Monday, 11 May 2009

A steaming pile of manure (from The Spectator)

"Thirty years, almost to the day, after we greeted our first woman Prime Minister, we greet our first woman Poet Laureate.
Such subversion of the purpose of an old institution to suit the current office-holder is a feature of our culture. It seems to be happening at the Royal Geographical Society, which once sent Darwin to the Galapagos and Shackleton to the Antarctic. The RGS has not mounted its own expedition since 1998. A group of young rebels is forcing a special general meeting on 18 May and a ballot to try to make the society adhere to its original purpose, as expressed in its charter, and send proper expeditions once more. They argue that these enterprises produce a mass of scientific material, and engage directly, as geographers should, with actual places, people and nature. But the bosses of the RGS are people of committee meetings, not wide open spaces. The president, Sir Gordon Conway, is chief scientific adviser to the Department of International Development, and has a record as long as your arm in the world of quangos and busybody groups (he was on the committee which first launched the idea of Islamophobia in the 1990s). The director, Dr Rita Gardner, is also an adviser to the government, and is said to believe that the Fellows of the RGS should not be so named because this is offensive to women. During Dr Gardner’s time, the society has become more a trade union for academic geographers and less a body doing its own intellectual and practical work. It has set up a Space, Sexualities and Queer Working Group to promote interest in ‘geographies [that unnecessary plural is always a bad sign] on issues related to sexualities [ditto] and queer studies’. The RGS expedition advisory centre has been renamed ‘Geography Outdoors’. The bosses are trying to secure the vote, forbidding the rebels to circulate material putting their case to the Fellows, while printing their own argument against the motion on the back of the ballot paper. In normal times, one would calculate that these Blair/Brown-era operators would prevail, but, luckily, these are not normal times; and now Joanna Lumley, fresh from her triumph over the Gurkhas, has given her support to the rebels. So perhaps Sir Gordon and Dr Gardner can be thrown into the dustbin of histories."

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