeans sitting low enough to expose the pelvic bone, teamed with tops short enough to expose the studs in their navels, and their distressingly flabby midriffs. They carried no luggage beyond plastic bags, which clinked suggestively. Each had a paper cup from which a sickly sweet smell emerged. The cups contained, I soon discovered, Baileys, and it was clear that quite a bit of it had been drunk already. They talked loudly, mainly disputing the identity of the boy one of them had snogged the night before -"It was GARY!" and about what they were going to do in Blackpool- get drunk mostly, although as one of them sweetly put it "I'm fuckin' bladdered already".
I took my reluctant leave of the gilded youth and of the shaven headed men for the final leg of my journey, musing again on what ever happened to that famous English reticence and reserve.
Friday, March 24, 2006
What struck me about the tribute was that the major defining feature of this man's life and character is omitted - but I suppose you couldn't ask the florist to make the flowers spell THIEF, could you?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Sunday, March 05, 2006
"The best place I've been is...
Iraq. It's magical. I first visited in 1993. I fell in love with it, head over heels. It's one of the few places I physically long for."
Well, I'm sure not many constituents in Bethnal and Bow will be standing in his way...
Saturday, March 04, 2006
It's bad enough trying to explain cricket to the average intelligent American...
Of course, Owen Barder does it with his customary style.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Woman number 1 is on her mobile to a friend -"We've had to come out to the booze shop. There's 50 clients in there, and we've run out of drink. So we've just dashed in here to get some, and then we'll be back." She pays for her purchases whilst still on the phone. What did she buy? One bottle of rose Lambrusco and two cartons of orange juice. I bet the 50 clients appreciated that...
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
They should have done a risk assessment first...
So all doctors are men, apparently?
Friday, February 17, 2006
Well, it had to happen. Don't you think Jocelyn Prudence is the perfect name for the employers' negotiator?
Monday, February 13, 2006
The RDN has taken specialist advice and, with the approval of the JISC and the RDN Board of Management, has decided to relaunch the service with a new name. The RDN will become Intute and the Hubs will take the name of their new subject group. Whilst Intute is not an existing word or acronym we hope it will develop its own set of associations matching the service's vision.
Humbul and Artifact will join together, led by Oxford in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan, to become Intute: Arts and Humanities.
As if the examples of Accenture, Consignia and the rest weren't warning enough...
Sunday, February 12, 2006
How to succeed the cut and paste way
Each year, ever more illiterate and innumerate undergraduates go to university and demand to be spoon-fed answers, revealed the Times Higher Education Supplement last week.
The 250 admissions tutors, who confessed to their despair at standards in secondary schools, weren't completely without hope. They thought their remedial courses might knock them into shape. I'm not so sure. According to the Plagiarism Advisory Service - and, yes, such an outlandishly named body exists - one quarter of students admit to cutting and pasting from the net. Universities have computer programmes to detect lifted work, but have to confront students who can't see what's wrong with plagiarism. Many got through school exams on the strength of course work parents and teachers 'helped' them complete. The concept of cheating is a novel one for them.
On top of that are the pressures on the university authorities to cheat themselves. Overseas students are a lucrative source of revenue and the manner in which universities guaranteed cash flow by giving dim foreigners degrees has been an open scandal for years. Lecturers are now facing similar pressure to reward British students unjustly because of New Labour's demand for 'inclusive' higher education.
I asked Susan Bassnett, pro-vice-chancellor of Warwick University, if it was possible to go from nursery to university in this country without learning anything. She replied: 'You can certainly get a 2:1 without demonstrating the capacity for independent thought and without acquiring basic skills.' Foreign students are now abandoning Britain for countries with serious universities with worthwhile degrees. Perhaps, Bassnett added, the loss of their money will force our authorities to face the disaster they've created.
What's really depressing is that a pro-VC of one of our most prestigious universities can admit that a 2:1 can be had without, essentially, doing anything like higher level study. I can confirm, though, that the concept of cheating does seem to be a novel one for many students. I've had to patiently explain in words of one syllable to several students this year that no, it is not OK to simply copy something and hand it in as your own work...
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Sunday, January 29, 2006
This article illustrates the problem I mentioned some time ago - and it's a problem that won't go away until we make the manufacturers do something about it. I like the idea, mentioned in the article, of a co-ordinated dumping of packaging at a supermarket, but that is no more than a publicity stunt. It needs to be followed up by a campaign. It seems to me that the more people who join Friends of the Earth, or write to their MP, or go for weekly organic box schemes, or badger the supermarkets about their policies, the more likely it is that something will happen. Otherwise, we are just going to drown in this stuff.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Allyson Pollock's article doesn't tell you much you didn't already know, but it's an impressively detailed demolition job on the government's most shameless sell-out of a noble institution that was once the envy of the world.
I don't whether to laugh or cry at this item. I was particularly struck by the magisterial sweeping generalisation of
"They always look down on students, they always judge and have a lack of hygiene... most discussions in seminars revolve around the academic's new book. In short, every aspect of their measly little lives irritates me."
So, obviously, this student doesn't "judge" then...
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Meanwhile, another ad (and these ads cost about £30 per single column centimetre, so they aren't exactly cheap) is looking for a "Principle" Lecturer....
Sunday, January 15, 2006
In the meantime, the new supplement is distinctive, apparently, because it features "relationships, style, shopping, sex and health". No disturbingly difficult political things for you to worry your pretty head about, then. And of course, this makes Observer Woman entirely different from the main Observer magazine, which features today a section on relationships, featuring advice from "the sex columnists", an article about memory loss, a fashion feature, an article about shopping for purses.... Obviously very different.
The two humans then decide to set up a portable DVD player. Much fussing with the luggage again. Then "You've brought the fackin wrong connector, innit?" Eventually, the thing is set up. She is listening via one set of headphones to pop videos. I know this, because the other set of headphones is lying on the table blasting out the soundtrack, and anyway, madam is singing along tunelessly.
I want to leave, but am caught in a classic wishy washy liberal dilemma- if I leave, it will seem I am expressing my distaste of someone who is clearly severely disabled. At the first stop I make as if I'm leaving the train, and seek refuge in another carriage.
All is relatively quiet, beyond the inevitable "I'm on the train" mobile calls, when a man in his thirties gets on at Crewe, accompanied by two boys aged about eight. One is his son, and the other presumably his son's friend. They sit with two other people at a table, Dad at a seat across the aisle. Boys then proceed to talk at the tops of their voices, to bounce up and down, standing up on their seats, to switch the reading lights on and off repeatedly, to have a competition to see who can make the loudest farting noises... you get the picture. I'm half a carrriage away and getting more annoyed by the minute. Dad's reaction is to say "shush" at ninety-second intervals, whilst pointedly looking away from the mayhem his charges are causing.
I recounted this tale to 'er indoors, who pointed out that they probably rarely went on trains, and that this was exactly the way they would behave on a car journey. I think that's right. But if you allow your kids to behave like that in your car, then that's your problem. In a public place it's diffferent. The father clearly knew that these kids shouldn't be behaving like this, hence the continual shushing, but wasn't prepared to do anything about it. Is he scared? Embarrassed? I don't know why. I'm sure if he'd actually disciplined these two mini hooligans, the entire carriage would have applauded. Last seen heading for the Autosport exhibition at Birmingham NEC, pursued by a collective sigh of relief exhaled by the remaining passengers...
Ruth Kelly, or to give her her full title, the beleaguered Ruth Kelly, is the foremost Catholic in the government. She was appointed as Education Secretary despite having no expertise or background in the area. Her main claim to fame is her prominent membership of the loony Opus Dei, a Roman Catholic organisation that follows a strict Vatican line on contraception, embryo research, cloning and abortion - an interesting conundrum when you are the minister in control of the research budget.
Presumably, Ms Kelly would be happy for any of her many children to be taught by the convicted sex offender to whom she wrote last year. The gist of her letter is: "You've been a naughty boy, but you've said sorry, so we'll hear no more about it." This is, of course, the classic response of Catholic institutions when they discover evidence of child abuse. The events at Ampleforth, Britain's most prestigious Catholic school, is only the latest in a long line of similar cases.
So we shouldn't be surprised at Ms Kelly's response. She's obviously practising Christian forgiveness.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Ah - the power of cheap music...
Personally, I'm with the woman on this. Can you have a verdict of justified wounding?
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Students constantly complain about not having the time to read, and yet they have signed up as full timers - pursuing their studies should be their primary occupation. Too often, though, it isn't. One student I spoke to recently said she was having difficulty completing work because of her outside job commitment. This turned out to be a 35 hour a week post on a telephone help desk. She seemed genuinely surprised when I said that I didn't think she could do that and a full time degree. She's not alone, and the consequences of this now well-established culture of semi-detached study is that students are increasingly unlikely to show any genuine intellectual curiosity. That in turn leads to the kind of instrumental view of education as a simple transference of knowledge from tutor to student, preferably bypassing the student's brain.
I don't know the answer to this conundrum. The increasingly consumerist view of education espoused not just by students but by government, actively discourages the kind of adventurous thinking that higher education is supposed to be about.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
The department of the bleeding obvious has come back strongly after the Christmas break. Apparently, advertising works. What's more, it works better on young susceptible people. You'd never have guessed, would you?