Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The State of politics in the UK

Is not good. A propos Cameron's call for the repeal of a the HRA 1998 and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights, and his spat with Ken Clarke over this, MatGB comments:

"We're screwed, arent' we? To get rid of Blair's New Labour, we need to get people to vote Tory. How can we do that when Dave just hasn't got a clue and plays to the gallery?"

Indeed, given the present electoral system and especially given the current state of the liberal democrats which does not inspire confidence. However, my total abhorrence for Blair and his nasty policies has never led me to the conclusion that voting for the nasty party was the right way forward. I was frankly never under the impression that Cameron would do anything other than play to the gallery. So, no simple answers it would seem. What a surprise.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Oh, the acclamation

I think that's how it's spelt. Anyway, in a comment Martyn says...
'Bondwoman is missing !Come back :-0'

No she isn't really. It's just that after a burst of blogging energy on Tuesday, her mind has since been full of unbloggable things, like too much football on which she has nothing sensible really to add to the mass of comment, although many of her friends agree with her that she would make a damn good commentator, reading too many postgraduate scholarship applications, writing letters to random ambassadors to invite them to speak, writing random papers for random meetings she doesn't particularly want to trek to Oxford for next week, and various bits and pieces related to the renovation of Junior Bond's flat (although BB takes pride of place here).

I've been politically animated, of course, by the things that we've all read about this week, such as Blair's enthusiasm for "summary justice". There was a marvellous cartoon on the topic of "summery justice" in the Scotsman today, but sadly it's not online. However, Martin Rowson's take on the "fightback" of the judges in the Guardian thankfully is. I've also noted with trepidation Irn Broon's dour commitment to renewing the "independent" nuclear deterrent (and presumably locating it in Scotland), as well as Barnett's recanting of Barnett. We watched a great programme about the Union Flag on BBC2 on Wednesday - very stimulating, although we agreed with Sam Wollaston, the Guardian TV critic the following day, that the fact that the voice over was by Tom Baker made you think you might be watching an episode of Little Britain.

Anyway, enough of this. A bit of a non-post really. But Argentina v Mexico calls!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Poland qualify for World Cup Second Round

Well, Polish strikers, anyway. Five of Germany's eight goals in the group stage have been scored by 'Polish' strikers, that is strikers born in Poland.

Good news on Sakchai Makao

The BBC reports that Sakchai Makao (see here and here) has been released on bail from Durham City Jail, pending an appeal against the deportation order served on him on 7 July. Hopefully the corner has been turned.

Would we see this in England?

Found on Berlin Daily Photo this morning, a picture of Das Pallasseum, a postwar block of flats in Berlin's working class Schoeneberg district adorned with all 32 flags of the participating countries in the World Cup, and especially large flags for those countries which have one. The only clue that there is a partisan element to this display, which includes the words "The Pallasseum greets the participants and guests of the World Cup 2006" is the large question mark under the German flag. Might Germany win in 2006?

Would we see have seen this if World Cup 2006 had been held in England? Perhaps on a public building (and then the accusation of political correctness would probably have been made), but not as part of a private initiative of a group of tenants/owners of a building. A short spiel about it can be found here, in German, for those able to read it.

Catalans vote for further autonomy

Is this the future for Scotland? However, this report in the Financial Times (may go behind subscription wall) warns of the knock on disruptive effects of such moves towards decentralisation, especially if they appear to be ad hoc in nature.

Little pesky things

Over on the "alternative" (sic) BondBloke you will find a short piece about our visit to the Isle of Skye Music Festival (as festival virgins aged 44 and 55 respectively...) this last weekend. There are also links to pictures. 'Twas great. Well most of it was. Although the weather was distinctly iffy this at least kept the midges away, and we didn't get particularly wet or muddy. However, this morning we did discover that we had brought home a couple of friends from Skye: two ticks. A happy half hour was spent this morning removing these. It's interesting that we had one each. It's as if they'd seen us and said, "right, lads, one each". I had the bigger one, and BB had the smaller one. Yuck. Here are some nice pictures.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's official. The best women have balls.

Now you know what the best sort of woman for a Tory is. It's one with balls. Don't believe me? Go ahead and read it yourself.

Edinburgh 'one of UK's most car friendly cities'

Edinburgh 'one of UK's most car friendly cities'. I often feel this to be true when they come past me on the bike so close that they knock my elbow with their wing mirrors...But I don't think that is what the article is really getting at.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Or...the inhumanity continues. See here.

I think the Home Office have finally lost it.

"Mum-of-five Nikki Fetzko says the Home Office has written to 22-year-old James Ailmore informing him he will be re-arrested at the prison gates and put on a plane. Ailmore is due for release on July 7 – having served half of a 16-month sentence for affray and theft. Miss Fetzko, of Wartnaby Road, Ab Kettleby, said: "James was born in Germany because his dad was in the Army and was stationed in Fallingbostel at the time. "We lived there for a couple of years and then came back to Melton where James has lived ever since. He isn't German. I can't understand why the Home Office wants to send him there. "We can't find his birth certificate but I am almost 100 per cent sure it says he is a British national. James has been a bit of a nuisance and I think that's why they are doing it."

I'm not an expert on German nationality law, but I do know enough to know that theGermans have not got a system of ius soli (that is, acquisition of citizenship by birth in a place - the Irish broadly have such a system, with some exceptions, and so does the US). That is, there is absolutely no chance that James is German by birth (and he is certainly British by descent assuming that his parents are British).

The most spooky bit at the end is this:

A spokesman for the Home Office refused to comment on individual cases, but said: "We would never seek to deport anyone who is a British citizen. When someone is subject to removal proceedings they need to provide evidence to prove they are a British citizen."

Looks like there is going to be a presumption that all prisoners are not British unless they can prove otherwise. Keep your birth certificate, and that of your parents, etc., handy, just in case.

A map of Europe

I put this on the EU law and politics blog as well, but I decided it was ok to cross post it here as well. It plays to two of my pet interests. Maps *and* Europe. I've visited 30 states - that's 70 per cent according to the map.

Found via Sam.

create your personalized map of europe
or check out our Barcelona travel guide

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lack of attention

Oh dear again. Tells you everything you need to know about this household for you to know that by 9.15pm, at the instance of a returning Junior Bond (who is keen on his footie but who is a history student) we were watching BBC Four's account of the Scottish Enlightenment.

But then, not that long ago all three of us were to be found at Tom Devine's lecture about 200 years of the Anglo-Scottish Union.

World Cup Compendium

Actually Bondbloke and I are watching quite a lot of World Cup matches. I'm quite keen on football per se, and would probably watch a Vauxhall Conference relegation play off on a wet Thursday evening if I trusted myself to have Sky Sports. Thankfully, I haven't and I have to go round to RoadRunner's for his Wednesday evening football get together with "the boys"(Sky Sports and a 42" plasma - how vulgar but how nice darlings...) (BTW to maintain his comparative advantage both RoadRunner (and Madry) has got himself Hi Def for the duration of the World Cup, which in practice means buying it for 12 months). BB is not so keen on football. His normal comment is 25 men (he includes the ref and the assistant refs) chasing a bag of wind on a field. But this seems to do it for him, as did the African Nations Cup earlier in the year. I think it's the capacity for global upsets which engages him, rather than tribal loyalty. I am supporting England, but not fervently, and I likewise enjoy these global engagements (waiting for Iran vs US... but it's not going to happen). Anyway, we use a complex set of rules about imperialism and underdogs and favoured regions of the world to decide which teams we are supporting. So...great entertainment at the humbling of the US by the Czech Republic (population just over 10m) (whaddya mean - a "world" series in which other countries can compete?). Excitement at the end-to-end entertainment provided by Argentina and World Cup debutants Ivory Coast on Saturday night. Currently we are enthralled by those other World Cup debutants Ghana and Italy - we are most impressed by the Italians having "Totti" on the field. Is this to put the opposition (most of whom are presumably straight) off? Anyway, said Totti is doing a good job, and Ghana are surving courtesy of small matters like the post (and some erratic but periodically excellent goal keeping).

Anyway, I'll be back with more "live-blogging" (there'll be at least a couple of readers I hope...) before the end, but I'll sign off this segment by commenting on the shame of English fans. I loved Shuggy's comment about support for England in Scotland today.

"As well as a certain benevolence towards their genetic inferiors, the English can count amongst their qualities a certain ingenuity - which this World Cup season demonstrates very well. Think about it: they tell people from other countries what team they should cheer for and if anyone should disagree, they are accused of racism. Genius - I bet no other country on the face of the planet thought of doing that."

Indeed. Well even when they are left to their own devices the English (remember: I am supporting England) supporters seem to score own goals (emulating Paraguay no doubt). The BBC reports that

"Live football matches will no longer be broadcast on the BBC big screens in Liverpool and London after trouble flared during England's first match."

Oh dear.

Oh bugger, Italy have just scored. Shall publish now.

More on Sakchai Makao

Spies in the European Parliament tell me that Alyn Smith, MEP for the Highlands and Islands, raised the issue of Sakchai Makao (see my earlier post) in the European Parliament plenary session this afternoon, as a sort of point of order. As far as I can tell, a verbatim text should appear in due course here in the section "P-T", by MEP surname (Update: actually it is precisely here (word document). It was not a remarkable intervention; a speaker has about 60 seconds to make his point in that context before the microphone is switched off, but it was a brief resume of the facts by someone who is a pretty effective political speaker. The issue has certainly galvanised the community in Shetland, with rallies and other public activities in addition to paper and online petitions. It is interesting to see this (and I have seen it because many many Shetlanders have visited my site via a link on "Shetlink", and I have obviously followed the links back again courtesy of my site meter) and discovered in the process that there will be "a peaceful demonstration outside the Scottish Parliment building on Tuesday 13th of June at approximately 11AM to highlight the injustice of Sakchai's deportation. We hope to bring the Shetland for Sakchai campaign to Edinburgh and raise awareness of the unreasnoble treatment of Sakchai on Scottish soil to the MSPs." Further info or messages of support to chrisjam82 at

Apart from the Herald, which can generally be relied upon to cover this sort of Scottish matter, the only substantial coverage of this issue in the MSM has been a comment by Gillian Bowditch in the Sunday Times. The Shetlanders suggest is it broadly accurate, although their beef would be that it suggests they (deliberately?) understated the severity of Makao's original offence, which they claim is not true. It is interesting because it suggests that such a deportation should not occur for reasons of community sovereignty: politicians praise close communities, and claim that they design policies intended to foster such communities. In that case, it ill behoves them to ignore a powerful expression of community solidarity, as in this case.

Fine, ok. But what if such a community is not in place. What if no-one is mobilised to argue that to deport such and such a now released foreign former prisoner is unjust? Is it then ok to deport with impunity? Clearly not, in my view. Each case must be judged on its own facts, taking into account all the factors including, but not just, the degree to which an individual is in different ways integrated into his or her many communities. But in my view there is an (individual) human rights issue here (and believe me, I am very reluctant to invoke human rights arguments), in cases where there is no substantial connection between the person subject to a deportation order and the place to which they are likely to be deported and - especially - if they are not (any longer) proficient in the language, then it will be hard to argue the case for deportation. Except, of course, and this is implicit in so much of the comment about these matters, you at heart believe that foreigners, and foreign lives, are worth less, just because they don't have the passport. If you did not believe that, then you would be arguing for the deportation of anyone who was foreign born, not just those without British passports. And that does not appear to be the common view.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Spot the difference

I used to love those spot the difference games when I was a kid. You know - two pictures of Janet and John in their perfect domestic bliss with 15 subtle differences between the two pictures for you to circle, before sending in the two pictures to get a Blue Peter badge or something. Seems you can play them on the internet now. Well here is something similar. Two pictures of the "Great British" police, purloined from the BBC. First up, PC A.N.Other accompanies Muhammad Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain when he visited Forest Gate before the weekend, in the context of the aftermath of the bungled chemical weapons raid which left one man injured and longer term will leave the police with a hefty compensation bill

Next up we have an example of the police officers who are apparently "charming" English football fans in Germany during the World Cup.

Can you spot the difference? Pretty much the same hat. Same gender and colour (still the dominant ones in the British police, of course). Slightly difference colour shirts, I grant you. And they are probably from different police forces, and therefore have on different insignia and badges.

But to me the biggest single difference is that the police officers in Germany, with their probably equally charming German counterpart, have taken off their anti-stab vests. I have to say, this is the first time I have seen a police officer, other than a plain clothes officer or someone obviously wearing dress uniform like Sir Ian Blair when facing the press, without a anti-stab vest for a long long time.

It can hardly be that those police officers are in significantly less danger than their counterparts patrolling the streets of the UK. On the contrary, I would have thought that Germany during World Cup is a place where there is a high risk of low level disturbance and, unfortunately, also a risk much more serious incidents including significant riots or fights between rival groups of fans, as well as - sadly - a terrorist attack. However, it has presumably been reasoned by someone in authority that police officers not wearing protective clothing look considerably more charming than those who are. I can only assume that the reason for the difference is something to do with perceiving the role of the police officers in Germany primarily as a propaganda exercise, and only secondarily as law enforcement officers there to protect the public.

Interesting, though, isn't it?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Roll of Shame

Via Norm, we learn of yet another person to add to the roll of shame (combined credit to the Home Office, the IND and the police) which represents the ill-considered overreaction to the foreign prisoner deportation scandal. This time the "victim" of the close attentions of a large number of a police officers taking him back into custody is a 23 year old man of Thai origin, Sakchai Makao, who has lived in Shetland for 13 years, and has never lived in Thailand (his parents live in London), who was convicted of fire raising and sentenced to fifteen months in jail. So successful has been his rehabilitation that he has been given his old job back and is now receiving significant local support. In contrast, unless the campaigns of a small number of MPs are successful, it would seem that if you are a (British) member of the House of Lords and you serve time for fire-raising, you get your old "job" back automatically and by definition cannot be deported. In fact, you will be relieved to know that the "apologetic" "Lord" Mike Watson thinks that he is still fit to govern, after spending some time examining the inside of Edinburgh's Saughton jail after being convicted of arson at a dinner held at one of Edinburgh's more sumptuous restaurants (which I shall be having the privilege of visiting for the first time this evening, by strange coincidence).

In contrast, as the cases of Sakchai Makao and Antonio Guarita show, no matter how much you seek to atone for your past sins, or show a changed orientation towards society through your life and your work, if you lack the passport, you could be out on your ear in discipline and punish world of John Reid and Tony Blair.

For earlier comments on this topic see here and here.
Update: for further an update on this see also here, and for comment on another case see here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My Political Profile

Your Political Profile:
Overall: 10% Conservative, 90% Liberal
Social Issues: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Ethics: 0% Conservative, 100% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal

Monday, June 05, 2006

I wasn't going to post...

...but I couldn't resist this:

"Patriotic drivers showing their support for England with window flags during the World Cup will pay more in fuel costs...An average car with two flags attached burns an extra litre of fuel per hour at an average of 70mph...500,000 drivers all doing the same will create 2.8m kg of carbon dioxide emissions. The extra fuel consumption is caused by the flags creating drag."

So in addition to wasting their own money (while kindly contributing more excise duty through fuel tax to the treasury), they are also imposing additional, unnecessary costs on the environment.

Perhaps this is additional evidence of the proposition I heard during the last World Cup. Namely, that those little white and red flags you see attached to cars are a bit like either the red L signs or green P signs you sometimes see on car. That is, a warning of a particular quality possessed by a driver - that is, a learner or someone who has recently passed. In this case, it is a warning that the driver is, how shall we put it, somewhat intellectually challenged....a special needs case, perhaps. I'm sure you get my gist.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fun with maps

I liked this, which I found via Freedom and Whisky. BondBloke, in all his guises, will tell anyone who cares to listen that I am obsessed by maps.

County map
I've visited the counties in yellow.
Which counties have you visited?

made by marnanel
map reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data
by permission of the Ordnance Survey.
© Crown copyright 2001.

I appear to be missing a couple of outlying islands - Isle of Man and, more seriously for someone now resident in Scotland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar (so much more exotic than the Hebrides), and Shetland.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The university exam boycott, top-up fees and the research assessment exercise

Sorry. This post is a bit niche.

This issue has been bothering me for some time, and I need to get it out of my system. During this dispute, the AUT/NATHFE action has been discussed in the context of the introduction of top-up fees in England and Wales (and the compensatory funding for Scotland), and not in the context of the Research Assessment Exercise, which is used to quantify research quality in the higher education institutions of the UK. See here for an example - the discussion of both the boycott and the future of the RAE at the AUT conference earlier in May. The claim to redress historic underfunding of academic salaries in the university sector has already been discussed here on this blog (see in particular the contributions from RoadRunner in the comments section), along with the 'morality' of taking action which affects students.

I was thinking we were likely to get an offer earlier this week which would be acceptable - probably a two figure offer over two years, and an agreement to look favourably again in 2008-2009 when the impact of three years worth of top-up fees in the system is looking clearer. Unfortunately this has not been forthcoming, and a slightly improved offer of 13.1% over three years appears to have been rejected out of hand by AUT/NATFHE, in particular because it offers nothing better for 2008-2009. I make no comment on this except to say that given that VCs were bleating about a previous *final* offer being at the limits of affordability (while remaining well below the annual increases that many of them have trousered year on year), it is a little less than convincing when a higher offer is made, again at the *limits* of affordability. So which one was at the limits of affordability? You get the gist: people start to believe that if there is another 0.5%, then there might be a little more in the system. Who knows? I think reactions to this have to be read in the light of what I suggest here.

VCs would say that their increases have been justified on the basis of productivity and performance, and because there is a lively, if niche, market for the best VCs. In a way, the same can be said for many academic staff. Since I joined the academic profession, something over 20 years, promotion prospects have accelerated massively, especially in shortage subjects like law or economics. People reach the "pinnacle" of the profession - a chair - much, much earlier on the whole than they used to do. Whereas 20 years ago, the "career grade", i.e. that which all reasonably successful academics could aspire to, was the senior lectureship. Today, in many, if not most, subjects, it is the chair. To put it another way, academics in many subjects have offset the effects of the gradual downgrading of pay scales by moving more rapidly up them, or by negotiating individual settlements on the basis of the mysterious arrangements that universities have for professors, once they reach that level.

This has not worked for everyone, not because those people are poor academics, but because they prioritise some values (e.g. family life) over a willingness to work very unsocial hours to finish all the work they have before them or a willingness to move institution (which historically has been the best way of pushing your way up the pay scale). In addition, there are some subjects where the market forces which apply in law or econonomics or management studies just don't apply in the same way. There are also some who are in secondary labour markets on serial short term contracts, who never ever get annual increments. And finally there are the new starters, who find that the starting salary for an academic falls further and further behind those, for example, of teachers, who frankly won't have done the years of training (minimum 3 year UG degree; 1 year Masters; 3 year PhD) which a lecturer starting out will have done. And that is without mentioning those on academic related scales, who are not involved in research, and are therefore unable to use the market forces argument of moving their labour and their publications and grant income to another university.

What has happened is greater inequality across disciplines, and a massive stretching out of the pay scales from the top points which some professors might expect to get paid, versus the rates of pay for lecturers just starting out, or many many contract researchers. That is pretty obvious if you look at the charts which appear periodically in the Times Higher Education Supplement under which Universities not only declare how much their VCs earn, but also declare how many staff they pay £120+, £100+ and £80+. It's illuminating, believe me, even if you factor in the medical academics who are in an entirely different stratosphere to us ordinary mortals.

So....before I lose you completely....where does the RAE come into this? Well, because I have a hunch that VCs are hanging on to at least some of their pennies, unwilling to commit them to a national settlement which will benefit everyone (and remember this is already basically a percentage based settlement which benefits those on higher wages than those at the bottom, although there are some minimums built in at the bottom to protect the absolutely worst paid) in order to buy off the relatively few. In the last RAE, which concluded in 2001, there was a date some eighteen months before the so-called census date (which is the date when you do a count up of every one in your institution who is research active and who can count for the purposes of measuring how much research income should come to the department or school) after which those who moved to another university basically counted half for that university, and half for the previous university. That was, in my view, a fair arrangement. If you lost key staff eighteen months before the census date, you could at least make a fair stab at recruiting new people, even though it would usually cost you more to recruit them than the cost of those who left. So it was already market forces in action, but constrained by the sharing rule. You can find the details here, at para. 3.8, so-called A* staff. For this RAE, there is no such rule. See here (pdf file). It does not say explicitly that the rules are different, but because there is no mention of any A* staff, we know that the sharing rule is not applying.

So...what do you think is happening? If universities risk losing key staff, and all their publications (but not at least their accrued grant income), at any point right up to the census date (31 October 2007), then there is obviously going to be a problem. There is no chance at that point of recruiting to replace key staff. A department's, and indeed a whole university's, research profile could go down in the pan if another university swoops in to poach the best staff at the last minute. And who has paid for these staff right throughout the previous six years, the reference period during which publications are developed which are the basis for the future funding for the next six years or so? Not the new employer, that's for sure. Remember, such staff might have been given special study leaves or grants in order to allow them to finish important projects to generate publications. In my own subject, I can already see that not only are institutions alive to these possibilities and dangers, but individuals are as well. Universities may have to react defensively and offer very substantial pay rises to individuals to stop them leaving. Then others will complain, of course, about equity, and so they will also need financial placating. And so on, and so on.

All of which leads me to conclude that the rule devised by the Higher Education Funding Councils for the 2007/2008 RAE is having a negative impact upon the available funding for paying all university staff in the 2006-2009 pay negotiation round. Once again, the money is likely to go to the few, and those in secondary labour markets or less fashionable disciplines will bear the brunt.

I thought from the start, when the RAE rules for this time round were announced, that it was a stupid rule. I made enquiries of a friend who is on an assessment panel this time round, and who was also on a panel last time, and it was intimated to me that there were administrative problems with running it last time and that's why the sharing rule was not used this time round.

The administrative tail is wagging the market dog. And it is one of the important unspoken contexts of the divisive action we are seeing at present. If people addressed this issue directly, perhaps we might more readily find solutions to the dispute between the unions and the employers.

Update 3pm Budapest time
If you have got this far then you are obviously interested in the content of this post, which means that you might be able to answer this question. I got a sudden spike of visitors from academic domains between 10am and 11am this morning, but none of them have a referring URL. Usually other spikes can be explained by appearing in google searches, which appear on the visitor stats as the referring URL. Has the URL of this blog post gone round on an email to AUT activists and if so, can someone please tell me what you think of it. Not one of these academic visitors made a comment. Most un-blog-friendly.

More on prisoner deportation

Oh how terribly, terribly easy it is to make others the scapegoats for your bureaucratic incompetence and your need to seem tough. After this further news on prisoner deportations in the Guardian, I feel all the more vindicated about my earlier prognostications on this.

Strange facts about Budapest

Actually, I can't tell you anything strange about Budapest itself (which is its normal bustling self), but I can tell you something strange about my stay in Budapest, which not even BondBloke, in any of his many manifestations, knows, and that is that I am sleeping on a waterbed. Yes, a waterbed. For the first time in my life. It's a strange experience, particularly if you arrive in your room at 11.30pm, no one has warned you, and you lean on the bed to put the light on above it. And not only discover that the surface is by no means firm, but that it makes a disconcerting slushing noise every time you touch it. Actually, since you ask, yes I have slept reasonably well. As well as I ever sleep when away from the comforts of the Bond residence, and in the middle of a city. But I am not sure it is an experience I would repeat, and certainly not one I would like to try when sharing a bed with someone else. Anyone else.

I suppose the other strange fact about Budapest, at least in relation to me, is that this is the city my son's father lives in, and once in the 1990s when I was here for work with Junior Bond, we ran into his father on the street by pure coincidence. In a city of I don't know how many million people. After all, the world's a village.

What is your Monster Name?

Your Monster Profile

Behemoth Chemist

You Feast On: M&Ms
You Lurk Around In: Swamps
You Especially Like to Torment: BritishEnglish People

What's Your Monster Name?

They got it SO right!