Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Had one of them days today. My laptop got to Amsterdam. I lost my wallet. The college lost my essay. And I've got a harrowing tutorial tommorow. Anyone know of any household product I can consume that will make it impossible to anger me. Basically I need an industrial strength anger suppressant. And if that fails, the instructions on how to dispose of a body in central London.

Hoodwink'd with Vocational, Functional, Sticky-Tape Fancy

Mike Baker is reporting that we're gonna have lots more business studies graduates in a few years. Great, just what society needs - people with no actual intellectual or practical skills, just the ability to talk nonsense. You see, when the academy loses it's academic purpose, it doesn't get replaced with a superb vocational education.

I wouldn't object to vocationalism if a few things happened...

One, we stop playing the equivalence game. Someone who's toiled over Wittgenstein or Heidegger is in a different class from someone who has learnt how to cook burgers. Now, the market opportunities for the philosopher aren't great, and in fact, the market will reward the burger van owner better than the philosopher.

But just because the market rewards something highly doesn't mean the academy should also. If you want to make a lot of money, simply work out a gap in the market and fill it with your labour, your creativity and/or your investment. But, ideally, in the academy this means nothing.

Two, don't call it a degree. Call it a vocational diploma or a foundation degree. Or a Bachelor of Business. But don't call it something it's not.

Three, cut out the bullshit. If you're going to be getting people in to university to train them to work rather than to think, don't give them pretend thinking courses. A panelbeater doesn't need "Philosophy and Sociology of Panelbeating". We don't need "Philosophy of Management" doublespeak. Philosophy is what philosophers and, more broadly, humanists do. Not business studies students.

Now, there are certain things which are better taught by academics than anybody else. Not many things, but a few. Law, for instance. Though the legal profession calls it an "academic law degree", it's not academic in the way that, say, history is. But it's close enough in skill set to academic study that to teach that at the university is fine.

The other thing which Mike Baker brings up is the "soft skills" issue. The sort of skills listed are things like "database handling and PowerPoint presentations", "team-working, cultural awareness, leadership and communication skills". This just says it all. Isn't there a saying: the true gentleman is the man who knows how to play the bagpipes but doesn't? Well, I'm a dab enough hand with the PowerPoint, but I'd like to think that I'm mature enough not to use it... ";->"

If this is what we're playing for, then my philosophy course has taught me the following soft skills: the ability to work to deadlines, the ability to rigourously analyse arguments and identify presuppositions, the ability to write clearly and to the point, the ability to conduct independent research and to find the material which matters most, the ability to see my existential issues, the ability to talk about a complex subject for twenty minutes, the ability to realise life's total futility and become a nihilist, the ability to revaluate traditional morality and become an Übermensch, the ability to punch a hole in stupid and futile arguments by evangelical dimwits and the ability to see the childish pleasure in doing so. Employ me, for I am a Nietzschean atheist of the first degree and will really liven up your human resources department.

Seriously though, I feel very sorry for the next generation of students. I've gotten away with paying £1,125 a year and am getting a top-class education in something that I'm passionate about (although not necessarily at nine o'clock in the morning). Why would I want to pay three times the price to study something mind-numbingly dull like "Social Work"?

Similarly, the whole "soft skills" thing really sounds like it's just a ticklist of adult common sense traits. Actually, I'm not sure it's even adult. A similar list was used back when I was at primary school. "Can match shapes". Tick. "Can use the bathroom unaided". Tick. "Responds to simple commands". Yep. "Can give PowerPoint presentation". Well, duh. "Can work with others". Uh-huh.

I suppose, since students at LSE decided a few months back that it would be a stunningly funny idea to go and destroy the English department of rival University of London college King's in a drunken riot by members of, surprise surprise, the "Athletic Union" (I was shocked: usually it's the Chess Club, D&D Anonymous and the Anime Society who go on booze-fuelled vandalism raids), employers need reassuring that the graduate they're hiring can act as if they're over the age of ten, even if their brain is still stuck in primary school.

Ben Goldacre has a good post on the BBC drama Judge John Deed and it's anti-scientific tendencies. Why can't the guys in white coats be right once in a while? I actually rather like the show, but hate the fact that it builds on such ridiculous ideas. Also check wongaBlog.

Wowza! Virgin Trains gets the idea! They have sockets for laptops in standard class. No wifi, but this is a pretty fantastic idea. This way, I'll get to Birmingham with my battery charged up, and I'll get back to London with it charged up. Superb. Big, big plus. Now, if only they could turn the announcements off. I know that I'm going to Birmingham, for crying out loud. I don't need you to tell me that I am.

Good news. Start the Week, Broadcasting House, Today in Parliament and Front Row are all coming to podcasting. Fantastic. I love Today in Parliament but never listen to it.

Plastic: "By now the consequences of the government's War on Drugs are clear. Attacking supply and not demand has sparked a vicious and violent underground economy. A sum of $19 billion is spent every year prosecuting this war, the result of which is that the "land of the free" locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other country, a quarter of which are for drug offenses. Perhaps the enduring legacies of this war are the weakened communities and the resultant lack of economic mobility for those caught up in it."

So, Ken got kicked out for a month yesterday. Then I find this interesting chunk. So, Ken, with one hand, tells us that those who believe in an afterlife shouldn't be able to discuss politics because they've got a vested interest - and, at the same time, play constantly for the Muslim vote. Ken: you're not just a horrible creature, you're a hypocrite. Enjoy your month off...

Austin Cline is discussing how the Religious Right have a "gay fetish". Sorry, but I am trying to wash the vision of Pat Robertson in leather chaps and chains, whipping Jerry Falwell's ass with a tawse, out of my head. Perhaps Bill Dembski and Behe could be the cowboys from "Brokeback Mountain with Specified Complexity".