Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Plain Stupid - The politics of narcissistic nihilism for mainstream malcontents

📥  Society

Originally published on Spiked

That 13 supposed climate change protesters from direct action group Plane Stupid managed to breach security at London’s Heathrow Airport in the early hours yesterday, chaining themselves together and not being cleared from the runway until 10:00am, over seven hours later will, no doubt, be cause for considerable embarrassment in some circles.

True, the economic cost may not have been severe due to there being flight restrictions in operation relating to take-offs prior to 6:00am there, and the number of flights cancelled – 22 out of some 1,300 – would not have caused much more disruption than may be expected normally. But the implications in relation to more serious cases seems evident to many.

What, runs this dominant commentary, if the individuals concerned had not been the cheerfully smiling, predominantly well-to-do types, opposed to the planned expansion at Heathrow recently backed by the Airport Commission? What if they had been jihadists, affiliated to Al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State? What if they had been armed?

No doubt such questions ought to be asked in certain circles. But, at the same time, we should not lose sight of the fact that almost all supposedly secure facilities have had their security compromised in one way or another since 9/11 – despite the vast sums expended to ensure that this is not the case. If anything, such events suggest terrorism is not the main problem.

Even more significant to national pride and purpose – the Houses of Parliament in Westminster have been invaded on at least three occasions over recent years. Two members of campaign group Fathers 4 Justice threw flour bombs during Prime Minister’s Questions there in 2004. Later that year five supporters of the Countryside Alliance invaded the chamber.

Five years later over 50 Greenpeace activists climbed onto the roof of Westminster Hall, many of whom spending the night there prior to being removed later. Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle have suffered similar incursions – from self-styled activists, as well as burglars and attention-seekers. That Heathrow was compromised is part of a norm, not an aberration.

What’s more, this particular type of incident – often perpetrated by self-absorbed types in pursuit of their usually limited political agendas – are not even the most significant in relation to airports and aviation security. In the intervening period there have also been countless incursions worldwide to cargo areas by more organised criminals in pursuit of bullion and other goods.

If anything, this seems to confirm the analysis of American political scientist John Mueller from 2006 in his book ‘Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats and Why We Believe Them’. Stepping up security for passengers has done little to ensure integrity air-side. Terrorists know this, so there must be fewer of them than we imagine.

There is one aspect though – missed by most commentators – that we ought to pay some attention to. Those middle-class types, smiling for the photographers on the tarmac, are born of the same cultural malaise as many want-to-be terrorists and fantasy Islamists. They start from an unshakeable moral certitude regarding their project and require little public support or engagement.

They have also – by-and-large – been indulged by the various authorities who, in the past, more confident of what it was they wanted for society, would not have given any of them the time of day or handled them with the kid-gloves they use today. That is because those self-same agencies are no longer even sure of what it is that they believe in themselves now.

That someone could – irrespective of their purported beliefs – assume that interrupting the plans of thousands who have their reasons for doing what they do – whether it be attending a loved-one’s funeral in a foreign land or simply having a break – and not even trouble themselves to engage those people in a debate regarding their actions is a form of pretentious nihilism.

It is born of an age when we no longer demand of people that they support their actions through reason, or build community support for their opinions – but rather accept that if someone feels passionately about something then that alone may condone their actions. Having a grievance or being offended, according to many, can explain – if not justify – their rage.

Most alienated white Britons cannot readily join the ranks of those throwing a tantrum and heading off to Syria. They will have to find other forms of expression for their self-distancing disconnection from society. It may well be that terrorism is simply the more violent end of a spectrum connecting extremists to the far more prevalent and potentially problematic, mainstream narcissists.

Budget 2015: Our economists respond


📥  Election 2015, Public Policy

Experts from our Department of Social & Policy Sciences and Department of Economics give their reaction to measures announced in this week's Budget 2015 delivered by the Chancellor.


Professor Paul Gregg

"There are two stand out announcements in the Budget. The first is the large planned rise in the minimum wage for those aged 25+ - the 'Living Wage Premium', as George Osborne has dubbed it. This drew heavily, as acknowledged in the Chancellor's speech, on the Report for the Resolution Foundation of a Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir George Bain, of which I was a member.  The other was the large cuts in financial support (tax credits) for low income working families with children.

"Tax credits were the centre piece of Labour's drive to reduce worklessness, by improving work incentives, and child poverty. On both counts there have been huge improvements since they were introduced. In addition, during the recession the government again turned to tax credits to ease the pain from the recession. It has thus become extremely expensive and given the strong jobs recovery and the deficit it is right that wages should support families more and tax credits less.

"As families on tax credits earn more, the Treasury takes around 75 per cent of this in higher taxes and lower tax credits. So, higher minimum wages save the Treasury a lot of money. But under the government's announcements, families are not going to just lose most of the earnings increase from the higher minimum wage, but will face stinging cuts in the tax credits.

"These cuts will be much larger for working families than those out of work. The IFS suggests a typical working family on tax credits will lose £1,000 a year. To make this up in earnings the family will need to earn £4,000 more as the government will take 75 per cent of the increase in taxes and lower tax credits. So they get hit twice by the Treasury as they try to defend their living standards.

"It can be no surprise that the government announces it wishes to change the measurement of child poverty away from the focus on incomes, just before it announces huge cuts in incomes for families with children."

Listen to Paul Gregg on Radio 4's World at One discussing the measures announced in the Budget (starts at 18 minutes, 50 seconds).

Dr Bruce Morley

"The budget is a bit of a mix in that it contains some revenue raising measures, some reductions in government spending, but also some more expansionary measures such as the proposed cut in corporation tax.

"Much of the emphasis regarding tax is a substantial reduction in tax avoidance, for instance they are expecting to raise significant extra sums by limiting the non-domicile tax status. The limiting of mortgage interest relief on buy-to-let investments to the basic rate of income tax only is a reflection that the UK housing market could be overheating in some parts of the country, partly as a result of the rise in buy-to let-investments. The bank levy is being phased out, reflecting the fears that the UK is becoming uncompetitive for banking services, although it is being replaced by a surcharge or tax on bank profits, which will also not help the competitive position of the city.

"The prediction is that the UK budget will turn to a surplus during the 2019/20 year, with a big reduction in the deficit this year to £69.5 billion. As always the forecasts for the budget deficit will depend on economic growth maintaining a rate of about 2.5 per cent per annum over the coming years, which is possibly a bit optimistic based on recent growth rates. Apart from the proposed reduction in tax avoidance, there will be cuts in welfare payments over the coming three years, although on the other hand there will be a new national living wage, set to reach £9 per hour by 2020. So, overall the main aim of the budget is to reduce the deficit through cuts to the welfare budget and increased tax income, but whether the target of a budget surplus is attained by 2020 will depend on levels of economic growth over the next few years."

Professor Chris Martin

“Most attention was on welfare, with far-reaching reforms and a freeze in working age benefits, whose real value may fall by nearly 10 per cent before the next election. Below the radar, two other things may be just as significant.

"First, limiting public salaries to increase by no more than 1 per cent over the next four years.  For the 1 in 5 workers employed in the public sector, this implies, at best, a continuing freeze in real wages. If inflation moves as predicted, it implies a fall in real income.

"Second, there was nothing to address the most serious problem faced by the UK: the fact that productivity is nearly 20 per cent lower than in 2008. French workers produce as much in four days as a British worker produce in a week. Until this productivity crisis is reversed, the economy will not prosper."

‘OXI’ vote may herald new politics of hope, but it will take more than slogans and posturing to make it work

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📥  Public Policy

Greek social policy expert, Dr Theo Papadopoulos from our Department of Social & Policy Sciences, has commented on the significance and likely implications of last night’s ‘No’ vote in the Greek referendum on proposed austerity measures.

Dr Theo Papadopoulos comments on the likely impacts of last night's 'Oxi' vote in Greece.

Dr Theo Papadopoulos comments on the likely impacts of last night's 'Oxi' vote in Greece.

Speaking from Belfast, where he is attending this year's Social Policy Association Conference, Dr Papadopoulos said:

“Last night the Greek voters delivered a resounding OXI (NO) to the austerity-driven deal offered by Greece’s creditors. The No campaign secured 61.3 per cent of the vote and provided the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, with substantial political capital to negotiate a better deal for Greece.

“Today’s resignation of the Greek Minister of Finance, Professor Varoufakis, removed any pretext concerning ‘difficult’ negotiators and paved the way for a new and perhaps the final phase of the Greek debt negotiations that will decide the place of Greece in the Euro architecture.

“This is an historic day not only for Greece but also for Europe and perhaps the world. The role of austerity in the economic governance of Europe stands severely challenged, while the role of democracy in the process of European integration was re-affirmed. In the coming days the European leaders will be faced with historical decisions that will affect millions of lives in Greece and beyond. A new politics of hope may be emerging in Europe but it will take more than slogans and posturing to make it work.”


The battle of values and narrative - Tunisian attacks and IS

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📥  Public Policy

The UK Prime Minister today described Islamic State (IS) as ‘an existential threat’ to the Western World and the fight against them the ‘struggle of our generation.’ Here, Professor Bill Durodié, Chair of International Relations within the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies, responds.

Professor Bill Durodie responds to today's speech by Prime Minister, David Cameron (Image by Number 10, CC-BY-SA-ND)

Professor Durodié's research and expertise focuses on risk, resilience, radicalisation and the politics of fear. Here he responds to David Cameron speech following Friday's attacks in Tunisia (Image by Number 10, CC-BY-SA-ND).

'In the aftermath of the attacks in Tunisia last week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has presented the challenge posed by IS as a generational struggle, likening it to the fight against communism.

'He may be right to propose 'a battle of our values and our narrative against their values and their narrative', but, in the 15 years since 9/11 the emphasis has always been on the latter rather than the former.

'Successive British governments have found it particularly hard to identify and define their values and narrative, preferring to take these as assumed rather than engaging and inspiring others through a clear articulation of them.

'A former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Sir Richard Dearlove, was also on the record recently suggesting that part of the problem was in fact a loss of proportionality with respect to the Cold War which, at its peak, never engaged so-many resources as we see now in relation to the war on terror. That too may indicate how it is easier to state what we are against rather than arguing and acting in support of what we are for as a nation.'

- Professor Bill Durodié

Professor Durodié has highlighted the absence of a domestic narrative in the war on terror for over a decade. For more see http://www.debatingmatters.com/globaluncertainties/opinion/a_narrative_of_our_own/.

How EU data protection law could interfere with targeted ads


📥  Heath Science & Technology, Public Policy, The Conversation

Professor James Davenport is from our Department of Computer Science. This piece was originally written for The Conversation UK.

The successor to the 20-year-old European data protection directive has inched closer to becoming law, having been approved by the Council of Ministers, which represents each of the 28 EU member states. This has led to howls of anguish from some parts of the computing industry, not just the usual suspects based in the US such as IBM and Amazon, but also European firms such as German software company SAP.



Greece woes show how the politics of debt failed Europe

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📥  Public Policy, The Conversation

Dr Theo Papadopoulos is from our Department of Social & Policy Sciences. His research focuses on welfare capitalism across the EU and internationally. This piece was originally written for The Conversation UK.

In the world of brinkmanship, endgames and last minute concessions that have come to define Greece’s relationship with Europe, we can see the blueprint of an abusive relationship.

Greece / EU

What will happen in Greece and what are the wider ramifications around the EU?



Sometimes it’s hard to be a man

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

Dr Ed Keogh, from the Department of Psychology, is Deputy Director for our Centre for Pain Research.

Men should take better care of themselves. We die at an earlier age than women, despite women suffering more health conditions and making greater use of health services. Life expectancy differences may be different because of biology, but we also know that men engage in riskier activities, including poorer lifestyle choices. Men are more likely to drink excessively and smoke, both of which are associated with serious health conditions and increased hospital admissions.

Most worryingly, men are more likely to commit suicide, where they are three times more likely to take this route – percentages as high as 75% in the UK and 79% in the US have been recorded.

Campaigns such as Men’s Health Week and the seasonal sprouting of facial hair in support of Movember aim to get men more involved in their health. Men are less likely to talk about their health concerns because masculinity is commonly associated with being stoic rather than emotional. But to improve our health it’s time to start talking, and acknowledging pain is a good place to start.

Common pains

Pain is a signal that demands our attention – it tells us to take note and take care. It is common, yet complex in nature, and up to 19% of Europeans are reported to be in chronic pain.

Pain is associated with high levels of disability – the latest figures from the Global Burden of Disease Study group show that lower back pain is associated with the highest years lived with disability. Other types of pain also appear in the top 20, including neck pain (fourth), migraine (sixth), osteoarthritis (13th).

Pain also shows gender-related differences – women report more pain compared to men, are more likely to use analgesics and visit a pain specialist. However, this doesn’t mean men are immune from pain and related disability.

Data from the Health Survey for England in 2011 found 37% of women and 31% of men reported chronic pain, and figures from a recent US study found 21.6% of women and 16.2% of men reported persistent pain (which is frequent pain that lasts for more than three months). Both studies illustrate that men are not far behind in terms of the levels of pain they experience.

Painful silence

Despite the general focus on men’s health through events such as Movember, this has not yet translated to what we specifically know about men’s pain. There are clearly conditions that affect men, where pain may play a role, for example prostatitis, a prostate-related condition that can include pain. Embarrassment around such symptoms may prevent men seeking help.

There are also differences in pain behaviour, in that women report using a wider range of coping techniques, including social support. It is less clear what men do. Reporting pain and suffering is likely to be a problem for some, especially if they believe they should be strong, and not show signs of vulnerability.

Lab studies have shown that gender-based beliefs affect pain reporting, with pain tolerance levels higher in those with a strong masculine identity. But is this effect due to reduced pain sensitivity, or an unwillingness to show pain? Pain can also affect male gender identity, especially if men feel unable to meet expectations about what it is to be male. Pain can affect sexual function, which in turn can affect gender identity and contribute to depression.

Gender differences

While research into men’s pain exists, it is still somewhat limited. We should build on the general interest in men’s health, and see if we can develop it in the context of pain. We still need to discover what the key mechanisms are for explaining why men and women differ in pain.

There is a general reluctance in research to look for sex and gender differences. We are trying to change this through our own studies - we are currently inviting men and women to tell us more about their pain.

There will be important similarities, but differences too, and it is here we need to find out what is specifically relevant to men and women’s pain. It would seem sensible to know whether gender differences in pain are due to a reluctance in men to seek help.

We also need to know whether there are some approaches that are better suited to help men to deal with their pain. For example, can those interested in pain management learn from the men’s health literature, and develop initiatives to help men find better ways to talk about pain? A “men’s sheds” approach, which provides a physical space for men to meet and learn new skills, can be used to reduce isolation and improve health awareness – could be one approach to take.

Ultimately, we need to look beyond the idea that pain is a sign of weakness, and ask how men can use pain to stay fit, healthy, and alive for longer. Frank and open discussions about other notions of masculinity will also drive healthier behaviour in men.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

To complete Dr Keogh's latest survey about the gendered differences in pain see https://t.co/Pf5uOpWJRV


Meanings of the 1955 Bandung Conference for the Present Time

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📥  Public Policy

This week academic colleagues from our Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies are in Bandung, Indonesia where they are co-hosting a three-day event with the University of Education in Bandung focused on 'Remaking Bandung: Renewing Solidarity, Strengthing Educational Cooperation and Remaking Destinies for the Global South.' The original Bandung Conference took place 60 years ago and marked the step change in African - Asian economic and cultural cooperation in opposition to colonialism or neocolonialisation by any nation.

Here Dr Bryan Pak-Nung Wong, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations within the Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies, reflects on the meaning of the 1955 Bandung conference for the present time.



How manufacturing can revive growth in the UK economy

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📥  Innovation & Entrepreneurship, The Conversation

Michael Beverland is Professor in Marketing within our School of Management

Achieving growth and rebalancing the UK economy are among the key challenges facing the newly elected Conservative government. To succeed, it would do well to move away from the present over-reliance on retail, construction and the financial sector – and towards manufacturing. As well as a much-needed shift in policy, this requires a redesign in the way manufacturing is perceived in the UK.

Manufacturing suffers from a poor image. Despite a track record of sustained success, the sector remains burdened by pictures of plant closures, off-shoring, smokestacks and mundane factory line work. They all signal poor future prospects.

Even those most passionate about the making economy often reinforce the notion that the UK’s manufacturing prowess has been lost – when in fact the opposite is true. All too often, manufacturing is seen as something the UK once did, leading to the false perception that the UK no longer makes things.