L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

04 April 2007 Blog Home : April 2007 : Permalink

The Cambridge Networking Effect

This may possibly come across as snobbery. Or boasting. It isn't meant to be either. The excuse for my recent trip back to the UK was an alumni dinner at my old college in Cambridge (Magdalene). I don't know what other British colleges or universities do but Cambridge and Magdalene in particular have looked at what our American cousins do and copied their better ideas. The stated aim for this is to make the university independant of government funding for basic undergraduate teaching and thereby neatly sidestep any and all governmental intervention in their affairs. The problem was identified during the latter days of the conservative government but I think it is fair to say that it was given significant impetus once ZANU Labour started meddling.

Anyway the Magdalene alumni dinner is not just a posh dinner in hall (although there is indeed such a dinner) it also involves a short lecture by some Madgalene don on a subject that may be of interest. The Magdalene fellowship is actually rather strong at the moment and thus each of the last four years that I have attended I have been fascinated. In the past we've had lectures by Dr Eamonn Duffy on the contents of his recent books, on the sinking of Venice, on the socio-political background to Italian opera (trust me this was surprisingly interesting) and this year we had Sir John Gurdon giving us "Stem Cells for Dummies". As a regular reader of GNXP and other bioscience blogs (and someone who once worked for a biocatalysis/enzyme company) I ought to have know most of what he said before, but I didn't. Moreover he managed to explain the adult stem cells vs embyonic stem cells thing extraordinarily clearly and as a result a whole bunch of recent news and comment has started snapping into place. What he also did was explain very clearly were the ethical issues surrounding cloning and stem-cells and summarise the current state of the art - basically that there is a lot of work to do.

[Aside: One interesting thing is that I observed (again) the modesty of top scientists. Sir John mentioned that the first clones (of amphibians) were produced in the late 1950s but utterly failed to point out that he was the chap who did some of them. If you are interested then this is a great history of cloning with many quotes from Sir John and which explains who did what.]

Details of cloning and stem-cells may make their appearence in a subsequent post because this one is about something else. I was musing over the port about the strength of the collegiate system at Cambridge (and the Other Place) and it occured to me, and I doubt this is really an original thought, that governments and particularly control freak ones like ZANU Labour must absolutely hate them because they allow all sorts of extremely smart people to assemble in innocuous forms (e.g. alcohol fueled dinners) in relatively small numbers and potentially collude or conspire. I have no idea whether such collusion occurs but it could well.

Here's an example of how it might work. The instapundit notes that people are considering Letters of Marque for peace-keeping. Assuming the government doesn't like this much then the organizers would need to get their ducks in a row before going live. Using just the Magdalene reunions one could collect a large number of lawyers (including very senior judges, QCs etc.) to give legal advice on proposed mercenary peacekeepers, rich land owners and bankers who might finance them, a variety of former military folks who might help with the recruitment and leadership and numerous entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and others who might supply, build or research some weapons for you if you wanted something a little different. And of course you could find marketing and advertising folks to work on the PR campaign you'd need, doctors to advise on matters medical and so on. There is even the possibility that senior international tranzi bureaucrats and/or opposition MPs could be brought into the picture to consult on international ramifications (although one might want to keep both of them out of the loop in this example).

Of course even if that example is a tad far fetched similar brainpower could be brought to bear on all sorts of government ideas from biometric ID cards to (as was discussed on Saturday) stealth tax rises.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin