Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Intelligentsia fake news

January 21, 2021

We’ve had four years of hearing about idiots spreading fake news on social media and media generally. This isn’t a great example, but it nicely illustrates the depths that the educated have observed and laughed at:

What, though, I suspect is more insidious and dangerous is the ‘educated’ classes using social media to spread fake news. Of course, they are no more aware it is fake news than what Keynes called the ‘boorish proletariat’. The difference is that the educated, if indeed they are educated, should know better.

If you haven’t seen this viral video about the Pfizer/Moderna Covid vaccine, take a look:

Frightening, isn’t it? It concerned me enough to ask someone who actually knows a lot about DNA whether there is anything to it. Here is what he said:

Introduction:

One aspect I find interesting is that certain types of fake news are actually preferentially spread by more formally educated people. Some of the anti-vaccine stuff may fall into that category. Or a lot of pseudoscience about childcare, for example the disproportionate attention to breast-feeding from mothers of higher socioeconomic status. It seems that spreading pseudoscience can be a reflection of privilege, or almost a status symbol. The other curious aspect is that many people who distribute similar beliefs (e.g. covid / lockdown sceptics) actually pride themselves on their “independent thinking” – based on things they picked up on social media…

 Summary:

In the video, a gentleman sitting at a desk recaps (mostly correctly) the basics of molecular biology and how DNA is translated into proteins using mRNA as a blueprint, and how RNA vaccines use this mechanism to induce an immune response to proteins that have been generated by the cell’s own machinery. Along the way, the presenter seems to have an interest in semantic debates and attempts to redefine the meaning of commonly used technical terms. For instance, he invents his own definition of the term “vaccine” and, somewhat curiously, deduces that RNA vaccines are not vaccines at all. In the end, he concludes with a non sequitur about vaccine risks, which allegedly may arise from RNA vaccines in particular, as opposed to vaccines in general, somehow generating long-term auto-immune reactions – how exactly is not explained.

In short: the video looks like regular social media disinformation.

Explication:

Cells contain a lot of RNA. In fact, there have been major international research efforts to characterise all the many different types of RNA encountered in human cells. The types of RNA found in a cell can be very diverse. Whether all of them serve any specific purpose, or are simply a side product of molecular machinery accidentally producing junk, is often not clear. RNA does not enter the nucleus, where our genetic information is stored. RNA is not DNA, and it does not self-reproduce. RNA molecules are very unstable. (This is the reason the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine needs to be shipped at -70 degrees.) In human cells, the half-life of RNA is estimated to be of the order of minutes, not hours or days or years. It is not obvious how this is meant to induce long term auto-immune reactions against RNA. (Like many vaccines, RNA vaccines can of course induce short-term immediate immune reactions following the vaccination.)

In fact, RNA vaccines are probably just as likely to be safer than traditional vaccines. (Traditional vaccines often contain modified pathogens, where strict quality controls for purity are required to make sure that no live pathogens are introduced into the vaccine. Or they may be using functional but harmless viruses as a carrier vehicle.) RNA vaccines are based on injecting a naturally abundant, incredibly short-lived molecule, which we know will be naturally purged from our body in a very short amount of time.

But ultimately this discussion is academic. Vaccines go through large-scale trials to assess safety and efficacy in practice, as opposed to theory. Covid vaccines have been tested in trials of 10s of thousands of people, which are supervised by regulators and widely published in openly accessible peer reviewed journals [1]. Serious adverse events are rare. They are fully described in the publications, and are typically similar in vaccine and control groups, so likely not related to the vaccine itself. And even if we assumed the extremely unlikely case that all serious adverse events were due to the vaccine, the likelihood of these is clearly an order of magnitude less than the likelihood of the very well characterised real effects of Covid-19, at least for a middle aged male like myself, and much less severe.

If I personally had a choice between RNA vaccines and traditional vaccines, I’d go for the RNA vaccine. They are likely to be as safe or safer, and they may also be more effective in the case of Covid-19 vaccines. In fact, I’d be prepared to pay some money if it meant I could get the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine tomorrow.

Disclaimer: I am not an immunologist, nor involved in vaccine research. However, I am professionally active in the area of genetics and involved in Coronavirus testing and research.

[1] Pifzer vaccine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2034577 ; Moderna vaccine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2035389

Lessons?

It doesn’t matter how educated you are. If you are off-subject, keep your mouth shut unless you have checked your facts and believe there is a demonstrable case that you know what you are talking about.

Otherwise, you are going to get found out, just like Donald J. Trump.

The author of the anti-Pfizer/Moderna vaccine would do well to reflect on the new Sleaford Mods album. In particular, I recommend the tracks Shortcummings and The New Brick.

More, later:

Turns out the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine is just better than the regular vaccine from AstraZeneca (FT, sub required). Coz it is progress n science n stuff. Sorry, hippies, sorry, bourgeois cretins.

Vogel passes, leaving lessons for us all

December 21, 2020

Ezra Vogel, a remarkable East Asia scholar, author of the best biography of Deng Xiaoping, and all round generous, decent man, has passed away. Below is an obituary posted by his son. If you work on developing countries, the takeaway for me is the breadth of intellectual tools that Ezra Vogel applied during his life to produce outstanding scholarship. This was no one-trick pony.

Ezra F. Vogel, 90, one of the country’s leading experts on East Asia through a career that spanned six decades, passed away in Cambridge, MA, December 20 due to complications from surgery.

Vogel studied an extraordinary range of substantive topics in multiple countries from the perspectives of various academic disciplines, retooling himself as a scholar many times over in his academic career.  He was originally trained as a sociologist studying the family in the United States.  He devoted two years to language study and field research in Japan in 1958-60, emerging as a specialist on Japanese society.  He then embarked on Chinese-language study in the 1960s, before it was possible to travel to mainland China, and became an accomplished scholar of Chinese society as well.  His scholarship spanned from family issues, to social welfare, industrial policy, international relations, and history.  He served as the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia with the National Intelligence Council from 1993 to 1995, and maintained a strong interest in U.S. foreign and security policy in Asia from that time.  He turned to history in his later years, producing magisterial works on Deng Xiaoping and Sino-Japanese relations. 

Vogel’s scholarship was not restricted to any single methodology, but rather reflected his drive to get the story right through whatever means necessary.  For his research on the Japanese family, he engaged in intensive ethnographic research with his first wife, Suzanne Hall Vogel, interviewing six families about once a week for a year.  He kept up with some of the families over the years, and the family friendships now span three generations.  For his first book on China, he relied primarily on interviews in Hong Kong with refugees who had escaped from the Guangzhou region.  He was a passionate life-long student of language, and he mastered both Japanese and Chinese.  He took pride in his ability to conduct research and give public lectures in both languages.

Vogel will be most remembered for his boundless good cheer and boyish enthusiasm.  He grew up in the small town of Delaware, Ohio, the son of Jewish immigrants, Joe and Edith Vogel.  His father ran a men’s and boys’ clothing store in the center of town, the People’s Store, and he often helped out.  He managed to transfer the effusive friendliness of a small-town shoe salesman to the unlikely corridors of Harvard University and Washington D.C.  He had an irrepressible ability to see the good in every person and every nation, while recognizing nonetheless that many of us fall short of our ideals.  He sustained a network of Japanese graduate students and young scholars at Harvard, the “juku” (study group), which met regularly at his home in Cambridge until the Coronovirus pandemic intervened.  He hosted smaller groups of students working on China as well.  He participated in a reunion of former students, colleagues, and “juku” members almost every summer in Tokyo.

Vogel was a devoted husband and father, who hosted a celebration for his extended family at his home every holiday season for the past 25 years.  The 2020 reunion was to be via Zoom on the day he passed away.  He loved keeping up with friends, family and colleagues.  Undeterred by COVID-19, he raved about his ability to talk to family and colleagues in Japan, China, and other parts of the world with Zoom.  He and his wife Charlotte were supportive companions.  Among other activities, they enjoyed running daily for twenty years.  When his knees began to falter, they turned to biking for the last twenty years.  He even biked four miles one day shortly before he died.  He maintained long-term friendships, regularly going back for high school and college reunions in his hometown.  He made a major gift to his hometown alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan, of the entire royalties from the mainland Chinese edition of his biography of Deng Xiaoping.

Vogel was the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard.  After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan in 1950 and serving two years in the U.S. Army, he studied sociology in the Department of Social Relations at Harvard, receiving his Ph.D. in 1958.  In 1960-1961 he was assistant professor at Yale University and from 1961-1964 a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, studying Chinese language and history.  He remained at Harvard, becoming a lecturer in 1964 and a professor in 1967.  He retired from teaching in 2000.

Vogel was also an institution builder at Harvard.  He succeeded John Fairbank to become the second Director (1972-1977) of Harvard’s East Asian Research Center and Chairman of the Council for East Asian Studies (1977-1980).  He co-founded the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Center for International Affairs and served as its first Director (1980-1987) and as Honorary Director ever since.  He was Chairman of the undergraduate concentration in East Asian Studies from its inception in 1972 until 1991.  He was Director of the Fairbank Center (1995-1999) and the first Director of the Asia Center (1997-1999).  He was Chairman of the Harvard Committee to Welcome President Jiang Zemin (1998).  He also served as Co-Director of the Asia Foundation Task Force on East Asian Policy Recommendations for the New Administration (2001).

Drawing on his original field work in Japan, he wrote Japan’s New Middle Class (1963).  A book based on several years of interviewing and reading materials from China, Canton Under Communism (1969), won the Harvard University Press faculty book of the year award.  The Japanese edition of his book Japan as Number One: Lessons for America (1979) was a breakaway best-seller in Japan.  In Comeback (1988), he suggested things America might do to respond to the Japanese challenge.  He spent eight months in 1987, at the invitation of the Guangdong Provincial Government, studying the economic and social progress of the province since it took the lead in pioneering economic reform in 1978.  The results are reported in One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong Under Reform (1989).  His Reischauer Lectures were published as The Four Little Dragons: The Spread of Industrialization in East Asia (1991).  He visited East Asia every year after 1958 and spent a total of over six years in the region.  He returned from his most recent trip to China in January, just as word was first coming out about the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the age of 81, Vogel published the definitive biography of Deng Xiaoping, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (2011).  The book won: the 2012 Lionel Gelber Prize, Lionel Gelber Foundation, Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto; Honorable Mention 2012 for the Bernard Schwartz Book Award, Asia Society; Finalist 2011 for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography; a Bloomberg News Favorite Book of 2014; and Esquire China Book of the Year 2012; a Gates Notes Top Read of 2012; an Economist Best Book of 2011; a Financial Times Best Book of 2011; a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice 2011; a Wall Street Journal Book of the Year 2011, and a Washington Post Best Book of 2011.  The book became a bestseller in China.

At the age of 89, he published China and Japan: Facing History (2019), which reviews the history of political and cultural ties between the two nations over 1500 years.  Vogel hoped that the book would offer an accurate portrayal of how the two countries learned from each other over the centuries, but also serve to encourage the Chinese and Japanese leaders to forge a more constructive relationship going forward.  Vogel was also concerned about the state of U.S.-China relations

Vogel received honorary degrees from Kwansei Gakuin (Japan), the Monterrey Institute, the Universities of Maryland, Massachusetts (Lowell), Wittenberg, Bowling Green, Albion, Ohio Wesleyan, Chinese University (Hong Kong) and Yamaguchi University (Japan).  He received the Japan Foundation Prize in 1996 and the Japan Society Prize in 1998.

Vogel is survived by his wife of 41 years, Charlotte Ikels; son David Vogel of Cambridge, MA; son Steven Vogel of Berkeley, CA; daughter Eve Vogel of Amherst, MA; sister Fay Bussgang of Dedham, MA; and five grandchildren. 

Resource links

Scholar profile here.

Harvard Fairbank Center profile here.

Wikipedia page here.

Amazon book page here.

YouTube videos here.

New York Times interviews here.

The fight against fascism: UK chapter

March 5, 2019

I wonder if we should Crowdfund money for Tommy Robinson to do a really good Research Methodologies Master’s? There is little doubt he is smart enough to get on such a course, which is why he is such a menace. But would he apply himself to the learning?

This from The Guardian:

……

Journalist calls police as Tommy Robinson makes video at his home

Far-right activist and Ukip adviser appears at 11pm and again at 5am in retaliation for delivery of legal letter

Peter Walker and Nazia Parveen

Tue 5 Mar 2019 12.53 GMT Last modified on Tue 5 Mar 2019 13.34 GMT

 

English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London

 

A journalist has made a complaint to police after the far-right activist Tommy Robinson appeared outside his house during the night, repeatedly knocking on the door and windows and demanding to speak to him.

Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who is an adviser to the Ukip leader Gerard Batten, filmed himself outside the Luton home of Mike Stuchbery, who often writes about far-right issues.

In the footage, which was live-streamed to the internet, Robinson demanded to speak to Stuchbery, and promised to return again on other nights.

Robinson gave Stuchbery’s street address and threatened to give out the home addresses of other journalists, saying: “I’m going to make a documentary that exposes every single one of you, every single detail about every one of you. Where you live, where you work, everything about you is going to be exposed.”

In a series of tweets sent at the time Stuchbery said he remained in the house and called the police. Robinson went away when officers attended the scene, but according to Stuchbery he then returned at 5am, asking again to be let in.

@MikeStuchbery_
I’ve spent the last few months documenting how ‘Tommy Robinson’ uses doorstepping to intimidate his critics, and how social media giants have enabled it.

So what does he do? Turns up at my house tonight. 1/

Solicitor Tasnime Akunjee said Stuchbery was left shaken following the incident.

He said: “Mr Lennon turned up at Mike Stuchbery’s home address at roughly 11pm and again at 5am. On both occasions he violently banged on Mr Stuchbery’s doors and windows causing alarm and distress to the occupants.”

In a later tweet, Stuchbery said he had made a statement to police, and handed them video and audio footage of the incident.

From comments Robinson made in the stream video, his motivation seems to have been the filing of a legal letter to his family home on Sunday, giving him formal notice of an intended libel action by lawyers representing a Syrian refugee who was allegedly attacked at school.

Stuchbery was among people who helped organise a crowdfund which raised £10,300 to help pay for the legal action against Robinson, founder of the English Defence League anti-Islam street protest group.

Footage of the 15-year-old victim, who can be identified only as Jamal, being pushed to the ground at his Huddersfield school and having water poured on his face attracted widespread condemnation in December.

Hours after the video went viral, Robinson claimed on Facebook that Jamal had previously attacked three schoolgirls and a boy, something denied by the mother of one of the girls allegedly assaulted.

Facebook deleted several of Robinson’s videos for violating community standards after Jamal’s family announced their intention to sue in November.

On Tuesday the page was removed as Robinson was permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for repeatedly breaking policies on hate speech. Facebook said he broke rules that ban public calls for violence against people based on protected characteristics; rules that ban supporting or appearing with organised hate groups; and policies that prevent people from using the site to bully others.

Robinson said by email that the delivery of the letter entailed “intimidating an innocent woman and her children by sending five men with a dog to the house whilst I wasn’t even in the country”. Stuchbery said on Twitter that the letter was handed to a police officer 50m away from Robinson’s property.

In November last year, Batten appointed Robinson as his official adviser on prisons and grooming gangs, seen as part of a wider move of Ukip towards the far right.

The Ukip leader said Robinson, who faces a possible retrial after successfully appealing against a jail term for contempt of court for live-streaming videos to Facebook from outside a grooming gang case, had “great knowledge” about the subjects.

Robinson has been approached for further comment.

 

More on research methodologies / talking shit:

Meanwhile, after the British Prime Minister yesterday said there is ‘no direct correlation’ between police cuts (plus, she seemed to me to imply, austerity more generally)  and the rise in knife crime in the UK…

If you look at the figures, what you see is that there’s no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers. What matters is how we ensure that police are responding to these criminal acts when they take place, that people are brought to justice.

… it appears she has taken some advice on research methodologies, data regression, significance at the five-percent level, and so forth.

Today, knife crime was the main subject at a cabinet meeting and the vicar’s daughter plans to get jolly serious about tackling it. She did not, however, make herself available in parliament or to the press.

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who in that job tried the no-correlation essay question answer herself — despite leaked documents from her own ministry showing its staff do think there is a link — also seems to have decided it is a 2:2 answer (or worse) and is pretending she never said anything.

From Guardian Live:

Q: What do you think of Theresa May’s comment about there being no direct correlation between police numbers and the incidence of violent crime, given your previous role as home secretary?

Rudd says these crimes are heartbreaking. There are many different elements explaining the increase, she says. She says there have been a lot of new government interventions. She hopes they will make a difference. >

I honestly cannot remember a time in my life when the British police came across as so much more measured and thoughtful than the ruling politicians.

 

 

 

 

 

The fight against fascism: China chapter

February 28, 2019

If you missed reports of the shenanigans at Canada’s McMaster University last week, then the following article by academic Kevin Carrico is well worth a read. Universities are letting a minority of Chinese students behave in ways that are utterly unacceptable. One speculates that they do this because many universities depend heavily on Chinese students for fee income, because they and their academics fear the Chinese Communist Party, and because university administrations tend to be pretty weak-kneed.

Colleges should punish international students who engage in threats, racial hatred and intelligence gathering for Beijing

Last week, Rukiye Turdush came to McMaster University to make a presentation on a sombre topic: the arbitrary and indefinite detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in concentration camps in the region that the People’s Republic of China calls Xinjiang.

Unsurprisingly, Turdush is critical of this policy, and rightly so. A group of students from the People’s Republic, however, disagreed with the critical impetus of the talk. They planned in advance to attend and disrupt the talk with shouting and cursing.

Why film the talk? Having experienced this form of intimidation myself, the not-so-subtle message implied is that recordings of the talk will be provided to the Chinese Consulate. This is not mere speculation on my part: the Washington Post has shown that students were in contact with the People’s Republic of China’s Consulate both before and after the talk.

The Consulate was reportedly interested to know whether any Chinese citizens were involved in the planning of the event, as well as whether any university administrators or other academics were present. The students involved also stated that they intended to “look into” the presenter’s son, who is also a McMaster student.

Disrupting events by speakers with whom one disagrees has unfortunately become the new norm on many university campuses in North America. But in terms of disruptions, this case is really only unique for the sheer horror of what the students were trying to defend: a race-based system of concentration camps.

Yet in the decision to film the event, as well as to coordinate with the PRC Consulate, the students involved crossed a significant red line. Here, the “Western-style” political correctness behind the “no platform” trend meets China-style “political correctness,” enforcing Beijing’s carefully protected orthodoxies abroad.

Filming and providing information to the consulate is an act of intelligence-gathering, as well as a threat, insofar as the intelligence is provided to a dictatorship engaged in crimes against humanity.

Not only the speaker but indeed students and academics in the audience could easily be blacklisted from China, and anyone with family in the PRC could see their family bear the brunt of the authorities’ anger.

If anyone present happened to have a Uyghur relative still in China then mere presence at this talk would be more than sufficient grounds to send their entire family off into the concentration camp system, perhaps never to be heard from again.

However, despite the gravity of these students’ acts, more than a week after the event, there is still no hint of any punishment for the students involved. Rukiye Turdush personally told me that she has asked the university if there will be any repercussions for the students, and has received no answer.

After a few mildly shocked newspaper articles, everyone now seems to have moved on.

Imagine for a moment if a group of white students had done this to Native Americans. Or if a group of Afrikaner students had intimidated indigenous anti-racism activists during the era of Apartheid. Or if a group of German students had during the Hitler years recorded and provided information to the German Consulate on Jewish refugees.

Let’s even imagine that a group of Japanese students had engaged in similar behaviour towards a Chinese student giving a talk on war crimes in World War II. The world would be outraged, and rightly so.

Are international students from China, unlike any other student group in today’s universities, allowed to engage in campaigns of racial hatred, intelligence gathering, and threats against those with whom they disagree?

In contrast to the parallel historical examples of white racism and anti-Semitism provided above, ideologies which we can all join hands in condemning, there sadly remains far too much vacillation in the “Western world” about racism and ongoing crimes against humanity in China today.

In both the North American and Australian contexts in which I have worked, racism is, for obvious historical reasons, perceived as the sole purview of a white majority. This notion and its particular vision of victimiser/victim can complicate discussions of the realities of Chinese racism.

Matters become doubly complicated when this intersects with the ostensibly anti-Orientalist idealisation of China as untroubled by the perennial problems of ‘the West’, widespread in both the popular imagination and academic writings.

For example, as a researcher on PRC nationalism and racism, I have academic colleagues who have expressed to me their discomfort with the idea that there could be racism in China. After all, ethnic identity in Chinese is expressed through the idea of minzu, which is markedly different from the idea of zhongzu as a blood-based race.

Ethnic identity in China, they say, is more open and fluid than the rigid constructions that have plagued us in the West.

That certainly sounds nice, but there really is nothing fluid or open about arbitrarily and indefinitely holding a million people from Turkic minority groups in concentration camps. Nor is there anything fluid or open about shouting down and harassing speakers attempting to raise awareness of these modern-day concentration camps.

All are manifestations of a malignant Han racial supremacism with deep disdain for an “other,” the troubling implications of which are becoming increasingly apparent by the day to anyone willing to face facts.

During my decades of travel in China, countless friends have confided in me that Uyghurs are different: dangerous, natural criminals, disease carriers, prone to terrorist violence, and inherent risks to social stability.

These ideas were already disturbing enough when they were used by interlocutors to argue that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities lived on an earlier stage of evolutionary development behind the Han. And of course, there is disturbingly limited space in both popular culture and academia in China to push back against such racism.

As a result, I have watched with trepidation as these ideas have provided the foundation for the development of an expansive network of concentration camps today in what was to be, just a few years ago, “the China century.”

It is of course disturbing that some students from the PRC, given the opportunity to learn important truths about the PRC government’s behaviour today, choose instead to maintain an information bubble in which any information that is not in the People’s Daily is somehow deceptive slander against an always “mighty, glorious, and correct” Party.

Yet we have truly reached a new level of “disturbing,” now that these students are attempting to intimidate and silence discussion in the Western world of the Chinese Communist Party’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

And undoubtedly the single most disturbing aspect of this entire affair is that when faced with this blatant supremacism, the response has been far too weak.

If the McMaster students involved in threatening and providing intelligence on Rukiye Turdush would like to attend a university in which the Communist Party’s crimes are not openly discussed, and wherein they can actively collaborate with the Beijing regime in its wars against the Uyghurs, there are plenty of such universities in China.

Allowing these students who have engaged in racial profiling, intelligence gathering for a foreign government, and intimidation and harassment to continue to study at McMaster without punishment sends the completely wrong message.

And this is a message that students will remember: that this type of behaviour is acceptable, or at least that they will not face any repercussions for it.

If the University truly wants to create an environment free from harassment, intimidation, discrimination, fear, and racism, the students involved in this affair must be held responsible for their actions.

Doing so will send the right message, not only to potential future offenders, but also to all Chinese, Taiwanese, Hongkonger, Uyghur, and Tibetan students in the West: we will not allow the persecution that you face at home to follow you here.

Another reason to go in to academia

September 21, 2017

This is a wonderful story from today’s South China Morning Post. The only slightly annoying thing is that if they wanted unctuous propaganda masquerading as scholarly endeavour, why didn’t they come to me? I am not saying that I am cheap, but I am absolutely available. My PhD has cost me a fortune.

Have you tried singing ‘Oh, Xi Jinping’ to the sound of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’? It is mildly humouring.

……………………..

Chinese universities encourage professors, students to post online content that promotes ‘socialist values’

Content that influences public opinion with ‘correct thinking and culture’ given same weight as academic papers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 6:43pm

UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 7:00pm

 

China’s top universities are encouraging academics and students to write online articles promoting socialist values, with some offering authors the same academic credits they would get for papers published in journals.

The policy, which follows calls made by President Xi Jinping late last year for academics to become advocates of socialist values and firm supporters of Communist Party rule, has upset some people in the world of academia.

According to a notice issued this month by Zhejiang University, content that is widely circulated online, that shows “core socialist values” and influences public opinion with “correct thinking and culture” now carries the same weight as an academic paper – whether it is in the form of an essay, video or animation.

Content that is posted on the websites and social media platforms of party mouthpieces such as People’s Daily and Xinhua would receive the most credits, the notice said.

“Many professors object to it, saying they do not want to be used for politics,” a PhD student at the university told the South China Morning Post.

“No one is stupid here. The policy is aimed at getting the most intelligent people to say positive things about the country,” said the student, who asked not to be named.

The new scheme is being run by the university’s party committee, he said.

Zhejiang University, which is based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, is not the only seat of learning offering incentives to those who toe the party line. Jilin University in northeastern China is also handing out credits to faculty members whose propaganda is published on state media websites and major commercial news portals.

Propagating the country’s achievements on “mainstream foreign media” also counted as an academic achievement, the university said.

A professor at Jilin, who also requested anonymity, said the new policy had yet to affect his teaching or research work.

“I’m holding onto my own academic standards,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen in the future. A good society should have voices of opposition.”

Shanghai Jiaotong University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology have launched similar schemes, while a number of other schools have promised to follow suit.

The online propaganda drive came soon after inspectors from the party’s discipline watchdog in June named 14 top colleges as being “too weak in their political work”. That announcement followed a nationwide programme of inspections.

Both Zhejiang and Jilin universities were accused of failing to implement a strong system for ideological work.

China is keen to boost the global rankings of its universities and attract the best talent from around the world, but critics have said its efforts were being undermined by too many controls on academics.

In recent years, Beijing has tightened its restraints on higher education, warning of the spread of “Western values” on campuses and sacking lecturers it accused of being critical of the party.

In a speech to universities and colleges in December, Xi said they must become the “strongholds of the party’s leadership”.

Ying Biao, Zhejiang University’s party propaganda chief, said the new scheme was a way to help achieve Xi’s goals.

“We want to … encourage all teachers and students to tell the China story well, to spread China’s voice and to produce more positive views and comments,” Ying told People’s Daily.

According to the Zhejiang PhD student, due to its distance from Beijing’s political centre, the university traditionally enjoyed more freedom than many others and attracted a higher number of liberal scholars as a result.

However, the new policy was likely to encourage young researchers to produce propaganda work rather than academic papers in their bid to get on, he said.

“At least the old people are still here, and they are hard to move,” he said. “But I don’t know how things will be in 10 or 20 years.”

 

 

Menaced in a Cambridge pub

November 7, 2014

They say there is no crime in this town, but there could be.

I return from a drink with a Japanologist, and decide that one for my road is in order at the pub at the end of our road, the Red Bull in Newnham, Cambridge.

Inside is frequent bar-propper Rory McGrath, of television fame. I don’t know him, but various people I do do. Since he does a comedy telly programme about Three Men on a Boat (I have watched perhaps 10 mins, have no view on it), puttering around the UK on narrow barges talking about who knows what, I show him a couple of pics that I took of a narrow barge that was granted permission to come up among the colleges recently. I blogged about it.

All good so far. Then, I say: ‘Listen, I don’t know you, but I was very surprised about the idea that Griff Rhys Jones might be a closet Nazi.’ This seems to me like standard pub banter. If you haven’t followed the story, RJ gave a long interview to the Telegraph in which he said that if the next government introduces a ‘mansion tax’ he might emigrate. The point is that RJ is quite funny, and yet, confronted in middle age with a modest tax on the huge capital gain he has made on London property, he suggests he might move to somewhere where I suspect he does not even speak the language.

Well, this set Mr McGrath off on the kind of frighteningly aggressive one-on-one verbal assault that I have not seen since I complained about being short-changed, as a student, on a marijuana purchase in Ladbroke Grove in circa 1985. That earlier incident did involve a knife, but the bile from McGrath was very much the same. It made me wonder if even comedians fall into the stylised description of John Carey’s classic work in which the British intelligentsia is shown to be drearily self-interested, drunk, and small C conservative.

I walked home thinking that McGrath must have some sort of point. But I can’t see it. Even if Rhys Jones spent 100% of purchase price fixing up his principal London home, he still made 4 million quid tax free. The mansion tax would be frivolous by comparison. Indeed it would be a much less rational tax, and a much lower tax, than one linked to capital appreciation. Andy Wightman sets out the numbers clearly on his blog.

These people — RJ — used to be our heroes. So what happened? I cannot even begin to imagine. To paraphrase, perhaps we are looking at: ‘All money corrupts, and lots of money corrupts a lot.’

Meanwhile Rory McGrath, was essentially trying to pick a physical fight with words of crushing violence. It appears he has form in this area. What do I say? I say: Fat. Drunk. And this evening ignorant. Sober up, my friend. I hope we will kiss and make up.

Not anarchists, but liberalism

October 6, 2014

narrowboat upriver 2

 

A curious morning.

I was editing an FT opinion piece about Hong Kong that will go live soon when suddenly I spied a narrow-boat steaming towards the college.

As you will know the University allows only punts on its manor, so my immediate thought was that it must be hippies, hopefully anarchists, storming our citadel.

I walked down to the river bank.

‘Are you anarchists?’

Blank stares.

‘Trotsyists?’

More blank stares.

It turned out to be nothing of the sort. Instead, the university had given these people PERMISSION to bring a motorised craft upriver.

What the hell is going on? Much more of this and they will stop giving unearned MAs to undergraduates. You will be allowed to leave a formal dinner at the wife’s college to go for a piss before dessert. You won’t need a beard and a Nobel prize to walk on the grass. They’ll start calling bedders ‘cleaners’ and pay them a living wage.

Historians of the future please note: it all started with that boat. And it clipped one of our punts.


narrowboat upriver 3

narrowboard upriver 4

Actually Dave, you are still rubbish

October 1, 2014

This feels cruel. But I have read Cameron’s ‘greatest ever’ speech to today’s party conference, and it is not very good.

Here is a late-night attempt to parse it and to translate it into plain English (pace Boris, who I don’t much like either).

 

Cameron puffycameron on housing estatecameron hague osborne

 

 

The full text is here.

1. ‘William Hague…greatest living Yorkshireman.’ Obviously not true. I plump lazily for David Hockney. Does he vote Tory?

2. ‘I am not a complicated man.’ This is the problem, Dave.

3. ‘I believe in some simple things.’ You mean simplistic things. File under ‘Farage’.

4. ‘It’s pretty simple really.’ No it is not. See above.

5. ‘The highest employment rate of any major economy.’ Try: the lowest productivity gains of any major economy.

6. ‘£25 billion is actually just 3% of what government spends each year.’ He is talking about proposed new welfare savings. The truth: yes, but you have already backloaded the cuts you promised in this parliament into the next parliament so you would need cut at least double what you are saying. It is undoable short of civil war.

7. We have a new new policy called ‘Starter Homes’. Dave, you are already providing this subsidy. It is growth by asset inflation. It is not sustainable in the absence of productivity gains. Ask George, at least he took a 101 economics course.

8. Some stuff about ‘My 3 young kids go to prole school, we are all in it together.’ Yes, Dave, but not for long. You will move them out of the National Education System at 13 and do your bit in undermining the Big Society you claim to represent.

9. The £41,900 tax-free plus lower-rate threshold will rise to £50,000. Already dealt with in today’s earlier blog post. As I said in the update it is somewhat devious/sloppy accounting. But the main point is that it is undeliverable in combination with a rise in the tax-free rate to £12,500 and all the other stuff that you and George have promised/are promising. George has already reneged on his deficit cutting plan so many times I cannot count and is now running the original Alastair Darling plan. It begins to seem as if all you care about is power, Dave, not honesty.

10. Ed Balls is… ‘a mistake’. This is in fact true.

11. Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, went to a private school but does not agree with the existence of private schools in an optimal education system. That makes him — here is the key term — a ‘hypocrite’. No it doesn’t, Dave. It makes you either a retard or a liar. At least George has the dignity to send his kids to private school the whole way through and publicly not give a fuck.

12. ‘I’ll tell you who we represent.’ No, I will. The ignorant, the angry, the greedy, and people who are having a nice time and don’t notice the world around them.

13. ‘From the country that unravelled DNA…’ DNA was unravelled in Cambridge, not Oxford, Dave, and nobody here votes Tory.

14. ‘It’s about getting people fit to work.’ Exercise for poor, fat cleaners, Dave. Exercise for poor, fat cleaners.

15. ‘Our crime-busting Home Secretary, Theresa May.’ Imagine any Tory Home Secretary as your next-door neighbour. I fucking dare you.

16. ‘I know you want this sorted out so I will go to Brussels.’ Why not just say it: ‘I can’t speak a foreign language — bit like Farage — and I don’t understand history. Even if I like holidays in Italy, they are still wogs.’

17. ‘Our parliament… the British parliament.’ It was created to curtail the antics of inbreds like you. Best not mentioned.

18. ‘If you want those things, vote for me.’ You are going to lose, Dave. You will then spend the next 10 years wishing you had had bigger balls, and ideally a bigger brain too. George will visit you.

19. ‘Our exports to China are doubling.’ Dave, I am losing the will to live. Look at the baseline.

20. ‘I don’t claim to be a perfect leader.’ Ok, all is forgiven. Emigrate.

 

Amazing that it should be 20 things.

I am going to bed and not reading this through, so apologies for typos.

 

Later:

A pretty funny video of Brave Dave following his speech has been posted to Youtube. Here it is. 1.2 million hits already. It contains profanity.

This guy is my prime minister

September 30, 2014

Give me strength.

This from Brave Dave Cameroon:

 

David Cameron: schools should teach mainly in imperial measurements

PM says he would ‘still go for pounds and ounces’ over metric system in Newsnight interview

David Cameron's kind of ruler.
Conservative rule: David Cameron favours imperial measures. Photograph: Alamy

Schools should teach pupils mainly in imperial and not metric measurements,David Cameron has said.

Four decades since metres and litres replaced yards and pints on the curriculum, the prime minister suggested he would prefer to see a return to the old system.

“I think I’d still go for pounds and ounces, yes I do,” Cameron told BBC2’s Newsnight when asked which should be taught predominantly.

The present curriculum, which Tory ministers have said they will skew towards imperial measures, requires only that pupils “understand and use approximate equivalences between metric units and common imperial units such as inches, pounds and pints”.

It was one of three questions posed to the PM by the programme to try to define his wider stance.

In a more modern response Cameron, who personally spearheaded the legalisation of same-sex marriage, said he had no problem with seeing two men kissing in a park.

“I can kiss my wife in public, I don’t see why you can’t kiss your husband,” he said.

But he was less definitive in his answer to a third posed dilemma: whether a pharmaceutical firm should recruit a British candidate over a better-qualified foreign one.

“I want to make sure that the pharmaceutical company has good British people to employ. In the end, they have to choose,” he said.

…………..

I suppose that at least you can now be gay so long as you notch your conquests in dozens. But I am trying to get some work done, and this really does not help. Could it be that Britain’s appalling recent record on productivity is down not to our alcohol consumption but to the mental torpor induced by David Cameron’s ‘ideas’?

Holiday reading and viewing: booze, race, nationalism

July 23, 2013

English beach

 

Since I am sort of on holiday this week, I have decided that everybody else should be too. So here is weekend reading re-dressed as holiday reading.

 

1. First up, to get us started, a great discussion of the role of alcohol, and of alcohol addiction, in writing.

Next, the serious stuff.

Here are three articles on questions of race and nationalism.

2a. Orville Schell and John Delury offer a thoughtful piece about China’s need to move on from the narrative of national humiliation that the country’s schools and politicians have fed the population ever since 1949 (and indeed longer in the case of early converts to the communist party’s cause).

2b. In the United States, Barak Obama can no longer avoid speaking out about the Trayvon Martin case.

2c. Philip Stephens in the FT (sub needed) reflects on the mindless racism of Italian politics, but ends with his ideas that just maybe Gianni Letta represents change. Would that it were so!

3. Third, a near miss. Gideon Rachman in the FT (sub needed) has a thoughtful piece on Putin’s Russia but fails to nuance it with what Putin’s government is doing to put Russia back on an economic development path — in essence, reining in the oligarchs and bringing cash flows from national mineral assets back under public control. Putin may be a revolting man, and yet may also be a revolting man whose time has come.

4. Finally, a heartening curiosity. Teach First seems to be working. It is now Britain’s single biggest recruiter. So it turns out that smart people often do care, and don’t reflexively sell their souls to a law firm or investment bank.

 


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