Tuesday 30 October 2007

That leadership contest

One of my Tory friends (I do have some) has made a point of saying the LibDem leadership race is so boring. And then implying that that means the LibDems are boring. It could just mean we're a relatively united party, with no big issues over which we disagree greatly.

I remain firmly undeclared pending more goodies from the two conbatants.

Dog shoots man

I just can't resist this:


The best bit is the official who says it happens all the time.

Friday 19 October 2007


In line with last week's message, what have I been up to:

Art history: nope

Music: Springsteen, Within Temptation

Religion: it's been a bad week in one way. The funeral was held on an OU tutor and colleague of mine on Tuesday, and we heard that another had died unexpectedly on Thursday. The style nowadays for many people is to celebrate rather than to mourn. That was certainly the case with the funeral on Tuesday. I wonder how that reflects changing attitudes to life and death?

Philosophy: watched the first episode of Spooks. The starting plot hinges on the British government authorising the bombing of a train carrying a known terrorist before he carries out an attack on the UK. So can the taking of innocent life be justified if it promises to avert greater loss of life? (Needless to say, the plot got more complicated after that.)

History - watched more Tudors. They go at it like rabbits don't they. I've also been thinking about the meeting of history and geography in terms of our current landscape - that's what cultural geography is. There's a lot of landscape around Ringmer, and some people are desperate to preserve it unchanged and unchanging. There are also people around who are well on their way to being real historians.

Literature - nothing apart from picking the books I'm going to take on holiday - I'll add those next week.

History of science - I guess I include my potato experiment. I had to heat potatoes till they lost all their water, then subtract the final mass from the starting mass to see how much of them is water. After the first couple of goes in the microwave, I determined that either there is no water in potatoes, or I need a new microwave. Fortunately, after that, it began to work.*

Classical studies - erm,nothing, apart from discovering that Nick Clegg read archaeology (and anthropology) at Cambridge. But archaeology at Cambridge tends not to be very classical, so I'm not sure that I can include that.

*The answer is 80%. Or thereabouts.

Low Carbon Ringmer

Low Carbon Ringmer's environment fair was held on Saturday 13th, and was a great success. At least a lot of people turned up. Whether it was successful in starting a movement to lower carbon emissions from the village remains to be seen. There are a couple of pics on LCR's flickr site. More will follow.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

The humanities

One of my many jobs for the OU is to teach AZX103, the online version of Introduction to the Humanities, and for this presentation just started, I plan to discuss each week what we've actually done outside the course where any of the disciplines impinges on us.

I need to set the scene a bit first. AZX103 doesn't introduce all the humanities - just those covered by other OU courses when it was devised, which means:
art history,
history of science,
classical studies.

One notable absence, for instance, is film - the reason for that being that when A103 was first written the OU didn't do film courses. We do now so no doubt A100, which starts next year, will cover film. One notable inclusion is history which I don't see as a humanity, it's a social science, but then you get into all sorts of awkward questions about how you define both those subject groupings.

Art history - can't think of anything, apart from looking at "Man Reading" in Saturday's tutorial, which doesn't really count.

Music - I'm into rock, fairly heavy, and mostly metallic - I've just bought two Within Temptation CDs, and one is now blowing my ears out (Dutch Gothic, which is a subgenre of symphonic metal).

Religion - a bit tangential this, but I was at the launch fair of Low Carbon Ringmer and I was next to the Christian Ecology stall, being run by the local vicar.

Philosophy - I hardly ever consciously "do philosophy" - I did have an interesting chat with my son this week who had just been to a philosophy society meeting about the connection between "attempt" and "intention". But I reckon we do philosophy quite a lot without noticing. I found on the BBC website this article about obesity. It raises, as so many of these things do, an acutely moral question - how much is it morally justified to force people to do things for their own good, especially in an (allegedly) libertarian society?

History - I watched The Tudors on telly. I never realised they had so much sex in Tudor times.

Literature - haven't read anything all week, apart from "Cultural Geography", which is a different kettle of fish. I did think briefly about what to take on holiday with me - anybody got any recommendations?

History of Science - not really. Actually at the Environment Fair, I did have an interesting chat with a farmer about the issue of risk - and that is connected to History of Science, because there's a historical dimension to the way we have grown to (mis)understand science, and what constitutes risk - the issue usually being that scientists never make categorical predictions, but we live in a society that expects them. E.g. no scientist would ever say, scientifically, that the MMR vaccine is completely safe, but to say that it is safe enough for all normal purposes doesn't play well in the media.

Classical studies - er, not this week.

So Ming went...

... and proved to be another example of what I blogged about here recently, the relative power of press and politicians. I can't quite decide whether it amounts to dishonest journalism or not. The story of Ming's age, pardon the pun, was an old, old story. We knew some LibDems didn't like him, and we knew that some LibDems were concerned about his age and image. We've known that for two years. We know Gordon Brown is a control freak - the press don't go on about it day after day after day. We know Dave the boy Cameron is completely vacuous - the press don't go on about it day after day after day. But they decided some time ago that the story was Ming's age, and it became the story - day after day after day. And that despite everything we were doing - the real news - things actually happening, policy announcements, policy working, oh sorry not news, now let's talk about Ming's age. The revelation that he was asked about his age at every single one of sixty plus interviews at the party conference this year shows the intensity of the thing. A lesson for whoever succeeds him. And at one level, OK they were right - every party needs a telegenic leader, it is now clearly a sine qua non.

So a decent, honourable man has been knocked out of the limelight. His colleagues may have fashioned the knife (it's difficult to tell from what I know and impossible, I'm afraid, to believe anything the press says, because they are determined to take no responsibility for their actions) but it was the press that wielded it.

I hope Ming comes back. Whoever becomes party leader needs him on the front bench, where he can still wield a scalpel of his own occasionally. One of the government's most embarrassing moments of recent years was the admission Ming forced of their complicity in flights of rendition. Of course, they were able to get over it because not enough people cared. But it's our job to make them care.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Coming to you via the Conservative party...

... LibDem policies. We wanted to do something about inheritance tax before they did; we were quicker off the mark with taxing non-doms; we were ahead of them on taxing planes instead of passengers...

But I couldn't say it better than Vince Cable did, according to the Beeb, "Most of these policies were set out by the Liberal Democrats. We had set out this policy on changing the basis of aviation tax, the Tories pinched it from us and now the government have pinched it from them.

"I mean for the Tories to be bellyaching about it, it's like a gang of thieves complaining about their houses being burgled."

Gordon Brown is human, shock horror

Sorry, but I have to disagree with practically all my LibDem colleagues, just about every Conservative I've come across, and almost the entire panoply of press, radio and TV journalists. I don't think Gordon Brown is a coward.

I don't think Brown bottled it, because I don't think he ever intended to hold an autumn election. I think it was a cunning plan that went wrong. I think his plan was to let everyone think there was to be an election so as to unsettle them and smoke out their plans. The only bit of evidence that doesn't fit that is the various strands about Labour shifting people to election posts, taking on staff, etc, but that could easily all be smoke as well. I remember Ferrari once doing it brilliantly to McLaren during a close race. They got all the mechanics out for Schumacher, McLaren reacted by bringing Hakkinen in, the Ferrari mechanics all went back inside, Schumacher got a couple of extra quick laps in and won the race.

The original plan worked. He got a good idea about Tory plans which he was able to shaft with the pre budget plans for inheritance tax - nicked by the Tories from the LibDems by the way. And he no doubt ruffled a few feathers. But he paid a very high price for it for two reasons. The first was flawed execution. He needed to pull the plug on the idea sooner, but I guess he couldn't bring himself to. And the visit to Iraq was tenable (even as a piece of political upstaging it was forgiveable) but the spun announcement about troop reductions was a big mistake.

The second reason was, I think, that he underestimated the power of the press. They're blaming him for leading them on, which he undoubtedly did, but they were willing victims. It was far too good a story for the press to miss - fills papers and hours of screen time without any effort on their part. So they desperately wanted an election to talk about, and they fell for it hook, line and sinker. And then he was powerless to stop it attaining much bigger heights than he wanted it to. The only thing he could do was to stop it,and he failed to do that. To me it's a lesson in the limits of political power.

And now of course he's suffering from press over reaction. He was doing brilliantly in the summer according tomany,when he really did nothing but show once again that he is a very able administrator. And he was lucky - a terrorist plot that failed to achieve any of its targets, foot and mouth which didn't take hold, and floods which enabled him to look primeministerial. And now all that's happened is that he's shown he can misjudge things occasionally. Heavens above - he's human.

Saturday 6 October 2007

Spelling and grammar....

I got a letter from my insurance company (should I name and shame them?) today: "Please accept our apologises our error and any inconvenience it may of caused". I'm quite glad I'm cashing in the policy; I'm not sure I could bear to stay with them.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Free Burma

I'm blogging nothing, except Free Burma today.