Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Richard Dawkins and the empty chair

Richard Dawkins has declined an invitation (25 October 2011) to debate his book, The God Delusion, with William Lane Craig, despite the abuse that has come his way in recent weeks. At the top of this abuse list is bus advertising in Oxford (see left). This is, of course, a play on his own advertising claiming ‘There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’, that got the God botherers particularly worked up.

As Dawkins point out in in a riposte in the Guardian newspaper on Friday (here) the issue is not about debating the book but more to do with Craig’s literal translation of the Old Testament that commits him to defend genocide (of the Canannites in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17) and the goodness associated with the death of children (God is doing them a favour). The latter potentially leads us in a recent example, to be thankful that two vehicles ran over the little girl in China as she has most certainly gone to a better place and it was God’s will (see, for example, Huffingtonpost).

There are plenty of Dawkins provocations on the internet and in the press. Another Oxford Don, Daniel Came (who appears at the debate), writing in the Guardian, has accused Dawkins of cynicism and anti-intellectualism.  Let’s get this clear, Dawkins is a scientist. This God bit is not his life’s raison d’etre; despite that, nobody advocates atheism better. Life really is too short to debate with Craig. Just look at the review to see how true that is: see oxfordstudent

Brighton and HA v Hull City at the Amex Stadium

It is a while since I last went to a football match. Getting to Hull is not that convenient, but BHA’s promotion to the Championship presented an opportunity to see Hull City away. Tickets £24 and a scarf for a tenner, we were in business as bona fide away supporters (there is no point in being in the opposition’s side – it is just not possible truly to ‘support’ as I have found out to my peril).

Bearing in mind this is the Championship and not Premier League, it was a bit scappy. Fortunately, it was BHA that provided the majority of the scappiness, particularly in the first half. We contributed to the scrappiness in the second half, but only after countless attempts on goal thwarted either by the goalkeeper or the woodwork. The shots off target shouldn’t have been. 0-0.

The experience was great. The Amex is modern and confortable (the seats are actually padded). But more importantly, witnessing a match demonstrates in my mind just how futile and silly is the game. Mostly I consume football on the radio or on big screens in pubs and bars. There, commentators and summarisers take it all so seriously. One forgets that it is really only 22 men kicking a ball around for 90 minutes. It is a hoot of a game. A great afternoon out. Would recommend.

Housing and rents

A shelter report reveals that rents are now too dear for ordinary families. What does too dear mean and why is it so? The Guardian newspaper reported that: “The Shelter Rent Watch found that average private rents were unaffordable for ordinary working families in 55% of local authorities in England. Typical rents charged by private landlords were more than a third of median take-home pay, the widely accepted measure of affordability.” A key indicator of this in the Shelter report is that households are now cutting down on food in order to transfer money to rents.

Presumably demand is high because people are unable to afford to buy and/or cannot get affordable social housing? Demand causes price escalation for ‘customers’ who cannot afford the price but pay because housing is an essential. This is made worse by controls on housing benefit recently introduced, a fact which unscrupulous landlords appear not to be responding to. Ironically families are being forced to uproot AWAY from work and family in order to afford housing.

Making money out of exploiting others through rents is obscene. Rent caps – or fair rent controls are surely appropriate?

The Government’s intention to launch another round of ‘right to buy’ for Council or Housing Association tenants is nonsense. This was recently announced by David Willets on the Today Programme. Though I note that even Ed Miliband admitted in his conference speech that the ‘right to buy’ under Thatcher was a good idea. Blue Labour as it is now called.

Marie Jahoda Lecture, 2011

This annual keynote lecture is usually in my diary. This year the speaker was Professor Luc Soete of the United Nations University- Maastricht. In a previous life, Professor Soete had worked extensively with colleagues at SPRU, University of Sussex (with which my research group shares a building).

Professor Luc Soete

It was an extremely interesting lecture; indeed, I was not expecting it to be so. Professor Soete is an economist. His thesis was unexpected. Essentially he turned on its head Schumpeter’s notion of Creative Destruction whereby economies and humanity move forward, sometimes by the destruction of the old – whether it be products or modes of production. Professor Soete posited the idea that perhaps not all innovation was good (a bizarrely accepted phenomenon). So what we were presented with, alternatively, was Destructive Creation. Professor Soete focussed on the financial crisis, but equally, this destruction is taking place in the public sector with any number of services being destroyed by cherry picking private sector companies being invited in to leave the state with rump services all in the name of innovation, entrepreneurialism and economic development.

In terms of policy responses, Professor Soete offered a number of familiar initiatives; notably rearming the regulators so that they can tackle the abuses by private sector utilities in particular. These are old hat. States are not particularly interested in rearming regulators in our interests. We’ve all seen how regulators are routinely disarmed by policy makers (all readers of this blog should see Inside Job by Charles H. Ferguson). There was no suggestion that perhaps the system was broke and needs replacing (not fixing).

Professor Soete had one interesting policy suggestion. Because children are going to bear the brunt of this Destructive Creation, perhaps they should have proxy votes in elections. What form these proxy votes should take was not clear. But I think it is a good idea providing the proxy is not the very same people who have brought us to this nadir.

Latest publication

It is almost four years since my last journal publication. There have been and are many in the pipeline, but the printed version has been elusive. So, finally, my name is back in print. Writing with colleagues, the first instalment of An Innovation Perspective on Design has just been published in Design Issues (Volume 27, Issue 4 – Autumn 2011). The second instalment is due before the end of the year.

Even better is the fact that we share an edition with Per Galle, a fabulous design theorist (as well as architect and computer scientist amongst other things). Reputation by association suits me.


Munich is always expensive at this time of the year. It is – or was – Oktoberfest. The British seem to love it. Consequently, air fares to Munich are prohibitively expensive.

We searched this year for an alternative German city. easyJet offers Hamburg, Berlin, Düsseldorf and Dortmund. We chose Düsseldorf because the air fares were very cheap – as were some of the hotels. Indeed, we stayed at one of the Lindner conference hotels in the Niederkassel district of the city. There are a few branded hotels parked in the middle of a technology park; though well connected by tram. Good value at the weekend.

The city is not the most attractive, but the beer is good. The local speciality is Uerige served in small glasses. Fortunately. It is rather strong and drinkable. Be careful. The system by which it is served is, apparently, the following: when standing at the bar and seeming being ignored, point one’s finger at the bar and hey presto, Herr Ober appears and sells.

The Rhine is always fascinating as a working river. The barges negotiating its bends and the idiot skijeters negotiating the waves they generate provide some entertainment. The weather was sublime this weekend, so spending plenty of time by the river was a must.

Breakfast we recommend Bastions (Bastionstraβe). A big basket of different breads with butter, Marmelade and Honig is a must. The coffee is okay.

Towards the south side of the Rhine is the Medienhafen. It is home to the region’s media and still under development. Frank Gehry came a few years ago to build three of his signature blocks (pictures to come when I get them processed).

The airport, also, is interesting. It is pretty modern and clearly aspirant. One is transported from the terminal to the railway station on the Skytrain. This is clearly modelled on the famous Wuppertal transit system. The carriages are suspended from a track – for want of a better word. There is no driver. An interesting experience. The picture is taken from inside the Skytrain looking at the track.

New Vivaro

The beloved white Escort van had to leave the road. I have replaced it with a beautiful 5 year old Vauxhall Vivaro. Here it is. Travel just got easier and fun.