Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cardinal O' Brien And The Lockerbie Bomber

My blogging time is strictly limited these days, and accordingly I'm a few days late with this, but it's something I feel very strongly about.
His Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O' Brien, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and Scotland's senior Roman Catholic clergyman, has apparently added his voice to those seeking an independent enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the conviction of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombings. In my opinion, his decision to do so was unwise.
As is well known, Mr. Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds in 2009, having been diagnosed with cancer of the prostate. However, prior to his release he abandoned his appeal against conviction in the High Court of Justiciary. This means that it is part of the law of Scotland that Mr. Megrahi has accepted his guilt in this matter. To my mind, this is not the action of an innocent man.
In a sane system, this would render functus all further process in, and discussion of, the Lockerbie case. The responsible would be able leave Lockerbie to the chatrooms, the conspiracy theorists and the morbid narcissists, a type for which the Lockerbie case seems to have a particular attraction. However, the botched, bag of the fag packet nature of the devolution settlement effected by the Scotland Act 1998 seems to have rendered some of those under a public duty to be responsible into fraught, jumpy creatures. The emblem of devolved Scotland should not be the Lion Rampant but the Siamese cat.
Don't get me wrong, the Lockerbie case still throws up some pressing questions. If it is the case that the devolution settlement has enabled Mr. Megrahi to have a right to further process, such as a referral to to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, when he has accepted his guilt, then the law of Scotland has gone insane. If this loophole exists, it should be closed so tight it should be considered a singularity.
If it was the case that a deal of some kind was done so that Mr. Megrahi would get his liberty provided he dropped his appeal, then it is the kind of matter over which better administrations than our seedy, crappy, Christmas cracker novelty of a soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' would fall. If this has happened, it deserves to fall.
However, one question that doesn't arise is the most basic of all - who did it? Mr. Megrahi's abandonment of his appeal renders fruitless all further speculation concerning his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, with all the violence and destruction that ensued. Instead of the issues of guilt and innocence being confused, in law they are crystal clear, thanks to the actions of nobody other than the convict. I wish that the Cardinal had picked another battle.

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The Means Testing Of Michael Heseltine

My thanks to Iain Dale, for linking to my post suggesting that some former ministers would not appear to require state support in these stringent times, and that it should accordingly be withdrawn from them.

However, upon reflection it seems that the strokes of that brush were a little too broad. Nobody wishes to see a return to the days when only those of independent means could afford to enter public life; this is a point of particular importance in this day and age, when those of independent means who do enter public life seem to harbour a boiling, raging hostility to the rest of us.

Accordingly, those who enter the service of the state must be entitled to rely on its support in their old age, in the classical manner of a pension. The only issue that would appear to be determined is just how this pension is to be administered with due regard to fairness, both to those eligible to receive it and to those who are called upon to pay it. After all, we're all in this together.

The fairest method of ensuring justice to both the employer and the employed in this situation is, in my opinion, continuous means testing over the course of the potential recipient's lifetime. Ministerial pensions should be capped at £35,000 pa. If that figure sounds arbitrary, it's no more or less arbitrary than the figure of £10 per week to be deducted from the Housing Benefit of those who've been in receipt of Jobseekers' Allowance for 12 months. If a former minister has income from any other source which takes his total income over this level, then the level of the pension payable to them should be reduced to ensure they have a total annual income of £35,000. If any of them dare say that they can't live on £35,000 a year, they should receive nothing.

Accordingly, if a former minister receives £5,000 a year in extra income, they would receive a pension of £30,000. If they had outside income of £10,000 a year, their pension would be £25,000. If their income from any source exceeded £35,000 a year, no pension would be payable.

'Income' would be defined for these purposes as all income from any source coming into their household. Accordingly, those Tories who might be men of straw in their own right but who made the smart strategic move of marrying rich women wouldn't be able to put on the poor mouth when cadging for a handout.

If a wealthy person enters public life, they should be under the same duty to ensure adequate pension provision for themself as the meanest and greenest Skillseeker. If they are living in a country house and abusing the spirit, if not the letter, of the tax system by holding everything in their wife's name, or in discretionary trusts, or in some other presumably highly tax efficient 'vehicle', then they would be ineligible for any kind of pension. A not unjustified criticism that Michael Nesmith once levelled at the Monkees' TV show was that it depicted four young men living in a beach house 'with no visible means of support'. It is absurd that in the early 21st Century, the British taxpayer may just be the only acknowledged means of support for wealthy men who live in grand style. This is immoral, and has to stop.

By the same token, it might also help to keep many of these characters out of mischief. What use is a career politician on a board of directors? None, as far I can gather, so you have to wonder why they're there. If retired Tory ministers wish to make a packet sitting on the board of brass plate companies that trade in blood diamonds, or make money out of mucky text messaging services, or from selling cigarettes to the children in the Third World while also selling landmines to their parents, they should of course be free to do so. What they shouldn't expect is the British taxpayer to provide them with an income at the same time which, in relation to what such brilliantly able men can earn in the private sector, they would probably consider to be beer money. If they aren't really as capable as they think they are, and are only there to give a patina of respectability to some pretty unsavoury activities and because of their political connections, then the market's Darwinian impulse will very quickly engage in a little natural selection, leaving some of the greedier bastards with more time for gardening and painting watercolours. And a fixed income of £35,000 a year.

The same rules should, of course, apply to those senior civil servants who join boards after leaving office. One of the most popular shows on British TV at the moment is a preposterous piece of period toff porn called 'Downton Abbey'. A senior civil servant turning himself into a taxpayer funded tycoon at the end of their career provokes in me the same kind of horror as a particularly horrifying prospect would have on that show's characters - a butler must always be presentable and of good character, but one wouldn't ever expect him to have pretensions about becoming lord of the manor.

My apologies if I seem to have a bee in my bonnet about this, but I do. A very close acquaintance of mine got stiffed by the British state recently. They had contributed to a public sector pension scheme for just shy of 40 years. Earlier this year, they were informed that the indexation element of their pension had been removed. I may have got the wrong end of the stick when they told me this, but I don't think so. Having spent their entire working life putting part of their earnings into a scheme which promised to provide them with an inflation proof income in retirement, the rules of the game have been changed on them after nearly 10 years of claiming the pension. If the rules of the game can change for someone in their mid '70's, taking away their only safeguard against financial uncertainty, then they can change for Michael Heseltine and Michael Forsyth. After all, we're all in this together - aren't we?


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Cuts I Would Propose

There is absolutely no need for some former Ministers to receive pensions from the public purse.
We were always told that Michael Heseltine was a gazillionaire. If he is, then he has no need of our support, and his pension should be stopped.
Ditto Michael Forsyth, who resurfaced in the City very shortly after being booted out of Parliament. He's young enough and fit enough to make his own living, so he doesn't need our support.
Ditto John Wakeham, who was involved in the management of, er, Enron. Obviously a capable man, and one not in need of support.
Ditto Margaret Thatcher. She seems to have a very wealthy son who could support her isntead of us supporting her; and of course there's no such thing as society, so we shouldn't expect society's benefits.
Ditto Tony Blair, who seems to have become very wealthy very quickly very shortly after leaving Parliament. He's a very capable man, and one not in need of our support.
None of these people need public pensions - so why are they receiving them, or eligible to receive them?


'Tourettes On The Job'

A documentary bearing this title was shown on the British cable channel Living TV on the evening of 26th October. Its theme seemed to be that it's good for Tourettists to have jobs.
It featured four Tourettists, two British, one Irish and one American, and recounted their experiences in the job market. One of the British was a super Tourettist who now works for the US Postal Service. It was recounted that after emigrating to the United States, he had registered with a recruitment agency specialising in the placement of disabled people. This raised two thoughts.
The first was that it would surely not be impossible for a Tourettist to work for the Royal Mail, and if there are any super Tourettists working in a British sorting office, it would be very interesting to compare and contrast their experiences with those of the gentleman who now works for US Post. The second is that the UK has a state agency which specialises in the employment of the disabled. Its name is Remploy, and it's being eviscerated in the name of austerity.
Yes, it's good for Tourettists to have jobs.
The other British Tourettist works as an advertising executive in, ahem, the United States. I have the greatest sympathy for the lady - she has an extremely unpleasant illness, but a little time was devoted to her demonstrating the art of disguising her tics. As far as the task of educating the public in the ways of Tourettes Syndrome is concerned, this is kindergarten stuff.
The Irish Tourettist is an entertainment entrepreneur in London, and, with the greatest respect, gave the perhaps unjustified impression of being brittle even by the standards of our illness. I detected a very high degree of mental toughness in his speech, something I, alas, lack. I would find running a business impossible, so more power to his elbow. However, given that remarkably few people in the general population seem to want to run businesses, an entrepreneurial success story might not have been the most appropriate example to motivate people who might be on benefits and worrying about being chucked off them on the grounds of economy.
The American Tourettist was a second grade schoolteacher who had 24 job interviews before obtaining a classroom position. He has since won a Teacher Of The Year award. Again, more power to his elbow; but one must wonder how he would get on in front of a room of fractious 14 year old males. It is very gratifying to see a fellow sufferer being able to cope with the demands of a profession, but it could perhaps have done with a little leaven on the challenges other Tourettists have encountered in other professions.
So, a British TV show on a British TV station on the subject of Tourettists at work did not feature a single employed British Tourettist working in a job for someone else in any British workplace. This seemed to defeat the exercise of the broadcast completely, and I have to say the show did no real justice to this extremely difficult subject.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Wretched Of The Earth

It is desperately sad to see that those poor people in Haiti are now at risk from cholera, what must be one of the easily preventable of all major diseases. Infrastructure makes it go away. This can only really be developed by government, the one thing that Haiti, for whatever reason, seems to have lacked for many years.
I would not be surprised if some damnfool economist talking hairdo pops up soon on TV to explain, with all the charisma of a wind-up talking doll, why the privatisation of Haiti's water supply will be the surest way of preventing a similar outbreak; that is, if it hasn't been privatised already. Those on the American right who seem to feel the need to trumpet that they have higher IQs than Congolese pygmies or New Guinean aboriginals, in a very modern outing for the very old and very stale ideology of American racial supremacy, will no doubt find the makings of many, many articles in this catastrophe, leading them to conclude, with a tedious inevitability, that the reason why Port-au-Prince is not like Hong Kong or New York City is because of the colour of its inhabitants' skins. That it might have been very much more poorly governed will not occur to them.
It was in one sense disappointing to see that the recent cuts to other departments notwithstanding, the Department for International Development has had a major budget increase. The apparently arbitrary, and certainly ostensibly cruel, nature of these cuts should not be surprising - the Conservatives in our coalition government give every indication, in my opinion, of being thoroughly cruel people, cruel and vicious to the point of semi-feral wickedness, while the soi-disant 'Liberal Democrats', are, in my opinion, just the biggest whores in British politics, desperate to gain and hang on to power by any means necessary; not lap dogs, but lapdancers, only with a different type of bill being shoved into their knickers.
Yet a budget increase for DfID should be something to celebrate; but it might not be. In his book 'Freedom Next Time', John Pilger wrote,
"'DfID' is required by British law not to spend money other than for the purpose of poverty reduction. It breaks this law constantly, for it is, in reality, a privatising agency. In 2004, the minister, Hilary Benn, admitted giving £6.3 million to the Adam Smith Institute, an extreme right-wing lobby group, for proposals to 'reform', the 'public sector' in South Africa" (p. 327).
What I believe to be the Adam Smith Institute's corporate hypocrisy in taking public money when its message seems to be that others should not have it isn't really surprising. Yet how much better it would be for that money which has been taken from the British poor in the name of aid to go to those poor souls in Haiti without clean water, for there but by the grace of God go we, rather than to some rich bastard who can deal but cannot heal, can pay but will not pray.
Given the current decline of the United Kingdom, its civilisation, its culture, its institutions and its people, I wouldn't be surprised if we see an outbreak of something similar here within the next 20 years. If the lights haven't all gone out by that point, we will, at least be able to adopt a suitably phlegmatic, suitably British solution.
We'll stick the kettle on.


The Verb 'To Loftus'

This verb describes the action of one Catholic priest threatening to sue another.

Where are the bishops?

Hat tip -Paulinus.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Bonfire Of The Quangoes And The Law

Monbiot makes a good, if in my opinion overdue, point about the 'bonfire of the quangoes' being exactly in line with the neoliberalism critiqued in 'The Shock Doctrine'; but there's another point about this which I can't recall seeing having been made anywhere.
Many of these bodies are established by law, and perform functions which have been delegated to them by statute. It might not be possible just to abolish them overnight. Oh, it's financially possible; all that needs to happen is for the Treasury to stop giving them money. However, it might not be legally possible to do so, unless by driving a coach and horses through the will of Parliament.
I've recently finished reading both 'All The President's Men' and 'The Final Days'. Inter a great deal of alia, a couple of points germane to the situation we're now in arise from them.
The first is that one gets the impression that after Watergate, the political elites determined 'never again' - not that such corruption and misbehaviour would not be permitted of course, but that they just wouldn't do anything foolish enough to let them get caught, or that the law would be bent into such a way that what should otherwise be considered by bad and immoral would instead be considered both good and moral.
The second might have arisen from misreading, but my interpretation of 'All The President's Men' is that in 1972 it was illegal for campaigns to accept contributions from corporations. I would be very interested to know if that law still applies, and very surprised if it does, and if not just when it was altered. My guess would be under either the Reagan or first Bush administrations.


Quote Of The Day

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is Remploy Unionised?

If reports that The Chingford Slaphead wants to perform a surgical strike on Remploy - in the name of economy, of course - are true, that course of action will do nothing but pauperise the people who work in its factories.
That those factories are at a virtual standstill should not be surprising. We are in the middle of a recession by the end of which, if we are to believe some economists, we will have eaten the milk cows, be dressed in rags, have weeping sores and be thinking of bartering our wives for a potato.
That they should not have performed well financially over the long term should not be surprising. The goods they produce do not receive any preferential pricing treatment on the open market. It is astonishing that anyone believed they would ever make money when they must adhere to the iron, flesh-tearing dogmas of free trade.
If this report is true, then for what my opinion's worth I'll never believe a word that comes out of The Chingford Slaphead's mouth ever again. This is a financial assault upon society's weakest people. It gives the lie to any idea of a 'Big Society'. As far as the Tories are concerned, and regardless of whether those Tories wear red, blue or orange rosettes, your role in any Big Society is to take the lowest paying job you can find and pray that you're not either offshored or replaced by an immigrant, while gagging at talk of skills shortages.
But these people are different. These are people who are only employed because a decision was taken over 60 years ago that for them to be employed doing something, anything, was a noble end in itself. These are people who cannot compete in any kind of flexible labour market; that's the whole bloody point.
As I read that report, my mind turned back to the doctor who once signed me off Incapacity Benefit with a spiel that began 'Work's good for you, it gives you routine'. Recognising that this seemed like a well meaning spiel but a spiel nonetheless, one perhaps rooted in ideology and not medicine, I politely but firmly cut him off by telling him that I used to be a solicitor. I did not tell him that the employment I had just gained would be my 22nd post in 17 years. The desire of some disabled people to work should not be underestimated. Accordingly, if government still considers it to be a good thing for disabled people to work, it is astonishing that putting disabled people out of work should even be being contemplated. What are these people to do? Go on benefits, and be labelled a scrounger by The Daily Mail? These are people who only have jobs because other people once believed in the dignity of labour. If these factories are closed, then that really will be the final proof that the concept of dignity of labour is dead in this country. No doubt some 22 year old Tory, who knows nothing of God except that he doesn't believe in Him, will cheer its demise.
It's not the fault of the Remploy staff that they're not busy. What have the management been doing to get orders in? Have they been out cutting deals with B & Q, MFI, Homebase (Osborne & Little?) and the other leviathans of the British home furnishings market? Have they gone for the burn and tried to poach IKEA's designers? Or have they been good little mice, timidly poring over their spreadsheets and holding meeting after pointless meeting about how the KPI's relate to the SLA's and how nobody seems to be taking ownership of the process? Are their homes stocked full of Remploy products? Have they been eating their own cookie? Or has someone eaten their lunch? What have they been doing?
It's not as if they don't have a sound backer. They work for, er, us. Remploy could go out and buy IKEA tomorrow, if the British taxpayer gave it enough money to do so. However, that's unlikely to happen, because we're in the middle of a financial crisis, or at least that's what we're told. When the British have a financial crisis, they seek to solve it by throwing money at the people who've caused it and by letting those who don't pay their way, the tax avoiders, keep doing what they're doing. The folks on the shop floor at Remploy haven't been gambling on the subprime mortgage market. They've paid their taxes. Ergo, according to the perverse and inhuman nature of current British economic thinking, they've got to go.
However, I do hope that Remploy is unionised. These are precisely the kind of people who need the protection of trade unions. If you wish to see those who satisfy any definition of 'the weak' that you might care to offer, there they are. If they are not unionised, I for one would want to know why. If they are not, then, given the nature of Remploy and the needs of the people who work for it, that would amount to one of the most shocking derelictions by an employer of their duties of care to their employees that I can think of. I hope these people strike, if only to see just what depths the blue and orange Tories, and their attack sloths in that part of the filthy British press which in a truly just world would be behind bars, will plumb to slime them. These aren't big men with bad tempers, standing round braziers in front of locked gates and spoiling for a fight with the local bully cop. These are the learning disabled, the wheelchair-bound.
These are the meek, and one day they're going to inherit the Earth; and The Chingford Slaphead had better not forget it.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Miracle Of The Atacama

With twenty eight of those brave, brave men up on the surface, one cannot help but have a few reflections.
Please God, stay with them all this night, and guide those remaining underground to the surface; and may God be with all of their rescuers, whether they be paramedics, hard hat guys, priests, pastors or counsellors.
In the United Kingdom, our attitude to mining and miners has historically been atrocious. The turgid monochrome in which our right wing press paints our industrial history might lead the innocent to believe that British miners were little better than tunnelling mammals, untermensch intent upon the overthrow of all our elites hold sacred. The last word must, of course, go to those best able to express it, and in the case of British mining, nobody has ever been able to improve upon those famous words from the 1920's of Lord Birkenhead, the former F.E. Smith, who remarked that he thought that the miners' leaders were the most stupid people he had ever come across, until he met the mine owners.
Expressions of sympathy for miners and mining from the British right are not unknown. One need only think of the comment of Correlli Barnett from 'The Audit of War', that the development of the British mining industry led to the development of the spirit of 'the pit village contra mundum'. It's easy for outsiders to think they understand this, but we don't. Birkenhead, by no means a stupid man, might just have known what he was talking about.
Put it this way; for decades, British miners fought with our government. They caused untold disruption - yet how many lives did their actions save?
Huh? Come again?
That's not the sort of question British people in the 21st Century are expected to ask, but it has to be asked. I don't think we'll ever know how many lives were saved by the industrial cussedness of all those flint-faced flint-pickers walking besides their garish, outsized banners on their gala days. If what they did only ever saved one human life, that is worth much more to the world than the ongoing smooth operation of the British state.
Developed societies have a habit of placing relentless over-achievers, the astronauts, fighter pilots and submarine captains, at the top of the hierarchy of courage. It is a damn shame that those who make their livings from going into the bowels of the earth, day in, day out, never seem to feature either as frequently or as prominently as those with better grades. Wouldn't do their job for all the money in the world.
The memorial to the Blantyre colliery disaster of 1877, erected for the centenary, is, like all good memorials, striking but simple. It's a single piece of rough-hewn granite about 20 feet high. At its top, a pit wheel is merged into the stone. It just might be coincidence, but earlier this evening I was almost sure that someone had placed fresh flowers at its base. The memory of those who die beneath the earth might just die a little harder than those of us who live and die in comfort on the surface; as might the sense of relief that souls have been saved from that terrible fate.
And The Lord is kind, and full of compassion, rich in mercy, abounding in love. God be with you, companeros.


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Audit Scotland, Vanguard of The Coming Attack On Disabled Mobility

If they wish to audit something, they can audit away 50% of their salaries and 50% of their pensions. If I'm working until I die, everyone works until they die.
But I forget that they are Scotch civil servants, so a NASA anti-glare screen, the kind that would have been useful to have around if you were on the ground at Nagasaki, is necessary to shield our eyes from their brilliance,


Jeremy Hunt

The Culture Secretary's physical appearance reminds one of Baldwin's famous observation on his own parliamentary party from 1923, that his benches seemed full of hard faced men who looked as if they'd done very well out of the war. However, while we can't help how we look we can help what we say.
While Hunt's vicious attack on the procreative rights of the poor is nothing but bog standard libertarianism red in tooth and claw, it raises many disturbing questions. If having children is a choice and a poor or below average income married couple have a child that requires, for example, what I am sure is ruinously expensive neonatal intensive care treatment, should they be billed for it? Or should treatment be withheld from children born at 32 weeks' gestation unless their parents can provide evidence of ability to pay?
If the poor are not to be supported by benefits, what alternative does he propose? The separation of parents from their children? The workhouse? Infanticide? What does he want?
The reality of the welfare system is that it is fundamentally reactionary. The only reason it expands is because previous economic policies have failed. All economic policies ultimately fail. This should come as no surprise to anyone who understands that economics is a steaming pile of nonsense used by charlatans to further enrich the rich and baffle the public simultaneously. If nothing else, it is a breeding ground for hypocrisy, however unconscious it might be.
Case in point. Jeremy Hunt's fortune was made from publishing educational directories. For Hunt to bitch about the cost of the poor to the public purse when the clothes on his back have come from publishing educational guides and at least some of the bodies he was helping guide students towards were presumably publicly funded displays a great want of intellectual clarity. Without the public sector and his fellow taxpayers, Jeremy Hunt might just not have a fortune. This disconnect in his own thinking shows Hunt to be little more than a white van man - a better class of white van man, but a white van man all the same.

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Katherine Balbirsingh

If you don't want to be disciplined, don't breach industrial discipline. It'll be the call centre for you soon, my lady.

Tory hypocrisy is astonishing. Their mantra is forever 'industrial discipline for thee, but not for me'.


The Most Over Promoted Woman In The History Of Scottish Law

While Professor Robert Black might not have been quite as harsh to the outgoing Lord Advocate as I have been, in my opinion she deserves all the criticism she gets.
I'm thinking of opening a book on William Hill's on her being appointed a sheriff within six months of leaving office.


The Double Jeopardy Bill

Here we go again.

Given its hostility to the liberty of any groups other than itself and its clients, I would not be surprised if the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' seeks to restore the power of pit and gallows to the regalities before its forthcoming electoral apocalypse - not a Gotterdammerung, more a Scotterdammerung.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Special Olympics Presidency

It is hard to think of a President of the United States who has made less of an impact than Barack Obama. Elected with the weight of so much expectation on his shoulders, he seems to have transformed into a paper bag, empty, with little of either meaning or consequence to say. Think of how few words of his are quoted in the press. He's what you get when you cross Jesse Jackson with Jerry Ford.
The Democrats are going to be destroyed at these midterms. The Barack has not produced the goods, and history will once more witness the spectacle of a wee tin idol being built up before it's smashed and melted down. To use one of his own less charitable phrases, the Obama Administration will one day become known as 'the Special Olympics Presidency'.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Mr. Murdoch Goes To Washington

It was something of a shock to see Keith Rupert Murdoch testifying to Congress on the issue of immigration on BBC Parliament yesterday.
With Michael Bloomberg at his right shoulder in a way that half made one expect to hear him start shouting 'Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!', Keith, whom age seems to be mutating into a cross between Droopy and Uncle Fester, seemed to receive the softest of softball questions - in particular, for what my opinion's worth Congresswoman Judy Chu's efforts were so particularly saccharine as to be nauseating.
In my opinion, the whole exercise seemed to be about two billionaires using the question of immigration in order to advance the cause of cheap labour. It yielded no great insight into the issue's mechanics, but they did get to show just what nice people they both are.
However, it was gratifying to see him there in the first place. After all, would he answer a summons to appear before the House of Commons?


The Psychic Sikh

I am not without sympathy for Professor Orlando Figes, from whose recent difficulties the only lesson to be drawn is that the very clever can be just as prone to being unwell, or as liable to doing what are ultimately silly things, as the rest of us.
Accordingly, his narration of why he behaved in the way he did in yesterday's 'Sunday Times' magazine wasn't what caught my attention - we've all done daft things when we're under the weather. What really got my attention was 'the psychic Sikh'.
Professor Figes recounted how, at the height of his trouble, he suffered what was probably a panic attack in a supermarket, and on his way home was accosted in the street by a Sikh, previously unknown to him, who predicted his future for the rest of the year with what has thus far been unerring accuracy. This made me sit bolt upright, on account of its resemblance to a family anecdote my father once told me.
My grandfather was in the licensed trade in Glasgow for 52 years, and on Fair Friday of 1958, the first day of heavy manufacturing's two week summer shutdown, the pub should have been jumping, but it was stone dead. About six o' clock that night, by which point my grandfather was probably feeling like Paulus surrendering at Stalingrad and deciding to keep the last bullet for himself, a Sikh peddler carrying a suitcase came in, and ordered a glass of stout. Fair to say he wasn't a regular.
As he finished his drink, he said 'You will be very busy this evening' and left. They made a fortune that night. The Sikh peddler never came in again.
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, Orlando.


Friday, October 01, 2010

The Irish Banking Crisis

Some of my wife's relations were over visiting recently, and in discussion of Ireland's finances my brother-in-law made a very telling remark. The depth of the crisis can be judged by the extent to which the Irish public have had to educate themselves about subordinate debt instruments and the other tools of international finance, to the extent that they discuss them in the street.
This struck me as being very similar to Rebecca West's observation on isolated coastal communities - to paraphrase, the women might be semi-literate and have little idea of the facts of life, but they know everything there is to know about radar systems. What immediately concerns your own life becomes the topic of your conversation.
Ireland has been led into the mess it's in by an historically corrupt oligarchy. Ireland has not been corrupted recently, but has been corrupt for decades. The multiple tribunals which have been held into the conduct of Irish public life, particularly at its summit, appear to have had absolutely no impact upon its manner. The Irish State did not come into being for a claque of gobshite developers to be bailed out by their fellow citizens at the behest of some of Catholic Europe's seediest and dirtiest politicians.
At this rate, they'll be marching on Dublin with pitchforks - or wondering where Granda buried his guns in 1922.



When you are diagnosed with a neuropsychiatric condition, the first thing you learn is that such conditions are known to exist.
The second is that Tourettes and ADHD are believed to be related.
The third is that a large number of right wing commentators with no training in neurology are willing to pontificate upon whether ADHD should be considered a genuine illness. If I wish to buy a pound of steak, I do not go to my barber. If I wish to buy a copy of St. Augustine's 'City of God', I will not find on at the fishmongers. When I wish medical advice, I will go the doctor, and will avoid reading blogs.
There is much valid criticism to be made of the now widespread use of SSRI medication. I can recall watching Adam Curtis's 'The Power of Numbers', and the complaint of a Prozac user's husband that their wife was no longer the person they once were. This zombiefication into homogeneity of those who sometimes find life more difficult than others, 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' made reality, is not wholesome; there is no medical cure for being alive. However, it would be appropriate for the right to keep silent about ADHD, and for a concerted medical effort to be made to determine its causes. The doctors, at least, are bound to do no harm.

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'The Apprentice'

This tedious annual ritual of worship of the rich and powerful, and of their ability to humiliate and generally behave appallingly towards their perceived subordinates without constraint or penalty, is set to pollute the airwaves again. Like the equally odious 'Dragons' Den', it cannot be said to satisfy any criterion used to define public service broadcasting, and neither should be on the BBC. Their proper place is as training videos, or at 02.00 on a Monday morning on Sky 2.
I wish the contestants no harm, and fully understand that for the purposes of their involvement in 'The Apprentice' they should be considered game show contestants, that they will be unfavourably edited, et al et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseam; yet for the most part they seem like thoroughly obnoxious exhibits in a 21st Century freak show. If they all like kicking backside so much, perhaps they should all stand in a circle and try to kick each others' for eight weeks solid. It would at least be a novel amendment to the show's format, and would be considerably more entertaining than watching them fail miserably at their allotted tasks.
If there ever was a TV show that was out of step with the spirit of the times in which it was shown, so out of tune with its age's zeitgeist, it's 'The Apprentice'. Bin it.



This sort of stuff also happens where I live. Perhaps if those clever wallahs who invent computer games had given the rape, torture and murder a pass and written a program involving this particular atrocity, maybe Jocky and Doddy could have got it out of their systems without causing innocents incredible distress.


How Ed Miliband Might One Day Be Judged A Success As Leader Of The Labour Party

If he manages not to take the party further to the right than it already is.