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Miss Molly trolley destroyed by flames

12 minute read

Trolley bursts into flames just moments after dropping off students - Link to story on MercerCluster.com

The Cluster - MercerCluster.com

By Carl V. Lewis, Online Editor

online@mercercluster.com

One of Mercer’s two student trolleys inexplicably burst into flames early Friday morning just moments after dropping off its last load of passengers at Greek Village.

The driver of the iconic “Miss Molly” trolley was traveling north on Stadium Drive near the University Center around 3:30 a.m. when he noticed smoke coming from the vehicle’s rear engine. He immediately pulled over and called 911, but the flames had spread too quickly for the trolley to be salvaged.

No students were injured in the incident, and the driver escaped from the smoldering vehicle unscathed.

Chief Gary Collins with the Mercer Police department said officers arrived at the scene within five minutes to find Miss Molly almost totally destroyed.

“Miss Molly didn’t make it out alive. When we got there, the trolley was smoking and you could still see some flames. What damage the fire didn’t do, the smoke and water did,” Collins said. “It was awful.”

NewTown Macon owns and operates the trolley service through a contract with the University.

NewTown spokesman Hal Baskin said it appears the fire started in the trolley’s rear engine, but the exact cause of the incident won’t be determined until insurance inspectors can conduct a full investigation next week.

Baskin said he does not believe the fire was caused by a manufacturer’s defect, or that students should have any reason to be fearful of using the trolley service in the future.

“I would expect that this is an isolated incident and not a problematic issue that affects all trolleys . . it was just something that happened,” Baskin said.

Investigators do not suspect foul play was involved in the incident.

NewTown has already begun making plans to replace Miss Molly with a new trolley.

“We’re looking at what other equipment is available to replace Miss Molly, and we’re just waiting to hear back from our insurance inspectors at this point,” Baskin said.

NewTown will continue to provide service in the meantime using its other trolley, “Sweet Melissa,” which is the same model trolley as Miss Molly. Baskin said Sweet Melissa was undergoing precautionary safety inspections on Tuesday to ensure that it is safe to operate.

The student trolley service to downtown should continue as scheduled this week, with Sweet Melissa shifted into full rotation for the time being, Chief Collins said.

“I’m just so grateful that no one was hurt. It could have been worse. I don’t think there’s any reason to worry, though. These sorts of things happen from time to time,” Collins said.

Collins added that he hopes the incident will remind students to remain vigilant and orderly while using the trolley service.

Dean of students Doug Pearson told The Cluster Tuesday afternoon that he’s not sure yet if the incident will have any significant impact on student trolley services in the future.

“It’s possible that because there’s only one trolley for now that there could be minor disruptions in service in the coming weeks. Obviously, we’ll notify students of any schedule changes via email and Bear Blurbs as soon as they happen,” Pearson said.

Miss Molly was purchased by the Macon Transit Authority in 2001 at a price tag of $127,000, then later sold to NewTown Macon for $160,000 in 2004. It had an estimated capacity of 40 people, and had been used in recent years to to give daytime tours of local historic sites as well as transport students to downtown Macon at night.

The trolley was named after Macon-born musician Little Richard’s 1958 hit song, “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

Republicans trim Cagle’s powers

9 minute read

UPDATE: Story picked up by Augusta Chronicle, cited in AJC Jim Galloway's Political Insider

Republicans trim Cagle's powers -  (view published story on Macon.com)

By Carl Lewis

clewis@macon.com

Saturday, Nov. 08, 2010

Following a heated day of closed-door meetings in downtown Macon, Georgia’s Senate Republican leaders decided Friday to strip some of newly re-elected Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s powers in the Senate.

Chamber leaders are calling it a new “power-sharing agreement.”

The Republican caucus gathered at Mercer University’s Woodruff House on Friday to discuss its rules and elect new leaders. Also at issue during the caucus meeting was a discussion of whether the lieutenant governor has too much power in the chamber.

Screen shot 2010-11-06 at 5.18.34 PM

After seven hours of deliberation, leaders reached the decision to peel back the lieutenant governor’s powers to assign committees, though the lieutenant governor will still retain some role in the committee-appointment process, said Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon.

A new seven-member committee of Republican legislators will be formed, and Cagle will have the power to choose two of the members of that committee.

Staton was one of the leaders who called Friday’s meeting, where he was elected as the caucus’ new majority whip.

Staton said the decision to take away some of Cagle’s power was not because of discontent with Cagle’s leadership. Staton maintained that the decision was a routine refinement of the caucus’ rules.

“This is not, in my view, any attempt to slight or take anything away from Lt. Gov. Cagle himself. He will still have quite a lot of power, and it has nothing to do with him personally. This is simply a routine rule change, and it’s a way to keep a good balance between the lieutenant governor and the Senate,” Staton said.

Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, also was one of the legislators who called Friday’s meeting. Rogers insisted the decision was not meant to reflect the chamber’s view of Cagle personally.

“Every single member of this body not only supports Cagle’s leadership but considers him a personal friend,” Rogers said. “This is simply a new power-sharing agreement that we’ve come to.”

But Cagle spokesman Ben Fry said Friday afternoon that he wasn’t convinced the move to trim Cagle’s power was entirely fair.

“It’s certainly disappointing that they’re wanting to do this, especially given the fact that the voters so clearly expressed support of Cagle in Tuesday’s election,” Fry said.

Fry said he didn’t know what might have motivated the caucus to reach its decision, but that Cagle remained confident in the caucus’ judgment.

“We’re not ready to speculate on what might have led the caucus to be called, and we’re not going to get involved in the politics,” Fry said. “As always, Cagle is focused on doing what the voters overwhelmingly elected him to do, which is to serve this state.”

Scott topples Marshall in 8th district congressional race

14 minute read

Picture 2

Scott topples Marshall in 8th district congressional race

By Mike Stucka and Carl Lewis

clewis@macon.com

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010

Reflecting the broader national backlash against the Democratic Party this election season, voters denied U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon a fifth term in office Tuesday, choosing Republican Austin Scott as his replacement.

With 78 percent of precincts reporting, Scott led Marshall 52.5-47.5 percent in a bruising battle for Georgia’s 8th Congressional District seat.

Scott, the current state representative for Tift and Turner counties, celebrated his victory Tuesday night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Tifton.

He said his campaign won on its own merits, not because of the national picture.

“We won this race because we had the better campaign team. We worked harder than they did,” Scott said.

Scott said his supporters had placed about 250,000 telephone calls.

“At the end of April, [Marshall] was unbeatable. And tonight, tonight, Georgians have spoken,” Scott said.

Meanwhile, a crowd of about 100 Marshall supporters and campaign workers at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon watched with disappointment as Marshall trailed Scott by 8 to 10 percentage points for much of the night.

Marshall said around 10:15 p.m. that it was “hard to see a clear path to victory,” but he refused to comment on the results specifically until he confirmed Scott’s win. He blamed Scott’s lead on Republican attacks against his party affiliation.

“It’s a national tide, and there’s not much I could do. We’ve done well, and I’ve had a good team. I don’t toe the party line, but many people haven’t been able to realize that,” Marshall said.

Marshall conceded to Scott late Tuesday.

Rusty Adams of Warner Robins was one of the Marshall supporters who showed up to support the campaign Tuesday night. He expressed his disappointment with Marshall’s loss.

“I can’t believe it. I’m gonna have to live with it, though,” Adams said.

Marshall drew criticism from the Scott campaign for some of his votes, and ads on Scott’s behalf tied Marshall to Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. Marshall launched his own campaign ads to distance himself from Pelosi.

But those efforts didn’t carry the day for Marshall. He needed critical support from swing voters such as Christine Gausche of Bonaire, wife of a retired U.S. Air Force officer. Gausche backed Marshall in 2008 — but shifted her support to the Republicans this year.

“I think he’s done some good things, but he’s part of a larger group that hasn’t done such good things,” Gausche said.

Marshall had trailed Scott in several recent polls, with some of them giving Scott an 8-point lead over the incumbent Democrat.

Marshall, who dropped out of Princeton University to fight in Vietnam, is a former Macon mayor and faculty member of Mercer University’s law school.

Scott appeared to have won in at least 16 of 21 counties in the district.

Marshall won in Bibb County by a wide margin, but the vote was nearly even in Houston County, with votes tilting slightly in Scott’s favor.

Bibb and Houston counties represent much of the 8th District’s population and voters, many of whom have ties to Robins Air Force Base. Late Tuesday, many of the votes in Twiggs and Houston counties had not been tallied.

House Republican Conference Secretary John Carter, a key member of the Republican Steering Committee that assigns House members to committees, said in a statement Tuesday night that he is excited over Scott’s election, and he would push the Steering Committee to assign Scott to committees most important to Georgia.

“Austin Scott has the common sense conservative fiscal values and life experience that are essential to winning a seat on critical committees,” Carter said.

“I am committed to use my influence in Republican leadership and on the Steering Committee to push Congressman-elect Scott for the seats that will do his district, Georgia, and the nation the most good.”

Scott told The Telegraph that voters wanted changes. And if the new Republican majority in the House doesn’t do the right thing, voters will vote for more changes in two years.

“It’s all about work now — jobs and the economy,” Scott said.

Scott’s mother, Becky, kept dancing with joy as she talked with a reporter. She said she knew the reason her son won, and thought it would translate well into Congress: “A lot of hard work.”

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251. To contact writer Carl Lewis, e-mail clewis@macon.com.

Sen. Brown pushes HOPE limits, seeks family annual income cap of $150K

12 minute read

Sen. Brown pushes HOPE limits, seeks family annual income cap of $150K (link to story on Macon.com)

By Carl Lewis

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 3.16.03 AM

clewis@macon.com

Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010

Georgia’s Senate minority leader proposed one possible solution to the dwindling HOPE Scholarship fund Wednesday: Only give it to the students who need it the most.

Calling for a “return to the original intent” of the state lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship program, state Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon, pushed for the family income cap to be reinstated for HOPE eligibility as a way to keep the program afloat and ensure it allows the most possible students to afford college.

Brown’s suggestion comes after it was projected this week that despite continued record lottery tickets sales, the HOPE Scholarship fund will fall short $560 million in the next two years as the number of eligible students attending college continues to soar.

“More and more students are going to college, and it’s becoming hard to keep up with demand for the scholarship,” said Tim Connell, president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission that runs the HOPE program.

When then-Gov. Zell Miller first created the HOPE Scholarship in 1993, only families making less than $66,000 per year could qualify.

After a successful first year, that cap was raised in 1994 to $100,000, and in 1995 it was lifted altogether.

Brown said he's pushing for a new income cap of six times the federal poverty level, which he estimated would be about $150,000 for a family of four.

“I think it’s a lasting solution if we want to save HOPE, and it’s in line with the original purpose of the scholarship, which was to make a college education more affordable for Georgia students who couldn’t otherwise afford it,” Brown said.

Brown said his plan would not affect students already receiving the HOPE Scholarship, but at the earliest, it could impact students applying for the scholarship beginning in July 2011.

Brown said he doesn’t think the income cap will discourage students who don’t qualify financially from making the B average required for the scholarship.

“Those students are probably already discouraged from performing well,” Brown said.

As for families making just above the income cap who have budgeted with HOPE in mind, Brown said they’d have to “find other plans.”

“There are other institutions in the private sector that could offer students merit-based scholarships,” Brown said.

State Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland, chairman of the Senate Higher Education committee, said he disagrees with Brown’s proposal to reinstate the income cap for HOPE.

Harp said the original purpose of the HOPE Scholarship wasn’t necessarily to make college affordable for low-income families, but to reward hard-working students for their achievement.

“The HOPE Scholarship isn’t, and never has been, a need-based scholarship,” Harp said. “It’s been based on maximizing academic achievement by rewarding students who make good grades. That’s why the income cap was removed once the program started being successful.”

Harp said he wants to wait and see what happens with the economy before making any cuts to HOPE or deciding to reinstate an income cap.

“It’s not at a crisis point. We still have $1.5 billion in reserve money, and HOPE is too important of a program to ruin, and has been too successful so far, not to evaluate other options first,” Harp said.

Brown said he knows his plan to reinstate the needs qualification for HOPE may be unpopular with many, but that the scholarship’s current budget situation leaves no other choice.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some resistance. People have come to view HOPE as an entitlement program, which it’s not. We’ve got to find a way to make it sustainable, and this is the best way,” Brown said.

To contact writer Carl Lewis, call 744-4347.

Woman’s body found in backyard of vacant Macon home

8 minute read

UPDATE: Follow-up on autopsy report from Aug. 21

SPACE

Woman’s body found in backyard of vacant Macon homeScreen shot 2010-10-28 at 8.40.16 PM

By Carl Lewis

clewis@macon.com

Friday, Aug. 20, 2010

Breaking news - Crime reports


A woman’s body was discovered in the backyard of a vacant south Macon home Thursday afternoon.


Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said police received an anonymous call about 2 p.m. that a fully-clothed, dark-haired white woman in her late 30s or early 40s was lying dead in the bushes at 1284 Glendale Ave., near Houston Avenue. She had severe lacerations on her body from what appeared to be dog bites and had been dead for between six and eight hours, Jones said.

Jones said a pack of pit bulls were found roaming around the yard of the home, but he would not say whether police suspected the woman was actually killed by the dogs.

“At this time, the cause of death is unknown, and police are investigating,” Jones said.

Jones said the woman had yet to be identified as of late Thursday afternoon. He said an autopsy to determine the cause of death would be performed Friday.

Neighbors said the home has been empty since the previous tenants moved about two weeks ago. They said people from the community often cut through the alley of the house as a shortcut to a nearby convenience store.

Kristia Hargrove, who lives down the street, said she’s seen the pit bulls outside the house for a few days now, and she knows of at least two people who have been bitten by them already.

“One of my best friends was bitten by one of those dogs the other day. She had teeth prints all over her. That’s why I don’t walk near that house or through that alley anymore,” Hargrove said.

Neighbor Peggy Johnson said she wasn’t convinced the dogs killed the woman. She said she recognized the woman’s body as someone she had seen walking around the neighborhood before.

“I think she was already dead and that the dogs just smelled blood and went ballistic. If the dogs had attacked her when she was alive, she would have screamed, and someone would have heard her,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what actually killed her, though.”

Macon police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet said police have yet to determine whether foul play was involved.

Anyone with information is asked to call police at 751-7500 or Macon Regional CrimeStoppers at (877) 68-CRIME.

To contact writer Carl Lewis, call 744-4347.

Landfill expansion opposed by some Twiggs County residents

11 minute read

Landfill expansion opposed by some Twiggs County residents - (view story on Macon.com)

By Carl Lewis

clewis@macon.com

Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010

It’s not just the rumble of garbage trucks past Tracie Fountain’s Twiggs County home each day that perturbs her.

It’s the odor.

Fountain lives just down the road from the Wolf Creek Landfill in Dry Branch, so close that she can smell the garbage dumped there. She’s one of the 779 Twiggs County residents who have signed a petition opposing a planned expansion of the landfill.

In July, the company that owns it, Advanced Disposal of Jacksonville, Fla., filed a rezoning and conditional use application with the Twiggs County Planning and Zoning office to expand the landfill by nearly tripling its size, from 135 acres to about 370 acres.

Last month, a group of residents found out about the company’s plan to expand and banded together to speak out against it.

The Planning and Zoning Commission discussed the planned expansion at its meeting Tuesday night, voting unanimously to recommend that the Twiggs County Commission reject the company’s proposal during its Aug. 17 meeting.

Now, the five-member commission will decide whether the company will move forward with its plans.

Three of the commissioners, Ray Bennett, Donald Floyd and Milton Sampson, said Wednesday that they’re not sure yet if they’ll approve the application, saying they don’t know all the details. The other two commissioners, Kathryn Epps and Tommie Bryant, did not return phone calls.

As part of the agreement with the disposal company, the county receives $1 for each ton of waste the landfill processes. The figure increases to $1.20 per ton if the amount surpasses 500 tons per day and to $1.40 if it exceeds 1,000 tons per day.

The landfill generally disposes of more than 1,200 tons of waste every day, according to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. That means for each day the landfill is in operation, the county brings in $1,400 to $1,700.

While that’s a large source of revenue for the county, resident Chris Bowen, who lives nearby, said he doesn’t think it’s enough money to justify keeping the landfill, which handles trash from several other counties, including Wilkinson, Jones and Bibb.

“We don’t want Twiggs County to be the dumping ground for the rest of the state. It doesn’t benefit anybody but the company and its pocketbook. Advanced Disposal is making a killing while killing our county,” Bowen said.

Virginia Villatoro, who works for Advanced Disposal in the landfill’s office, would not respond to specific concerns that the landfill could be getting too big. She did say she thinks the company has been aboveboard throughout the process.

“The required public notice postings and time frames have been complied with as required” by law, Villatoro said.

But for Fountain, who lives next door to the landfill with her two teenagers, the only thing that matters now is fending off the expansion proposal.

“I don’t want to smell trash at my house, and I don’t want my kids in danger and playing near the landfill,” she said. “Whether it’s only 20 people who live around here or 1,000, it affects everyone in the county.

“It’s a public problem, and it’s not the sort of thing we need if we want Twiggs County to grow.”

To contact writer Carl Lewis, call 744-4347.

Go back to your kitchen, woman! Sexist heckler in row at Oxford Tories meeting

30 minute read

Original cover story as it appeared in The Oxford Student (link):


Sexist slurs at OUCA event

By Carl Lewis

News Editor

The Oxford Student

13/7/10

SPACE

Less than a week after reaffiliating with the University, Oxford’s Conservative Association has become entangled in a scandal over allegations of sexism at one of its events.oxstucover

Vitus van Rij, a Tory student from King’s College London, allegedly shouted “Kitchen, kitchen, shush up woman, go back to the kitchen” at a female speaker during OUCA’s Port and Policy event on Sunday night at the Oxford Union.

Following van Rij’s remarks, two OUCA members stood and condemned his comments as “despicable and unacceptable,” and Oxford Union President Laura Winwood assured the crowd that “misogyny is not tolerated” on Union premises.

Jocky McLean––an OUCA member who demanded an apology from van Rij in front of the 120 member audience––said he heard van Rij tell the female speaker, Isabella Burton, to stick to “pans and brooms” instead of giving speeches about politics.

“As she continued, [van Rij] started getting louder and louder in an attempt to shut her up. As soon as she finished, I stood up and asked him to apologise to her, and pointed to his disgusting behaviour,” McLean said.

Van Rij left the room after coming under fire from McLean and Winwood for the sexist statements, but returned a few minutes later to his seat.

Winwood said she and others asked van Rij to leave Union premises. The President of the UCL Conservative Association then escorted van Rij out of the room, and he did not return for the remainder of the night.

“The individual was promptly ejected from the room, order restored and the debate continued,” Winwood said.

Burton, the female OUCA member at the podium when van Rij allegedly made the remarks, said she heard about the commotion after it happened and was highly offended by van Rij’s comments.

---

WHO IS THIS GUY?

Multiple attempts to reach Van Rij by email and phone over the course of a three day period proved unsuccessful this week.

In addition, a Facebook account in van Rij’s name disappeared from search results after a reporter from this paper attempted to contact him via the social networking site on Monday afternoon.

On his Facebook profile, van Rij listed his favourite quotation as one from Hendrik Verwoerd, a pro-Apartheid Prime Minister from South Africa. The quotation calls for “the preservation of the white man and his state.”

Numerous students have also expressed concern that the way in which van Rij presented himself at the event might have been a deliberate nod to Adolf Hitler.

David Thomas, an OUCA member who attended the event and sat near van Rij, said van Rij was sporting a “Hitler-esque” groomed mustache and slicked back hair.

“It looked as though he was deliberately trying to imitate Hitler with his appearance,” Thomas said.

OUCA President Natalie Shina refused to comment on van Rij’s appearance.

Shina also said OUCA did not invite van Rij to the event.

Shina said van Rij tagged along with members of the Conservative Association of University College London, who she had invited to Oxford to celebrate OUCA’s reaffiliation with the University.

“The UCL Conservatives invited him without my knowledge,” Shina said.

But UCL Conservative Association President Will Hall also denied inviting van Rij.

“We didn’t invite him or anyone else from King’s College, but he may have found out about it from our Facebook group,” Hall said.

Hall said the incident demonstrates a “systematic failure” on the part of the society in ensuring that only invited individuals are allowed to attend events.

“Every group has at least one or two abhorrent individuals, and in the future we need to find a better way to identify ours and ban them from attending events,” Hall said.

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OUCA SECRECY

OUCA President Shina initially refused to acknowledge the incident took place, claiming in an email on Monday that neither she nor 29 other OUCA members in attendance heard anything offensive said.

But after being presented with eyewitness evidence from a reporter, Shina acknowledged the derogatory comments may have been uttered.

Nine students have confirmed to The Oxford Student that they heard van Rij shout the sexist remark.

But many OUCA members refused to talk after the group’s President issued what one senior OUCA member called a “gag order” preventing members from talking about the event.

“She basically told us all to say that we hadn’t heard anything,” said the member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

Poppy Simister, an ex-officer of OUCA who overheard van Rij’s remark, said she heard about the silencing order from other members and didn’t think it was a good move for OUCA.

“I don’t really understand the strategy of telling everyone not to talk, especially in a case like this where both OUCA and the Union dealt with the incident fairly quickly,” Simister said.

Shina dismissed the claim that she was deliberately gagging members from speaking, and said the society’s constitution dictates that as President only she is allowed to talk to the press.

Shina said both OUCA and the UCL Conservative Society have banned van Rij from all future events after conducting an internal investigation.

Michael Rock, president of the national party’s youth wing, said he did not think the evidence was strong enough to launch an investigation at the time.

Despite having been informed of the Union President’s statement on the event, Rock said he thought the allegations were simply part of a calculated attack on OUCA: “It seems to me that people are just making accusations to make OUCA look bad.”

The claims of sexism come at an unfortunate time for OUCA, which finally won back the “U” in its name and regained formal recognition from the University last Friday. The University had cut ties with OUCA last August after it was revealed that a member told a racist joke at the society’s officer hustings.

A spokeswoman for the National Conservative Party said the party was looking into the allegations, and wanted to stress OUCA is in no way affiliated with the Tory party nationally.

A University spokesman declined to comment on whether proctors would launch an investigation into the incident, or if the University would continue to allow OUCA to use the University’s name.

Story picked-up and co-authored as an exclusive in The Daily Mail (link):


Go back to your kitchen, woman! Sexist heckler in row at Oxford Tories meeting

By Beth Hale and Carl Lewis

The Daily Mail

13/7/10

SPACE


If it was a celebration marking a return to the fold, it didn't quite work out as planned.

Picture 3A year ago Oxford University Conservative Association was banned from using the college title in its name because of a row over racism.

But with that in the past, it was time to resume its affiliation and move on. Or at least it would have been had the association not been plunged into a fresh controversy - this time over sexism.

As a female speaker gave forth in a debate about education, she was taunted by a student shouting 'kitchen, kitchen shush up woman, go back to the kitchen'.

According to one witness, when Oxford student Isabella Burton continued, Vitus van Rij, 18, suggested she stick to 'pan and brooms' instead of giving speeches about politics.

Given that the OUCA president is a woman and there were many women in the 120-strong audience, it is perhaps not surprising that van Rij was given a swift dressing down.

Two male students stood up and condemned his comments as 'despicable and unacceptable'.

Oxford Union president Laura Winwood, who was also present, said three female association members were 'quite distressed' by the outburst.

Van Rij is said to have left the room after coming under fire, but returned a few minutes later, only to be escorted from the premises.

The student sported a tiny moustache and slicked back hair in a severe parting for the evening, which had been billed as a 'port and policy' event.

Quite how he came to be there is something of a mystery. OUCA president Natalie Shina insisted she did not invite the student.

She said he must have tagged along with members of the Conservative Association of University College London, who she had invited to the event.

But UCL said it had not invited van Rij.

As for van Rij himself, he has kept a low profile since student journalists at Oxford University started trying to contact him.

Van Rij is understood to be a member of the War Studies Society at King's in London as well as a member of a university polo club.

OUCA was at the centre of a racism storm last June. During a drunken hustings for the next president for the body, candidates made racist remarks.

The group, whose former presidents include Margaret Thatcher and William Hague, was subsequently barred from using the university name.

Van Rij has since returned to his native Belgium but told about his behaviour, his ex-girlfriend, Suzanne Kimman, 19, rolled her eyes and said: 'It sounds like something he would do.'

Foreign students vote fraudulently

17 minute read

By CARL V. LEWIS

News Editor, THE OXFORD STUDENT

Date: 13/05/2010

Contact: news@oxfordstudent.com

Some non-UK students had the chance to vote fraudulently in last week’s election because of lax safeguards and mistaken electoral rolls—and at least 13 foreign students claim to have actually voted illegally, an Oxford Student investigation has revealed.

Eight of the students interviewed declined to speak on the record or reveal their college affiliation publicly, citing concerns about revealing publicly that they broke the law or – more frequently – not wishing to speak negatively about College administrators who failed to compare for accuracy the data provided to them by local electoral officials.

Max Gallien, a German student at Queen’s College – who as an EU citizen was eligible to vote in the local council election but not in the general election – said he cast a ballot in the Oxford East parliamentary contest after election workers confirmed to him he could vote in both races.

Gallien said election workers handed him the national ballot even after he told them he was a German citizen and not allowed to vote: “It said on their list that I was allowed to vote for parliament, too,” he said. “So I did.”

Gallien said he assumed he was wrong about the rules. Later that day, he confirmed from a search online that he was indeed ineligible to vote for parliamentary races.

At least two EU students at Balliol and one American student at Queen’s also claimed to have voted illegally, providing their names and college affiliations to The Oxford Student on the condition that the information be used to verify the story, but not for publication. Administrators at both colleges confirmed the three students were inaccurately reported as British citizens in data provided to them by local electoral officials, but denied blame on their end.

A first-year American student at Queen’s – who should have been entirely ineligible to vote in any race as neither an EU nor a Commonwealth citizen – said he voted at the St Clement’s polling station after receiving both polling cards in the mail.

“When I handed them the polling cards I'd gotten, they handed me both ballots, and I didn’t really say anything,” the student said.

Both students at Queen’s had been mistakenly entered as British citizens on the electoral register.

An administrator at Queen’s blamed local authorities for the error. She said the College just exported data they already had on students.

“We don’t change anything – there is no opportunity for it to be corrupted,” she said. "It's not our job to clean up data given to us by officials."

To test the difficulty of verifying such electoral data, a reporter from this paper entered the personal data provided by the two Queens students into two separate Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, one with the correct data and the other with the incorrect data. The paper then added in matching data for 800 different dummy records, similar to the records that would have been on file with the College internally.

A simple Excel 'Compare Sheets' function then identified the two inaccuracies out of all 802 entries within a few seconds' time.

The same Queens administrator who earlier acknowledged the inaccuracy was informed of the results of The Oxford Student's test, but refused to speak any further on the issue, saying she had already made clear that the College isn't responsible for errors made by local election officials.

A CLOSE RACE, BUT NO EASY WAY TO TELL HOW MANY INCORRECT POLLING CARDS WERE SENT

It is unclear how many foreign citizens might have been mistakenly allowed to vote in the general election, but the close margins of some contests mean any error could be significant.

Oxford West incumbent Evan Harris lost his re-election bid by just 176 votes. Harris’s campaign did not return questions about whether he would challenge the vote; his challenger, Nicola Blackwood, also did not respond to requests for comment by the time this paper went to print.

At least four undergraduate EU citizens at Harris Manchester College were mistakenly sent polling cards for both the local election and the general election, but were given the correct ballot at the polling station.

A spokesman for the national election commission confirmed that EU citizens eligible to vote only in local elections should have received polling cards – which tell voters what elections they are registered for, and where to go to vote – for those contests only. Local authorities were responsible for organizing voter registration and mailing polling cards, he said.

A worker at the Oxford election commission confirmed that EU citizens should not have been sent polling cards for the general election. If they were sent those cards, she said, there “wouldn’t be anything stopping them” from voting for a parliamentary candidate – “but they shouldn’t have done so.”

The confusion and apparent lack of safeguards raise worries about the integrity of last week’s elections in Oxford and elsewhere.

Multiple students told reporters of voting without being asked for identification, while national media reported “chaotic” scenes at polling stations around the country last week along with dozens of allegations of postal vote fraud.

OxStu reporters Winston Featherly-Bean and Matt Thompson-Ryder also contributed to this report. Additionally, the identities of all college officials and named sources were verified independently by the paper's legal counsel before publication of this story.

“Slay the Jews?!”

10 minute read

"Slay the Jews?!"

Police report contradicts Israeli minister's allegation of racist abuse by Union member (link to story on OxfordStudent.com)

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By Carl Lewis, News Editor

news@oxfordstudent.com

6 May 2010

Police have found no evidence for the widely reported claim that a student protester yelled "Slay the Jews" during an Israeli minister's speech at the Oxford Union last term.

A video analysis of the event has revealed that Noor Rashid, a third-year at Teddy Hall, gave an accurate account to authorities concerning what he shouted at Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

It did not find any evidence that Rashid uttered the Arabic phrase “Idhbah al-yahud,” meaning "kill the Jews," as Mr. Ayalon told the audience, and other media outlets have previously suggested.

According to the report, Rashid's actual remark in Arabic translates as  "Khaybar, khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return," a phrase which is based on a classical Arabic chant concerning a seventh-century battle between Arabs and Jews at Khaybar, in the Arabian Peninsula.

A spokesman for Mr. Ayalon said the Deputy Foreign Minister stands by his original claim that Rashid made anti-Semitic remarks, but admits he may have misinterpreted or misheard what the student actually said.

"It was very loud, and a lot of people were shouting at once. But even if we misheard the student, what he claims he shouted still has the same threatening, violent and genocidal intent, and is highly inflammatory. We find it very unfortunate that he is not being found guilty," Ayalon's spokesman said.

Rashid said his remark may have been distasteful but it was not intended as anti-Semitic. He said he meant it simply as a metaphor for the Palestinian people overcoming adversity.

"I never said to kill the Jews. I think anti-Semitism is deplorable. Sure, what I shouted wasn't the nicest thing in the world, but it's entirely different than advocating genocide," Rashid said.

Otared Haidar, an Arabic scholar at Oxford's Oriental Institute, referred to Rashid's remark as an "outdated slogan that should not be used."

"It's better that we speak in modern terms, and a lot more civil," Haidar said.

The 8th February incident drew national media attention after Ayalon accused Rashid during the event of calling for the slaughter of Jews and later posted the accusation on his Twitter page.

Eyewitness accounts of the event varied widely as few of those in attendance spoke Arabic and could interpret or remember what Rashid said.

Rashid called coverage of the incident "provocative, inflammatory and slanderous to my name."

"Now when people Google my name, hate speech comes up that I didn't actually say," he said.

Rashid said he considered pressing charges against the Cherwell newspaper after it published an account stating the allegations against him as fact, but eventually relented because of legal costs.

Thames Valley Police have dropped their investigation into Rashid, citing a lack of evidence.

"We take accusations of racist hate speech very seriously, and we could not find any proof that such behavior took place in this incident," a police spokeswoman said.

An Oxford Union official has confirmed that Rashid will remain a Union member.

Eyjafjallajokull eruption scatters students across the globe

9 minute read

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Eruption scatters students across the globe

By Carl Lewis

news@oxfordstudent.com

22 April 2010

When second year Lady Margaret Hall student Matthew Nicholl flew home to Northern Ireland for the Easter holiday last month, he knew it might be a hectic time of the year to travel. What he didn't know, however, is that a volcanic ash cloud would get in his way.

"It's the last thing I was worried about. And now I'm in an awful situation. I have absolutely no idea when I can get a flight back," Nicholl said.

Hundreds of Oxford students like Nicholl are stuck abroad after ash plumes from a volcanic eruption in Iceland last Thursday forced closure of UK airspace indefinitely.

Many of Oxford's more than 6,000 international students are stranded at home, and still more students who went on holiday during the break are scattered across the globe, unable to return for pending exams and lectures.

The University Athletics Club has been stuck in Portugal since Friday, where it was conducting warm-weather training during the break.

Claire Baouduin, a member of the club, said she and her teammates have decided to abandon their flights and instead make the 30-hour long journey back by bus and train.

But Isabella Eichler, a postgraduate student at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, was not so lucky.

After her flight to Heathrow was canceled midair Thursday, Eichler found that all the train tickets to London were already sold out, forcing her father to make the nine hour drive from Germany to get her back to Oxford on time.

"Thirty minutes into the flight the pilot suddenly announced that we were about to turn around back to Dusseldorf because Heathrow had just shut down. I wasted hours of precious dissertation writing spending Thursday afternoon trying to get out of Germany and make the car journey back," Eichler said.

Students are not only missing exams, but social events and other obligations as well.

At Exeter College, a number of stranded students have requested refunds for the college ball, which is scheduled for this Saturday.

The Ball Committee has so far refused to offer refunds, saying that "on the list of things we didn't plan for, right below 'alien invasion' was 'volcanic ash cloud closing down European airspace."

Some colleges have begun organising help for students whose flights have been delayed. St John's' alumni have given accommodation and financial assistance to members of the College choir who were delayed in New York.

But for Nicholl, who will be unable to return to school for at least another five days, nothing can make up for the frustration of being stuck in limbo.

"I'm missing my collections. I'm missing getting to spend time with my friends before term starts. And the worst part is that I don't know whether to start packing or to start studying. It's quite annoying," Nicholl said.