Azara Blog: June 2011 archive complete

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Date published: 2011/06/18

Cambridge University has four candidates for Chancellor (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Four candidates are in the running for the position of Cambridge University Chancellor after nominations closed last night.

Billionaire Lord Sainsbury, the former chairman of the supermarket giant and an ex-Government minister, was named earlier this year as the university's nominations board's choice to succeed current Chancellor, the Duke of Edinburgh.

But actor Brian Blessed, Abdul Arain, owner of Al-Amin food store in Mill Road, Cambridge, and big-name barrister Michael Mansfield QC have also joined in the race.

They all managed to get the 50 nominations required from members of the university's Senate to be eligible to run.

Mr Mansfield, who represented Mohammed Al Fayed at the inquest into the deaths of his son Dodi and Diana, Princess of Wales, has pledged to defend higher education from "market forces".

Mr Arain wants to highlight his opposition to a proposed new Sainsbury's store in Mill Road, which he says is not wanted or needed.

After being nominated, Mr Blessed said he was "thrilled" to be asked, adding: "For me, Cambridge has always been the centre of the earth, there is a brightness and light there that rivals that on Mount Everest.

"The university buildings are architecturally beautiful, the whole setting is wonderful and enchants the soul."

Lord Sainsbury said in a statement yesterday: "I have great admiration and affection for the university, built up over all the years since I was an undergraduate at King's, studying history and then psychology.

"I also have a life-long interest in education. I have no personal agenda, and if elected, my sole aim would be to help the university in any way that I can."

This could end up being very embarrassing for the university. There is one sensible candidate and three jokers, and if one of the jokers wins it will not look or be good.

The only sensible candidate is Sainsbury. He has demonstrated his interest in and support of the university over many years. The one downside is that he is an ex-Labour minister. That should not really matter, but the Tories tend to be petty and vindictive about this kind of thing, and the Tories are currently in power.

Arain is the worst of the jokers. He opposes a Sainsbury's on Mill Road because he has a vested financial interest in doing so, and he somehow has come to the (correct) conclusion that he can get some free publicity for his campaign with this publicity stunt. It is not clear that he has ever shown any interest in anything to do with the university.

Mansfield, although a clever enough chap, would be a real disaster for the university. As is already evident from his statement above, he would spend most of his time as chancellor fighting the university instead of supporting it. Again, it is not clear that he has ever shown any interest in anything to do with the university.

As for Blessed, again, it is not clear that he has ever shown any interest in anything to do with the university. He has a deep voice, but that is not exactly an important attribute of the chancellor of the university. Otherwise he seems to have no particular qualification for the post.

You can never really tell what will happen in this kind of circumstance. In some ways it is lucky for Sainsbury that there are three joke candidates, because they will split the joke votes. And there are plenty of joke votes to be had, given the academic middle class (i.e. silly) mentality of many of the possible electors.

Date published: 2011/06/14

Simon Hughes has no clue what he is talking about (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Universities should cut costs not "cry foul" that the rise in tuition fees to £9,000 will not be enough, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes has said.

The government's access to education advocate told the BBC they should look to cut the wages of vice-chancellors.
He told the BBC's Politics Show: "A lot of them [universities] are going to cry foul at the moment, whereas in fact what they need to do is make sure they give good value for money.

"Lots of universities have highly paid vice-chancellors, highly paid lecturers - actually not lecturing for many hours a week.

"So the universities need to do a bit of cost-saving themselves so that they are delivering a good product for the students but not spending money on things that are not for the product."

Simon Hughes is a bit of a mystery. Half the time he sounds like a reasonable person. The other half of the time he sounds like a complete idiot. Unfortunately here the latter has come to the fore.

It is particularly unfortunate, for someone who is the government's "access to education advocate", that Hughes so completely misunderstands the situation with universities.

The one thing he points out that is correct is that university vice-chancellors are paid too much. But all the people at the top end of society are paid too much. The last couple of decades these people have expropriated more and more wealth for themselves, at the expense of the rest of society. Government after government has encouraged this situation.

Unfortunately, after making this trite observation, it is all downhill from there for Hughes. While professors are also highly paid (so more than MPs), lecturers are not highly paid (so less than MPs). If Hughes wants to complain about high pay in the public sector then he should not be patronising people who typically earn half of what an MP earns. Indeed, the logical conclusion is that the pay of MPs should be cut (something almost the entire country would support). After all, MPs need to "make sure they give good value for money" and it is pretty clear they do not (exhibition number one: Simon Hughes).

Hughes also completely misunderstands what lecturers do. So he quibbles that they are "actually not lecturing for many hours a week". That is like complaining that MPs do not hold surgeries for many hours a week. Lecturing is only one small part of the job of being a lecturer. Indeed, in Cambridge, nobody gets hired as a lecturer for their ability to lecture. Far more important is their research, and that takes most of the time they have that is not spent on lecturing or bureaucracy. A typical lecturer works as many hours in the week as a typical MP, i.e. lots.

Hughes also completely misunderstands what the problem is with university costs. It is not that the staff who actually do the work earn too much. It is that there is far too much money spent on administration, and in particular on politically correct activities, the latter just to please the cretins in parliament, like Hughes, who harp on about "access to education".

Needless to say, the real problem with English education does not lie with universities, the real problem lies with state schools. Government after government has completely failed to educate a large section of the population. Not surprisingly, instead of accepting responsibility for this failure, MPs want to blame the universities for not passing a magic wand over the situation, and in particular for not being able to turn an undereducated poor person into a top rate student with three taps of the wand.

Cambridge University could save a fortune in its budget if it could just drop all the politically correct activities that the government has forced upon it. None of these activities is "for the product". They are all foisted on the university by the government. Hughes and his ilk are part of the problem, they are not part of the solution.

Date published: 2011/06/02

A Cambridge cycle lane that takes the piss (permanent blog link)

The main motivation of bureaucrats responsible for transport "planning" in Cambridge is hatred of drivers. A perfect example of this is a cycle lane on Roxburgh Road in King's Hedges.
cycle lane on Roxburgh Road, Cambridge
Some bureaucrat obviously thought it would be amusing to put a cycle lane down the middle of the road (which is a cul-de-sac). So technically, it seems, cars cannot drive up this road except in the car parking lanes. There is a special place in hell reserved for bureaucrats who are so obviously disdainful of the people they are supposed to serve. Unfortunately, meanwhile they are rewarded with never having to be held accountable for their "planning", and then being given a big fat pension when they retire, paid for by the very people they continually stick two fingers up to.

London 2012 Olympic ticket system is a complete fiasco (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

London 2012's director responsible for tickets has rejected complaints that the ballot was unfair and led to unbalanced distribution.

Chris Townsend said that oversubscribed events were balloted for each price category.

In a Daily Telegraph webchat with disappointed sports fans, he also revealed second round tickets would be available for several sports.

Some 1.8 million people applied for the 6.6 million public tickets available.

Mr Townsend said: "The ballot was run on a session basis, a separate ballot was run for each price point that was oversubscribed in the session.

It's hard to believe that any organisation could be so utterly and completely incompetent as the people who were responsible for ticket allocation for the London 2012 Olympics.

For one thing, they did not specify the rules before the lottery. So they did not say ahead of time that there would be a separate ballot for each price point. They did not even say how many tickets would be available at each price point. And they did not indicate what kind of view would be available at the actual venue for any price point. No other organisation would be allowed to get away with this.

But worse, they were totally incapable of telling anyone what tickets they were allocated until weeks after the money for said tickets was charged against the customer's account. In most businesses this would be considered at best ridiculous and at worst fraudulent. The London 2012 bureaucrats do not seem to even understand that there was a problem here. No doubt they will give themselves huge bonuses for achieving such incompetence.

Nature is allegedly worth zillions to the UK (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK's parks, lakes, forests and wildlife are worth billions of pounds to the economy, says a major report.

The health benefits of merely living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year, it concludes.

The National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) says that for decades, the emphasis has been on producing more food and other goods - but this has harmed other parts of nature that generate hidden wealth.

Ministers who commissioned the NEA will use it to re-shape planning policy.

This is all just par for the course. People who want to stop (other) humans from doing (pretty much) anything come up with an economic analysis which shows that doing (pretty much) anything is harmful. The weird thing here is that the people who wrote this report have only managed to come up with a value of 300 pounds per person per year, which is chicken feed. Surely they could have come up with a much higher number than that (by a factor of at least 100) if only they had tried a bit harder. Nobody is going to lose sleep over 300 pounds per person per year.

The current Tory government of course is run by people who do not really care one way or the other about the alleged value of Nature. But the reason they are on board with this report is that Tories are the propertied class, and the propertied class has a vested financial interest in making sure that no development of any kind is allowed in their backyard. The NEA will just be used to allow an "objective" argument to be made against such development.

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