Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Jung at heart; or, Psychobabble corner

Over on Sue's blog, she suggests taking the Myers-Briggs personality test to cure boredom. Very interesting results, though because I can see how the questions relate to each other and what they're after, it's impossible to get an objective set of answers.

But I did my best, and it's not promising given my chosen career.

Your Type is 
Strength of the preferences %
You are:
  • moderately expressed introvert
  • distinctively expressed intuitive personality
  • slightly expressed thinking personality
  • very expressed judging personality

A 1 for 'thinking'. That's where it's all gone wrong. Perhaps I scored so low on that and so high on 'Judging' because I've been marking essays for weeks. No thinking involved, but an awful lot of judging people (hence the calls and e-mails flowing in today).

So, what does INTJ mean? Well, it means I'm not cut out to be a teacher. I'm a MASTERMIND!
Masterminds are rare, comprising no more than one to two percent of the population, and they are rarely encountered outside their office, factory, school, or laboratory. Although they are highly capable leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead.
Masterminds do not feel bound by established rules and procedures, and traditional authority does not impress them, nor do slogans or catchwords. Only ideas that make sense to them are adopted; those that don't, aren't, no matter who thought of them. Remember, their aim is always maximum efficiency. 
Masterminds tend to be much more definite and self-confident than other Rationals, having usually developed a very strong will. Decisions come easily to them; in fact, they can hardly rest until they have things settled and decided. But before they decide anything, they must do the research. Masterminds are highly theoretical, but they insist on looking at all available data before they embrace an idea, and they are suspicious of any statement that is based on shoddy research, or that is not checked against reality. 
Yeah, screw The Man! Actually, I'm getting a strong whiff of psychopath about this. All these qualities would apply rather well to international terrorists, dictators and the like. You know I occasionally mention that most of you belong in camps? Looks like I've got all the skills required to make sure you actually end up there…

Famous INTJ types?

Oh dear. The nerd quotient, I can take. But Ayn Rand: a fascist fraud? Say it ain't so! That list looks deeply suspicious to me. Apart from the fact that even the living ones are unlikely to have taken the test or made it available to some web-based charlatans, it's got a whiff of positivity about it. OK, Rand's the thinking person's nightmare, but lots of Americans think she belongs in the Pantheon. The others are largely unexceptional or even positive role models. I doubt, somehow, that the monsters appear on anyone's results ("People like you: Pol Pot"). So what jobs can I do?
They are often led into technical positions such as scientific researcher, design engineer, environmental planner. The developing field of genetics benefits from their intensity as does the field of medicine. In education they are most often found at the college and university level. In the professions, they may be a lawyer, a business analyst, or strategic planner. Some have a strong artistic/creative bent and may become an artist, inventor, or designer. 

It's OK. This stuff is obviously total bollocks designed to get me to buy (or buy into) something. I can relax into my lazy and inefficient ways safe in the knowledge that nobody's expecting me to either revolutionise physics or make billions. And you can rest easy in your beds… Or can you?

Literary byways

I've acquired a few books recently. And a map of the Chilterns from 1967 from a bin. Amongst them is a fascinating, odd little book written in a beautifully naive mode.

Here's the first paragraph, which sums up the tone pretty well:
Last night I went to a cocktail party, and somebody suggested that I should write another book. I said "My dear, how could I? I can't be born again, it sounds so biblical somehow". But she didn't care, and somebody else remarked, "After all, no one need read it," which comforting thought seemed at the time to impress us all as a good reason for writing a book. I gave way and started; quite inexcusably really, as I hadn't even drunk a cocktail, being unfortunately unfitted by nature to swallow strong drink of any kind, but do I get any credit for this abstinence? Not at all. My sister Susan says, "What a good thing you don't drink, because if you did you would drink such a lot," which remark inclines me to believe that any good points I may possess are purely negative… Quite a lot of people seem to like me for some obscure reason which even they cannot account for, but nobody ever approves of me, and I long to know why, just out of curiosity. 

It's Lady Clodagh Anson's Another Book, sequel to her smash hit Book: Indiscreet Memoirs. I haven't done more than dip into it, but it looks like a lovely refugee from a vanished time, place and culture. Anson (1902-1992) was (as her name suggests) a member of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy. In her world, the struggles between the two nations were over: her life consisted of privilege, fox-hunting, delightful Irish mansions surrounded by cute Catholic peasants and the London townhouse, from which she'd sally forth to Society Balls. Though to be fair she did minister to 'Down and Outs' in London. All this, despite publishing Book in 1931 and Another Book in 1937, well after the Rising, the Civil War and the burning of the Big Houses. On the 1911 census, she lists her occupation as 'Lady Clodagh', something I'm sure my Aunt Clodagh would appreciate having the luxury of doing!

It's an odd piece of work: it has a price (12/6), but it's PRIVATELY PUBLISHED as the frontispiece puts it, on lovely thick creamy paper, and obviously addressed to a very restricted readership. Amongst them of course is her friend the Duchess of Devonshire (Deborah Mitford as was), who lists Anson as one of her very favourite authors in her own scatty delight, Counting the Chickens:

I suppose our friends are as honest as the next lot, but it is odd how books disappear. Not the fat and heavy biographies of politicians in two volumes, which no one could read in bed (or out of it), but the attractive ones you pick up over a weekend and don't have time to finish. They vanish like summer snow and although I sometimes search every room in our huge house I never find the missing loved one. So I have resorted to selfishness, gathering irreplaceable volumes in my room where it is unlikely that anyone would bag one, even from the pile on the floor.
Perhaps my unstealables would not appeal to everyone. Fowls and Geese and How to Keep Them (1935,1/6d and worth every penny); Book by Lady Clodagh Anson and Another Book by the same author - classic descriptions of Anglo-Irish life before the Great War; nice, thin 1930s Betjemans, Continual Dew and Mount Zion; the real Oxford Book of English Verse on India paper; the poems chosen by that professor whose name is a mixture of duvet and sofa, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch; What Shall We Have Today? by X Marcel Boulestin (what did X stand for?), and The Life of Ronald Knox given to me by good, kind Evelyn Waugh, who knew I can hardly read, so mercifully the pages have no words on them. They are all blank.
A book that would disappear by next Monday if left in a visitor's room is A Late Beginner, Priscilla Napier's autobiography. Brought up in Egypt and seeing pyramids against the sunset from her nursery window, she asked, "What are they, Nanny?" "Tombs, dear. Where's your other sock?" You can't do better than that and I do not want to lose it. The works of George Ewart Evans are next to The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley by Diana Petre, White Mischief, The Prince, The Showgirl and Me, The Day of Reckoning, Rio Grande's Last Race and books with pages covered in print, dash it, by E Waugh, P Leigh Fermor and J Lees-Milne. Most precious is The Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. If that goes I give up.

So what's it like? Well, it reads like a mix of P. G. Wodehouse and Joyce Grenfell: amusing, slight anecdotes appreciated by the toffs. The only reference to Irish independence I've found so far is a not very funny anecdote about the Irish not wanting to join the British Army in WW1, and the rather hasty 'as I left Ireland in 1921' in the midst of a story about a delinquent dressmaker ('Time has no limit in Ireland, there is no hurry about anything'). 

What I like about this stuff is the sense that absolutely nothing, whether her role in the colonial occupation or the slaughter in the trenches, is allowed to interfere with having a jolly good time. 

Here's a taste, courtesy of The Ardmore Journal and the Waterford County Museum:

She came back to London to have me, and Nanny and I were left at Curraghmore with my uncle and his wife while she went back to the ranch for a year. Nanny was very good at talking to babies and I learned to speak very early. When mother arrived back at Curraghmore I was 10 months old. I was in my pram and she came towards me making baby noises. I sat up held out my hand and said "how do you do". She was so astonished that she cried. 
We then took to bathing in the boat cove, at high tide, with our friends, and this didn't go down at all well, as mixed bathing was considered very fast in Ireland at that time. There was an article in the Dungarvan Observer saying "The disgusting British practice of mixed bathing is being carried on in Ardmore, corrupting the morals of the children in the nearby houses".
The next week they wrote again "In spite of our protest of last week, this disgusting practice is still carried on." 
I know you'd love to get a copy, but I can't find Book or Another Book (even in the later public version, Victorian Days) online anywhere, so it looks like my copy is pretty rare. If anyone comes across Book, let me know. I hate not having a complete set.

Education Advice Needed

OK, it's a long time since I applied to university and I didn't do it in a very orthodox way (headmaster deliberately gave me an evil negative reference; arse up A-levels; get a place by audition on a prestigious Trinity College Dublin Drama and Theatre Studies course with 400 applicants and 10 places only for horrified parents to put their collective feet down; get a place on Clearing to do English; finally thrived once I actually got to Bangor), so I'd like some advice on behalf of my beloved aunt (a Vole reader, so be nice) and her daughter.

I'm not a parent so can only imagine rather than feel the pressures from that perspective, though I agree wholeheartedly with her assertion that a joint honours with a language would be both useful and wonderful. It's a bit easier to see my cousin's position, but really I'm too old and bitter to really empathise with her either! Additionally, fees didn't exist back in 1993 so the pressure of being £50,000 in debt didn't hover over my head. I didn't give a moment's thought to personal statements, course qualities, employment prospects or any of the stuff that the current generation have to consider. I was only good at things I liked: they came easily, whereas no amount of hard work made any difference to the subjects I hated.

So: listen to parents and be strategic about your degree choice? Or go with your instincts? How did you decide on courses and institutions? Did you change course, or consider it, once you got there? What are the things you wish you'd known when you applied? How much parental engagement did you allow? And anything else you think might be useful?

I had a fantastic time at Bangor, and would recommend it to anyone (which is why I stayed for an MA and only did my PhD elsewhere because I got a scholarship). However, if I'd known that I could have gone off to the Netherlands or Scandinavia to do a degree - more cheaply - I'd have been off like a shot. Now the UK has imposed this insane fee system, I'd be even more keen on going abroad.

Except of course, that The Hegemon is a wonderful institution to which you should all apply.   (That should save my job).

Meanwhile, my cousin's older sister is a student at Manchester University, which means it's actually my duty to post a relevant song by Manchester's premier grouch. It's The Fall, and the song is 'Hey Student' (based on an earlier track called 'Hey Fascist').

Ah-well I'm walking down the street,
It's always students that I meet,
Long hair down and sneakers on your feet.
Write your letters to the Evening News
I clench my fist and sing this tune:
I said Hey student, hey student, hey student,
You're gonna get it through the head,
I said Hey student, hey student, hey student,
You're gonna get it through the head, I said...
Well, walking to work,
It's always students that I meet
Henna in your hair, [...]
As you [...]
I clench my hand before I flip my lid.
I'm walking down the street,
It's always students that I meet,
Long hair down and sneakers on your feet.
As you listen to Pearl Jam in your room.
I'm thinking like that when I sing this song:
I said I walk some more, walk some more,
Walk some more, wah wah wah x2
I'm walking down the street,
It's always students that I meet,
Long hair down and sneakers on your feet.
As you stare in your room at Shaun Ryder's face
Down long long long long days
I said I walk some more, walk some more, walk some more, wah wah
wah x2
The dead brains of class A-B
Twin swastikas
I'm thinking like this when I sing this tune:
I said I walk some more, walk some more,
Walk some more, wah wah wah x2

Down in that London

While I was in London, my sister and I had a wander round Eltham Palace. What a magnificent place. First it was a thirteenth-century Bishop's palace then a royal palace for a few hundred years (lots of historical events occurred there), then a farm and ruin, before the Courtaulds turned it into a nouveau-riche place by adding a stunning new mansion onto it in the 1920s-1940s, then moving out. It's an art deco masterpiece with all sorts of touches equivalent to what a footballer would do with a mansion now: fake log electric fires, Old Master paintings concealing loudspeakers and so on, all surrounded by glorious gardens.

Very excitingly, I finally got to see London's urban parakeets: flashy, green and loud. I'd always wanted to see them. I only had my sister's compact camera, so couldn't get any pictures of them, but they are such an exotic and enjoyable addition to the city's fauna.

A few photos here.

What I Heard And What I Missed

What an odd weekend: a funeral followed by a gig.

After my grandmother's send-off (I delivered a reading as though it were a lecture to a particularly dim group of students), I spent a day marking online student discussions until my eyes bled, then headed off to London with my sister: I'd bought Belle and Sebastian tickets for her and her husband as a birthday present.

The journey down was quite pleasant, despite me hating car travel. They're both interesting and funny, and I had their kitten climbing all over me: it had been to Shropshire for a few weeks' holiday.

Belle and Sebastian played at the Roundhouse in Camden: they were great, especially at audience interaction, and the new album is loads better than the previous couple. What a venue: a circular Victorian train shed. Great views, good beer, excellent sound quality and no heavy-handed security.

What I missed was The Nightingales in the Purcell Rooms on the South Bank. Between marking and travelling I just couldn't manage it, which is a desperate shame, as they're personal friends. I missed their local gig due to the funeral too: apparently those two gigs are the best they've ever done.

J-Punk spectacular

There's a new Shonen Knife album coming. It gives me warm fuzzy feelings:

I've always loved their cover of The Carpenters' wonderful 'Top of the World' too:

They're not the only brilliant Japanese punk band: Melt Banana are rather gleefully unhinged too. Seeing them live was a glorious experience. Though I'll never fit into the T-shirt I rather optimistically purchased. It mocks me from the back of the wardrobe.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

A film? About me?

Ah yes, a classic work by Truffaut, Kissing Voles:

Sadly, not quite true. It translated as 'Stolen Kisses' - a voleur is a thief. The french for Vole is campagnol, which I rather like.

Gil Scott-Heron, once more

Good obituary of GSH in the Guardian today. I learned, amongst other things, that if you're British and ever watched TV, you'll have heard him: in one of his lowest periods, he provided the voice for the Tango fizzy drink ads: 'You Know When You've Been Tangoed'.

What a sad but also fascinating story story: going from poet to (excellent) novelist to musician to ad-whore, and back to music before dying at 62.

Here's a little more contrasting examples of his work: the seminal 'Johannesburg', and the controversial ad, which led to a moral panic…

The man behind the guns

I see from today's paper that Britain's government isn't just cheerleading and arming the Saudi Arabian government's military action against citizens of the UAE asking for democracy: it's training the snipers. It's not a surprise, of course: Saudia Arabia is the most glaring example of realpolitik, in which your friends can be as barbaric as they like whereas your enemies are publicly humiliated for the slightest misdemeanour. 
Britain has been providing training for the Saudi national guard to improve their "internal security and counter-terrorism" capabilities since 1964 and continues to do so. Members of the guard, which was established by the kingdom's royal family because it feared its regular army would not support it in the event of a popular uprising, are also provided places on flagship UK military courses at Sandhurst and Dartmouth. In Saudi Arabia, Britain continues to train the guard in "urban sharpshooter" programmes, the MoD confirmed.
"Last year we raised concerns that the Saudis had been using UK-supplied and UK-maintained arms in secret attacks in Yemen that left scores of Yemeni civilians dead," said Oliver Sprague, director of Amnesty International's UK Arms Programme.
Defence minister Nick Harvey confirmed to parliament last week that the UK's armed forces provided training to the Saudi national guard. "It is possible that some members of the Saudi Arabian national guard which were deployed in Bahrain may have undertaken some training provided by the British military mission," he said. 

Saudi Arabia, let's remind ourselves, imprisons and thrashes women found in public without a male relative. Freedom of assembly doesn't exist. Women's rights are an alien concept. Torture is widespread. The morality police have dictatorial powers. It is far, far worse than Iran, whom we're encouraged to see as the nastiest country on earth. 

Now that the British role in propping up this regime has come to light once more, I fully expect my MP to kick up a fuss. 

No, only joking. This is his contribution to freedom and democracy:

Saudi Arabia All-Party Parliamentary Group - Treasurer
To encourage and develop diplomatic, cultural and social exchanges between the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UK with the aim of achieving greater understanding and fostering mutual respect.
Well done, Paul Uppal. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011

His passing WILL be televised

Gil Scott-Heron died today: the man who invented rap by merging jazz, poetry, socialism and civil rights. I could post some obscure tracks by him or his first outfit, The Last Poets, to show how cool I am, but nothing's cooler, more searching, more angry and more politically spot on than his most famous track.

Unfortunately, nothing could be more wrong either: capitalism has appropriated every subversive impulse in popular culture, most glaringly in the African-American genres which inherited Scott-Heron's music.

Friday, 27 May 2011


I love seeing the list of countries where Vole readers are. I'm particularly gratified that today I had my first visitor from the Faroe Islands: one of the places I'd love to live and work. Shame I don't like fish, but still, I'd cope.

Domain Name atlantic.fo ? (Faroe Islands)
IP Address 212.55.52.# (P/F Farodane)
Continent : Europe
Country : Faroe Islands  (Facts)
City : Trshavn
Lat/Long : 62.0167, -6.7667 (Map)
Language Faroese (Faroe Islands)

Stop all the clocks

Well, we buried one of my grandmothers today. The one who passed away.

It was a sombre day. A raw wind chilled us at the graveside, and hymns in minor key accentuated the sadness.

Of the many touching and emotional images I'll retain for years to come, the sight of my brother-in-law on a trampoline particularly stands out.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dates for your diary

If you're bored this weekend, how about seeing The Nightingales?

They're not just three superannuated Brummies with a couple of popstrels to entice the kiddies in: they're Britain's best postpunk band beloved of John Peel that isn't the Fall.

The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton, Friday 27th May, supported by Ted Chippington!
Purcell Rooms, London SouthBank Centre, Monday 30th May (supported by Stewart Lee, Subway Sect and many others).

I won't be at either, damn it. Funeral/wake on Friday, and marking back in The Hegemon on Monday.

So long (for now)

I'm off for a few days. It's my grandmother's funeral tomorrow, and as nobody's presented me with a free iPhone, I won't be live-blogging it. After that, it's a couple of days in London with my sister to see Belle and Sebastian, then back to spend the bank holiday doing more marking: it's all got to be done by Tuesday morning.

My mother's asked me to give a reading. Even though I'm an atheist, I'm doing it. It's from Acts, and it's a letter to Cornelius. Being an irreverent pop-culture maven, the only Cornelius who pops into my head is this chap.

Have a good weekend. 

It's no Newport, but it's home (sadly)

Following the success of 'Ymerodraeth: Newport State of Mind' - parodying Jay-Z's 'Empire State of Mind', someone's done 'Wolverhampton Gurls', echoing Katy Perry's 'California Gurls'.

It's not very good (little wit, poor tune and an American accent, which completely defeats the point), but apparently Chris Moyles has played it on Radio 1. So it must be culturally significant.

This is how to do a parody.

Red Meat to the Feminists

I'm allergic to PR stunts, and the Cameron-Obama Barbecue for Cannon-Fodder seemed particularly revolting ('We sent you into an illegal war: have a saveloy'). At least Obama opposed the Iraq war, unlike Cameron.

But there was one aspect which undercuts Obama's progressive claims (Cameron doesn't have any). What's wrong with these pictures? Apart from the obvious: a Tory in Downing Street.

It's clearly deliberate: the men do the barbecuing and the women serve the salad. Real Men Don't Do Salad. Men burn meat. It's choreographed to bolster their masculine credentials in a very crude fashion.

 Ah well, blood on their hands again…

Snowdon. Raindon. Haildon

After you all responded mightily to Emma's charitable endeavours the other week, I'm going to hit you again.

Imaginary Friend and 50 others are climbing Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) this weekend, to raise money for the North Staffordshire Special Adventure Playground, a wonderful place catering for children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities. There aren't many places offering these kids stimulating and exciting play, and the parents need a bit of respite too. I used to volunteer in a desultory sort of way: they're kind like that, and they need your cash, especially when local authority funding is getting harder to secure.

So go here and divert your savings away from your usual nefarious habits.

To put you in the mood, here's an extract from Book 14 of Wordsworth's 'The Prelude', in which climbing Snowdon gives him a glimpse of the sublime, and the opportunity to review his life's work:

IN one of those excursions (may they ne'er 
Fade from remembrance!) through the Northern tracts 
Of Cambria ranging with a youthful friend, 
I left Bethgelert's huts at couching-time, 
And westward took my way, to see the sun 
Rise, from the top of Snowdon. To the door 
Of a rude cottage at the mountain's base 
We came, and roused the shepherd who attends 
The adventurous stranger's steps, a trusty guide; 
Then, cheered by short refreshment, sallied forth. 

It was a close, warm, breezeless summer night, 
Wan, dull, and glaring, with a dripping fog 
Low-hung and thick that covered all the sky; 
But, undiscouraged, we began to climb 
The mountain-side. The mist soon girt us round, 
And, after ordinary travellers' talk 
With our conductor, pensively we sank 
Each into commerce with his private thoughts: 
Thus did we breast the ascent, and by myself 
Was nothing either seen or heard that checked 
Those musings or diverted, save that once 
The shepherd's lurcher, who, among the crags, 
Had to his joy unearthed a hedgehog, teased 
His coiled-up prey with barkings turbulent. 
This small adventure, for even such it seemed 
In that wild place and at the dead of night, 
Being over and forgotten, on we wound 
In silence as before. With forehead bent 
Earthward, as if in opposition set 
Against an enemy, I panted up 
With eager pace, and no less eager thoughts. 
Thus might we wear a midnight hour away, 
Ascending at loose distance each from each, 
And I, as chanced, the foremost of the band; 
When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten, 
And with a step or two seemed brighter still; 
Nor was time given to ask or learn the cause, 
For instantly a light upon the turf 
Fell like a flash, and lo! as I looked up, 
The Moon hung naked in a firmament 
Of azure without cloud, and at my feet 
Rested a silent sea of hoary mist. 
A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved 
All over this still ocean; and beyond, 
Far, far beyond, the solid vapours stretched, 
In headlands, tongues, and promontory shapes, 
Into the main Atlantic, that appeared 
To dwindle, and give up his majesty, 
Usurped upon far as the sight could reach. 
Not so the ethereal vault; encroachment none 
Was there, nor loss; only the inferior stars 
Had disappeared, or shed a fainter light 
In the clear presence of the full-orbed Moon, 
Who, from her sovereign elevation, gazed 
Upon the billowy ocean, as it lay 
All meek and silent, save that through a rift-- 
Not distant from the shore whereon we stood, 
A fixed, abysmal, gloomy, breathing-place-- 
Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams 
Innumerable, roaring with one voice! 
Heard over earth and sea, and, in that hour, 
For so it seemed, felt by the starry heavens.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Marking Music solved

OK, Seefeel were quite a good suggestion (thanks Dan) and I'll check out everbody else's suggestions soon. But most of all, I've been listening to Kings of Convenience and Cara Dillon: soothing after a day's infuriation…

Public Service Announcement

1. Blogger (e.g. Google) is incompetent.
2. If you can't log in to your blogger account, ignore their rarely updated and useless status page and @blogger Twitter account because they'll ignore you.
3. Don't bother with their claim that wiping your cache and history will sort it. It won't. You'll have to use Firefox, and even that will log you out every time you post.
4. Sit quietly and curse.
5. Think of Douglas Adams:

I think a nerd is a person who uses the telephone to talk to other people about telephones. And a computer nerd therefore is somebody who uses a computer in order to use a computer.

Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

A learning experience is one of those things that say, "You know that thing you just did? Don't do that."

The teacher usually learns more than the pupils. Isn't that true?
"It would be hard to learn much less than my pupils," came a low growl from somewhere on the table, "without undergoing a pre-frontal lobotomy."

We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.

Having just had to write "Brainyquote is not an academic source" on an essay, I'm starting to feel that way.

Panic Over: Marmite Not Banned In Denmark

It was a publicity stunt. Marmite isn't banned. Instead, its manufacturers have opted not to submit it for approval by the Danish food authorities.
Neither Marmite nor Vegemite and similar products have been banned by the Danish Food And Veterinary Administration. However, fortified foods with added vitamins, minerals or other substances can not be marketed in Denmark unless approved by Danish food authorities.

According to the Danish Order on food additives, addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances need to be approved by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration before the product can be marketed in Denmark.

The Danish Food and Veterinary Administration has not received an application for marketing in Denmark of Marmite or similar products with added vitamins or minerals.

Other fortified food products  have been approved by Danish food authorities and are being marketed in Denmark.
Given that sales there are minimal, I assume all this publicity was a stunt by Unilever, and one I should have spotted immediately. I am a fool.

Tuition Fees: the Oracle Speaks

A member of The Hegemon's Executive is doing a live chat on the local newspaper's website, on the subject of tuition fees. You don't even have to give your name to ask a question… you know you want to!

She's already admitted that the staffing, class sizes and resources won't be any better with £8500 fees. That's not the university's fault, it's the government's. The fees will only just cover the cash they've taken away.

Where South Dakota leads, Britain follows

You may not have noticed, but underneath this government's hard-right economic policies are a hard-right, American-inspired set of social policies.

Amongst this ragtag of tired old tropes is an attack on women's reproductive rights. Now I'm a man, so I'm not going to start haranguing women about what to do with their uteruses (uteri?). That's the point of being pro-choice.

The Tories, on the other hand, are in the business of haranguing women about such things. They've put a raving fundamentalist Christian in charge of sexual health, Anne Milton. Now I'm not sure that having someone whose faith highlights virgin birth is an entirely sensible choice, on scientific or empathetic grounds, but the Tories thinks she's the go-to gal for educating teenage girls. Her key strategy is abstinence. Now that's OK for me: I was a shy teen trapped in a boarding school and abstinence was less of a strategy than an enforced way of life, but I don't think it's for everybody. After all, serious scientific studies show that kids in abstinence programs don't abstain, and are far more likely to get pregnant and contract STDs when they give in to temptation (because they believe the lies told to them about contraception). I bet they have psychological problems associated with making promises they can't keep too.

So the Tories have dumped the British Pregnancy Advisory Service from the advisory board, and drafted in Life, the religious pressure group. The BPAS give empathetic, rounded advice to women about their health and wellbeing. Life tell you not to have an abortion because they think a God says it's bad for your soul. Not if you're dying. Not if the foetus is dying. Not if you've been raped, not if you're underage, or desperately poor, not under any circumstances.

It gets worse. Abstinence groups have been drafted in to advise the weirdo Education Secretary, Michael Gove. And two of the weirdest MPs, self-confessed liar Nadine Dorries (see this magnificent blog covering her malevolent existence) and Frank 'The Childcatcher' Field have drafted this nasty little law:

Meanwhile in parliament, the battle lines on abortion are set to be drawn again after cross-party amendments to the health and social care bill were put forward by anti-abortion MPs in a bid to tighten the rules on terminations.
The first amendment, put forward by Nadine Dorries and Frank Field, would establish a new precondition for any women having an abortion to receive advice and counselling from an organisation that does not itself carry out terminations.

This isn't, as you might think, a cosy little chat about your options. Who offers abortion advice without providing the service? Why, Life and all the other freakish godbotherers - and they don't have your best interests at heart. It's not advice: it's a legally mandated intimidation session designed to make you See The Error Of Your Ways You Child-Murderer. I honestly can't think of a single other situation in which a policeman would make you go - alone - to be subjected to intense pressure from someone who doesn't care about you and won't listen to your point of view.

So where does this come from? South Dakota:
In the first quarter of this year, 49 state legislatures introduced 916 bills that restricted reproductive rights. Here are a few that have passed, like in Texas, where women must have an invasive ultrasound that they either have to look at or have described to them in detail by a doctor before getting their abortion. Or South Dakota, where there’s now a 72-hour waiting period, and women must get counseling at an anti-choice pregnancy crisis center before obtaining an abortion. No centers applied to be on the official list, so that women would have no way to fulfill the requirements to have an abortion.
 I'd suggest a letter to your MP. Even if it is Paul Uppal. This kind of crap might work in a state where politicians have to come up with the most nauseating religious nonsense while waving machine guns around if they want to get elected, but it won't wash here.

Bring on the Penguins

It's the 30th birthday of Steve Bell's If…, his nasty, bitter, brilliant Guardian cartoon strip. I collect the books. Highlights for me are his policemen (corrupt bullies with a neat turn of phrase, all called Gerald 'Badger' Courage), his self-parody Monsieur L'Artiste, and most of all, the penguin family: Prince Philip of Greece (who'd 'do anything for a piece of fish'), Gloria, Cousin King Penguin and various others: Falkland Island refugees who mutate frequently: bigoted Tories one day, welfare-scrounging lowlife another, entrepreneurs the next, and quite often right-on lefty troublemakers.

Hurrah for Steve Bell.

Here's a selection:
On the banking bailout

The Albatrosses are the Argentinians

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Music to watch the marks go by

I've been in the office for 13 hours now. I've been marking essays and listening to music but - unusually for me - I can't settle on any particular type.

Usually it's easy: minimalism or Classical: Reich, Adams, Glass, Beethoven, or even some Renaissance polyphony. But today, I'm too antsy - annoyed by bad and/or lazy work. I've tried St. Etienne, and Neil Young's on right now, and working quite nicely. I also played REM's Monster to wake me up and Tallulah Gosh to calm me down.

What do you suggest?

Blended Learning Has No Clothes - or it's Scantily-Clad At Best

Like many institutions, The Hegemon is keen to make us look all whizzy and cool by making e-learning a compulsory segment of every module (the misleadingly-titled 'Blended Learning Entitlement'). I'm a cautious fan: Plashing Vole was born when I tried to teach some MA students about blogging (one of my worst experiences in the classroom). Sometimes, online activities are useful and pedagogically justified. Sometimes they aren't, and there's a strong suspicion that e-learning is a way to reduce staffing and building costs.

My major problem with online courses is that they imply that education is the linear transmission and regurgitation of information. It isn't. That's training. I can send you a video of how to operate a MacDonalds deep fat fryer and you'll pick it up. Painfully, I imagine, but it's possible.

But if you watch my lecture on post-structuralism, there are advantages and disadvantages. You can pause it while you check the references or read the primary text I'm discussing, which is great. But you can't put your hand up and ask for advice, or disagree with me, or test out your idea on me and your classmates. Without comrades, you're not learning. So much of what I think I know is picked up from seminars, or in the pub afterwards, or in corridors. Education is a much wider experience than e-learning alone implies. If you're not a genius, or you have family/work ties as well, you'll need a lot more support than you can get via e-mail: academic, psychological, social.

So I'm very wary of full-on distance courses of the kind that the Open University definitely doesn't do, and various other colleges do flog. I'm less than impressed the courses where we sell the material to colleges in other countries to be taught by others, then we mark the work: attainment is always lower. The stats are with me too, at least from the US - from this fascinating article:
countless studies showing success rates in online courses of only 50 per cent—as opposed to 70-to-75 percent for comparable face-to-face classes… Online enrollments across the country are strong and growing, while success rates stay about the same: abysmal
Online has its place: as supporting material for face-to-face, and when it's that or nothing:
For students who aren't able to attend college in the traditional way, "good enough" can be a godsend. But that doesn't mean that all students, or any student who wants to, should take online courses. Our collective failure to recognize that fundamental reality is primarily responsible for the high failure rates we see in online courses.
many institutions … are even complicit in perpetuating the notions that any student can succeed in online courses and that as many as possible should be encouraged to try. (I'm sure we've all seen multiple variations on the "Go to college in your pj's" marketing campaign.) 
Let's be honest: these people are treated like second-class students. Their existence doesn't cross my mind when I'm writing lectures and posting Powerpoint slides (which won't help them: they provide a skeleton around which I put verbal flesh, and lots of it). I've never been trained in writing material for an audience I'll never meet, and nobody's ever mentioned their needs and educational contexts. Is that wrong? Of course it is.
I'd like us to be more honest with students. Generally speaking, online courses are harder than face-to-face ones, not easier. Online courses require a tremendous amount of self-discipline and no small amount of academic ability and technical competence. They're probably not for everyone, and I think we need to acknowledge as much to students and to ourselves.
In the meantime, though, we need to think long and hard about which courses should be taught fully online, and which students belong in online courses. If students and their prospective employers ever begin to suspect that, in our rush to offer everything online, we have oversold and underdelivered, then it's going to be too late for us to have that discussion. Politicians will have it for us.

This is the key. Online components have enriched many of my courses immeasurably. But it shouldn't be seen as a cheap or easy option either for students to get an easy degree, or for institutions to make a fast buck. One of the things that infuriates me is the lazy assumption that students are all technically skilled and hugely impressed by anything on a screen, while being turned off by an actual person speaking to them.

Put it like this: are you thrilled by an automated telephone service when you call the bank? Or do you curse and groan, before sighing with relief when an actual human being talks to you? If you prefer talking to someone at a call centre, then I think the least we can do for our students is to extend them the same courtesy when it comes to their educations.