Month: March 2013

The 5773 Pesach Special

If you’re not Jewish or want to skip straight to the bit about the riot police, click here!

Pesach sameach from Gabrielquotes! I’ll be taking a bit of a holiday over the next week or two so enjoy it while you can…

downing street model seder

Why not get comfortable and dunk an egg in salt-water while I pass over to the Biblical Broadcasting Corporation for a whole plateful of this year’s Pesach News:

Also in the news: could karpas represent the green shoots of economic recovery? (That’s absolutely enough of that. -Ed.)

Welcome aboard Sussex Airlines

badger censored(They say the old ones are the best…)

There’s a scene in the wonderful sitcom Party in which a group of students are trying to decide where their new party should sit on the political spectrum. Eventually they decide, “We won’t be left-wing or right-wing. We’ll be inside the ’plane.” I’ve spent much of this week inside the aeroplane that is Sussex, straddling the wings, and it still amazes me that I didn’t have more fellow passengers.

The Overture

Sussex hit the national headlines on Monday due to a ‘national demonstration’ against outsourcing for which protestors were bussed in from other universities around the country. The high point of this demonstration actually came a couple of days before, when the Lord High Registrar, John Duffy, complained about not being consulted by the students bringing “outsiders” onto campus.

I’m genuinely at a bit of a loss to know how to satirise that. I would probably have done something like…

john duffy press statement

…but unfortunately that wouldn’t be satire, it would be real life, because that’s exactly what he said. I’ve always felt that anyone without a sense of irony should be barred from holding public office, but I guess that would leave Sussex without any leadership. (Well, even more without any leadership than at the moment, that is.)

Act 1: It Kicks Off

So, the March 25th protest went ahead with its own hashtag and everything. It started peacefully, with the University shutting down half of campus [update April 2013: page now deleted by University – wonder why – but a copy is here] of their own accord to frustrate the demonstrators, which made things easier for the demonstrators, who aimed, erm, to shut down campus.

Around 1,000 miscellaneous peoplevery miscellaneous in some cases – turned up to Library Square at 1o’clock to hear some rousing speeches, including one by a supportive Labour MP who got heckled because Labour introduced tuition fees so they’re obviously all the enemy.

Observing this gathering of hundreds and hundreds of committed students, the President of the Sussex Conservative Society took the opportunity to claim that “the demo is having little impact” on the basis that – and I quote – “all the broadcasters there are using second-rate tripods.” Yes. That is a well-known scientific way of measuring the impact of a protest, and I’m sure that the BBC send out their very best tripods to cover TorySoc events such as the upcoming and sadly unironic Port & Policy.

But at this point the tables began to turn.

Act 2: Bringing the House Down

Sussex House is the management building where Michael Farthing and John Duffy work (in a broad sense of the word). On #Mar25, though, they gallantly buggered off home early and left the remainder of their staff literally locked inside. Many of these are quite junior staff, remember, the trade union members that the anti-outsourcing groups apparently seek to protect.

I guess it was pretty inevitable though, that a group of masked protestors would gather round Sussex House, smash their way past the assembled hordes of riot police and private security, start burning documents from Michael Farthing’s office (Wot no climate change? -Ed.) and leave the building a gaping husk of broken glass.

This divided opinion. The #Mar25 Twitter stream became a battle between those who insisted that “a few broken doors” is a minor sacrifice in the revolution (this camp produced comments such as, “Oooh, it’s so tragic, some poor paper got hurt!” and, “They were Barclays Bank documents therefore fair game for tinder,”) and those who felt that the anti-outsourcing campaign had just lost a huge amount of support by turning needlessly violent.

A couple of broken windows is a minor inconvenience compared to the loss of up to 235 jobs through privatisation, yes, obviously. But that still doesn’t explain how breaking them helped the cause in any way. Last week I criticised John Duffy for using unfair tactics to silence their opposition. Now I sadly have to say the same about the demonstrators.

And I still can’t quite believe the so-called person who said, “All arguments being levelled against #Mar25 protestors are the same as those levelled at the American civil rights movement,” – I mean, as far as I know, Rosa Parks only smashed her way into buildings and burnt documents when it was absolutely necessary.

Some of the more abashed demonstrators retreated to their Occupation to plot further strategy. There was a suggestion that they block off the A27 motorway that runs past campus. One person asked, “How would that prevent privatisation?” (how short-sighted they are!) and someone else replied, “Yolo!” That was another high point of the day actually.

Whatever happens I hope that John Duffy doesn’t call out private contractors to repair the day’s damage; that would be an irony overload.

Act 3: An Ode to the Conservative Party, in J-Major

Now it’s not for me to tell the Conservative Society its job, but if I were them I’d have capitalised on this moment of vulnerability and seized the chance to represent, for once, the silent majority on campus.

However, they nobly declined to take advantage of others’ weakness, and instead lurched way to the right and began calling, basically, for the death penalty to be extended to anyone not on their membership list.

Apparently the leaders of the Sussex anti-outsourcing movement should be “punished” immediately, without the hassle of gathering evidence against them, because the Sussex organisers “without a doubt had deliberate criminal intent.” (Remind me why we’re letting this party introduce secret courts?)

sussex-conservative-society-torysoc-safetyOne TorySoc member, a former Vice-President, also proposed the establishment of a vigilante “Student Safety Society, that protects innocent law abiding students from the criminal activity occurring on our campus by standing around buildings preventing them from being vandalised.” Yes, those were the exact words used. Christ, this is Falmer village, not Gotham City! (See picture on far right.)

The Finale

The whole day was utterly appalling, and until then I had no idea that university students could actually be so dim, and that the aspiring politicians on both sides have such an outrageously poor grasp of how to behave in a civilised society.

The left took a good idea that united student opinion – not privatising the University – and they dragged it too far, going round and burning stuff.

And then the right failed to seize possibly the only moment in the history of Sussex when they could have had the backing of a majority of students – by criticising criminal damage – and instead took it too far the other way, wanting to lynch people and setting up some sort of wannabe stormtrooper force with a highly unfortunate acronym.

Meanwhile, the University has taken stern action against rising tide of students exercising their human rights, and obtained a sweepingly-drafted injunction which outlaws – and I quote – “any occupational or other protest,” ie. any protest, until the end of September. I bet Kim Jong-un wishes he could introduce a similar ban. (The University has repeatedly denied, almost to the point of imbecility, that the injunction bans peaceful protest, but I leave readers to their own interpretation. If you agree with mine then perhaps you could sign the petition here.)

So anyway, here I am, on-board the aeroplane, staring out at the wings slightly disbelievingly. Come join me…

Wednesday morning update: the full witness statement (“Dear sirs”) and Exhibits of the injunction have been released and can be found here. My blog gets a cameo appearance on p34 of Exhibit 1, and it’s also been observed that the University’s solicitor ticked the ‘no’ box in response to, “Does your claim [to restrict the right to protest] include any issues under the Human Rights Act?” Such fun!

The plague of wild beasts

One of my all-time favourite broadsheet headlines this week:

torchwoodIt seems that a surveyor found the discarded skin of a tarantula in a 19th-century house in the Welsh capital, and police are concerned that the animal – which could now be twice as large as the shed skin – may be covered in the same cancer-inducing asbestos that was found throughout the rest of the building.

And the tarantula’s still out there! I thought they’d stopped making Torchwood but apparently I was wrong. And I kind of had to make this…

You’ll like this bit, Lord Ahmed.

world jewish congress

The 1961 World Jewish Congres: a model of diversity

I hope if you’ve read this far you won’t accuse me of leading a dull life. But at the moment it’s especially undull because I’ve found myself appointed a UK delegate to the 14th Assembly of the World Jewish Congress, which will take place in Budapest in May.

I will be joined by other elected delegates from around the world, including some representing the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies. Hopefully they haven’t taken lessons on democracy either from Zimbabwe or from the Board of Deputies…

This is very exciting news, so I’ve booked myself a hotel room (“equipped with the new bedding,” which sounds absolutely lovely) and now all that’s left is for me to take up cigar smoking – see photo.

Expect an update in May!

Why is this blog unlike other blogs?
In tonight’s episode, the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand. Sussex was defended from the dark elements of criminality by the Praetorian Guard. Cardiff was terrorised by a ludicrous made-up menace. This was an Gabrielquotes production.

Sussex takes on Strasbourg

In today’s edition: censorship at Sussex; Lord Ahmed smells trouble; a dash in time saves nine; and whither the British press?
If you fancy more of this, leave your email address in the box to the right!

sussex-university-discipline

Incensed at an “abusive email” from a student suggesting that Sussex University managers are ruthlessly focussed on making money, the said managers decided to fine the student £100.

However, following a successful campaign by Sussex Students’ Union newspaper The Badger, the sentence has been commuted to “attending a one-to-one seminar with an academic on the boundaries of ‘fair comment’ in polemical communications.”

The controversy – in which someone emailed a Big Manager On Campus (‘BMOC’) to suggest, “Perhaps an apt job title for you would be Director of Corporate Tyranny and Human Suffering,” – came at the end of a week which saw a Palestinian court hand a man a one-year prison sentence for insulting Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and a European Court of Human Rights ruling which found that France had violated an activist’s freedom of expression by fining him for showing an abusive placard to Nicolas Sarkozy.

Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it, that such restriction of free speech doesn’t happen in our country. Well DON’T SPEAK TOO SOON, because it’s time for:

international criminal courtThis term’s Sussex Human Rights Roundup:

  • Trade union staff ordered to stop publicly opposing the privatisation of their members’ jobs (this one got us a mention in Private Eye which made my fortnight)
  • Members of the University Council instructed not to talk to trade unions and having their mailing list filtered
  • Academic departments told not to give the oxygen of publicity to our estimable Badger
  • The University hires big burly private security men who stand around looking tough
  • University Registrar John Duffy gives a hostile ‘open Q&A’ session accompanied by bodyguards, and refuses to be filmed by UniTV because he “wasn’t prepared”
  • University Registrar John Duffy has a chummy meeting with the Sussex Conservative Society

These ruses seem like increasingly desperate (and increasingly dodgy on the legal front) attempts to control the thoughts of a frankly tiny group of people on the campus of a tiny university.

It’s a bit sad that the management don’t have enough confidence in their arguments to let them face the competition of the [free speech] market: ironically the principle they use to justify the outsourcing of services in the first place.

The individual responsible for the ‘abusive email’ mentioned above is being dealt with according to the Regulation on Student Discipline, which instructs members of the Sussex community to “maintain a standard of conduct which is not harmful to the work, good order or good name of the University.”

That’s John Duffy in trouble for a start.

Wot no conspiracy?

lord ahmed jewsLord Ahmed was in trouble this week, after giving a TV interview in Pakistan complaining that his 2009 prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving (he was texting behind the wheel) had been “orchestrated by the Jews” who apparently control the media, the judiciary and – one assumes – the erratic movements of his car.

Debunking this myth of a Jewish conspiracy, Lord Ahmed was immediately suspended from the Labour Party by, erm, Ed Miliband.

All these dumb theories can possibly only have come from someone who has never sat through a Jewish meeting of any sort. There could never be a Jewish conspiracy because realistically we couldn’t get our act together to organise one. If anything, there’d be several rival conspiracies all competing, backbiting and engaging in turf warfare.

We’ve had our own ‘parliament’ in the Board of Deputies for 250 years yet we’re still no closer to reaching an agreement, not even on that most basic and crucial aspect of a conspiracy: deciding who gets to join in in the first place.

So here’s my suggestion: let’s try something new. Let’s actually have a Jewish ‘conspiracy’, so long as it means acting together, inclusively and with common purpose, and let’s see where that gets us. Probably somewhere better than we are at the moment.

PS: any Jewish readers, remember we have that top secret meeting under the Tower of London at 2pm tomorrow. Password: FALKLANDS.

It’s cancelled, dash it

dissertation dash girls

On dasher, on dancer…

Back in February, the University powers that be – soon to be outsourced to Powers That Be Solutions Inc. – decided to scrap the ‘Dissertation Dash’, a long-standing Sussex tradition in which final-year students run down a long path and up a flight of stairs to hand in their dissertation on the balcony of the Students’ Union building, all the while being cheered on by their fellow students.

The University, which disapproves of any event that involves both the Students’ Union and cheering, also decided to cancel it last year (for no particular reason) and then, after a heartfelt campaign, relented, and can now evoke this pointless episode for evermore as an example of how they really do listen to the student voice and sometimes change their plans after lobbying (cont. p94).

Indeed, there does seem to be a bit of a pattern of the Uni picking a completely arbitrary fight with the Union, holding negotiations, then backing down; while simultaneously making really controversial decisions with no consultation at all. But at least they sometimes listen to students, right?

Anyway, this year’s protests at the decision to cancel the Dissertation Dash were even more forceful, many of them taking place on Twitter using the dashtag #savethedash

And finally, the University came up with a compromise proposal which I’m sure will satisfy even the most traditionalist of students:

dissertation-dashI think that has to win some kind of All-Time Sussexballs ‘Off-the-Scale’ Award. It’s so offensively crap as an idea that I’m actually at a loss for words. (You will try though, won’t you? -Ed.)

They’ve suggested replacing a much-loved recreational tradition involving cheers, costumes and a bouncy castle, with 12 web-feeds of people performing dull administrative processes in obscure parts of the campus. 12 videos of students arguing over whether or not they’ve correctly paper-clipped their documents. 12 videos of staff taking a really long time to work out how to scan the barcode on a student ID card.

I hope this plan is implemented in time for next year’s Oscars, they’re onto a winner there.

This week’s news in a nutshell/case

Press in case of emergency

"How many votes will your party receive at the next election, Prime Minister?"

“How many votes will your party receive at the next election, Prime Minister?”

The future of the British media is in jewpardy jeopardy this week after a totalitarian government decided to implement the proposals of Lord Leveson (religion unknown).

At the eleventh hour, the three party leaders reached an agreement on implementing Leveson, each claiming that they had been victorious in the negotiations, even though a Downing Street spokesman couldn’t confirm that David Cameron had actually been awake at the time the breakthrough was made.

The agreement balanced Labour’s desire for a system that couldn’t be tampered with by politicians, and the Tories’ desire for a system with no Parliamentary legislation.

The compromise involved a Royal Charter which states that it can’t be amended without a vote in the House of Commons – no political interference there – and a small clause in an Act of Parliament re-stating this restriction. The Prime Minister insisted that this statutory underpinning is not statutory underpinning, because “it doesn’t recognise the Charter, it protects the Charter.” And it does that without recognising it? Bloody impressive stuff!

A spokesperson for The Daily Moan said, “This is a bleak day for Britain’s media. Despite us having shown, repeatedly, that we are able to regulate our own conduct to the highest standards of ethical behaviour, the state is cruelly insisting on future regulators all being impartial and thus not biased towards the press. How can we possibly operate if we have to play by the rules?”

However, I’m not sure whether Her Maj would be particularly happy about putting her name to such drivel. So I’ve invited constitutional expert Sir George Campbell MP to offer his views on the role of Royal Assent, and also – as usual – on racism:

How are you Jewing?
In tonight’s episode, the world was controlled by the Jews. The Dissertation Dash was replaced by a Dissertation Hyphen. The press was slightly regulated by Lord Justice Leveson. This was an Gabrielquotes production.