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Caveat Emptor

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

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Social Mobility in Australia

Australia truly is an amazing country. Of course we all know it is a classless society but I hadn't quite realized the extent to which it epitomizes liquid modernity.

I was a bit puzzled by my unexpected déclassement when yesterday I filled in ABC's class calculator  which is based on the work reported in this publication coming out of ANU. In fact I was so puzzled I filled it in again - with the same answers and, because I'm an obsessive, I even had a third go. Here is the screen shot of the outcome of iteration 2 and 3.

So, in the space of 24 hours I've gone from being part of the "established working" class to membership of the "mobile middle"  and in two minutes from the "mobile middle" class to the "established middle" class. All on the basis of inputting exactly the same information. I'm beginning to think that someone, somewhere, is taking the piss. Perhaps they outsourced the programming to Crocodile Dundee. Now he would appreciate liquid modernity. Still, Australia does have some wonderful philosophers.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Prolier than thou

Fair dinkum cobber, the land of the cultural cringe has come up with its own version of the Great British Class Survey and like the original it has its own little online quiz you can take  which will reveal where you fit into the (class) scheme of things. For a bit of fun I filled it in and this is what came back:

So in Britain with exactly the same characteristics I was classified as part of the "elite" but in Australia I would just be established working class. That really is the world turned upside down. Clearly stratification works a bit different according to Australian rules. Or perhaps there are just a few little glitches in the old programming there Bruce. 

Just time for a few tinnies of the amber nectar before I settle down to watch what is going on in Ramsey Street. I should be so lucky.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Friday Night Music

A little something for the weekend?

Shawn Colvin and Richard Thompson.

That will do nicely.

I'm so excited

As Kate Fox points out at great length in Watching the English we are, on the whole, a reserved lot.  We find introductions awkward; we are entirely capable of holding a  stilted conversation with a stranger at a social event without introducing ourselves or bothering to find out the other fellow's name. In fact we don't care what their name is - it makes it easier to ignore them next time round. By instinct we are masters of understatement, pessimists, inverted snobs, turn everything into a joke, and are easily embarrassed by overt displays of  "enthusiasm" or emotion. We must drive the natives of other nations bonkers.

So now explain to me a convention that I've observed developing in the academic twittersphere.  It now seems de rigueur to tweet something along the lines of: "So excited to be sharing a platform with (fill in the name of a very serious person)" or words to that effect. Excited? Really? Are there any signs of somatic arousal? Has your pulse quickened? Breathing got shallow? Having trouble controlling bodily functions? No? I thought not. The English do not get excited by the thought of going to an academic seminar. Let's get real, half of the audience won't even be listening, they'll be too busy telling all their friends where they are.

So here we are again, self-puffing bullshit. The English are not modest. They just do self-promotion in a different way.

Which is all in the way of an excuse for a bit of Pointer Sisters.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Bullshitization of Everything

Last weekend I began watching the BBC's documentary Ted Hughes: stronger than death. To be honest his poetry leaves me cold, but when I went to school he was one of the "modern poets" we were supposed to "respond" to.  How was I supposed to respond to  poems about hawks and  jaguars,  animals I had never  seen in the flesh, not even in a zoo?  To me they were just words.

Roughly two and a half minutes into the documentary the following text appears on screen: This major documentary explores how Ted Hughes's life shaped his vision as a poet. Is this what it has come to? The gratuitous self-puff.  Surely it is for the viewer to decide how "major" it is not for the maker to so describe it. And what utter triteness. Do we really need to be told that a poet's life shapes their vision? For G...'s sake, what else is going to do it?

And so bullshit routinely consumes everything. Of course you could  say, don't take it so seriously, it's all just a game you know, nudge, nudge, wink, wink... But that is to miss the point. Bullshit once it becomes established is not optional, it becomes coercive. Not agreeing to "play the game" becomes a black mark against you. 

It now seems compulsory to describe every academic event, meeting or institution in PR speak as "vibrant" and if you refuse to play along you are immediately suspected of being at best a kill-joy and at worst subversive. If you think that personal and professional authenticity is important and that the words we use actually matter, you should be concerned. The signs that bullshit and the bullshitters have won are all around us. The fact that we have come to take Newspeak for  granted is the biggest victory. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

What's wrong with changing your mind?

So, all the rent a mouths are sounding off about the Shadow Chancellor changing his mind about the government's so called "charter of fiscal responsibility" (actually a charter of fiscal irresponsibility but we are in Newspeak territory here). Everyone can agree that he probably should have thought about it a bit more (perhaps taken some advice) before signing up in the first place, but shouldn't we actually be congratulating him for realising that it really isn't sensible for anyone, let alone a sovereign state, to bind themselves absolutely not to borrow even for investment purposes in normal times (whatever they are)? Come on guys, its not that difficult, even this non-economist, can figure that one out.

Of course the politics of backtracking needs careful handling. Perhaps that nice Mr Corbyn can call up a few competent mates to explain rather vigorously why McDonnell is now espousing roughly the right thing. Or is the tactic to let the half of the party that doesn't know what it is talking about blather on and provide even more copy for the idiot media that are attracted to all the sound and fury rather than the actual policy issue at stake.

As Keynes said, or perhaps didn't say: when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?

Friday, 9 October 2015

Life is stranger than art

It's funny how occasionally you come across little snippets of information that momentarily knock your otherwise stable image of the world a little sideways. Often the information is of little significance in and of itself, but it's like an inverse loose thread, when you pull it things don't unravel, but on the contrary you begin to see how things are connected together.

The other day I was reading about Arthur Henry Ashford Wynn who as "Agent Scott"  turned out to be the major recruiter to the Oxford Spy Ring that the Soviets attempted to establish in the 30s and 40s. He actually had a remarkable life, a distinguished public service career, and appears to have done much good in the world. There is little evidence that anyone he recruited ever passed on anything of much importance to the Soviets.

Wynn's second wife was Margaret "Peggy" Moxon. She was apparently the first girl from Barnsley High School to get into Oxford and, it is alleged by Boris Volodarsky, that as well as being active in Oxford CPGB circles she was the agent referred to in Soviet intelligence files as "Bunny". Now here is the curious fact. The Wynns had four children and if you look their births up in the England & Wales Civil Registration Indexes you will find that for one of them, born in the mid 40s, the maiden name of the mother is given as Moscow! Serendipitous mistranscription or was she leaving a joke for posterity?

That is mildly amusing, but reading a little more about Wynn uncovered another surprising Oxford connection. As well as being a brilliant scientific polymath,  he also qualified for the bar and before the war had intended to form a partnership with his friend Stafford Cripps specializing in trade union law. This plan was scuppered by the outbreak of war. 

Now in 1942 Stafford Cripps returned to Britain from the Soviet Union where he had been  British Ambassador and immediately entered the War Cabinet as Lord Privy Seal. It turns out that he was a close friend of none other than Robert Rene Kuczynski the German refugee scion of an extremely wealthy and well connected banking family. Kuczynski held the Readership in Demography at the London School of Economics and after arriving in Britain in the 1930s he and his family took up residence in the infamous Lawn Road Flats where they were neighbours of, among others, Arnold Deutch (the controller of the Cambridge 5 and Athrur Wynn's recruiter) and Melita Norwood - the so called "spy who came in from the co-op". 

It is now well established that Kuczynski passed on War Cabinet gossip he acquired from Cripps about Britain's attitude towards the Soviet Union to his daughter Ursula  (Sonya) who was a Soviet agent (and later Klaus Fuch's handler) and that Ursula Kuczynski transmitted this information to Moscow from a Heath Robinson radio transmitter she had erected in the cottage she rented in the grounds of Neville Laski's house on Oxford's Woodstock Road. Neville Laski, a distinguished judge, was the older brother of the LSE's Harold Laski, though he did not share his brother's political views. Chapman Pincher makes the case that Neville Laski and Roger Hollis (the head of MI5) were on friendly terms, though the evidence for this seems to be entirely circumstantial. 

The broad outlines of who knew who are rather clear. Much less clear are the outlines of who knew what. Nevertheless there is a fascinating web of connections linking Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE. It wouldn't be at all surprising if British Intelligence took an interest in what was going on in British Universities.

And here is a thought to end with. Wouldn't it be richly ironic if the tremendous growth of sociology as a discipline in the UK in the 1960s was strongly influenced by the security concerns of the 1930s and 40s? The role of the Oxford "spys", in as far as it can be determined,  was essentially to become sleepers in the British establishment.  Of course it's not unknown for the security services to make use of their own sleepers.