Sunday, May 22, 2011

Choose the new Chancellor of the University of Cambridge!

This is an important one! If you have a Cambridge masters degree or higher, or know someone who does, be sure to read on.

According to an inconspicuous notice posted outside the Senate House, backed up by this link, Lord Sainsbury has been nominated to serve as the new Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (its honorary top man, in other words). Presumably this is because our beloved Prince Philip is getting on a bit, and it'd be embarrassing to have him die on the job. More interesting, however, is the following:

"This nomination is now before the University's Senate for approval. Fifty members of the Senate may nominate an alternative candidate."

What exactly is the Senate, then? When I looked into this I was surprised to find that it's us, or at least those of us in possession of the rather silly Cambridge MA or another masters degree or doctorate. Yes, that's right: if fifty of us can get together by 17th June to nominate an alternative candidate, there will, as I understand it, be an actual election to determine the new Chancellor.

Now obviously for practical purposes it doesn't matter a jot who's the Chancellor; it's not as if Prince Philip actually does anything in the role, despite the website's insistence that he has "important statutory duties". But the selection of billionaire David, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, sends a clear political message: by choosing a lifelong money-man and politician, who joined the family firm after failing to get the grades to become a scientist, the University would be aligning itself with government and industry, and with the 'new market', rather than with the interests of its constituents in education and academia. Through his Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Sainsbury (former chairman of Sainsbury's) has donated vast amounts of money to various causes. And he seems to be a nicer guy than his dictatorial cousin JD Sainsbury. But his appointment would be a statement to the effect that a culture of philanthropy, where the super-rich give to the poor, is a sustainable and appropriate model for higher education funding. It isn't. As Jeremy Prynne puts it (in the context of a slightly different cause),
All aspects considered, it seems to me now a critical moment to raise a voice, along with Oxford, against this constantly sliding and destructive tendency degrading a coherent policy for Higher Education; university funding cuts, massively increased student fees, major invasion of university self-government (admission policies, etc), together with the ever more proclaimed ‘market model’ for the whole sector. Are we also to end up with a new market-style Chancellor? These things are massively confused and massively wrong, and in default of any more intelligent and joined-up planning they are current government policy.
So an alternative candidate is needed, one who sends the opposite message. Moreover, it would be relatively easy to nominate such a candidate. The question is: who should it be? As I see it, it should be a public figure who's shown support for the general principles of the Defend Education campaign, and in particular opposes the marketization of higher education and research. Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ritter Sport ratings - the state of the art

New varieties. Even though I was in Germany for less than a day, I still managed to pick up four new flavours, all for the sake of you, my beloved readership. Brief notes this time.

Alpine Cream & Praline: 6.5/10
Another fairly unremarkable creamy variety, with a hint of crunchiness. It went down easily enough.

Bourbon & Vanilla: 7.5/10
As liqueur varieties go, this one is great - the vanilla is genuinely flavoursome and not too sweet.

Hazelnut & Almond Crumble: 6.5/10
Crunchier than the first one, but otherwise mostly indistinguishable. A bit too sweet, as I recall.

Corn Flakes & White Chocolate: 8.5/10
Really good! The extreme crunchiness works well for me, especially with the white chocolate which can otherwise be a bit cloying.

So for reference, the overall ratings at this stage are:

Rhubarb, strawberry and yoghurt: 9/10
Milk Chocolate: 9/10
Alpine Milk Chocolate: 9/10
Crunchy Biscuit (Knusperkeks): 9/10
Caramel & Nut: 9/10
Corn Flakes & White Chocolate: 7.5/10
Nougat: 8/10
Cappucino: 8/10
Hazelnut (milk chocolate): 8/10
Hazelnut (dark chocolate): 8/10
Fine Dark Chocolate (Edel-Bitter): 8/10
Rum, Raisin & Nut: 8/10
Orange & Marzipan: 8/10
Fruits of the Forest & Yoghurt: 7.5/10
Peach & Passionfruit: 7.5/10
Bourbon & Vanilla: 7.5/10
Marzipan: 7/10
Blood Orange: 7/10
Raisin & Nut: 7/10
Coconut Batida Liqueur Truffle: 7/10
Vanilla Liqueur Truffle: 7/10
Knusperflakes (Crunchy Flakes): 7/10
Stracciatella: 7/10
Vanilla Cookie: 7/10
Milk & White Chocolate: 6.5/10
Alpine Cream & Praline: 6.5/10
Hazelnut & Almond Crumble: 6.5/10
Sunny Crisp (sunflower seeds): 6/10
Espresso Crunch: 6/10
Half Dark Chocolate: 6/10
Marc de Champagne Truffle: 6/10
Amaretto Truffle: 6/10
Whole Peanut: 6/10
Hazelnut (white chocolate): 6/10
Raisin & Cashew: 6/10
Nut in Nougat Cream: 5.5/10
Dark chocolate with Creme a la chocolate mousse: 5/10
Jamaica Rum: 5/10
Kakaocreme (Cocoa cream?): 5/10
Peppermint: 5/10
Whole Almond: 4/10
Golden Peanut: 4/10
Yoghurt: 4/10
Lemon: 3/10
Egg Liqueur Truffle: 3/10
Coconut: 2/10
Diet Half Dark Chocolate: 1/10

Sunday, May 08, 2011

On the Big Society

My sole remaining grandparent is 89 years old. Her husband has been dead for nearly a decade. She's entirely blind in one eye and half-blind in the other, is unable to hear without a hearing-aid, has skin as thin as tissue paper, suffers from crippling arthritis and cannot walk unaided. She hasa special alarm buzzer to press if she falls, which happens frequently. Yet she's generous, and happy (helped by large quantities of morphine), and upstairs she's sharp as a tack.

For the last 8 or 9 years she's had regular visits from the social services to help her with various things, in particular the preparation of meals, since she's very shaky. Earlier this year she suffered a bad fall, dislocating her hip. For a few weeks they moved her from hospital to hospital, and for six weeks after that they helped her rehabilitate to life on her own again.

Now she's been told that they've reassessed her situation and determined that she doesn't need help from the social services, and that they therefore won't be supporting her at all any more. When this decision was questioned by one of my aunts, she was patronizingly told that my grandmother should try to look for some randomer in the village to look after her. Because of course looking after old people requires no skill or training at all.

There's more to it than her situation changing, of course; old people don't suddenly recover from arthritis and regain their hearing and sight. As far as I can tell, this development is a direct consequence of the Carers Strategy, a recent government initiative, which contains such gems of euphemistic Tory bullshittery as 'Our Big Society reforms will see public services opened to challenge'. More worrying in these documents is the complete lack of any distinction drawn between trained professional carers and those who have no training and carry out the role through necessity. But of course the Big Society is all about people with no training taking on roles at which they will epically fail.

Philip Pullman has put it better than I could with respect to the similar situation facing librarians: 'Does [the government] think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves?' Pullman is 100% right, and his point is an important one even if you don't personally care about libraries, if only to forestall the chilling reductio ad absurdum that our beloved coalition government is currently pursuing. To put it bluntly: few people are going to die because of a lack of trained librarians. With carers, on the other hand...

And soon the NHS is going to be 'liberated', as well. Apparently this new approach 'puts people in the driving seat' - what, as opposed to the monkeys/robots/nodding dogs/aliens/vampires/cheese graters that were there before? This isn't just empty rhetoric; it's empty rhetoric that will kill thousands of people. Please sign the petition to save the NHS if you haven't already.

As for me, I'm tired of trying to phrase my criticisms of this government's abhorrent disregard for society in a witty, urbane, disinterested way. FUCK YOU, David Cameron, you ignorant, slimy, self-satisfied rich kid. FUCK YOU, Conservatives. And to anyone who reads this and voted Tory in the last election: I hope you're fucking ashamed of yourself. You've helped to elect a government that's tearing down our society brick by brick, and putting our country on the road to self-disintegration.