Thursday, 27 April 2017

Herding cats

There have been some truly valiant efforts , by visionaries and well meaning folk, to corral and herd that most independent of animals- the cat.
Many efforts have, however, been in vain as the cat is probably the most independent and unmanageable animal - it is said that cats adopt their "owners", rather than the other way around.

Image courtesy of Ben Schonewille at
And yet we must learn from the rare successes and understand the methods and techniques used to achieve the seemingly impossible.  Good cat managers learn to herd or manage even the most recalcitrant of felines.  There are a few key methods:

Feed with cream and fresh salmon:  This method involves pampering the favourites, tempting them to stay in the home or close by, through rewards, reserving special places close to the warm fire and through a laissez-faire atitude towards expectations of actual work.  If the pampered feline does not feel that the warmth and praise that they think they deserve they could simply take up residence in another "owners" home.

Occasional rewards: This involves rewarding the traditional hard work of felines - ridding the premises of pests such as rats and mice.  These cats are expected to earn their meals and are rewarded with occasional tidbits or treats if they limit their hunting to nasty rats and do not disturb valued garden birds.  Worker cats feel fortunate to be rewarded at all and stay close to the home.  All other homes have their own worker cats and so shun those seeking to decamp.

Shotgun approach: This is reserved for the non-working, feral and nuisance cats.  These cats have earned the ire of "owners" by being as indolent as the papmered "cream and salmon" recipients but without the redeeming qualities of either pedigree or rat "kills".  The method involves pointing a shotgun at the feline and pulling the trigger.

Of course, those in positions of power and influence also weild the weapon of regulation - measuring the success of the herd through arbitrary measures, such as: Number of rats killed, success of offspring, presumed "happiness" of other creatures that the herd comes into contact with - typically undertaken by survey techniques.  Some call this Feline Efficiency Technique (F.E.T).  Others call it meddling.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A hermit's life for me!

St. Cuthbert (AD 635 - 687) spent most of his adult life as a hermit, despite being Prior of Lindisfarne Abbey on Holy Island.  He found peace on a small island off Holy Island in Northumbria (cut off by the tide twice daily) and then on Inner Farne - which today he would have shared with National Trust Rangers, Seals and Puffins - oh, and tourists...

St. Cuthbert's Cave, Northumbria.  Picture by Mrs Twitface
Here's a picture of St. Cuthbert's Cave - not one of his hideaways in life but one where his body was hidden to avoid Viking raiders years after his death.  It's a nicer picture than his island.

Anyway, Academics are hermits.

Academics find peace and time for reflection and contemplation in so many ways:
  • Study Leave
  • International Conferences
  • "Working from home"
  • "Sick" leave brought about by stress (typically self-induced)
  • Out of Office messages
  • "Office Hours"
  • Being "very busy and important" - so no time for idle chit chat...
  • Being surly (relates only to some academics)
  • Saying "It's not in my job description"
  • Doing "Research"
Ahhh, the peace and quiet of the truly academic life........

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Deserving and the Undeserving Poor

The human race has an all-consuming need to categorise fellow humans, measuring their "worth" against an agreed set of values and principles.
Unfortunately this human need has been at the root of racism, religious intolerance, snobbery and discrimination of all kinds - ALL of which provides false "value" to those on the "right side" and unnecessary pain to everyone else.
The Model Workhouse at Southwell.  Picture by Greendead
Take, for example, the model workhouse of the 19th Century created by the Southwell Union of parishes and used as a pattern for workhouses throughout the UK.  The principle that the worthy clerics and burghers of Southwell were charged with was simple: Each parish had the duty to provide for its own poor.  Southwell did so by providing a place where punishment for being poor was balanced with sympathy and care for the old and infirm by categorising inmates as follows:

Males / Females / Children: All separated on entry and only mothers could see children on Sundays if both had been "good".
Old and Infirm / Idle and indolent (i.e of healthy body but just having decided to sponge off the Parish rather than earn money).  The old had days of rest but the idle were given boring repetitive tasks as a deterrent to sloth.

Of course, we can see parallels in our psyche and systems today but it is the judgement of the "elders and betters" that I want to focus on - The Mr Bumbles, Clerics and appointed clerks in each Parish.

But there's no time to elaborate here, I've got to go and mark some exams and then prepare for the exam board with my academic colleagues so that we can categorise another generation of students...

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A ONE year degree - for you mate, call it 9 months

Ahhh the freedom from constraints of the "traditional" THREE year undergraduate degree.  Thank goodness "Saint" Jo Johnson is spearheading the encouragement of competition and private provision in the UK Higher Education sector.

A shake up from the market, where HE is joined by those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, plus regulation to highlight the deficiences of those that can only get a bronze.

So, what would a shorter degree look like?

Jo Johnson is very likely to end his life as a peer - and the sooner that elevation comes, the better.