Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Meanwhile at home...

We've a little electoral business of our own to keep an eye on this week. Is it going to be Ae Fond Kiss or We Can Swing Together? And if it's the latter where, geographically, is Devo max going to end?

Three days before the Scottish referendum the polling  numbers suggest that the result is too close to call. It could easily go either way and  I won't  be wagering the family silver on it. 

A quick look at the bookies seems to suggest that the betting public is favouring No with the current odds at  about 1/4.  Of course most of the punters won't be voting so there is no reason to believe that they have any special insight into how things are going to turn out.  On the other hand my colleague Stephen Fisher has a very interesting blog piece on the tendency of polls to over predict Yes votes.

With nothing personal at stake and no reputation as a political pundit to damage  it's a small risk for me to say that my gut instinct is that the Scots will say No and that the difference will be 3-4 per cent.  We shall see.

Sweden moves to the left...or is it the right?

The outcome of the Swedish election is that the Social Democrats will try to form a government in coalition with the other left and centre left parties. But as is clear from DN's front page graphic the aggregate result is actually indicative of a shift to the right. The left block maintained their overall position, while the centre right lost ground to the  xenophobic populist Sweden Democrats (does this  suggest a possible scenario over here in 2015?). At the moment neither the left nor the right block want to touch the Sweden Democrats with a barge pole. 

That was easy to say when the SwDs only had 6 per cent of the votes. Now they have 13 per cent and are the third largest party with  just less than 50 seats. Still, a party that refuses to have an integration policy because it doesn't want any integration is going to be difficult for the mainstream parties to do business with.

So unless the left block can attract one of the smaller centre right parties to join the coalition they are going to have to rely on ad hoc deals done on an issue by issue basis. Clearly there is going to be trouble ahead. I've a feeling I've seen this before - wasn't it called Borgen...?

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The ruling ideas (again)...

This is weird. So according to the Independent the BBC's live coverage of yesterday's speech by TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady was interrupted to bring the nation the joyous news that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant again. 

But hang on, I knew that already. The pregnancy was already being reported in Neue Welt two weeks ago. For the less media savvy of you Neue Welt is a picture magazine aimed at German pensioners with a special interest in the more trivial doings of European royalty, domestic film stars and schlager singers (I'm not a subscriber, but my mother-in-law is).

A more cynical observer might wonder why the champion of the working classes was removed from our screens for a story that was already stale in the rest of Europe. Panem et circenses.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Call It Sleep

Over the weekend I've been racking my brain. In my last post I mentioned cornflowers. I wonder if you ever get that feeling, you know, something sparks off a dim association, really no more than a feeling, but you can't quite make the connection? I knew that I had read or seen something recently in which cornflowers play a pivotal role, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what. Try as I might I couldn't get it into  focus. Was it a film? or something on TV? or something I've read? 

And then it came to me: Henry Roth's minor masterpiece Call it Sleep. If you've read it you'll know that a painting of cornflowers has pivotal plot significance - again a symbol of longing in this case for something that is long past. I won't spoil your enjoyment by saying more.

I know of no better account of the immigrant experience, the fact that it is Jewish Lower East Side immigrant experience just adds specificity. There is some Joycean stream of consciousness which  I could take or leave and the last fifth of the book drags a bit towards a slightly contrived conclusion. But the first half is so good that it's not ridiculous to claim that Call it Sleep is one of the greatest American novels and that Henry Roth deserves to be better known over here.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Die Andere Heimat

No trip  to Germany is complete without a visit to Saturn to  pick up  DVDs. This time we came back with Edgar Reitz's Die Andere Heimat: Chronik Einer Sehnsucht

It's a prequel to his Heimat trilogy and deals with the same Simon family in the same Hunsrueck village but now set in the hungry 1840s. Life is hard, the Prussians are oppressive - there are some gay memories of the French occupation - the local Baron is unsympathetic and the children drop like flies. But life goes on. Jakob the son of the blacksmith is a hopeless dreamer immersed in books about  Brazilian Indians (and not much use to his family). His older and more worldly brother Gustav returns from military service, gets on with life, builds a steam engine, gets Jakob's girl pregnant and has to marry her. Naturally the child is snatched away by diphtheria and the young couple decide enough is enough and join the hundreds of others who are emigrating to Brazil. The first letter home which takes more than a year to arrive comes too late for the mother  - she has just been laid in the ground. Jakob makes his peace with his father & uses his bookish learning to improve his brother's steam engine by adding a regulator.

And that's about it as far as plot goes. It doesn't sound much, but actually it is more than enough to fill four hours. It's beautifully shot in black and white with very occasional bits of colour - often cornflour blue, symbolic of longing. A fair bit of the dialogue is in dialect which was too tough for my ropey German, but the more pedestrian Hochdeutsch subtitles meant I could follow most of it. I guess it will make it to British screens soon. Here's a taster.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Make me smile (come up and see me)

Just realized (apropos my last post) that this is  the perfect musical comment on the current state of UK universities.

The ruling ideas...

Henry Farrell hits the nail on the head at the end of his latest Crooked Timber post:

"One of the least appreciated problems of economic inequality is that it tends to filter out ideas that are uncongenial to rich people, and to heavily overweight ideas that they like. Universities like to think of themselves as removed from all of this. More and more, they are not."

Indeed, and UK universities are just as vulnerable to this threat as those in the US.

Occasionally however even the most supine and craven of managements realize that they have gone a tad too far. I once worked at an institution where it was seriously proposed by the hi' heid yins that a well healed celebrity chef who happened to be an alumni should sit on the board tasked with appointing a professor of sociology. Eventually they were persuaded that this might, perhaps,  er... lead to the appointment becoming an object of ridicule. With some reluctance the plan was dropped. What was interesting was that sociology was chosen for this stunt. I doubt they would have tried it on with the economics department.