Sidney Blumenthal, operator

Of course the Clintons would never stoop to race baiting tactics themselves.  They leave it to their operators to do that – people like Sidney Blumenthal, the man Bill relied on to clean up the Monica Lewinsky mess.

I have personal experiences of how Blumenthal operates.  His niece applied to do a Master’s degree in the program I was in charge of in London.  Unusually, I was sent an applicant’s file not from the Admissions Office, as always was the case, but instead straight from the Office of the LSE Director — at that time Anthony Giddens.  In the file was a handwritten note from “Sid” to “Tony,” making the case that accepting his niece to do a degree at the LSE would be a wonderful opportunity to “continue to deepen our trans-Atlantic ties.”

I was just trying to figure out why the file came from Giddens and why that mysterious note was included, when the phone rang.  It was David Held, notorious important-person wanna-be.  “Did you see the application from Blumentahl’s niece?” he asked.  “Yes,” I replied, “it’s right here on my desk.”  “Well, you should consider it very carefully,” Held continued, “Just read the name again.  It’s BLUMENTHAL, OK?  That Blumenthal.”

Of course I didn’t miss out on such an opportunity to take the moral high ground.  I wrote an email to Blumenthal, Giddens and Held and informed them all that I was in charge of admissions and that I resented any external meddling.  It was totally out of order to slip handwritten notes into a file or to make phone calls pressurizing me.  Besides the niece’s grades were far below what we usually were prepared to accept.

I heard back from Giddens within a few hours and he was very apologetic and could not for the life of him understand how that note got included in the application.  Blumenthal and Held never got in touch.

This, I guess, is how the power elite reproduces itself.

Free at last

goodbye.png

It’s February 1st and I no longer work at the LSE. I wrote a letter of resignation to Howard Davies. There’ll be a pdf here of courseand here it is!

I worked at the LSE for some 12 years. Much of it was great. Above all to get a first proper job, to have a monthly salary, to develop courses and to interact with students, to have reading and writing as a career. Meanwhile Diane and I started our adventure together, in our new house, with one kid after another. What in life could be better?

On the darker side: the LSE version of the British class-system and the pretentiousness of some colleagues in the Government Department. They always suspected that I didn’t take them seriously, and they were right of course. Then the whole blogging and free speech issue — everyone from Howard Davies down trying to shut me up. Sigh. Deep sigh.

My new university, NCTU, is a great improvement in these respects. It’s not a commercial venture, they are not dependent on student fees, and they don’t give a damn what I say in my blog. Besides I like living in a country where I’m forced to learn things every day. Learning things, after all, is what my life’s about. London has already receeded behind the horizon.

But the real excitement is happening away from academia. We are looking for a Chinese-style house up in the mountains outside of Hsinchu. We’re going to keep goats and grow papaya. The kids are getting settled. Rima is already fluent in baby Chinese and Saga is quickly becoming a Chinese teenager. We look forward to many more years here. Again, what could life offer that’s better?

“I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
Sure was glad to get out of there alive.

And the locusts sang, well, it give me a chill,
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
And the locusts sang with a high whinin’ trill,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me,
Singing for me, yeah singing for me.”

Bob Dylan, 1970.

New morning


This is the blog which temporarily achieved local fame in and around the London School of Economics in the spring of 2006. I got into a lot of trouble for what I wrote on these pages. The full story is told here.

I like to think of this blog as an educational service I provided to the LSE and to members of the British establishment. My aim was to teach them a thing or two about the meaning of freedom of speech. I think I succeeded reasonably well.

I live in Taiwan these days and work at NCTU, a university in Hsinchu, an hour south of Taipei. Hsinchu is known as the “windy city” and it produces delicious noodles. I miss London sometimes, and I miss my LSE students, but I’m glad I made the move.

I just finished a book about blogging and freedom of speech, “A Blogger’s Manifesto.” The chapters are available online. Don’t steal the book, download it. Or buy it from Amazon or in book stores when it comes out in October 2007.

I’m not updating these pages any more, but I’m still reading comments so please leave one. In the one year of its existence this blog had 97,467 visitors.

yours always,

Erik

P.S. Btw, my new blog, “Too Many Mangoes,” is now up and running.

10 days to go

The fall semester has now finally ended even in my part of the world. We’re off for a six week New Year’s break! It was a long slog, and I must admit I was pretty fed up already around December 24/25. That’s just the way I was conditioned. But we made it in the end.

New Years itself is not until February 17. Diane got us tickets to Macao and Hong Kong for two weeks. Despite all my years in Asia, I’ve never actually set foot outside of Hong Kong’s airport. Everyone says two weeks is too long but I can see a prolonged visit to HK Disneyland coming up. Let’s hope I can fight off my Marcusean instincts. Why always be so cynical about everything?

Btw, only 10 days to go before I finally resign from the LSE. I resigned in my mind a long time ago — see more below — but the paperwork must be updated. Besides, I’d like to start my new work for real before I quit. That’s happening on February 1st. I’m thinking of what to write in the letter to Howard Davies. Something short and sweet. Perhaps you have some suggestions?

In the news (again)

They are writing about me in The Beaver again, the LSE student newspaper. Yes, I did cc them in on the “Xmas Card to the LSE bosses.” An institution like the LSE must learn to live by its own rules.

Btw, the Amazon.uk web page has started listing my blogging book as forthcoming. It’s just a dummy page so far — and I’m not sure about the title the publisher has chosen, “A Blogger’s Manifesto” — but the price is just right — 8.99 pounds. It’ll come down to about 4-5 pounds when resold.

The Footnotes, one year today

The Footnotes is one year today! And what a year it’s been. Lots of posts, lots of comments, and well over 70,000 visitors. As a way to celebrate 365 days of impertinence, I here republish the very first post:

A funny thing happened at work today. The most pompous of my colleagues — Oxbridge education, plummy accent, egg on waist-coat — was giving a long and particularly tedious talk. Then he drew something on the blackboard. An impromptu map, I think, but at this stage I was no longer paying attention. He continued speaking but turned around repeatedly and added to the map. For each addition the picture began to look more and more like a penis. After a while there was no doubt. There it was: a perfectly formed manhood in all its fully erect glory. Testicles, pubic hair and everything. I began laughing. First a little snicker, than a louder guffaw. Heads were turning in my direction. I whispered my observation to the person next to me who made a face of disgust. How dared I! Not funny. Not funny at all.

It was childish of course. Very childish. Both to laugh about it and to blog about it. “I can’t write that,” I thought, “my colleague is too easily recognizable.” Then again the joke was mainly on me, not on him. If I chose to be childish in public, it was my decision. Besides, this is a free country, right? I can say what I like. And I did.

Talking to prospective, Asian, PhD students

Dear Prospective Asian PhD student,

I know you really want to go to the United Kingdom to study. There are very famous universities there — Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and many others. This is, you’ve been told, where the best students in the world meet the best professors. If nothing else, your parents will be endlessly proud of you and you’ll have a future job in the bag. The prestige value of a UK PhD is immesurable.

Still, I suggest it’s a scam. They are taking advantage of your eagerness to get ahead in life through educational means. Perhaps it’s time for a short reality-check:

  • English universities really aren’t all that good. Far inferior than the best American universities and certainly not much better than universities in Scandinavia, Germany or France.
  • Don’t forget, PhD programs in UK universities, in contrast to American, have no course component. All you get for your tuition fee — some 12,000 pounds per year — are a few chats with your supervisor. When you factor in the cost of living in a city such as London, this is likely to be about as much as your family’s entire annual income.
  • Add the lousy weather, the lousy food and it all becomes very unattractive indeed. Yes, and I forgot the barely concealed racism against anyone with an East Asian accent. They’ll take your money, but they won’t take you seriously. More on British racism here.
  • If you go ahead with your UK PhD, what you’ll soon realize is that you’ll be far better off doing your research back in your home country. You’ll save money that way and most likely you’ll be closer to your primary sources. Before long you’ll find yourself sending 12,000 pounds off to the UK every year and getting absolutely nothing in return — no library access, not even an absent-minded supervisor.  It’s like an international aid program in reverse. Before long the absurdity of the situation will be hard to ignore.
  • The only thing you’ll get in the end is the alleged prestige of a UK degree. Yes, this is still worth something today but only since universities and employers in East Asia are slow to catch up on the serious trouble that UK academia is in. The Singaporean authorities have. They are not encouraging students to travel to the UK for a PhD anymore. Other Asian countries will soon draw the same conclusion.
  • Let’s assume that the prestige of UK universities has a half-life of about 50 years. If that’s true, your PhD won’t be worth nearly as much by the time you are ready to go on the job market, and it’ll be worth even less some decades into your career.

The obvious alternative is to do a PhD in one of the many outstanding universities in East Asia itself. There are many that give courses in English, full of world-class professors and world-class students. NCTU, where I work, is a great example. The cost here is far, far lower — including living costs — and you’ll have a much easier time adjusting. There is no racism and no behind-your-back condescension. There are no woolly sweaters and no woolly grub. And most importantly, the prestige value of your East Asian PhD is a commodity whose value is on the rise.

Good luck!

My last cohort of LSE students just graduated in London. Yes that’s right, somewhat perversely the Master’s students who have their exams in the spring only graduate in December.

For graduation, students from around the world fly back to London, often together with their proud parents. But not that many academics bother to show up for the ceremony. LSE faculty, famously, like to bugger off as soon as the term ends. The graduation itself consists of a mock-Oxbridge costume party and a cocktail thingy with watered down champagne and taco chips. I wonder what the parents make of it? Is this what they paid all that money for? Yet they are consistently very, very proud.

Let’s forget about awkward graduation ceremonies and about taco chips. We had some exciting times together. You were good friends of mine for a while. So full of ambition and fun, intelligence and self-doubt. I learned from you and I hope you learned something from me.

My life has moved on since London and so have yours. It’s a good thing. A life that moves on is always better than a life that grinds to a halt. Good luck to you all! Don’t follow leaders, watch the parkin’ meters.

Xmas card to LSE bosses

Christmas is a time when you look back on the year that’s been and you send Christmas cards to those you remember particularly fondly. Of course I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of my bosses at the LSE. Where would I be without you? Not the owner of a semi-famous blog and not an emotional asylum seeker in Southeast Asia..

Anyway here it is … to be delivered by the Members of the LSE Free Speech Group.

Dear members of the Free Speech Group,

My name is Erik Ringmar and I’m a senior lecturer in the government department. During the past year I was engaged in a controversy with the convenor of my department, George Philip, and with the director of the School, Sir Howard Davies. The reasons for the controversy were 1) a speech I gave to prospective undergraduate students at the Open Day event on March 22; and 2) my personal blog in which wrote about the Open Day event and other business having to do with the School. In May the controversy became a national news story.

I’m enclosing copies of two emails, one from George Philip, the other one from Howard Davies. My contention is that Philip and Davies are in breach of the LSE’s code regarding freedom of speech. As you know, the Code explicitly incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, 1948, which states that…

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his or her choice.

And as the same LSE Code makes clear:

Action by any member of the School or other person contrary to this Code, will be regarded as a serious disciplinary offence and, subject to the circumstances of the case, may be the subject of proceedings under the relevant disciplinary regulations, as promulgated from time to time.

As you will see from the emails, Philip reprimanded me for speaking to students in my own fashion and Davies issued threats against me for things I wrote in my blog. As a consequence my right to free speech has been taken away. They have, as far as I understand it, acted “contrary to this Code” and their actions should be “regarded as a serious disciplinary offence.” As members of the Schools Free Speech Group, I ask you to rule on their behaviour and to censor them in accordance with the rules of the School.

Quite apart from the details of my case it is obvious that the School needs a policy on free speech which protects bloggers and other internet users from threats, reprimands and intimidation. The current rules are not enough. There are many students, staff members and departments, that maintain blogs and we don’t know what we can and cannot say. Establishing such a code is a matter of some urgency.

yours sincerely,

Erik Ringmar

Google search terms

This is kinda interesting: a list of the recent Google search terms that have taken web-surfers to this site.

  • bigpricks
  • US PhDs better than UK PhDs
  • cecile fabre zlatko PhD take to court
  • “sprung a leak”
  • unofficial guide to lse
  • killing Tony Blair
  • eric ringmar lse
  • acromegaly in horses
  • career day speeches
  • “ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road”
  • getting laid in hsinchu
  • lse freedom of speech blog
  • swedish girls are so beautiful
  • US mid-term elections
  • dooced from the LSE
  • famous lse anthropologists
  • what are footnotes and their importance
  • howard davies utter fool of himself
  • why I hate IKEA

Diane suspects it’s MI5 or the CIA that googles for “killing Tony Blair.” I’m telling her they have more sophisticated methods of catching terrorists. I’m right, aren’t I?