Forging a new Britain

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A stamp of approval from Sir GeorgeGeorge Osborne cunningly distracted everyone from the horrors of his latest budget by revealing, the day before, the design for Britain’s new fraud-proof £1 coin, with its 450 sides, CCTV system, surround sound, Bluetooth compatibility and south-facing garden.

It’s so far cost only £2 million to design, and replacing every vending machine and parking meter in the country will cost an additional £15-20 mill. Absolute bloody bargain.

The coin was developed by the Royal Mint, which was founded in the year 886. As the world’s oldest manufacturer of currency, the organisation existed throughout the good old fashioned days when the sun never set on the British Empire without asking permission first; which presumably makes it a Mint Imperial.

It also lived through those dark pre-decimal days when pounds consisted of 20 shillings. The new £1 coin is based on the old thruppenny bit (value: 3p, obviously). Other new coinage based on retro currency includes, of course:

New pound coin…with a value of £280,000.

Of plebs and Pakistan

the_peacock_by_fatimahpantophag-d3ldskj[1]Pakistan has had its own version of the Plebgate incident, and three police officers who were guarding the Prime Minister’s residence have been suspended.

What did these three do wrong? It wasn’t fabricating a lie about a government minister. No, their misdemeanour was to allow a cat to “devour” one of the Prime Minister’s official peacocks.

According to national newspaper The Express Tribune, 21 officers were questioned over the incident. 18 were cleared of all charges but three “admitted they were on duty but did not anticipate a cat eating the peacock at night”. Perhaps it conflicted with the cat’s usual schedule.

Anyway, after the incident was seemingly over, along came a dog that bit the cat: fancy that, to bite a cat.

Blue lights

The Metropolitan Police this week admitted that it costs them £100 a throw to replace lightbulbs. Gilbert and Sullivan were like well unimpressed by this.

Dispatch from Durham

Durham is also home to the north east's only native population of pandas.

Durham is also home to the north east’s only native population of pandas.

An unpublished independent review into the governance of Durham University, conducted by the attorney-general of the Falkland Islands (obviously), has found that there is “a real culture of fear has developed in the university” and that “personal relationships can have undue influence over the outcome or expediency of decision-making processes”.

Peter Judge’s report also reported that university managers inappropriately dominate Senate, the main executive body of the organisation, and the Vice-Chancellor tends to act unilaterally as “the only voice” in making senior appointments.

According to Times Higher Education, Durham managers also attempted to dissolve the university Ethics Committee, which was apparently not needed in such a stellar institution.

Thank goodness I’m fortunate enough to attend a university which is nothing like this at all.

Prisoners’ right to read

sized_39846071-5830349[1]Chris Grayling has decided that prisoners don’t need access to books, so should not be allowed to receive them by post at all.

His decision is vaguely reminiscent of the California authorities’ ruling last year that prisoner Andreas Martinez should not be allowed to read the novel The Silver Crown. When that case reached the California Court of Appeals last year, a slightly bemused senior judge ruled:

We cannot simply dismiss the work as nonserious literature because it deals with werewolves and other paranormal creatures and activities. For better or worse, some segment of the population is fascinated by werewolves and other mythical beings. [...] Whether contemporary readers drawn to this genre actually believe in werewolves [or] whether they see in such works a metaphor for some kind of human transformation [...] the fact remains that werewolf literature retains a place in modern American and European society.

[... The book] does not advocate or tend to incite violence. Werewolves attack humans. Werewolf hunters kill werewolves. There is no morbid fixation on violence Most of the violence in the book is committed by or against mythical creatures, not humans.

[...] ‘The Silver Crown’ is a group of 12 elite and especially powerful werewolves, one of which has been killed by Iris. Mistakenly believing he was killed by Alfie, Iris’s werewolf boyfriend, the remaining 11 search for Alfie, ostensibly to put him on trial as a traitor. Witches, meanwhile, have prophesied that Iris will kill the Silver Crown.

Whoever said that reading court judgments is dry and uninteresting? One gets the impression that m’lud had never read a werewolf-related book before but found himself thoroughly enjoying it!

Those banned-from-prison books in full:

  • The Book Thief (obvs!)
  • Diary of a No Body Was Ever Found
  • Bleak Housebreaking
  • An Inspector Calls for Reinforcements
  • Dr Jekyll and Mr Concealment
  • 50 Shades of Grey Stripes
  • The Coded Message of the Woosters by PC Wodehouse
  • Harry Potter and the Chamberpot of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firearms Convictions
  • Robberson Crusoe
  • Charlotte’s Web Access
  • The County Court of Monte Cristo
  • Catch 22 on the Third Window on the Right is Loose
  • DNA: The People’s Princess
  • A Hacker’s Guide to the Samsung Galaxy S5

Prisoners’ right to vote

winnfield louisianaMy dissertation research threw up the astonishing 2002 election dispute of Nugent v Phelps. Benji Phelps was police chief of Winnfield, Louisiana, a city of 6,000 people which elects its senior police officers.

Anyway, Mr Nugent lost the election, and Phelps was re-elected by four votes. Then some interesting details began to come out…

Phelps had set up a $100 tab behind the counter of Winni-Mart, a grocery store, with instructions that anyone who voted for him would be entitled to $5 of free convenience goods.

One lady “said she had planned to vote for Mr. Nugent but instead sold her vote for two packs of cigarettes and voted for Mr. Phelps,” and it’s hard to tell which suffered more, democracy or her cardiovascular system.

katy-bourne-criminalPerhaps more to the point of a police-related election, incumbent police chief Phelps had arranged for three Nugent campaigners to be imprisoned throughout the entire poll, preventing them from voting and going door-to-door canvassing others’ votes.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I think that directly electing senior leaders in the police service is quite a bad idea.

All I say is… if I’m imprisoned shortly before Katy Bourne stands for re-election in 2016, you know why!

Five of the best

Tonight’s denominations
In tonight’s episode, George Osborne broke Britain. The Met said, “Let there be light!”  Michael Farthing provided management consultancy services to Durham University. Chris Grayling started railing. Benji Phelps ruled Louisiana with an iron fist. And Andrew Mitchell ate the Prime Minister’s cat, or something. This was an Gabrielquotes production!
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Proceed with caution

Schedule A has finished, and the ‘Sussex 5′ disciplinary process has concluded. Result: a caution emailed to each of the five students last week. Possibly the most expensive piece of spam in history.

professor pete clifton sussex university report

The verdict’s in

The report of Professor Pete Clifton in one of the cases notes: “I regret that [...] the student concerned [resorted] to a series of legal arguments rather than to engage in a process that would help to take the University forward as a collaborative academic community.”

It’s good to hear that Sussex disapproves of those who prevaricate with legal argument rather than engaging in dialogue.

No doubt that’s why they obtained a High Court injunction banning “any protest” on campus for six months and have spent almost £20,000 persecuting students who tried to, erm, engage in dialogue.

The legal arguments involved in this hearing weren’t exactly negligible, either. Although the rules say that the hearing should have been conducted by the student’s Head of School, it wasn’t. For some reason, this particular Law student was tried by Clifton, who is Head of the School of Psychology.

Professor Pete Clifton. Date of call to the Bar: never.

Professor Pete Clifton. Date of call to the Bar: never.

On this point, he ruled: “I agreed to chair this Schedule A hearing because, after carefully reading Regulation 2 [...] I believed that I was in an appropriate position to do so.”

So after “carefully” reading a text which said, in plain English, that he was not qualified to hear the case, Petey C agreed to hear the case. One might, at this point, have a suspicion that he doesn’t possess the analytical mind required of a rational arbiter.

But fear not, because he amply justified himself: “My view remains, supported by the conclusions that I have reached, that [this] hearing was appropriate.” His view, supported by his conclusion. Nothing quite like informed decision-taking, is there.

In other news, meanwhile, the University is still refusing to release material about the hearings despite, erm, freedom of information legislation requiring this.

In a letter from head of student services Claire Powrie, she of the infamous, “It is my determination that your complaint is not admissible because a 48 hour delay in releasing assessment results does not constitute a failure in University service,” they persisted in claiming that it would contravene the students’ rights not to have their personal data release.

When it was pointed out that the students wanted this material published, Powrie said: “The University is not obliged to take into account the views of the relevant individuals.” Oh, but wait… I thought this was about protecting their right to privacy?

She continued: “The University is of the view that it would not be possible for the [students'] consent to be fully informed.” So the position is that a group of postgraduate and final-year undergraduate students, who have had 3+ years of Sussex University education, are not in a position to reach informed decisions about their own welfare. Glad we’re being so well-prepared for adult life!

Either that or Claire Powrie is jaw-droppingly patronising and ought to be relegated to primary school work from now on.

Biting the bullet

Some of the children I work with are awkward enough with their irrefutable logic of justice (“Where in the rules does it say I can’t use a water-pistol indoors?”) as it is.

And although I’m all for youth empowerment, the thought of them being armed with fully-operational and 100% lethal pistols is rather chilling.

And, as if selling guns labelled ‘My First Rifle’ (yes really) weren’t bad enough, they are available with a pink laminate designed especially for girls: so not only is Crickett, the Pennsylvania company that sells these articles, encouraging children to go round killing people; they’re also engaged in gender stereotyping. Bastards.

KSA420[1]Testimonials on their website include: “My 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter thought the pink one was far superior to a black one.” Oh good, I’m so glad that this toddler was able to obtain a lethal weapon in a colour that didn’t clash with her Dora the Explorer hunting knife and Hannah Montana nuclear submarine.

One parent was “thrilled” to be able to get his daughter into shooting, because “it’s one of my favorite hobbies: I will get to spend a lot more time with her now becuase [sic] of it.” Let me get this straight: this parent was going to limit the time he planned to spend with his child unless she was willing to go out distributing bullets with him. Perhaps the old family traditions aren’t dying out after all!

Another delighted customer said: “I recently purchased one of your rifles from my 7-year-old daughter.” Yes, they said ‘from’. Not ‘for’. ‘From’. They apparently bought a rifle from a 7-year-old girl.

So who says gun control’s necessary at all? After all, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a 2ft tall child with a glittery pink rifle.

A bit of a basket case

The annual updates to the Consumer Prices Index basket of goods were announced last week: the typical selection of products and services which British households spend their money on, used to measure inflation and economic growth. In went digital camera lenses, bird feed and Netflix. Out went DVD recorders, takeaway coffee and hardwood flooring.

george campbell vox popSir George Campbell MP was particularly discomfited by gardeners’ fees being removed from the equation. And he’s perturbed at some of the ghastly new-fangled additions too. Here he is to speak about his dislike of “fresh fruit snacking pots”:


katy bourne sussex elderly harassment

We’ve got the blues

The Jewish Chronicle reported last Friday on a High Court decision against unofficial Jewish medical services using blue lights on their vehicles. Astonishingly, it’s illegal for people just to declare themselves an emergency service and fit a siren to their car, without at least checking with the authorities. Hard to believe, right?

Although the ruling was delivered by Mr Justice Jay (or Jay J) of Leveson fame, the senior judge on the bench wasn’t Jewish. So here’s how the JC [could of] reported it:


Corruption in the body Sussex

Sussex’s Fraud Response Plan was activated this month! According to a document seen by this blog, the University Audit Committee – chaired by Catherine Moroz, chief lawyer for Virgin Media – had to deal with “a relatively long term overpayment to a member of staff who had not reported the overpayment”.

Word got about that John Duffy was approaching

The audience at the 2011 ‘How not to Overpay People £75k’ seminar

In the following sentence of the briefing was contained the minor detail that this overpayment was £75,000, ie. seven times more than my total tuition fees throughout my time at Sussex. It is unclear how it took incompetent Finance staff so long to spot that a member of staff was happily accepting all this extra dosh.

“Processes have been revised since the discovery of the event to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of such an event occurring,” notes the report from Allan Spencer, Director of Finance. No kidding!

Fortunately, though, there is a happy ending. The University has arranged with the beneficiary of this free gift that they will pay it back over “some years”, this apparently being “better than going to law on this issue” – and certainly less publicly humiliating.

This decision was taken “following extensive expert advice from Pinsent Masons, our lawyers” – and I’m prepared to bet money that this advice cost more than the University recoups. Fun financial times ahead!

Five of the best

My cast, supported by the people who were in the production…
In tonight’s episode, justice was meted out by Professor Pete Clifton on behalf of Michael Farthing, and the leaked information was provided to me by Princess Diana. Sussex’s elderly had had enough of Katy Bourne. Sir George Campbell was introduced to snacking pots. And Lady Justice Rafferty perpetrated the worst infringement of Jewish civil liberties since Munich. This was an Gabrielquotes production!
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