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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Criminal Injustice System: Joe Paraskeva

I wonder if you are as appalled as I am by this story of the way our great justice system has treated a  young vulnerable man called Joe Paraskeva who voluntarily sought help for his bi-polar affective disorder. He has been imprisoned  in a young offenders institution; his only crime was, in his paranoia, to damage the door of the hospital room he was detained in. The judge, on the basis of a risk assessment carried out by an "expert" who had never actually met Paraskeva, sentenced him to serve a minimum of two years with no maximum - ie he can be held in prison indefinitely. What kind of "justice system" imprisons people who need and seek medical help for their mental health problems? If you want to do your small bit to hold the authorities to account there is a petition you can sign.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mike Waterson RIP

Anyone who thinks it is important to keep alive a space in our culture for music from the people, by the people and for the people will be mourning the death, yesterday, of Mike Waterson.  There is a a nice obituary in the Guardian. Here is a link to The Watersons singing The Good Old Way, a hymn some date to the Civil War (though more likely  it's from the 18th Century, but who knows...?). A sweet hope of Glory in my Soul!"

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Imagine the following situation. You are sitting in a meeting trying to reach a collective decision. You make an innocuous  contribution to the discussion which  nobody, apart from the Chair of the meeting, disagrees with. The reaction of the Chair is to call you and/or your comment "inane". Recall the dictionary definition of the word: "silly; stupid; not significant". It's not very nice. Should you:

a) Lie on your back with your legs in the air and bare your throat;
b) Give them both barrels and just say what is on your mind (and everyone else's);
c) Offer them the Glasgow handshake.

Where I was brought up c) was the normal sanction for breaches of social decorum - recall the NRA's "An armed society is a polite society" - especially if  discreet bulges in the jacket are allowed: think signaling. But let's rule it out as a viable option in a professional context. 
Experience teaches me that the meek do not inherit the earth - or anything else for that matter. There is no pie in the sky when you die so no virtue in indulging megalomaniac, egotistical, bullies. Bullies thrive on lack of resistance and the less resistance they encounter the more audacious their sense of entitlement becomes. They really do only understand one language, though of course under threat they resort to the stock response: "Please Sir, I didn't do anything. He did it to me first!". Anyway a) is a non starter if you want anything except a one way ticket to Palookaville.
That leaves us with b). It's a bit ugly and you come out looking like the awkward, cussed, bad guy who told an off colour joke in front of the maiden Auntie. It's a no win situation, but really what else can you do?  There are times when either you have to concede all the best tunes to the Devil or you have to say: "Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders".

Trumpity Trump

I received the following from Andy Wightman who read my previous post. Looks to me like he is doing good work in rooting out the facts of the matter. You can read about it yourself from his website.


Saw your blog on Trump film. This story is rich with possibilities for study. I've written a brief report (which includes a section on the arrest of the film-makers) at


Of particular interest are these clips which taken together form an episode in a US Golf Channel programme on Trump's golfing adventures


best wishes


Thursday, 9 June 2011

You've been Trumped (by Grampian Police)

If you want to get upset about something I suggest you might turn your attention to this. The back story is of a British and a Canadian journalist being arrested and charged with breach of the peace by Grampian Police for, in essence, asking awkward questions. They apparently interviewed members of   Donald Trump's organization about the treatment of locals who do not want to sell land they legally own. Apparently the patrons of Trump's luxury golfing resort  mustn't be offended while they sip their martinis by the sight of the great unwashed squatting just outside the barbed wire. Clearly the organization later thought better of it and in the hope of covering over the traces had a word with Inspector Knacker who sent the boys round. You think this only happens in China, Russia, Belarus? No, it happens here in as little time as it takes to put a Masonic apron on.  In theme park Britain we mustn't upset rich investors must we? Anyone read Julian Barnes' England, England?

New College

The Guardian is today still printing comments repeating the false plagiarism allegations about the courses that will be offered by A. C. Grayling's New College of the Humanities. This despite yesterday publishing a letter from the Dean of the University of London's International Programme which confirms in its essentials the points I made in my last blog entry. The capacity of apparently intelligent people to shout their mouths off without the slightest attempt to understand the facts of the matter is something that never ceases to amaze me. Yes, we all have knee-jerk reactions to some things and I can see that in the present political context the funding of higher education is a controversial subject, but the English chattering class habit of proffering strong opinions without bothering with the inconvenience of facts can get a bit tedious. No wonder that in international comparison most of our so called "public intellectuals" are a bit, well, second rate. It would perhaps be unduly provocative to suggest that the establishment's uncritical worship of "PPE flash" might have something to do with it.
Staying on an Oxford theme, I'm a bit surprised that the Warden of  New College (the Oxford one that is) has entered the fray and condemned Grayling's choice of name for his outfit. All a bit unseemly. And come on, nobody that matters is going to confuse New College, Oxford with the New College of the Humanities. The argument that there will be reputational spillover seems pretty far fetched. Has Regent's Park College (Oxford) suffered in any material way from having to put up with the existence of Regents College (which actually is in Regent's Park) or Regent's Park Community College in Southampton? Undoubtedly the punters at all three of these institutions differ enormously (not least in the size of their own or their daddy's bank balance) but is there any serious evidence that the name similarity has confused anybody?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

New College of the Humanities: what's the fuss about?

The press is full of nasty stuff about Anthony Grayling and his associates, see here and here for some examples. Their crime is that they have set up the so called New College of the Humanities  (NCH) which will tutor students for what used to be called the University of London External Degree and is now called the University of London International Programmes (ULIP). The external degree is, in a sense, the original University of London degree. At its origin the university was little more than an examining institution with people preparing for its degrees by themselves or at crammers. Today there are a vast number of institutions throughout the world, many of them quality controlled by the University of London, that offer teaching to prepare students for the ULIP. So why the fuss about one more? 
First there is a red herring about plagiarism. A number of academics have made asses of themselves by making public accusations of plagiarism. What actually happened is that they wrote so called "subject guides" for ULIP courses - I wrote one myself almost 20 years ago, now thankfully long superceded! These subject guides define the syllabus that will be examined by ULIP. NCH has published these syllabuses so that its students will know what they will study. All reputable institutions that tutor for the ULIP  do the same thing. How else should students know what the course content is? The accusations of plagiarism are nonsense on stilts. It would make as much sense to accuse Open University tutors of plagiarism because they follow a course of instruction defined by OU Course Units or Oxford University PPE tutors of plagiarism because they teach to a syllabus and reading list written  by somebody else.
Secondly, there is the issue of fees. NCH will charge £18,000 a year, twice what it will cost to take roughly equivalent courses at regular University of London colleges. But what is the problem with that? Presumably anyone who can get into UCL, LSE, Kings or SOAS and pay £9,000 will do so - assuming that they are indifferent to the  charm of an occasional tutorial with Richard Dawkins. Ah, you say, so the less able but better heeled can buy a degree. Yes, exactly, provided they meet the not too exacting minimum entrance requirements of the University of London - which are by the way little different from the minimum entry requirements of most UK universities. But they can do that already whether or not NCH exists. Anyone, on the payment of a fee, who satisfies the minimum entrance requirements can register for the ULIP - in that sense it is much more democratically open than most conventional UK universities. There is then nothing to stop them paying as much as they like for private tuition to prepare themselves for the end of  year examinations. If they have the means they could enter into private bi-lateral contracts with Dawkins, Dworkin, Cannadine, Uncle Tom Cobley and all to provide them with weekly instruction which at University and College Union recommended consultancy rates would no doubt costs quite a bit more than £18,000 per annum.
Whether 2 tutorials a week, most of which will presumably not be provided by the headline professoriate, is actually worth £18,000 a year is an open question which the market will eventually pronounce on. If it turns out though that NCH have settled at somewhere near the right price it clearly implies that the Oxford students  who were so quick to get on their moral high horses are, even under the new fee regime, getting a bargain, though probably not one that is sustainable for very long. It also, of course,  confirms my skepticism about the pedagogical efficiency of tutorials. Two "tutes" a week and you still can't reason your way out of a paper bag let alone establish the basic facts of the matter? It's scarcely an advertisement for the system.