Friday, 30 September 2011

Slipperier than a Slippery thing.

Yup.  That's Ali Disaei.  Back to the Metropolitan Police... 

I suppose that I ought to be pleased that the criminal justice system has done its thing, looked at a conviction  found it to be wanting, and ordered a re-trial.  I suppose that I ought to be pleased that Mr Disaei has been given back the job that he says that he loves as he is, at the moment, innocent before the law.  But I'm not. 

It's not just that the man seems to be odious.  It's not that I used to work with people who had worked with the man and found him to be somewhat wanting in the personality department.  It's not that his book ("Not one of Us" - still available from Amazon if you feel that you really must) is a paean dedicated firmly to himself, with as much sacharin as any cheap fizzy drink.  And, I have to be honest, my dislike of the tone of the book, with its crowing about how the court system had exonerated him of any wrong-doing following 'Operation Helios', made it more than a little infuriating to read his recent statements regarding the injustice done to him at the hands of the CJS. 

I think that his 'triumph' may be a little tarnished.  I've read quite a few of the reports surrounding this case, and the language is very interesting.  The Court of Appeal spoke of being "forced" to conclude that the conviction was unsafe.  While the only report that he has 'returned to Scotland Yard', has come from him (according to the Guardian - the MPA has been silent thus far).  In addition, he is to face a re-trial - could it be that the CPS thinks that there is still a chance of a successful conviction?  After all, it was the evidence of only one witness found to be at fault - not all of it.  Who knows.  We shall have to wait and see.

Interestingly, I also haven't seen a statement of support from the Black Police Association.  I wonder why that is.  Maybe it's because the press haven't printed it?  Possibly.  Maybe they're busy with other things?

Dizaei says that he intends to clear his name.  Good luck to him.  All I know is that I wouldn't want to be a police officer subject to his command in the future. 

Thursday, 29 September 2011

"But, how will we know which is the RIGHT piece to read...."

... whined a third year undergraduate.  Yup, that's right.  A third year.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder.

This gem - which really ought not to surprise me by now - was uttered this morning at an introductory lecture/seminar for one of the optional second/third year modules.  I attended as the module (titled "Criminal Law and Society, 1860-1914") is being delivered by my secondary supervisor.  The subject matter and themes of the module are incredibly close to my thesis, and he has asked me, at some point in the term, to present my research to the Undergraduates taking the module.  I thought I'd sit in, it gives me the chance to reflect on what I'm doing while listening to him, to the undergrads, and reading cases that don't involve dead babies.

It's an optional model, one that doesn't rely on 'black book law', and thus there isn't a set text book.  The Secondary Supervisor (I hesitate to refer to him as SS - maybe SecSu?) has produced a massive indicative reading list, and this morning attempted to introduce to the students the concept that the purpose of the lecture/seminars was to discuss the themes arising from each case.  Therefore, he reasoned, they should be selective in what they read - particularly as this module has a dissertation option rather than an exam/essay combination - and read according to their own interests.  A few of the 20 or so students there appeared to understand this, and some were even enthusiastic, but there was a small but significant group of students who find this uncomfortable.

Again, I hesitate, but I've seen this on a number of occasions, and it always seems to be an identikit group - English, girls with severely straightened hair and more eyeliner than would appear strictly necessary for a Thursday morning seminar, skinny jeans and a slouching walk, probably caused by the skimpy, cheap, flat shoes that they wear (their arches will suffer for that when they're my age, you wait and see).  It's tempting to blame the English education system, and A Levels in particular, for this belief in there being a "right text", and for their need to have knowledge and learning pushed at them, but these are third years for goodness' sake.  We pride ourselves on being a "critical Law school", and for the first couple of years of their university career we preach at  undergraduates the need to question constantly what they read, not to accept content or texts on their face value, and to value their own learning and opinions.    Clearly, for some of our students, this message is just not getting through, and I'm damn sure that it's not just Law as a subject that suffers from this.  I've also seen it, from my own experience, in Criminology, and I'm positive that the other departments and faculties see the same behaviour.  Maybe we can explain it by suggesting that undergrads are under extreme pressure to succeed - less than a 2:1 isn't going to get that elusive training contract - and that they're nervous about setting themselves up to fail.  But, that's not good enough.  Law is an exacting discipline - and while working in the profession they're going to have to use research skills, and will have to be able to synthesise arguments from what they discover.  Law students have to get a lot of UCAS points - they're not stupid, and they really should be capable of independent thought by now.

It takes me back to all my previous blogs about University education - what it's for, and what is expected of undergraduate students.  The market approach, I fear, means that we're going to continue to push education at the hundreds of Law undergrads, and attempt to pacify those who are uncomfortable with taking responsibility for their own learning.  I think it's a shame - not only are those who refuse to engage going to miss out on valuable skills that they're going to need when they're working for a living - but they're going to miss out on the fun, and pleasure that you get from doing your own research.

I think that success, in this case, is marked by those students who realise that there is no RIGHT piece to read, but that there are a number of them, and a 'truth' comes from all of them.  It's a shame that more of them don't seem to "get" that.


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Start of Term

I like the start of a new year.  Not only have we got lots of nice, shiny new students, but there's a buzz on campus as the "old" students return for the next year.  The weather's gorgeous, and Unitown looks really nice in the sun.

I've picked up some more teaching for this academic year - two hours a week of 'Critical Introduction to Law' for first years, as well as the Equity that I teach second years in the Spring term.  This is great on a couple of levels - not only do I have some more money to boost my finances this term, but I also get to interact with the first years on their introduction to university level education.

It's also really good for me.  I've been wallowing a little in the misery of a damaged leg, schlepping round the flat in tracksuit bottoms and a scruffy t-shirt, and trying not to whine.  This week I have to get myself out and about, and looking half way to human once again.  Being busy has also given me the impetus that I need to stop prevaricating and start planning the research for the rest of this term.  My teaching responsibilities will eat into the time available, with preparation and marking etc, but I subscribe to the theory that when I'm busy I work harder than I do when I've got acres of time at my disposal.

If only The Supervisor would get back to me with the feedback that I've been waiting for on the draft chapter that I delivered at the end of August my life would be perfect.  She offered me a meeting for a 'cup of tea', but told me that she hadn't read my work, nor would she have time to do so before we met.   I have this feeling of "here we go again" - this time last year we experienced conflict as I took exception to not receiving any feedback - so I declined the meeting, using the injured limb as an excuse.  She is incredibly busy, on sabbatical this term, and is delivering a paper next month.  And, I know that her other supervisees have similar issues with her tardiness, but it doesn't stop me feeling kind of cheated.  I worked my butt off over the summer to meet the deadline that she set, and nearly a month later it would be nice to know if it was worth all that effort, or whether I need to do a massive re-write before I move onto the next stage of the research.  This year I'm not going to engineer a show-down as I did last.  It was effective, but it was also incredibly stressful, and it took some time for our working relationship to recover.  This year I'm going to be patient, wait until she's ready and then ask where my feedback is.  If it's not forthcoming, I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do.

But, in the meantime, I aim to be self-sufficient.  I have a good secondary supervisor who is very interested in my work (although not entirely in agreement with my theoretical framework), and I can ask him for help when I need it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Ah. That's why it hurts...

The saga of the lower limb injury reaches, what I hope, is its climax.  I went to visit the physio on Thursday, to see if he could manipulate my muscles/tendons and give me some relief from the strains of the Lake District and help my recalcitrant limb back to health.

He's a lovely fellow, my phsyio, and really knows what he's doing.  So when he stood back, regarded my hoof and told me that it was indeed swollen, and asked why didn't I go and see him when I first injured it, I took him seriously.  He prodded, gently (which was a bit of a surprise - normally he's quite gung ho with my extremities) and told me to go and visit my GP to request a referral for an x-ray. In his opinion I could have a stress fracture.

So, Friday was spent in the clutches of the NHS.  First I had to undergo the scramble to get an appointment at the GP - you can't make one in advance unless you're willing to anticipate your need by about six weeks - and then to the hospital. 

Now, as a good researcher, I'd googled stress fractures, and was prepared to be told that nothing showed on the x-ray, and that I should go home and rest.  According to the items on the web that I'd found, it is unusual to be able to see a stress fracture on an x-ray - unless it's fairly severe.  So, I was thunderstruck when the radiologist (who was seriously cute...), came to tell me that there is a clear fracture on my lower leg, and that he was taking me down to A&E.  Another two hour wait in A&E, to have that diagnosis confirmed, given an appointment with the Fracture Clinic, and a pair of crutches later, and I was sent home.  Miserable, depressed, and particularly pissed off.  It looks as though I'm going to be out of action for about 6-8 weeks. 

So, I'm cheering myself up by writing emails of complaint to Tesco.  I find it strangely soothing to tell one of the great Retail giants exactly what I think of them.  It's a hobby....

Monday, 12 September 2011

"I wonder what sheep think about...."

...I said to VGF as we stood in a Lakeland lane looking over a field of sheep.

"I suspect that they mostly think about why some grass tastes better than others" she replied.

"So," I countered, "you don't think that they consider the bigger questions of the day?"

"No.  I shouldn't think so."  She turned, and led me away, walking up the hill into the mist and rain.  I followed, as I always do.

There are some conversations that say so much more than the mere words that are used ever could.  In this case VGF wasn't remotely surprised by my flights of fancy, treated them with the respect that they deserved (which isn't much), and moved on to concentrate on the practical issues facing us - like how to get me up and down the hill without me being too scared or taking a tumble due to my extreme clumsiness.  It kind of sums up our friendship - her practicality and my flights of fancy.

When we're walking together, VGF assumes responsibility making sure that we have the kit that we need, and she arranges the route and makes sure that we keep to it.  She has a lifetime of experience walking in the hills and mountains of the UK, and with her I feel totally safe.  She's also an excellent teacher, although over the past few years she has signally failed to teach me how to read an OS Map effectively.  My fault - not hers, maps scare me.  She's never happier than when she's on the top of a peak, or clambering up, what seems to me, to be more of a mountain ascent than a footpath. I still shudder when I think of our crossing of the scree around Wastwater. 

I'm more of a wuss. I've been following her up hills for years now, and I've tried to share the experience with her as much as I can.  This past week, however, marked a bit of a change.  I've lost my bottle in the hills - I'm more scared than I used to be - and I really found it difficult.  Physically I had a few problems, due to my ankle still being bad, but the main problems are in my head.  We came to the conclusion that my tendency to "over think" everything is increasing.  Makes sense, I guess.  For the past five years I've spent a lot of time thinking about everything - what I read, what I see, what I hear - and I think that the most developed muscle in my body is now the one between my ears.  For a PhD this is a good thing, but in a situation where you need to trust in your equipment, and just get on with it, this is a bit of a handicap. 

The realisation has dawned.  While I admire VGF tremendously - her physical strength and fitness, her personal integrity, her kindness and force of character - I can't be like her, no matter how much I try.  I shall continue to be amazed by her feats - climbing Kilimanjaro, walking the Inca Trail, diving in the Red Sea - but I suspect that the closest that I shall come to any of this will be the photographs that she shows me.  Oh.  Did I mention that she's also an excellent photographer?

Obviously I'm not going to stop walking, but I think that I'm more of a rambler than I am a Lake District Fell walker.  No more mountains for me. 

But, I still think that she's wrong about the sheep.  I think that they could well be the philosophers of the 21st Century if only we could understand what it is that they're thinking about.