mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
Yesterday on the radio I heard Louise Richardson, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, defending her handsome salary, making the point that competition for vice-chancellors occurs in a global marketplace and she would be paid rather more in the US. This morning, somewhat in response, we had Jo Johnson MP, the Minister for Universities and Science, defending funding arrangements for universities. Now I receive an broadcast e-mail from the Vice-Chancellor here, the University of Dundee, expressing pleasure at our being shortlisted as University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards which I would guess helps to validate his salary.

I was lucky to be born early enough that my own university education in England was paid for rather more by grant than by student loans and what loan I did have had a low interest rate. Now England has moved to a system that is dominated by loans at a higher interest rate. Especially, as a student I had the sense that the taxpayer, not me, was paying for my education and that probably affected my attitude to it.

One concern I have is the idea of having to pay competitive market rates for university staff. It may be a mistake to consider money as the principal attractor to positions in English public universities. )

Another concern I have is the change in mindset that comes from students feeling that they are paying for their own education. Pleasing the student customers is not the same as requiring worthwhile academic success of them. )
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
Not satisfied with maximizing the horror of Google's Groups interface they have now been taking a hatchet to News. I am already used to Google News having issues like not being able to maintain profiles for multiple countries' editions for the same user but recently search options (at least those easily found) have been deteriorating and the interface for managing news sources became dreadful, a significant issue given the default inclusion of niche sources that I would gladly avoid. I have thus been considering other news aggregation websites.

So far I have not been thrilled by the alternatives. I am mostly interested in mainstream non-tabloid news sources that cover the US and the UK, though the occasional item from anything from Haaretz to the Times of India is of interest. I tried World News Network for a while but their UK edition seems insufficiently curated. Some sites have gone rather mobile-tastic but at least Newslookup.com allows plenty of text in the viewable screen area. An alternative to aggregators would be to maintain a list of decent news websites, such as the Christian Science Monitor, and follow just those.
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
The BBC has published information about how much its top on-air personalities earn. Some of them earn a considerable sum indeed. I can buy that the market for such celebrities is competitive. However, I wonder what the BBC is for.

Many of the current better-paid personalities do not seem to me to be all that uniquely remarkable. Worthwhile, even innovative, entertainment need not be expensively produced, though I am one of those viewers who does not mind if the sets sometimes wobble a bit.

Perhaps it is fine for commercial television and radio to poach away the most popular BBC talent. Those willing to work for rather less than £200k, especially outside London, may not be significantly inferior to those we see now and we could benefit from the BBC being able to afford a larger roster of presenters and hosts. Alternatively, it may be that the best of the BBC presenters bring more outstanding value than I recognize or that many viewers care more about seeing one of a few best-known celebrities than I.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
The development of news story of the fire that gutted Grenfell Tower has been an ongoing surprise to me.

Initially I somewhat dismissed the wall-to-wall news coverage. The BBC in particular seem keen to let a large news story wholly dominate live news for many hours even when new information comes at a low rate. I often wish they would give a summary and update on the half-hour but cover other stories too in between. Also, the fire was in London and I suspected that having the main news coverage decision-makers also in London elevated the fire's apparent signifiance. Further, initial official reports of the death toll were not high.

I had failed to quickly apprehend that the real death toll is probably high indeed: that there were initially many missing people who probably mostly range from unrecovered to unidentifiable.

Additionally, the preventability of the tragedy is a significant news story in its own right. Do government building regulations, whether national or local, really tolerate such devastating firetraps, even despite previous related fires and expert testimony that clearly warned of the risk? Maybe so, in which case some public officials may be truly culpable and people in other tower blocks may now be living in some peril. It is all the more surprising given how tight UK building regulations typically are and have been for many years.

A further surprise to me has been the public anger focusing on Teresa May of all people even after the government announced a public inquiry. I find it hard to imagine that she is high on the list of those truly responsible for the fire or for the immediate aftermath. I did not feel bad for her after the general election but in this case I do. Perhaps I am again wrong and she does somehow warrant being the focus of the current protests. I wonder if her crime is not one of material actions but instead of failure to obviously emote in the expected manner.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Of our constituency's candidates, the incumbent Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party, beat the MEP Ian Duncan, Scottish Conservative and Unionist, by only 21 votes out of 51,525 cast, and our constituency wasn't the closest. As usual, Labour were barely on the radar and the Liberal Democrats worse still. Around Perthshire we have plenty of landowners; in the two Dundee city constituencies Labour usually do better than here and the Conservatives worse though the SNP hold those seats comfortably.

After this latest election there seems to be a deepening rift between the Scottish Conservatives who gained seats and the ones down south who lost seats. I find it interesting how the parties up here, even the Greens, typically have their own organization and separate manifesto.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
The general election was interesting. I have not much followed news yet to follow details but I figured that I should record my initial impressions and then I can see how the picture looks different to me in due course.

Here in Scotland it seems as if the Conservatives gained votes from the SNP. I suspect that it was due more to a second independence referendum being a poor choice of headline policy for the SNP rather than because many Scots were keen for hard Brexit. In some constituencies the margin of victory was wafer-thin.

In England I guess that UKIP votes went to the Conservatives who lost more votes to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. It makes sense that this could reflect a higher turnout of young people who have woken up to Brexit and do not want it.

Theresa May came out poorly and her days are thus numbered. ) During the campaign she did not come across well in the media but Jeremy Corbyn and company hardly outshone her in that regard. I suspect that the Conservatives lost votes to Labour partly because their manifesto was less appealing. )

Personally I have some concern over how things will now go. I fear that ) the UK will end up with a soft Brexit that leaves it with the worst of both worlds.

On a personal basis, closer EU ties are better. )
mtbc: maze K (white-green)
This morning I was thinking about the various shows I watch on BBC television. They probably still are not much offered on BBC America, except for Doctor Who (2005) which, while I don't find it as good as it has been, this season has also not had episodes anywhere near as bad as the most dreadful from recent seasons. Though, my cautious hope is considerably tempered: I number among the dreadful episodes the fairly well-received The Power of Three which for me was tedious nonsense and its writer Chris Chibnall is to take over as showrunner next year.

I like some of the comedy panel quiz shows: we watch Have I Got News for You (1990) and QI (2003) if convenient and personally I usually enjoy Would I Lie to You? (2007). There seems to be a ongoing flow of comedians from one show to another, just as one sees among actors appearing in episodes of science fiction shows filmed around Vancouver.

Some BBC shows I watch to obtain information. For example, as I recently mentioned, to learn of musical acts I watch the reliably variable Later… With Jools Holland (1992); to learn of other BBC television shows I watch Points of View (1961) and for movies I watch the BBC News channel's The Film Review.

Another BBC News show that I like is Dateline London on Saturdays: there is intelligent political discussion without the usual panel of idiots and politicians whom it is exasperating to hear. Back in the US we had PBS NewsHour (1975) every day and most weeks I would watch Fareed Zakaria GPS (2008) which doesn't usually irritate me though I sometimes disagree with him. So, at least the BBC offers me a politics show that I find more informative than annoying and with luck there will still be a PBS when I eventually return to the US.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
I waited a while before commenting on the bombing )

9/11 may be the attack that made the most emotional impact on me in that it is one of the very few events for which I vividly recall my circumstances when I heard the news, also events later that day. I was a little confused by political pronouncements afterward: especially President Bush's they hate our freedoms speech which, though not wrong, seemed to miss much of the point: bin Ladin himself had explained in quite different terms the concrete grievances. I subsequently learned more about terrorism )

This recent bombing, and [personal profile] emperor's recent mention of having watched Calvary (2014), reminded me of the line near the end of the movie, … all those years, did you cry then?. Though it requires some spoiler context for its full impact, it remains an excellent question that reminds me that I should at least pay proper attention even if I do not cry, and I believe that includes understanding why the bombing happened.

We now have some helpful information: it is reported that the bomber's sister speculates that he he saw the explosives America drops on children in Syria, and he wanted revenge though a family friend says how he grew increasingly angry about what he considered ill-treatment of Muslims in Britain. Daesh have themselves given the usual mix of motivation: Western acts against Muslims and their lands abroad together with domestic liberalism. Clearly the sister's words point to the former category but Daesh's talk of the Crusaders and the shameless concert arena suggests some of each. A suicide bomber has considerable choice of target: it would have been no harder to bomb a group of adult professionals but Daesh's shameless may point to one cause being our failure to impose their Medieval conservatism upon our young women.

Just as I was after 9/11, I have been somewhat bewildered by mainstream politics' response to the tragedy. Bill Maher's comment on Politically Incorrect (1993) that the 9/11 attackers were not cowardly appears to be what got his show canceled. After the Manchester bombing politicians have again lined up to call the attacker a coward, but I doubt that they obviously were ) I do wonder if this portrait of the bomber as a coward is some kind of psychological offense to dissuade imitators. I do not think that it explains targeting the concert.

The political surprises continue. For example, we have Jeremy Corbyn suggesting that foreign policy may be a cause of domestic terrorism, only to face a backlash of criticism and I agree with none of it. First, it is woolly thinking indeed to confuse explain with justify: in what now appears to be called the blowback theory, which many experts deem to have some credibility, our foreign policy may indeed be a relevant factor, but this does not make the bomber any less culpable or wrong )

Additionally, Jeremy Corbyn is being criticized for voicing a version of the blowback theory when the bombing occurred so recently. But, the bombing is of high national significance and government policy both foreign and domestic may have a material impact on such events. Surely, before a general election to determine the shape of our new government is exactly when we should be examining why the attack occurred? if that is exploiting the attack then so be it )
mtbc: maze E (black-cyan)
I heard on the radio last week that 14% of students in schools need some kind of extra assistance. That figure seemed high to me so I searched for corroboration. I found the Department for Education's Special educational needs: an analysis and summary of data sources from September 2016 and, at least in England, indeed 14.4% of children last year had special educational needs and 11.6% of children were receiving support for such, something beyond the school's usual provision for students, like specialist help. Boys rather outnumber girls among those children. Of course, the special needs children tend not to do as well academically as the other children.

Nearly a quarter of the special needs children have moderate learning difficulty. It is the social, emotional and mental health ones who tend to get permanently excluded from school.

14.4% is around one child in seven but I suppose that dyslexia alone accounts for a good few percent of people. I also wonder if issues might be more likely in more economically depressed areas – poorer nutrition, greater domestic stresses, whatever – more remote from the schools with which I am more familiar. I may well be wrong: for all I know it is the more affluent families who are able to get around to arranging proper diagnosis and help – official special needs status – in the first place.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Having previously enumerated our local council ward candidates and what I easily perceived of them it seems appropriate to report on the outcome. Overall the Conservatives appear to have profited handsomely at the expense of Labour and UKIP. In our ward Angus Forbes, Scottish Conservative and Unionist, was the clear winner. Rounds of vote transferring ensued and eventually Alasdair Bailey, Scottish Labour Party, got a seat, the only Labour councillor in our new council administration. The final seat went to Beth Pover, Scottish National Party; I think her husband Douglas has been a councillor in the term now ending.

When I voted yesterday at around 07h30 I was the only voter I saw. On the sidewalk outside there was a Conservative placard reminding us about the independence referendum as if that were anything to do with the local council. Ranking candidates is complex: I end up thinking ahead and taking in a little note of what I decided; it reminded me of voting for judges in Ohio. Until my poll card for the general election arrives my pending matters file folder is now unusually and agreeably empty.

It occurred to me that the vote transfer algorithm could also be applied to decide who gets to keep their deposit having stood for election. Though, there is no deposit associated with our local council elections and I do not recall that we rank candidates for the Scottish Parliament which is already complex enough with having a mixed-member electoral system.

One thing from the US that I miss is the I voted sticker one may proudly wear having voted. I liked how mine reminded others to either vote or at least to maybe get around to being able to someday.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
The European Union does not sound at all encouraging in its initial expectations for Brexit negotiations: far more stick than carrot in the details. I am unsurprised to read headlines like, The European Commission wants to engineer a no-Brexit-deal crisis…. Separately, what I read of the European Court of Justice suggests that a sufficiently intimate trade deal will probably be judged to be subject to veto by any of the herd of catsremaining members of the European Union who each have their separate domestic politics, some of which are unconducive to making the UK's life easy: in short, it could be difficult for the European Union to offer much of the kind of carrot that the UK most seeks even if leading members were so inclined.

Regardless of one's degree of strong stability or stable strength, I am not clear by what mechanism we reach a good exit agreement. I may take consolation from that the duration of the exit negotiations is a long time indeed in politics, my lack of expertise in foreign policy, and how both parties would benefit from something being worked out. However, I cannot help but wonder if we should be girding our loins for a considerably hard Brexit as I do not yet see that the European Union is likely to credibly offer enough to bring the UK anywhere into the ballpark of swallowing their substantial demands.

Update: A couple of days later I now read Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times:
… E.U. officials are sounding more and more like a jilted spouse determined to extract maximum damages in a divorce settlement. And this is just plain insane. Like it or not, Europe will have to live with post-Brexit Britain, and Greece-style bullying just isn't going to work on a nation as big, rich and proud as the U.K.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
The EU made it clear even before the referendum that the UK's exit is to be rather separate indeed as anything else will be offered only at high cost. Their rhetoric has consistently made it clear that they have no intention of agreeing to anything that looks remotely like the UK both having its cake and eating it: they have their own constituents and need to make an example of those who not only resist integration but even reverse it.

Yet the news is still full of people who, if they must accept the UK leaving the EU at all, hope to make that a soft Brexit wherein the country continues to enjoy good access to the single market and suchlike. Am I wrong or are these people stubbornly deluded? They had better hope that being outside the customs union does enable some good non-EU trade deals in the medium term because I expect the EU to be in no hurry to make an independent UK's life easy.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
I had been feeling guilty that I am not living in the US at a time when I feel it important to be conspicuous about how we do not all share the values of Donald Trump's loudest supporters.

I am not overly cautious: for example, I visited the Washington, DC, area during the sniper attacks. Still, with our new president's having already annoyed China, made a show of bombing Syria and Afghanistan, then excited North Korea into showing its submarine-launched ballistic missiles, while Russia probes beyond its borders, I am starting to think that I am glad to have moved my family to Scotland for the duration of his term.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
I am sorry to learn of Toshiba's financial predicament. I have generally thought well of them: for example, I liked the Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop computer that I owned and I am presently watching Later… With Jools Holland (1992) on our old Toshiba REGZA television; I do not look forward to someday trying to find a replacement television at least as satisfactory. I know less of Toshiba's more recent offerings but it is always a shame when one of the few companies whose products I have liked looks to be continuing their good work no longer.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
Means of capital punishment are back in the news. While I do like a lot about the US and life is not as sacred to me as it is to some, I am strongly against the death sentence. Still, even if limiting to methods that leave the corpse looking good for the funeral, it intrigues me that they have such difficulty actually effecting it. We routinely render people unconscious for surgery and, once under, one would imagine that a large dose of anything from a barbiturate to an opiate might quietly and quickly do for anyone. I can't help but wonder if the impediments are rather more ethical or political than technical or physical: that if we put our mind to it we certainly can kill criminals off humanely but that everybody from the drug-makers to competent implementors of the protocols do not want to touch any part of the business even with a very long bargepole.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
Yesterday morning on the radio I heard discussion of the large amounts of money paid by Her Majesty's Government to private contractors to assess people's ability to work, regarding eligibility for disability benefits. I think it was Stephen Crabb, a previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, suggesting that the sums paid are probably reasonable if the private companies are not making much profit on them. A quick search online finds him quoted as saying, If the payments being made reflect the actual economic cost, then I think that is a fair contract.

Argh, no!, I thought in response. Americans have a similar system. )

Paying companies according to their actual cost in doing the work gives them very little incentive to work at all efficiently. The government pays their costs either way. )

I found it a little surreal at Aetion for the government to pay for our time in interacting with the government auditor who would come in, analyze our timesheets and books, and find that we had slightly underbilled the government so we could then ask for more money. We were unusual in actually working efficiently. )

Given that the mortgage on the property in which one's government-project contractors work is a fair overhead to bill, it is hard for me not to see some government contractors as an opaque device to have the taxpayer buy the owners a handsome piece of real estate over the course of some years.

I would far rather see private contractors given tight verifiable-outcome requirements for each milestone payment and, while open to competitive bidding to limit typical profits, able to go ahead and do the work cheaply if they find a way to without losing revenue for achieving that. The occasional larger profit margin is well worth scrapping the overhead of carefully measuring and auditing how much it costs companies to achieve goals inefficiently in the knowledge that the government will still pay.

Large projects can be subdivided to manage risk. )

I should clarify that none of the above relates to my current employment: I do not know the details of our funding. )
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
The left-wing Labour politician Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the party, though not yet expelled, for his comments regarding Hitler and the Jewish Question. The criticism has been very much under the banner of not tolerating anti-Semitism and this appears to continue through the party leader Jeremy Corbyn's new investigation into Ken's conduct. While I am all for the rooting out of anti-Semites, my ongoing impression is that Ken is far more ham-handed than he is positively evil: he may not be carefully articulating a consensus historical record but I think it takes a considerable dose of whatever the opposite of benefit of the doubt is to read him as actually racist in this case. Given that, from my point of view the Labour Party's keenness to keep the matter alive brings the party into disrepute more than Ken ever has: it starts to look more like a witch hunt that distracts from and devalues real action against anti-Semitism.

Curious to double-check my impressions, I was surprised and reassured to find online that various groups, including of some Jewish Labour Party members, appear to agree. I caught myself wondering if Jeremy Corbyn is going along with this continued investigation because his advisers are being lobbied by those who too eagerly show offense. More generally, I fear that if politicians are made to worry greatly about putting their feet in their mouths then their public face becomes as uselessly bland as the typical British politician's now is.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
NHS Digital today published their latest Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet for England. Regarding adult physical activity it includes the interesting finding,
People who are long term unemployed or have never worked were most likely to be inactive (37%). Those in managerial, administrative and professional occupations were the least likely to be inactive (17%).
I would not have expected this: depending on professional those kinds of occupations tend to be time-consuming and sedentary. Whereas, I might think that the unemployed would have found time for habitual recreational exercise.

I do not know if the explanation is that these unemployed are actually busy parents and suchlike or if they are simply broadly unmotivated in many spheres of life, perhaps not unconnectedly: depression over unemployment could spread to general lack of purposeful activity? I may be missing the obvious.
mtbc: maze A (black-white)
I caught an odd story on the news this morning about divorce, probably related to the Owens' appeal court case in England with a judge explaining, it is not a ground for divorce if you find yourself in a wretchedly unhappy marriage, and I got to thinking about it. [personal profile] mst3kmoxie and I can barely afford to live together in one small house in which even with limited possessions we are much on top of each other. We have no nearby family and are tied to the area to keep the children in their current secondary school. I doubt that we are unusual in this. So, how do people divorcing on good terms actually afford to do so, if they remain friends and are happy to continue to help each other out? At least couples with children ought to try to avoid unnecessary ugliness.

In England and Wales the legal grounds for divorce seem to involve things like abuse or adultery and being able to live very separately is relevant. What if a couple have simply grown apart: there is little romance or even interaction and they want to no longer be legally entangled financially or contract-wise or whatever? It sounds like, unless they are wealthy enough to truly live separately or want to behave very poorly or whatever, then they are stuck in the marriage. I don't know what people in this situation actually do but I can't help but wonder if they could do with a website through which people who want no-fault divorces can find another such local couple and one partner from each can pretend to live at the other couple's house. Maybe they can even pretend to be adultering though it seems silly to me that they would have to consider such perjury. Up here Scottish law is probably different but perhaps not greatly. I wonder if there could be many couples trapped within the legal consequences of marriage by high property prices that force them to continue to live as a unit.
mtbc: maze N (blue-white)
In the US it seems common for political parties' manifestoes to be known only by the broadest of strokes and then not especially raising expectations because it can be a challenge for any party's mainstream to hold enough grip on the House, the Senate, and the White House to be able to follow through. This is one reason why the Affordable Care Act was so significant. It may seem as though the Republicans have a firm grip now but in trying to replace it the House want to pull it one way, the Senate the other, and the President was registered Democratic over much of the previous decade: they are hardly unified by ideology.

In contrast, in the UK there is often one political party with a majority in the House of Commons and that usually suffices to effect a party's goals. There are intra-party splits, such in the Conservatives over the European Union and in Labour over socialism, but their electoral mandate is strongly associated with their manifesto and their promises are violated only at considerable peril. If the majority party fails to deliver on specific proposals then there are rarely any credible alternative culprits at which for them to point. I would offer that the fiasco a few years ago over raising university tuition fees is part of what now so wounds the Liberal Democrats.

I was therefore pleased last week to see Her Majesty's Government so quickly and wholly fold over the Chancellor's proposed manifesto violation in raising Class 4 National Insurance contributions. (National Insurance deductions are rather like Social Security deductions in the US: indeed, the last I checked, they had some interchangeability in the US/UK tax treaty.) I have no strong opinion on if Class 4 contributions are wrongly relatively low but it is good to see that election manifestoes still mean something significant. Being elected into public office is not a mandate to then go ahead and do whatever one wishes.

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Mark T. B. Carroll

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