Sunday 28 February 2021

Observations and Thoughts on Higher Education

I'm the successful recipient of higher education. My University degrees and other higher professional qualifications have helped me secure my profession of choice. My career was been successful but now I'm winding down to sample the delights of full-time retirement. Consequently, having gone through the education process I feel I have a reasonable grasp of the issues involved in obtaining a higher education and the advantages and disadvantages that naturally follow. What follows is my own thoughts on higher education especially pertaining to our 'Modern World'. Things have changed and not everyone has caught up with the new paradigm.

When I entered University in the 1970s, in the UK, education was 'free' (go tell it to the tax payer). Not only was all my tuition and accommodation  paid for, but I also received a grant. When I left the hallowed halls of academia, I was free of debt. At that time 5% of the UK population entered University and a degree was looked upon favourably by employers as a legitimate expression of your intellectual prowess.   

Today, 50% of British nationals attend University. That is some change! Clearly, a uni education is seen as a desirable pursuit and the government has actively pushed through schemes to enable students, not usually deemed likely to partake, to enter University. So, what are the implications. First of all, higher ed was seen as an essentially middle class enterprise. Of course, working class students went to uni, I was one of them, however the numbers were a lot less than their middle class brethren, at that time. Today, higher education is much more egalitarian. The promotion of higher ed, amongst the whole populace has had its consequences. No longer can governments fund this level of 'education for every man', thus education now needs to be supported by the student by the means of loans. No more free education; no more living grants. At the end of their educational stint, the student will have to pay the full amount, plus interest, albeit over a relatively long period. 

One consequence of this change is that a university degree no longer pulls the academic weight it used to have. By necessity education standards have slipped, and I will state the unimaginable: there a lot of students at uni who don't have the intellectual acumen to justify attendance. Shocking, I know. And here is the dilemma: universities make money proportional to the number of students they attract. Education is now run as a business and universities openly tout their wares in a highly competitive industry. With more students the educational standards must drop to accommodate those students that, normally, in the past, would not have  been considered eligible. As a business, universities actively discourage failure- 'everyone shall pass'. I have first hand experience of this phenomenon. When I worked full-time I was the department's dedicated training officer and gave lectures on genetics at the local university and trained 4th year students in the practical and theoretical aspects of my profession. During my tenure I came across a surprising number of students that were clearly not intellectually competent to undertake the course. There is one incident that remains fixed in my mind and illustrates the problem. One student of mine was just bloody awful. All students had to undertake a genetic research project that I marked. This student's effort was pitiful and frankly, in all conscience, I could not give a passing grade. Once the 'powers that be' heard of my decision I was instructed to revise my mark to a passing grade. I refused and I was removed as this student's supervisor. Oddly enough, the new mentor managed to extract a pass from this dismal effort of acaedemia. Point made.

Another important point: the move to a business model has resulted in universities becoming very creative when it comes to courses. Over the last couple of decades there has been a burgeoning (nay plethora) of what I shall term, useless degrees. For example you can obtain a degree in gender studies or perhaps a degree in David Beckham studies? Mayhap you would be more suited for a degree in parapsychology or even a deep investigation/penetration into the phallus. The mind boggleth. It is hard to see how these degrees prepare the graduate for the cut and thrust of the modern world. Of course, you could argue that more conventional degrees, such as philosophy are equally useless. In these circumstances I am endowed with clairvoyance. Through the clearing mist of my crystal ball, I see a lifetime of minimum wage jobs stretching unto infinity/eternity...... On the bright side you can now obtain a degree in MacDonald studies and you get a free MacDonald's combo as well. 

Another interesting effect of all this higher education is that employers are very canny when employing graduates. Obviously STEM graduates remain highly employable especially those graduating in engineering and physics. Employers can be very selective, not only with regard to subject matter but also to the institution from whence the degree hails from. Sadly, there are downright fake institutions, that for a fee, will grant you a degree of your dreams, without any study. Perhaps more insidious is the rise in colleges, often involved in online studies, that will provided some form of education. However, this education is sub-standard and in all instances, the college is not accredited with a respected academic organisation. It is very easy to weed out these 'colleges' using the magic wand, GOOGLE.  

This topic is way too detailed for a single blog post. In order to provide clarity and context, further posts are necessary and consequently I will follow-up this seminal post with additional material. Watch this space! Arse, big fat, arse.                  

Saturday 20 February 2021

Pray Away the Gay


Gay conversion therapy is much beloved by the fundamental Christian brigade, especially in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the US. The idea being that being gay and being Christian are incompatible and that having sexual desire for a member of the same sex is a grave and heinous sin. This is where gay conversion/coercion therapy comes into play. The premise being that an adult’s sexuality is somewhat plastic and therefore malleable and subject to change. Therapy sessions, of dubious provenance, are organised to convert gay Christians to heterosexual Christians, perhaps over a weekend. Often times those subject to gay conversion are under immense social pressure to ‘convert’ and conform to please those close to them, such as friends, family members and individuals of authority in the church.

I used the word ‘dubious’ in the above paragraph for good reason as the scientific consensus on this topic is very clear. Thus, the data is unequivocal in stating that, so called, ‘Conversion Therapy’ is a complete waste of time. It has been convincingly shown that an individual’s sexual preference is an innate characteristic and is likely fixed at birth. Sexuality is analogous to one’s eye or hair colour, in that it is, for the most part, genetically determined and consequently immutable. Let us be clear: therapy of any sort cannot change or influence a person’s sexuality and yet many religious folk, especially those conforming to a simple and strict interpretation of their religious dogma remain adamant that psychological conditioning can overwrite homosexuality and replace it with, heterosexuality. But it gets worse, some religious folk honestly believe that prayer can cure homosexuality as if being gay is an organic disease. And of course, this ridiculous state of affairs is driven, not by empirical science, but by a fanatical devotion to a primitive and obsolete knowledge system. Tis a virtue, after all, to believe in notions counter to reason, especially if it conforms to their particular religious stance, irrespective of that stance’s relation to reason and the real world. Faith is blind for a reason and those that walk in faith’s path are liable to fall/fail.

When the proponents of ‘gay therapy’ cite anecdotal success in conversion they have no real way to objectively measure success in these instances. ‘Success’ relies upon personal testimony which is highly unreliable. It is oft the case that folk delude themselves and their so-called ‘therapists’. This might be okay in the short term, but once the individual finally realises that nothing fundamentally has changed, deleterious psychological harm ensures. Some folk will realise right from the beginning that the conversion has not worked but find it prudent to mislead their therapists and their loved ones in order not to appear as a ‘failure’.

Consider the counter situation: do you think that ‘Conversion Therapy’ could work the other way? That is, convert a heterosexual to the homosexual persuasion? Once the problem is so stated it becomes clear that sexual orientation is firmly fixed. An individual has no volition or control over their sexual preference, it is a quality/quantity of their organic being and a constant. To think otherwise is an exercise in madness.

A recent New Zealand survey revealed that 72% of citizens are in favour of banning homosexual conversion therapy and the incumbent Prime Minister has vowed to make the practice illegal during her time in office. Now usually I’m not a great fan on legislation that restricts people’s personal and behavioural liberty, but on this occasion I am willing to make an exception as I think there is a good case to argue that 'Conversion Therapy' can result in great psychological stress and harm. And again this conclusion is backed up by serious scholarship. I entreat my readers to source and read the extensive literature on this topic. It makes for an interesting and in some instances, harrowing read. While I’m on topic I would like to clear up a common misconception that some folk harbour against the flaxen haired one. I know it might seem ridiculous, but I have been accused of being homophobic. Let me be clear: I am in no way prejudiced toward homosexuals. In fact I would actively encourage sapphism if the protagonists are ‘hot’ and I can watch. In fact, none of my friends are mincing, limp wristed, pooftahs with a predilection of putting their winkies up da arse of other men. However, I am possessed of a wicked sense of humour, mixed with wonderment, and while I have breath in my body I will exercise it with vigour (nay gusto), and according to my wont. Nuff said.

Anyway, good readers, let me know in the comment section what you think of the notion that gays can somehow be changed to become essentially heterosexual. Mayhap we can start a lively and healthy debate on this topic: surprise me!

Sunday 14 February 2021

Flaxen, on occasion, is a lazy cunt. Go figure


apanese Sniper unearthed in a Tipton park

Private Bushido in repose

Breaking news from the picturesque hamlet of Tipton. A Japanese sniper has been discovered/uncovered lurking in the municipal midden pit within the environs of Tipton's premier recreational area- 'Tipton Park and Recreational Area'. Private (First Class) Karate Nagasaki was found sequestered on the immaculately coiffured lawn adjacent to the marble memorial to the incumbent Mayor Mr Enoch Vowel-Strangler. Private Nagasaki parachuted into the West Midlands on that fateful day of Friday, the 3rd of January, 1945. He was commissioned to assassinate the then incumbent Mayor, Mr Enoch Vowel-Strangler (Snr). Unfortunately for Nagasaki, his spectacles shattered on landing. Private Nagasaki, like all Japanese snipers, was extremely short sighted and hence was doomed to roam the park for seven decades like an itinerant Japanese tourist, sans camera.

For the last 70 years Nagasaki has subsisted on a diet of half eaten kebabs and remnants of  fish 'N' chips discarded unto the midden pit by drunken revelers after a night at a Tipton's premier night spot: 'Mr Patel's Disco Ago Go and Laundry'.   

Private (first class) Hara Kiri' s last supper

After his apprehension Nagasaki related tales of his fanatical devotion to the Emperor god and war criminal, Hirohito. Sadly, Private  Hiroshima was killed in his cell, by his 'celly', Lugless Douglas. Apparently, Dougy, took exception to Private Kendo's obsession with origami. After a particularly inept attempt to fashion the likeness of a Geisha out of used toilet paper, the Dougster snapped and strangled the dirty little nip, with his socks.   

Private Bullettrain will be tossed back into the midden pit after a private ceremony officiated by the Right Reverend, Sanctimonious Mugumbo.   

The Right Reverend Sanctimonious Mugumbo. Arse, fick. girls. 

Saturday 13 February 2021



          British Soldiers on their way to Battle

What follows is the opinion of an amateur, armchair historian. I claim no spectacular/particular insight and much of what I have to say may appear mundane to the professional. Nevertheless, this is my own perspective of 1916 after reading voluminously on the topic. Thus, I solicit, opinion, criticism and expansion, as deemed necessary. I thank thee.

By the beginning of January 1916, German arms were in the ascendant on all major theatres of battle. Belgium, except for a small northern region protected by flooding, was securely in German hands, while a great swathe of North East France was under the jackboot. In the East the Russians had not only lost Poland but also parts of ‘Mother Russia’.

On the face of it, the Entente powers did not seem to have done too well during two years of war. Constant French, and to a lesser extent British offensives on the Western Front, had shown little in the way of territorial gain while losses in men and material had been horrendous. The first five months of war in 1914 had resulted in 1,000,000 French causalities. In addition, the Western Allies had failed to knock out the despised Turks at Gallipoli and were reassessing their strategic and offensive policy for 1916. For the French there could be no talk of taking a defensive position on the Western Front. Sacred French territory demanded repatriation and this could only be achieved by the offensive.

The impressive German success was an illusion and they were well aware that their position would likely deteriorate as the war went on. Time was a ticking and as the allies grew stronger the Germans became correspondingly weaker. Thus, are the fickle vicissitudes of war. At the beginning of the war the Germans had discounted the British contribution to the Allied war effort and described the British army as ‘contemptible’. This was, ultimately, to be a grave error and was finally recognised as such by Erich Falkenhayn, the Great German Warlord.

From the first day of the war, British sea power swept German commerce from the seas. This initiated a stranglehold that would progressively stifle Germany’s access to essential war supplies and food. In addition, as the war progressed, Britain mobilised the vast men and resources of its teeming Empire. At the beginning of 1916 Britain had 36 divisions on the Western Front and more would were to be added, thus formulating a formidable army to match German power. Cracks had appeared in Germany’s chief ally, Austro-Hungary, right from the first battles of the war. The fighting effectiveness of this ethnically diverse army could only be maintained by German military force and assistance. The German’s described the alliance as being ‘fettered to a corpse’. Time was not on the German’s side and they realised that to win the war, they needed to defeat the Allies on the Western Front, preferably in 1916. But the big question for the Germans was whom to attack and where?

The Allies were aware that this war could only be concluded by thoroughly defeating the Germans on the Western Front. But how was this to be achieved? At a conference, in France, in December 1915, attended by representatives of all the Entente Powers, it had been decided that German and Austro-Hungarian forces could only be defeated by a coordinated and continuous series of assaults by all parties. Therefore, Russians on the Eastern front would attack both the German and the Austro-Hungarian fronts simultaneously. In the West the French and British would launch their own major coordinated offensive on the Somme. The Italians would attack the Austrians in the Alps. In this way, the Germans would be unable to divert divisions from other sectors to support their troops facing multiple offensives on diverse fronts. The whole Western, Southern and Eastern fronts would come alive with fire and cordite and the German troops would be overwhelmed- well that was the Allied plan and the combined attacks would occur in late spring or early summer of 1916.

On the face of it the Allied plan appeared sound. The Germans would not have the resources to resist multiple and continuous attack on geographically separated fronts. The problem with the plan, as so often occurred during the Great War, was the Allies had failed to take into account the German response. The German war machine would not be pacific and supine participants to the Allied ‘Grand Plan’ as they had decided on a ‘Grand Plan’ of their own.

On 21st February the Germans opened their own offensive against the French at Verdun. The Verdun salient snaked into French territory and was bounded by German troops on three sides. The plan was simple and terrible in conception and application. The Germans argued that for this territory the French would defend to the upmost even though retention of the salient was not of military or strategic importance. Although a liability in strategic terms, the salient held a place of honour in the French psyche and although, counter to the ‘rules of war’ and common military sense, it would be defended to the last man. This suited the German plan of battle perfectly. Initially, it had been decided to batter Verdun with massive artillery bombardments from three quarters. The idea was to bleed the French army white with little loss to the Germans. The ‘mill on the Meuse’ would continue for a bloody nine months during which most French army units would be involved, albeit in rotation. Few soldiers were spared the maelstrom. Initially, at least, the German plan did not involve the taking of territory, the sole aim of killing Frenchmen was deemed sufficient. However, after some initial success in taking several fortresses, the German plan evolved and it was decided that killing Frenchmen was not enough and the reduction of the salient became paramount. This was a bad mistake and the Germans should have stuck to their original plan of using artillery ordinance to destroy the French army. The Germans did not achieve their objective, but they came very close. By the end of the battle the French had suffered 337,321 causalities. However, due to the German change in plan, they suffered almost the same level of dead, wounded and captured.

The British offensive on the Somme scheduled for July 1st now had an urgent spur as the beleaguered French were exhorting the British to start the offensive early in order to relieve pressure on Verdun. Due to logistic factors the British attack could not be brought forward. And while it is true that the British action on the 1st July did help the French position to a limited extent, the Germans had decided to wind down their Verdun offensive anyway.

Originally the French had planned to attack on the Somme in force, adjacent to the British front with an equal number of divisions. But because of the scale of French involvement at Verdun, they could only spare six divisions for the day. The heat of the Verdun caldron had scalded the French army almost unto death.

On the Eastern front, to coincide with the British and French attack, the Russians initiated their offensive against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in June. In addition, as planned, the Italians also attacked the Austrians in force. The consequences of these combined offensives will not be discussed here.

By 31st of December, 1916, the Germans still appeared to be ‘winning’. But this was an illusion that would be exposed during the bitter fighting of 1917. During 1917 the German war position was becoming precarious. This was finally acknowledged by the Germans themselves, and although wise heads amongst the allies also recognised Germany's’ growing weakness and war weariness, they also conceded that there was a lot more killing to be done before the proud German nation was defeated.

The Aftermath of Battle

Wednesday 10 February 2021

Parish Notice II


                                                     Hurry up, Coronation street is on at 8 

Hello folks, I've not posted for three weeks due to medical issues. Old age is no fun especially as I'm only 18 days from 65. At least I'm eligible for the Kiwi pension. I'm still working at my old lab two days a week and have extended my contract for a further 3 months. Once I've competed my stint I'm calling it a day. 'Work no more Flaxen tis time to fully enjoy retirement and commit to tending the estate'. I'm not a natural when it comes to gardening but I'm starting to enjoy the relaxing pleasure of planting trees and shrubs, various. The veggie patches need a clearing and crops a sowing.

It seems the the elder gods have finally decided to punish me for my sins and hubris. I confess that I'm rightly condemned as my life has been full and I've sampled the delights of the flesh with wanton abandon. Nothing has been denied to my carnal pleasure. I have truly lived the life of ten men. My life is closing fast and sweet oblivion beckons. Fear not death; fear life that lives no more. When my time cometh and 'death' himself extends his bony hand I will leap into his cold embrace and happily cross the Styx (must make sure I've got gelt for Charon). The funeral pyre awaits.

But Woden speaks: 'Let it wait a while longer. The embers of the faggot glows dim. Your time is not yet Flaxen. There is much that you will achieve at my bidding".........          

Anyway, enough of this bollocks. It seems in addition to my rampant arthritis I've developed rampant high blood pressure (hypertension). Bugger! As my blood pressure was measured thusly: 157/127 I've entered what the medical profession calls the 'death zone'. I was immediately prescribed the quaintly named drug: Candestarten cilexetil- verily trips of the tongue (8mg daily). O deep joy. The practical upshot is that my impending foot surgery has been cancelled and I'm orf the waiting list. My left big toe can rest assured that cartilage scraping and pin fusion will have to wait, a while. Arse.    

The dearth of posts is at an end. I've several completed posts and even more 'work in progress' awaiting a final burnish. Tomorrow's post is titled '1916' and explores the strategic dilemma both sides had to contemplate at a critical stage of the war.