I have completed my undergraduate degree

Today I sat the exam for the final module of my undergraduate degree.  So that is the first step complete in my career change.

Because of how the degree marking works, if I get 70% or more in this exam (not terribly likely), I get a 2:1 for the degree and get to do a Master’s Degree, otherwise a 2:2 and I’ll need to re-think my plans.

Another way to inconvenience spammers

Two posts in particular on here receive almost all the comment spam.  I have changed them both to say “Do not post comments here, they will be spam-trapped” which should prevent mortals falling foul of the mechanisms attached to those two posts.

I tried an experiment the other day and made them password-protected.  So the link the spammers use to get to those pages still works, but they cannot post anything.  This has – for the time being – stopped much of the spam.

I expect in due course they will just pick another ppst and target that instead.

Global military spending, 2016 to 2017

On the Conscience:Taxes for Peace not War home page is a counter showing the global military spending so far this year.  It comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) figures.  We use those because they are not particularly controversial; they do not include lots of things a strict pacifist would like to see included.  As I start writing this, the number is based on their 2016 figures and is £509,860,928,935.

Yes, global spending on militarisation (essentially, preparing for killing people), is five hundred thousand million pounds.  A million pounds, spent, half a million times.

For comparison, nobody wants to spend the £11,000m to £23,000m it would take to cure the whole world’s 185m people with Hepatitis C.  But we have spent £509,000m on arms so far this year.

(Hepatitis C treatment is the most expensive medicine in the USA, link.  Details of the cost of curing it, link.)

Anyway, it is time for me to update the web site because military spending figures for 2017 have been released.  And it has gone up by about 1.1%, once inflation has been taken out.  As an absolute sum just the difference is about £47,287m.  Military spending in 2017 represented 2.2% of the global gross domestic product.

(For reference, feeding the world’s starving people would cost £23,000m, £132,000m or somewhere in between.)

So, I have updated the script and now the number, based on the new 2017 figures, is £524,852,595,454 so far this year.
£524,853,983,114
£524,854,467,457
£524,854,865,718
£524,855,841,115
£524,873,308,033…

 

An Ode to Critical Criminology

It helps to know ‘critical criminology’ has its roots in Marxian theory.  It argues social harm—whether by individuals, corporations or states—is a better measure of criminality that simple violations of the law by individuals.  I am currently revising the subject and trying to forget my physical science definition of ‘theory’ and instead try to grasp the social science theories, concepts and themes of the module.

An Ode to Critical Criminology

I’d come to a conclusion:
To eliminate confusion
By dividing up the jargon
I’ll win through.

To aid in my revision
I’ll devise a clear division
Twixt module themes and theories,
Concepts too.

Although I am no sluggard
I’ll be rightly buggered
If I can tell the difference.
What shall I do?

I’ve tried asking my tutor
And searching my computer
But I cannot find the answer
How ’bout you?

I dream of schemes to manage themes,
It seems I’ll scream without a gleam of
Insight to this shite that’s driving me insane.

I’m so weary of ruddy theory.
It’s so dreary it makes me teary.
I cannot fight it – doing so is all in vain.

I have not slept, for this concept,
I can’t accept, it has side-stepped
My mind. Oh, Jesus wept!
It’s all a farce.

With authors we must remember
When I’d rather just dismember
The sodding lot and stick it up
Karl Marx’s arse!

The more you practise, the luckier you get

tl;dr: Do independent study with a purpose.

Last year, doing my history research module, I used to get distracted when doing independent study and wander off spending hours reading irrelevant stuff. But I did get into the habit of thinking about the module themes as I did so, and I did use the primary and secondary document analysis techniques.

On the afternoon before the exam—when I should have been revising—I came across the Commissar Order: the instruction to German soldiers to not take Russian political Commissars prisoner. I remembered that from reading gory Sven Hassel war stories and proceeded to waste the entire evening reading about it. But I did so using my newly-learned research and historiography skills; that way I could pretend it was ‘revision’.

It turned out this document was genuine and was later hugely significant in the Nuremberg war trials and, as a consequence, has been key in influencing international war crimes legislation prosecution since then. It also gives exquisite insight into the war on the Eastern Front.

Courtesy of module A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, I was able to appreciate the significance of this document, evaluate its authenticity and put it into a political context. I actually got pleasure from using those skills to gain a much broader and deeper understanding of this tiny, trivial, scrap of history than I otherwise would have done. That scrap is still influencing international relations in the world but for the better now.

Anyway, so blinking what?

The next morning when I saw the exam paper, one of the documents to evaluate in the first question was… The Commissar Order! Either the gods smiled on me, or it is true that the more you practise, the luckier you get.

Earliest known war tax resisters

I know papers and articles have been written about the history of conscientious objection to military taxation, or war tax resistance.  I keep promising myself I will read them sometime.  Having done so I would have been able to better respond to a Facebook post from the USA’s National War Tax resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC).  This arrogant attitude of the Americans that they were the first or only people on Earth is tiresome.  The post was:

#DIDYOUKNOW the #Indigenous Algonquin People are the earliest known #war tax resisters. In 1637 they refused to pay #taxes put on by the Dutch #colonizers to help improve the local colonial fort — War Resisters League War Resisters League // #heros #mondaymotivation #resist #endwar #peace

I find it hard to accept they were the first in the world.

They are probably the earliest in North America since Europeans arrived.  I’ll bet there were South American people who objected to Spanish taxation prior to that. And probably people who objected to taxation by the Incas or Aztecs that funded their expansionism.

In England, the Magna Carta came about because of war tax resistance in the 1200s.

But I should think there are examples from Roman Empire times if not earlier.  Expecting conquered people to pay for the armies that suppress them or that are passing through is a very old trick.

Even Sun-Tzu in Art of War says long campaigns fail because they result in losing people’s support, typically when military taxation reaches about 70%, and he was a historian writing about events from before his time of 2½ thousand years ago.

But it made me reflect on this in today’s context.  Using terminology from English law, military taxation is ‘demanding money with menaces’.

Smart missiles

Because of the current proposed airstrikes on Syria, I was trying to remember where the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital was that was attacked in an airstrike fairly recently.

Now that these days we have ‘smart missiles’ and ‘smart bombs’ and ‘laser guided precision’ and assurances civilian casualties are avoided, I just wanted to check the details.

On Googling it I found:

  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Kunduz, Afghanistan – October 2015 – sustained air attack by USA – 42 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital – Maaret al-Numan, Syria – February 2016 – 2 raids by Syria or Russia – 7 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières children’s hospital – Azaz, Syria – February 2016 – ballistic missile from Russia – 10 dead, hospital destroyed
  • Médecins Sans Frontières hospital -Hajjah, Yemen – August 2016 – airstrike by Saudi-coalition – 11 dead, hospital partially destroyed and closed down
  • Médecins Sans Frontières supported hospital – Saraqab City, Syria – January 2018 – 2 airstrikes – 5 dead, hospital closed down

They just go on and on.  Then I saw:

“In 2016, 32 MSF-supported medical facilities were bombed or shelled on 71 occasions. In 2015 we documented 94 attacks on 63 MSF-supported hospitals and clinics in Syria.”

It’s a good job there’s GPS and smart missiles and the like guaranteeing civilians don’t get killed in airstrikes.

An email to my MP: “Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria”

Subject: Please do what you can to prevent escalation in Syria

Dear Cat Smith MP,

You are my MP as I live at <my home address>.

Please do all you can to prevent the government escalating the situation in Syria.

The news this morning suggests the Prime Minister intends to carry out a military response to an alleged chemical attack which has not yet even been investigated.

  • After the recent embarrassment to Britain over the poisoning of the Russian agent and his daughter, I would have hoped the government would be more circumspect over this event.
  • The Syrian conflict is already a proxy war, where external agents are major players. The intervention by us now when the Syrian government appears to be winning is classic proxy war participant behaviour to attack the leading side to prolong the war. Even if this is not the case, it is how it is interpreted, and puts Britain in a very bad light.
  • A weak government is often perceived as being keen to go to war as a way to bolster support. Although that is a government fault, it reflects badly on us as a country reinforcing the impression that killing people overseas gets popular support from the British people.
  • Following the USA’s knee-jerk reaction an to international incident always makes Britain look weak, rather than making a powerful statement as claimed.
  • Following Donald Trump’s Twittered reaction to anything makes us look utterly ridiculous.
  • War should always be the last resort in diplomacy, not the first.
  • The poisoning, tit-for-tat diplomat expulsions, the misinformation over international events and accusations of false-flag actions are all very similar to activities in the Cold War. A military response at this time feels to me, as someone who remembers the tail end of the Cold War, a very dangerous escalation. The world still has nuclear weapons, I should dread for more generations to grow up under the fear of nuclear super-powers in a perpetual stand-off like that under which I grew up. It is crushing to ambition and hope for the future to know your life can be snuffed out by the whim of one’s own government or by an error in the nuclear command control. Please don’t let this government slide us back into the previous century.

I expect better arguments for not carrying out this strike will become apparent through the day.

As my elected representative, should the government bother to ask your opinion, please do all you can to communicate the foolishness of a violent escalation to the situation in Syria.

 

Read the rules

My school had a bonkers rule book.  It was huge and full of dotty laws and regulations.  We had to learn it.  It was only in adulthood we realised why: it emulated real life.  It taught us both to live within a world of pointless and arbitrary laws, but also when and how to break them or get them changed.

I’m doing my final degree module and, just like my other final year module, I am amazed at the questions people ask, and the incorrect answers they get, regarding rules they should have known from the start.

Not knowing what happens if an assignment is under the word count, or over the word count, or the exact submission deadline, or how to get extensions, or what if you need longer still, and what happens if it is late and what happens if it is too rubbish to submit.  Common questions from people, even at the end of their degree.  But it’s all in the assignment rule book.

Reflecting on my Open University journey

A222, Excruciating Philosophy, was a pit of despair.  Nine months of painful TMAs and material I could not abide will be the scar I carry from my degree.  Sitting there into the night for every TMA despairingly wondering “Why can’t they just tell us what they want?“.

It wasn’t until five days before the exam that I went to a day school 200 miles from home and found a tutor group of engaged, motivated students being led by two brilliant tutors, and their advice and superb handouts got me through the exam.

“I do think good tutors make such a difference to your outcome and experience throughout.”

It does.  When I did DD101 Obfuscating Social Science the only advice our tutor gave was “Don’t say ‘I’ or I’ll kick your windows in and everything you write must have a reference“.  He repeated it in every tutorial and in every TMA’s comments and never provided anything else.  Loads of people dropped out through the year and I was getting 40% to 45% for every essay and not getting any useful feedback.  For that module I was saved right at the end by a student who also had an IT background who explained how social science is not actually a science and told me how to write social science essays.  He had himself been told that by another student.

I know many people who have said they have had great tutors all the way through.  Some of mine have been shocking and, going by the drop-out rate, those who get them tend not to stay with the OU so we don’t hear from them again.

I have often learned more from my fellow students than from some of my tutors.  That’s why I now go to every tutorial I can.  The OUSA Open Degree forum for was absolutely brilliant for advice, better than Student Support, but they got rid of that.  It’s no wonder people are moving to Facebook for support.

Sadly, I have not enjoyed much of my OU experience and will genuinely be glad when it is over.  The exception has been the interaction with other people, the support from others who have been there before and those who are also struggling, often alone in the night.  I think this confirms that distance learning is not for me.

When I started my OU degree this time around (I also had a go in the 1980s), I saw a few comments from old hands saying it is the students that make the OU, and I did not understand that then.  I do now.

Thank you, my fellow OU students, for being out there and being supportive, I couldn’t do this without you.