Thursday, November 30, 2006

The perils of London

I had quite a scary lunch hour today. I saw a rat on the platform of Leicester Square tube (no, it wasn't Ken), then the whole of Harvey Nicks was evacuated because of "an incident". They wouldn't say if it was a bomb or radiation in the sushi bar.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Goldman Sucks

Cleaners were on strike at Goldman Sachs yesterday, protesting at low wages and poor employment conditions. They want £7.05 per hour, sick pay, pension rights, 28 days holiday and union recognition. Small fry for GS partners who not only earn over £1m per year but also have the right to front-run GS IPOs. As one placard stated, "Goldman Sucks".

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Video campaigning

An American friend from Virginia has brought my attention to this broadcast used in the mid-term elections:
In spite of this, Ron Kind was re-elected. Perhaps it had something to do with the weird voice of Paul Nelson...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The role of university

There's an interesting letter in today's FT from Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at Warwick. He says that a successful university has to make losses. He believes that companies, not universities, should use research to create commercial spin-offs and license new patents. Universities, he says, are not high schools for people over 18 and do not exist primarily to educate (not sure if I agree with the latter point if one takes the literal meaning of educate ie leading out). In his opinion, the main role of universities is "to find out new ideas and give them away...Their job is to uncover those things that matter to the emotional prosperity of our world but that intrinsically will not be discovered by commercial organisations."
I wonder whether the primary aim of Labour's education target of sending 50% of schoolchildren to university is to enhance the emotional prosperity of the country?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Doubting Thomas

Last week there was a marvellous exchange at a talk about Doubting Thomas and the paintings inspired by the story. Professor Michael Wheeler showed a painting by Caravaggio which had Christ's head on the left, serene, the head of a disciple at the top and one on the right, their faces full of angst and the head of Thomas at the bottom with his arm stretched towards Christ, his fingers inside the wound on Christ's body. The retired Provost of Winchester was shocked by the scene which he described as secular and completely out of keeping with the spirit of the gospel. The retired Bishop of Salisbury interjected and said he completely disagreed. The paiting in his view was utterly wonderful and depicted one of the important factors of the story: that it is a symbol of the eucharist ie Thomas needed Christ's body and blood to renew his faith.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Professional kissing

A couple of months ago after a meeting with my bank manager, she kissed me goodbye. I was rather taken aback by this, having had in my mind for many years the notion of spitting in the fireplace of one's bank manager. At the next meeting I pre-empted her and offered her my hand to shake on arriving and leaving. Phew! Back to normality, I thought. Last night I attended a wine tasting held by my bank and before I could pre-empt her, my bank manager (who was rather tiddly by that stage) kissed me goodbye. Call me old-fashioned but I do think that kissing in a professional context (and, believe me, this is a professional context)is unnecessary and embarrassing. Bring back the handshake.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Oxbridge funding

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that the Saudi defence minister has donated £2m to Oxford University "to expedite the application process" and "to identify four to six colleges with resources and expertise" for visiting students from Prince Sultan University in Riyadh.
Cambridge University is in the process of raising £1bn. Why doesn't it consider holding a one-off sealed bid auction for a certain number of graduate places? I'm sure many international companies would leap at the chance of buying research opportunities at one of our finest scientific institutions and that the £1bn would be raised pretty swiftly.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Thursday, November 09, 2006

West Lothian question

Here's the breakdown of 2005-6 UK identifiable public expenditure in £ per capita as published by the Govt:

England Scotland Wales NI
Public services 93 164 213 240
Public order & safety 403 399 405 750
Economic development 94 126 287 190
Science & technology 37 61 21 41
Employment policies 52 160 53 97
Agric, fish & forests 75 134 134 375
Transport 288 413 261 241
Environment 115 224 146 205
Housing & community 132 289 134 457
Health 1460 1676 1486 1586
Recreation & culture 123 207 197 84
Education & training 1147 1258 1170 1459
Social protection 2739 3150 3155 3406
TOTAL 6762 8265 7666 9084

As the Telegraph said on 31 October when discussing the case of a couple in Berwick-upon-Tweed: they "look upon the River Tweed, a mile from their log home in Northumberland, in much the same way as Mexicans regard the Rio Grande: it is what divides them from a more prosperous life...One of the motivations is the home-improvement grants that they have discovered are available north of the border but not south. 'We can buy a dilapidated property in Scotland, wait a year and a half until I turn 60, and get free central heating and double glazing.'...If their daughter goes on to university, the couple will save up to £3,000 a year in up-front tuition fees - Scottish students are exempt from the charges...Already, the couple have forsaken the NHS for its counterpart north of the border. 'If anything goes wrong, we jump in the car and go up to the Borders General Hospital, near Melrose. The first thing you notice at a Scottish hospital is that you don't get threatened with wheel-clamping. You don't even have to pay for car parking.'"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A List

Here is a quotation from Bernard Jenkin's resignation letter:

"It has been a great privilege to your Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party responsible for Candidates. It has also been a huge and controversial challenge, but we are succeeding in the objective you set at the outset of your leadership. The nomination of priority candidates and the revision of constituency procedures have dramatically increased the number of women being selected in target and Conservative held seats – at present over 35 per cent. I regret that this is brutal for some of the hard-working and loyal men on the Candidates List..."

What about the brutality of the system towards the hard-working and loyal women who are on the Candidates List but not on the A List and who are not allowed to know the reason for this as CCHQ has a policy of giving no feedback?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Public sector productivity

Philip Stephens has an article in today's FT setting out the divide between Labour and the Conservatives on tax.He says 15-20 years ago the Labour opposition wanted to increase public spending. The Conservative riposte was that income tax would go through the roof, and that the money stolen from hard-working families would be squandered on the unions. Since Labour was elected in 1997, taxes and public spending have increased sharply. As a share of national income, taxes are now back to the levels of the early 80s and yet the Conservatives remain under pressure. The Labour spin is that the Conservatives want to cut taxes and slash vital public spending and they would hand cash back to their friends in the City by eg cutting stamp duty on equities. "Conservatives used to cost every Labour proposal down to the last £5m or so and declare triumphantly that it all added up to an extra 4 or 5p on the basic rate of tax. Now Labour takes every Tory suggestion of lower inheritance tax, stamp duty or such and translates it into precise job losses among teachers and nurses...For all the New Labour talk of prudence, since 2001 public spending has been growing at a faster rate than any time since the 1970s."
Why can't we estimate how much growth and productivity has been lost by this concentration on the public rather than the private sector of the economy?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Remember, remember...

that Catesby of the Gunpowder Plot was descended from Sir William Catesby, the Cat in the famous satirical rhyme by Colyngbourne:

"The Cat, the Rat and Lovel our Dog,
Rule all England under a Hog"

The Rat was Sir William Ratcliffe of Ordsall Hall. The Dog was Thomas, Lord Lovell ( Lovell's emblem was a talbot, a now-extinct breed of hunting hound). The Hog was Richard III ( his emblem was a white boar). The couplet refers to the fact that this hated trio of men enjoyed enormous power and influence in the reign of the equally disliked King Richard III.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The NHS continues to depress...

The Conservative Women's Organisation has published this interview with Andrew Lansley:
Three comments disturb me in particular:
1. Andrew says that administrators could be responsible for eradicating "medical tourism" but, despite an increase in their number of 107,000 since 1997, they do not. Who then is supposed to be responsible for this?
2. He says that London hospitals are not obliged to treat patients referred by their GP. How can this be justified?
3. He says schools are not allowed to give children's weighing results to parents. Does this apply to all medical test results performed by schools? Surely the parents have the right to know the results of all tests (academic or otherwise) performed by schools on their children?
If what I have understood is correct, the Party needs to make a far stronger public stance against the Government's health policy.