Thursday, 25 October 2012

Deconstructing Excel

What a day. I turned up bright and early ready to write a two-hour lecture on Jonson's Volpone for students who have never heard of him. It was going to be fun, especially since the recent publication of Donaldson's definitive biography, and the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson. Sadly, I can't afford the latter, at £650, but apparently it's very good.

What did I actually do today? I spent four hours putting together a spreadsheet of each student's personal details, dissertation title, whether they'd submitted a proposal, whether it had passed, who was going to supervise it and second-mark it, what kind of project it is etc etc ad bloody infinitum. Now I just have to mail the students with all this information. My dears, the tedium!

The only light relief was a chat with a Literature dissertation student who came in to discuss her Milton/Lewis/Pullman proposal. She'd prepared, she'd read the right kind of critical literature and knew what she was talking about - my job was to persuade her of all these things: I often find that the most nervous or self-critical students are the high-achieving ones. Some of the others don't care and some can't spot weaknesses in their approaches. I once had a mature student come to my 'writing skills' consultations every day for his entire three years. I knew from week 1 that he was going to get a First class degree (once he learned to miss out the adjectives from every sentence: he previously worked in advertising), but he just couldn't appreciate his own skills and insights as genuine. He thought we were just being nice to him!

Anyway, the only other thing that caught my eye today was Iain Duncan Smith's adoption of Chinese population regulations. He's saying that in future, child benefit will be restricted to a maximum of two kiddies per family. Now, I'm of the opinion that there are rather too many people on the planet (especially meat-munching, SUV-driving Westerners, Tories in particular), but this is a particularly unpleasant way to go about things. Essentially, he's saying that rich people can carry on breeding to their hearts' content - but poor people's children should go hungry because their parents have been feckless.

It doesn't even work in self-interested terms. If poor people's children go hungry, unclothed and unsocialised, they become alienated: crime, drugs, unrewarding and underpaid work are their destinies - all of which cost the taxpayer a damn sight more than giving their parents some child benefit and making sure they get a good, stable upbringing.

There's a word for what Iain Duncan Smith plans. Actually, there are two: 'social engineering' (something Tories condemn when socialists point out that private education or Oxbridge selection might need attention) and 'eugenics'. It's that stark. He wants fewer poor people and more fat rich toffs. As Warren Buffett says, there's a class war on. Rich people started it, and they're winning. Ben Jonson, who had a sharp eye for greedy hypocritical chancers, would have made short work of Grant Shapps, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and the rest of the ghastly Tory crew.

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