Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Freddy McConnel

Without wishing to intrude upon the grief being felt by his parents and his sister, the recent, and very tragic death, of Freddy McConnel has shone a very welcome light into some of our culture's darker corners.

Freddy, 18 at the time of his death, was the son of James McConnel, a composer who suffers from Tourette Syndrome, and who wrote of how his illness was ameliorated by the effects of alcohol, of his subsequent slide into alcoholism and his ascent from it, in his memoir 'Life, Interrupted', a book which, while it might not be perfect, should be mandatory reading for the parent of every child diagnosed with our illness.

Very shortly before his death, Freddy had become friendly with a young woman known as Peaches Geldof, the daughter of Bob Geldof, a man who, in my opinion, has no respect for anyone or anything. A very sad and touching interview given by his parents to the 'Daily Mail' shortly after his death was announced recorded the following -

"Freddy formed a friendship with Peaches Geldof, the 22-year-old, wild-child daughter of Sir Bob Geldof. Extraordinarily, the Mail can reveal that Peaches this week telephoned Freddy’s father to confess that — although she had nothing whatsoever to do with his death — she had given money to Freddy to buy drugs in the months before he died.

In their first interview since their son’s death, James and Annie expressed their fury at Peaches and criticised the way that young drug-taking celebrities are all too often portrayed as cool and bohemian rather than indulging in a terrifying activity which destroys lives.
James says: ‘Peaches sounded more interested in protecting herself when she phoned me this week than sorry for what had happened to my son. She confessed to giving Freddy money to buy drugs. She said she had done it only once, but who knows?"

If it is not illegal for one person to provide another with the means to buy narcotics, it bloody well should be. It is astonishing to note the rise of what one might call the 'Geldof class', for he is a perfect example of that breed, a very common one in the so-called music business. The times he has lived in, and presumably also the astuteness of his career moves (the professional rebel is the most astute of all careerists) has enabled him to parlay what is in my opinion a minimal talent for the production of sound into a three-decade long career. Like a Napoleonic field marshal who has risen to nobility from the ranks, albeit one who started off not with a baton but a microphone in his napsack, his title and fame seem to have become heritable, regardless of his descendants' merits. I am sure Peaches Geldof has some. She just didn't seem to exhibit them to Freddy McConnel.

It would be very interesting to know just how and why the two became friendly. Hopefully Peaches Geldof saw Freddy McConnel's qualities for what they were, and saw the clever young man underneath the one who idolised Pete Doherty. From the outside, the establishment of the friendship seems puzzling. Although there was only four years of an age difference between them, at that age it is still a large one, particularly where the male is younger than the female. I hope to live long enough to read her memoirs, and to read how and why her friendship with Freddy McConnel came into being. She might even be working on that bit right now, for all I know.

The sooner we disengage ourselves from this horrible 'celebrity' culture, appearing to worship nothing but fame for fame's sake, the better and more wholesome our culture will become, one where talented and clever young men like Freddy McConnel won't die needlessly because they're impressed by someone so apparently vacuous as a rock musician. Since the turn of the millenium, Peaches Geldof, possessor of the daintiest of cultural footprints, has been one of that culture's poster girls. Let us all hope for a new look.

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On Appeals

The behaviours of the murderous public pest William Beggs have been cited in today's 'Scottish Daily Mail' as an example of how our appeals system favours prisoners at the expense of their victims' families.

In 1999 Beggs, an Ulsterman, sexually assaulted and murdered an 18 year old youth named Barry Wallace at a flat in Kilmarnock, before dismembering his remains and dumping them in Loch Lomond. He is serving a sentence of imprisonment for life, the punishment tariff of which is 20 years.

Since his imprisonment, Beggs has shown neither decency nor humanity towards his victim's family, and has embarked upon a series of appeals so unsuccessful that one suspects many of them to have been frivolous. If it was his intention to prove himself as a jailhouse lawyer, he has shown himself to be so spectacularly inept that if he were in the business on the outside he'd be up before the disciplinary authorities in a flash.

However, he has been abetted in his course by the accident of having been convicted at almost the same time as the Human Rights Act became law. Beggs, who at one stage in his life was deeply involved in hardline Ulster Unionist politics, comes from a cultural background where people like him had been accustomed to imposing their will upon others whether they might like it or not. When allied to the novelty of the Human Rights Act, this cultural burden might have found a natural outlet in the conduct of specious legislation.

The paper quotes Frank Mulholland (qv), Scotland's new Lord Advocate, as being naturally sympathetic to Mr. Wallace's family - what reasonable, humane person is not? - and as saying,

"It's hard enough dealing with what's happened after an appalling crime, for example, dealing with the consequences of losing a loved one. In William Beggs' case, it's taken nearly ten years to have his appeal against conviction and sentence refused".

I must confess that I am rather suspicious of Mr. Mulholland, whose public statements are, in my opinion, even more authoritarian than one might expect from the head of the Scottish prosecutorial establishment (one thing we're still very good at making in Scotland is criminals). In the case of Beggs, then, it is to be hoped that the Crown has never sought any adjournments of any of his appeals. If it has, then it would have done its own bit to ensure that the suffering endured by Mr. Wallace's family continued as the lurching, staggering appeals of William Beggs blundered their way through process.

I have written in the past of the need for justice to be final, and of how infinite process renders verdicts meaningless. However, the presence of one very bad apple in the appeals system, rotten to the core with a conceit born either from contempt towards his victim's family, which is the option that my money's on, or from the delusion that he is innocent, should not be the sole example held up as evidence in support of restricting rights of appeal. You won't hear them admit it either loudly or often, but the police and the Crown do sometimes get it wrong, sometimes spectacularly so. It would be a great shame for Scotland if our appeals system were altered solely because of the monomania of a murderous bully.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Death Of Christopher Shale

While Mr. Shale's family have my condolences for their loss, and without wishing either to add to their grief or speculate on the cause of his death, I find myself asking questions about the reporting of the circumstances in which his remains were discovered.

How frequently were the portable toilets in the VIP area at Glastonbury being checked? It's been many years since I stepped inside a nightclub, but even then the goons would make an ostentatious display of searching the toilets for signs of drug abuse. Were these toilets being checked in the same way? And if not, why not? If they were checked more frequently, then from the little that I have read, itself always bound to be incomplete at such an early stage as this, perhaps Mr. Shale's remains might have been discovered a little more quickly.

I am not suggesting for a second that either the organisers of the Glastonbury Festival, or their security contractors, or the local police service might have been turning a blind eye to the possibility of VIPs abusing drugs on site. In addition to being contrary to both law and policy, it would also be monstrously negligent of all their public duties and private duties of care.

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The Milly Dowler Murder Trial

While I have every sympathy for Miss Dowler's family, they cannot complain that they have not received justice. Our courts do not administer individual, retributive justice, but collective justice; The Queen's Justice. However badly they feel they might have been treated in its pursuit, and however low and wicked his character might be, Levi Bellfield still remained and remains as entitled to the fairness and transparency of the Queen's Justice as they are, and I hope that that will always be the case.

Their sister and daughter had the misfortune to encounter a serial killer, a shocking but rare event which does not by itself justify altering the methods by which the Queen's Justice is either pursued or dispensed in any way whatsoever; and our senior police officers would do well to remember that their function in the system is ended once the Crown has presented its case. For any of them to utter any word regarding any other aspect of the trial might be regarded as improper in some circles.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Idiocy Of Oligarchy

While thinking about my post of last night, the depth of the extent to which attempts to turn the disabled into the next great untapped labour market demonstrates the idiocy of oligarchy's tediously eternal and eternally tedious quest for cheap labour became a little clearer.

The majority of oligarchical Darwinists, unchallenged by any ethics other than those which encourage their own sense of gain, may for many years have quietly applauded the silent genocide perpetrated upon Down's Syndrome sufferers in the womb. Now that the Poles have gone home, of course, bingo! there is no group left other than those like Down's sufferers, and others they have long resented feeling that they have to pay for, regardless of whether they have had to or not, whom they can try to persuade to enserf themselves.

They look for cheap labour now among the ranks of those of whose destruction they heartily approved, and there might not be enough there to do the trick. I wonder just how long it will be before a Conservative MP suggests lowering the school leaving age to 14.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Being A Disabled Worker In The United Kingdom Is Like (In The Real World)

After writing my post of Sunday night on the Neanderthal comments of Philip Davies MP regarding allowing the disabled to opt out of the minimum wage, I came across Tim Worstall's sadly inevitable, and also, and equally sadly, inevitably flawed defence of them.

I like Tim a lot, he is a very generous person, but as Owen Barder once remarked of him there are times when he jumps in both feet first, and this has been one of them. At the time of writing this, the link to Tim's post is down, but I will link to it in the event of its reappearance, and quote from memory. Readers can decide whether I have done so accurately when it is restored.

As an example of the sort of disabled person who might benefit from opting out of minimum wage, Tim suggests a teenage Down's Syndrome sufferer. In the comments, I have pointed out that there aren't any teenage Down's Syndrome sufferers, not in the UK at least. The last time I saw one was in Dublin in 2009. Tim lives in Portugal, and may see them there on account of the local prevalence of Catholic ethics. In the UK, and also I believe in the USA, the suffering imposed by Down's Syndrome may be on schedule for elimination, although someone will have deemed it necessary to eliminate the sufferers in order to do so. Perhaps Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, and also, in my opinion, a nasty old rascal, might hail this as a progressive step. Davies seems just to want not to pay for us. North gives the impression of not wanting even to see us.

Davies has suggested that the changes he proposes are necessary in order to help disabled people get a job in 'the real world'. Oligarchical Darwinists like Davies, whose comments give me the impression that he's just another of the cheap labour lobby's mindless, bog standard sock-puppets, like to cite the 'real world' in defence of their positions, when in my experience the real world they describe is one which is both unreal and unworldly. While his attempt to cast the disabled as the new Poles, The New Next Big Untapped Labour Market Just Waiting to Be Enserfed In The Cause Of Cheap Labour, is perversely flattering, to my eyes it's also risibly transparent. In Davies's case, the attempt is even more insolent and patronising than usual. He would never dream of suggesting that black people be permitted to opt themselves out of the minimum wage solely because they are black, and quite rightly so, so why should he suggest it of the disabled? As a third-generation public scholboy and third-genration university graduate, nothing has given me such experience of what life is really like as becoming disabled, a level of exposure to reality in all its hideousness that I would imagine Davies would struggle to cope with.

However, after reading Tim's post, I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to outline just a few of the issues that his factually fictional Down's Syndrome teenager would encounter in Davies's 'real world', should the type of law he desires be enacted.

Well, the first challenge they would encounter is how those hard-headed practical men living in the real world, the ones who would be employing this glut of disabled cheap labour, would cope with the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act. Say what? Yes, the Disability Discrimination Act, the one that requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled employees if it is reasonable for them to do so. If Tim's Down's sufferer couldn't cope with pushing trolleys for his multi-billion pound supermarket employer, said multi-billion pound supermarket employer would have to make a reasonable adjustment for him, which, given its size, would I imagine lead any employment tribunal hearing such a DDA case to find that it would be reasonable for them to do. There is a perfect way round this, of course, which is to scrap DDA, which unfortunately Westminster can't do, given that, to my understanding, it emanated from Brussels.

So that's point one dealt with. The second would be whether Tim's Down's sufferer would actually be able to opt out of the minimum wage, or have their opting-out presented to them as a fait accompli.

In my experience as a serial holder of low-income jobs in the real world, I have never, to my knowledge, actually been given the option of opting out of the Working Time Directive, that European initiative that limits the working week to 48 hours. I don't have my current contract to hand, but vividly recall signing a number of contracts which indicated that by signing the contract I consented to opting out of WTD. Again if flawed memory serves, this was a particular feature of contracts I signed with recruitment consultancies providing temporary staff (you should feel no pity for me on this score, for I was a recruitment consultant for three years, and probably colluded in doing this to others; at that time, I thought I was living in the real world, and God will not be mocked). Now, I could quite easily envision a situation whereby Tim's Down's sufferer gets handed a piece of paper to sign, which states that their signature indicates that they have opted out of the laws regarding the payment of the statutory minimum wage. It would be directly analogous to the situation in which many millions of able-bodied and low-paid British people, those of whose lives Philip Davies and those like him seem to know nothing, have found themselves in regarding their right to opt out of the Working Time Directive; as far as they're concerned, the right is solely a notional one, for people are on their back to get them to work, and the people with the jobs won't let them have one unless they sign away their right to a 48 hour week for nothing.

Who would be on their backs to get them to work? Why, the Department of Work and Pensions, of course.

In his 'Diaries', Richard Crossman, the first Secretary of State of the Department of Health and Social Security (as was) in the late 1960's, records how even then it seemed to be the case that the welfare state's administrators seemed to be deliberately unhelpful to those who were seeking their assistance, and opaque in the information they provided. I am sad to say that I have personally encountered, as in been on the receiving end, of two separate instances of such behaviours in the past three years. No matter what name the welfare state goes by, its attitude towards those who seek its help has not changed since Crossman's time in my experience. Having been on their receiving end, it's fair to say that both experiences were squalid.

In 2008, I required to claim Incapacity Benefit. The focus of Incapacity Benefit is (was?) not to tide you over until you recover, but to get you back to work. The pressure that was put on sick people to get back to work in 2008 was enormous. It was squalid.

Equally squalid was the experience of dealing with a benefit adviser in 2010, whose nominal function was to assist me with a claim for Disability Living Allowance. One of the individual quirks of my Tourettes that is that while I cannot walk forwards very far without falling over, I can walk backwards with considerable ease. In that adviser's view, that alone rendered my claim unsupportable, and I felt under such pressure from them to drop it that I caved. I got the distinct impression that this individual was more interested in the management of their statistics than in helping me claim DLA. I am glad that I believe in a physical, real place called Hell, and that the idea of going there hopefully prevents me from treating any another person in such a squalid way.

The best way to describe that adviser was that they were not unlike those Grizzlies who come down from the mountains to root among trashcans, or the Siberian tigers who hunt in the suburbs of Vladivostok; they were a hunter who should be a long way from civilisation, but who now lives, furtively and sneakily, on the margins of society, hoping for easy prey.

The operations of the British welfare state have shown, in my opinion and experience, that while the corpse of Jeremy Bentham has been stuffed and mounted in its case for a very long time now, his vengeful, hateful spirit still strides among us. Anyone who says it doesn't, doesn't know know what they're talking about it.

So the authorities, those possessing nominal duties of care to those such as Tim's Down's Syndrome teenager, probably wouldn't hesitate to put the frighteners on them in order to get them off the benefit roll. Hopefully any law which enabled the disabled to enserf themselves by opting out of minimum wage would also allow for any contract presented to them to be reviewed by an independent and appropriate adult, with a power to veto the employment without penalty to the disabled person. Philip Davies MP might consider this to be an unnecessary regulatory burden, and he might be right.

After all, he lives in the real world.

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Greek Tragedy

Whether the Greek government stands or falls is of no interest to me personally, although one would hope that the situation can be resolved peacefully.

At the risk of being branded xenophobic (a good Greek word), I can't help but think that Greece has been a military dictatorship within very recent living memory, as also has Spain. If some Eurozone nations fail to bail out others, it's not difficult to imagine a scenario where either the mob or the generals might decide to take matters into their own hands. Hopefully both nations' militaries have been thoroughly indoctrinated against such nonsense, and that they and the peoples they serve are so revolted by the memory of dictatorship that they would shun it even if affairs were in chaos.

But if it were to happen, and I hope that it does not, God forbid, it would be interesting to know just what the European Union and/or NATO would do about it or would be able to do about it. Would an invasion of either Greece or Spain be attempted in order to restore democracy? After all, if the Afghans and the Iraqis are worthy of such efforts, why wouldn't the Greeks and the Spanish be worthy of them as well?

For even a casual student of universal history, it has been wonderful to see the events of the past few months unfold. While Scotland, the birthplace of the Enlightenment, lapses into pre-Enlightenment authoritarianism and personality cults, the Mediterranean is feeling the birthpangs of democracy all over again. As Napoleon might have put it, the revolution is complete.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

On Being Disabled In The United Kingdom, Part I

Today's 'Sunday Times' carries a report which heavily quotes one 'Paul Slowey'.

Mr. Slowey runs an outfit called 'Blue Badge Fraud Investigation Ltd', described as 'a unique specialist criminal investigation and prosecution company'. Mr. Slowey appears to have set himself up in business, and all of his clients seem to be local authorities, in order to 'carry out comprehensive operations in target areas, identifying, enforcing and prosecuting cases of blue badge misuse'.

I am no longer a solicitor, and would not dream of offering legal advice on any subject, however while reading today's 'Sunday Times', the following questions came into my head -

1. In the UK, criminal investigations are conducted by the police. BBFI's claim that it conducts 'criminal investigations of suspected (Blue Badge) fraud and misuse' must raise some issues regarding how its operations interact with the Human Rights Act. It claims to be investigating alleged crimes - in what capacity? And upon whose authority? If it is upon the authority of local government bodies, do those bodies have the power either to conduct the type of investigations being conducted by BBFI or to outsource their conduct to contractors?

2. Esto BBFI's alarming comment that it conducts 'evidence and public interest tests and issue(s) a lot of warnings and cautions'. What warnings? What cautions? Upon what basis? In whose name? And upon what authority?

3. Again, it says it takes 'criminal prosecutions where badges are misused' (note, not 'allegedly misused'). In whose name, and upon whose authority? This is a private company, albeit maybe one that wouldn't appear to need to exist if local authorities ran Blue Badge properly. What is it doing taking prosecutions?

4. One wonders what safeguards are built in Mr. Slowey's business model to prevent his company being used as a passive instrument for the conduct of feuds and vendettas. In a society that increasingly looks upon the disabled as a burden, Blue Badge envy, the idea that someone has conned their way to privilege, can be a powerful force for ill.

My own Blue Badge is where only I can find it. I've tried to use it twice, and have succeeded in doing so only once. On the unsuccessful occasion, at Glasgow Airport, all of the disabled parking bays had been taken by rockin' great 4 x 4's, and not one of them was displaying a Blue Badge.

As Mr. Slowey would hopefully be the first to agree, that wasn't a victimless crime.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Being Disabled In The United Kingdom, Part II


As a disabled British person who has been in almost continuous, if varied, employment for the past 20 years, my first thought was that if Mr. Davies thinks the able-bodied are productive he clearly hasn't worked in some of the same places that I have. It is also gratifying to see that David Cameron's people have rejected the idea. To my mind, this amounts to a Coalition commitment to maintaining the minimum wage.

That Mr. Davies is, to my eyes, a Tory Neanderthal goes without saying. In the real world, it is highly unlikely that the program he has suggested would ever happen, which makes me wonder just how much he knows about 'the real world'. When faced with a disabled candidate and a non-disabled candidate, if a prospective employer believes that the disabled candidate is going to be less productive than the non-disabled candidate then it would be irrational for him to hire the disabled, regardless of whether or not the disabled candidate had the option of opting out of the minimum wage. For Mr. Davies to express the view that an employer might take on a less productive employee than he could get because they're willing to work for less than what would otherwise be the going rate is the babbling of a naive ideologue. It does, however, neatly sum up both the basis of British immigration policy for the past 15 years and also the philosophy underpinning the phenomenon of 'offshoring'. While his views might be daft, Mr. Davies might just have been preaching to the choir.

However, if his views gain momentum, and, sadly, I suspect they will, given what I perceive to be the mounting degree of unpleasantness being both felt and expressed towards the disabled in our country (a situation which is not going to be improved by permitting the idea that the disabled are undercutting wages to develop), then one might be able to suggest a series of trade-offs to make his Vision for a Better Britain come true.

For example, if the disabled must be given the option of being able to be paid less than our fellows, it would seem only fair for us to also be given the option of opting out of the income tax system in its entirety. I see no virtue in a system which would permit the institutional pauperisation of the disabled by paying them less for the same work as their able-bodied colleagues, while subjecting them to a universal rate of income tax. In such a scenario, to permit the disabled and non-disabled to work on different pay rates would amount to a double pay cut, the first being the lower pay rate, the second being a rate of income tax de facto higher than that paid by their colleagues on account of being paid less in real terms.

If that proposal is unappealing, there could be an alternative, a Disabled Workers Credit that could be claimed by all disabled people who feel that they have had to opt themself out of minimum wage in order to gain work (I suspect that the pressure that would be put on unemployed disabled people by the Department of Work and Pensions to opt out would be enormous). Its purpose would be to top up reduced earnings to the level which would have been payable had they not opted out. Mr. Davies might not be aware of this, but when you come off JSA you have to pay rent instead of claiming Housing Benefit. The purpose of the Disabled Workers Credit would be to ensure that disabled workers opting out of minimum wage don't then immediately get themselves into rent arrears because they're earning less than they need in order to pay their rent, and lose their jobs as a result. The extent of the naivety behind Mr. Davies's babblings is alarming,

However, given that opting out of minimum wage would amount to a surrender of economic liberty, it would only be appropriate for a liberty not to be granted, but taken. If the disabled must work for less money, it is only appropriate that the vote of a disabled person should carry more weight than that of a non-disabled person. Having given up more than others to ensure the system's success, it is only appropriate that they should have more of a say in how it is run. I could quite happily live in a country where my vote has 10 times the weight of Alex Salmond's. I do not imagine this would be politically feasible, but we're a democracy, or so we're told, and the poor, the sick and the weak aren't just thrown on the scrapheap - aren't they?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Alex Salmond's Attacks Upon Lord Hope And Tony Kelly

While most of the two-fisted, two-footed assaults mounted by the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' upon the law of Scotland, the rule of the law in Scotland and the civil liberties of the Scots now summon little more than unsurprised abhorrence and disgust, Alex Salmond's attacks upon Lord Hope of Craighead and Tony Kelly have plumbed sinister new lows.

For any politician to launch such a breathtakingly arrogant personal attack upon such a senior judge is, to my understanding, unprecedented in recent British history. Does The Tartanissimo understand the law of Scotland to be nothing more than a vehicle for the performance of his will? Is what he thinks right to be the only law?

Lord Hope's 'crime' was to concur in the granting of a criminal appeal which it was competent for the court of which he is a member, the UK Supreme Court, to hear. You might not like the idea of the UK having a Supreme Court, presumably capable of over-riding Parliament (if it could not, it could not be described as Supreme), but for the time being we've got one, and there is no legal dispute regarding its competence to adjudicate upon the appeal. That appeal, Nat Fraser's, was successful on the basis that it was held to be incorrect for the authorities prosecuting him to have withheld evidence that might have been of assistance to him in his defence. Frankly, it is shocking that Fraser should have had to go as far as the Supreme Court for that principle to be enunciated. That he should have had to do so is, in my opinion, a shocking commentary upon the state of Scotland's criminal justice system from top to bottom. Instead of The Tartanissimo electing to play to his own gallery, using the mere fact that a British court, one with jurisdiction over the subject matter, has determined that an unpopular Scottish convict has not received justice from the Scottish courts in order to do it, he should instead be ordering an enquiry into the whole matter. This might be as gruesome an affaire as the 'Ayr Murder'. As painful as it might be for his wife's relations to hear, it might now be the case that it is impossible for Nat Fraser to be fairly tried before a Scottish court, with the only appropriate disposal for him being immediate release.

One might think that a responsible First Minister would seek to learn lessons from this episode, to ensure that no accused person and no victim's relatives are ever put through a similar ordeal. Yet The Tartanissmo's arrogant, tedious 'Braveheart' chauvinism leads him down the cul-de-sac of Scotianism, at a time when we're supposed to be another funky, outward-looking small European nation. As far as I can see, he appears to believe that having a uniquely Scottish criminal justice system is a greater public good than that accused persons be fairly tried. It is my opinion that if that is his view, then that is an expression not of the 'civic nationalism' that his clique proclaims, whatever it might actually be, but of historically much more common despotic nationalism instead; the nationalism of Milosevic.

Although The Tartanissmo's attack on Lord Hope is unprecedented on account of its extremely ad hominem, demagogic character, British judges are always a safe target for populist outbursts from those of our politicians whose own elitism leaves them in blissful ignorance of what they're talking about. They never answer back, even Lord Hutton, in my opinion our country's least complaining victim of serial libel. Yet even then, The Tartanissimo couldn't leave it alone. He's attacked a lawyer, Tony Kelly, by name.

His spokesman's subsequent bloviations suggest that The Tartanissmo is now sweatier than after he's bitten off more than he can chew from his Saturday night Jalfrezi, and, for what my opinion's worth, so he bloody well should be. This is what he said - The First Minister of Scotland actually said this -

"There is not a single person, outwith Professor Kelly, who was the instigator of many of the actions, that believes that the judicial system is there to serve their interests and to make sure they can make an incredibly comfortable living by trailing around the prison cells and other establishments of Scotland trying to find what might be construed as a breach of human rights of an unlimited liability back to 1999, and that is what we were faced with."

Good frickin' grief! No wonder Tony Kelly's taking legal advice! Wouldn't you, if you were a lawyer and something like that had been said about you? If the arrogance of The Tartanissimo's comments about Lord Hope was breathtaking, there are no words to describe the depth of arrogance animating what he's said about Tony Kelly.

This has the potential to end very badly for The Tartanissimo. While these episodes cast a very great cloud over his personal judgment, they have shone a blinding light upon his attitudes regarding what the law of Scotland is there for, and what those who work in it are there to do. It is unfortunate that The Scotland Act does not seem to contain any procedure for the impeachment of a First Minister. This is a revision which clearly needs to be made, for, in my opinion, Alex Salmond's statements show that he is neither a fit nor proper person to have control of Scotland's criminal justice system; and when you can't be trusted with that, with the power to say who or what may be considered criminal, you can't be trusted with power.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Great Big Little Girls' Clothing Debate

Watching 'Question Time' last night, it was difficult not to feel just a little sorry for Peter Hitchens.

The science of animatronics has worked wonders for our understanding of paleontology in recent years. Watching Mr. Hitchens getting mauled by the audience while trying to ram home his ultraconservative talking points on how our decline started in the '60's, etc., etc., etc., one could not help but think of such wonderful TV shows as 'Walking with Dinosaurs', and of how closely Mr. Hitchens resembled an old stegosaur left to rot at the back of the pack, moaning and beating his tail off the ground in frustration.

The same debate provoked Germaine Greer to make her rather creepy point that girls learn to become coy and manipulative when kissing their fathers goodnight. One audience member ripped her a new one for that comment, in my opinion quite rightly; as far as I can see, it certainly added fuel to the argument that Dr. Greer might properly be considered to be dirty-minded. On the other hand, most Brits' abiding memory of her should be that wonderful image of her storming out of the 'Celebrity Big Brother' house while dressed as a milkmaid. She wrote 'The Female Eunuch' - for that?

In stegosaur mode, Mr. Hitchens did, sadly, miss the most open of goals. The question related to whether government can do anything to reverse the trend towards the sexualisation of children, in particular the unpleasant phenomenon of mature clothing designed for young girls. If memory serves, Andrew Mitchell (Conservative), Charles Clarke (Labour), and Jo Swinson (Liberal Democrat) all indicated that they believed that the role of the family in shaping such behaviour was more important than that of government.

If Mr. Hitchens had been on his game, he could have noted the following.

For Charles Clarke to publicly downplay the role that government can play in shaping attitudes and behaviour of any kind was an act of breathtaking hypocrisy, given that he was a member of the government that legislated the Human Rights Act into existence while simultaneously creating over 3,000 new offences, some of which enabled local authorities to use legislation intended to combat terrorism in order to spy on people suspected of trying to get their children into better schools, while also placing speed cameras all over the place. If any government knew anything about the power that government has to try to shape peoples' behaviour, it was the one of which Mr. Clarke was a member. It was strange, almost alien, to hear a Labour politician of his vintage say that any entity other than government might be better able to tackle any problem.

Given their tri-partite, and quite newfound, support for the institution of the family, Mr. Hitchens could have taken all three of them to task on just why all their parties have supported the weakening of the family through their promotion of liberal divorce laws and the formalisation of 'alternative' lifestyles, almost all of which are temporary at best, dysfunctional at worst, but which we're all supposed to make-believe are just as normal and wholesome as The Waltons. Up and down the land, there are wee lassies in the family way who have never known what it's like to live in a family. Whose fault is that? Theirs? Knock it off.

This uniformity of thought amongst all two-and-a-half of our main political parties makes one wonder whether any of them really care about the sexualisation of young female children. For what my opinion's worth, they probably don't, being so dirty-minded that they would prefer to see children become pregnant rather than countenance any official sanction on the satisfaction of any of their own appetites. Hope they enjoy it while it lasts. It might be later than they think.

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'Crossroads'

While it was favourably reviewed by both Will Hutton and Stephen Roach (pbuh), Peter Nolan's 'Crossroads' is at times quite a chilling book.

Mr. Nolan's narration of precisely how the banking system collapsed so quickly between 2007 and 2008 made one wonder just how one could have afforded to smoke 20 cigarettes a day and drink three bottles of red wine a week while it was happening. Reading of it three years later, I was more frightened of it now than I was then. Then again, maybe I had the right approach at the time, the correct posture towards it all having been to stay pleasantly pissed, and hope it will all go away.

Sometimes English speakers have a bad habit of abusing the expression 'There but for the Grace of God go I". In my experience, the Grace of God has a great deal to recommend it. This might have been a classic case in point.

However, Mr. Nolan's book is very much more ambivalent when describing state violence. The Tiananmen Square massacres of 1989 are described as 'the Tiananmen events', while, if memory serves, he does not stint on the use of stronger language when describing Israeli actions towards Palestinians. If memory serves, the book is billed as a description of how globalisation will force us to revisit our views on China and the Muslim world. His apparent concern to assuage both the official sensibilities of the Chinese government and the unofficial sensibilities of the Arab street makes one wonder whether Nr. Nolan's book is directed to those readerships. If so, he can only be described as adept at preaching to the choir.

The book is also impeded by what, in my opinion, was a pointless and rather embarrassing postscript concerning the author's late father. To my eyes, it had nothing to do with the rest of the book.

If you are looking for a crisp recounting of how the counting houses' card houses came tumbling down, 'Crossroads' provides as clear a history as any. For anything else, then, in my opinion, approach with caution.

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Ground Troops In Libya

On last night's 'Question Time', the question was asked whether institutional rape instigated by Gaddafi loyalists should be cited as grounds for committing troops to an invasion of Libya.

I would not be fighting in any such war, and will send my son to his mother's avowedly neutral homeland rather then see any bugger ever try to put a gun in his hand to fight for HMG, thanks but no thanks. However, I can think of only one condition upon which British infantry forces, drawn largely as they are from those parts of society otherwise excluded from wider economic activity, could be committed to an invasion of Libya.

That would be on the basis that they would be liberating Libya's natural resources for the benefit of the Libyans, and not for the benefit of BP or anyone else. This could be verified by various BBC camera crews not allowed but mandated to record that any provisional government was using this vast pool of wealth for the benefit of the people, and not for the benefit of donors to British political parties which had promoted the invasion as if it were a second-rate wrestling bill in Clacton-on-Sea.

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'Walden'

Anyone who quotes Henry David Thoreau approvingly obviously hasn't read him.

Mr. Thoreau, who must have cut have cut a hell of a dash even in the ultraliberal atmosphere of 1840's Concord, Massachusetts, was something of a proto-hippy, born maybe 120 years before his time. Taking Indian scriptures, as in the Vedas, as his guide, he famously went to live off the land at Walden Pond. He does not record its owner's views on his adventure.

Mr. Thoreau has a few good lines. A vegetarian, he glibly remarks on the foolishness inherent on the statement that the ploughman must have his meat, observing that the plough-horse doing the work eats only straw. I'm sure that this would have had Emerson peeing himself with self-satisfied laughter, until one very quickly realises that Thoreau has set up what can only be described as, for want of a better phrase, a straw man; one of the creatures he is describing is a man, while the other is a horse.

He is famous, really only famous, for his comment that most men live their lives in quiet desperation. This comment appears very early in his book. It is not passed as a rueful observation on the lot of his fellow men, but as a supercilious rebuke to their perceived inferiority. Almost immediately afterwards, he remarks that at the age of 30 he had learned nothing useful from anyone older than himself. I have a very bad habit of abusing the old books in my ownership, graffitoing them in Biro while turning down page corners with abandon. While coarse, and perhaps disrespectful of future owners, I can only plead that I'm one of Thatcher's children. However, I did not treat 'Walden' that way. My copy, published in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1884, has been unsullied by my hand, However, that particular observation provoked a reader, presumably from a quieter, gentler age, to leave the following mark beside it - '?'

I can understand where they were coming from.

However, the nadir of Mr. Thoreau's unpleasantness is reached with his visit to his Irish neighbour. His Irish neighbour worked with his hands all day long. Mr. Thoreau records how he paid him a visit in order to evangelise him in the ways of vegetarianism, an exercise he seems to have conducted with all of the priggishness and sanctimony one might expect from HRH The Prince of Wales, perhaps a soulmate of Mr. Thoreau's. When his Irish neighbour quietly rebuffs his suggestion with a level of dignity apparently alien to Mr. Thoreau, his karmic liberalism fails him and he lets himself rip, describing his neighbour, if memory serves, as a web-footed bog-trotter.

If you should ever feel compelled to read 'Walden', please find yourself another, wholly more productive pastime, such as trimming the hamster's toenails, or giving the cat a perm. After two years, Mr. Thoreau just upped sticks and walked away from Walden Pond. Reading that he had done this, it was difficult not to recall C S Lewis's observation on Coleridge, that after having written about nature for so much of his life he couldn't bear to look at it in the end. With both writers, one can only question the degree of their initial commitment to their endeavours.

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Overseas Aid And Tax Avoidance

Again on last night's 'Question Time'', it was fascinating to hear Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, lashing out at the inappropriate use of development funds by members of recipient governments.

Mr. Mitchell is a sometime suspected tax-avoider. The degree of doublethink required to criticise governments that abuse taxpayer-sourced funds provided by other nations when you, or your interests, might not be paying all that's required under your own country's laws is quite staggering.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Weird Hits

Traffic has been significantly boosted today from hits to this old post.

Starting off at 02.51 from IP 41.184.85.174, based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, they came in thick and fast. Next up was at 04.30 from 41.220.69.58 in Ibadan, Nigeria, then, in order, at 04.04 from 41.220.69.10, also in Ibadan; 04.42, from 86.145.236.154 in Canvey, Slough, UK; 05.58, from 41.206.12.46 at an unknown address in Nigeria; 07.42, from 86.173.5.185 in Milton Keynes, UK; 07.43, from 196.207.1.202 in Lagos, Nigeria; 08.18, from 41.220.77.56, again in Lagos; 08.29, from 193.63.86.249 in Bedford, UK; 08.30, from 41.75.199.19 at an unknown location in Nigeria; 08.48, from 210.187.58.166 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 08.49, from 80.248.9.50, also at an unknown address in Nigeria; at 09.03, from 216.226.227.9 in Abuja, Nigeria; at 09.12, from 90.210.163.42 in Peterborough, UK; at 09.22, from 194.176.105.55 at an unknown address in the UK; at 09.24, from 41.220.69.9, again in Ibadan; at 09.39, from 62.244.185.135 in London; at 10.09, from 69.156.95.34 in McGregor, Ontario, Canada (!); at 10.28, from 97.90.192.224 in Alhambra, California (!!); at 10.38, from 91.113.51.162 in Enzenkirchen, Austria(!!!); at 10.41, from 99.246.107.133 in Ottawa; at 10.48, from 217.14.94.22, again in Abuja; at 10.49, from 196.216.251.103, at an undisclosed address in Nigeria; at 11.03, from 80.248.8.75, again at an undisclosed address in Nigeria; at 11.07, from 41.155.114.134, again at an undisclosed address in Nigeria; at 11.55, from 196.220.18.60 in Mushin, Lagos, Nigeria; at 12.10, from 92.234.44.248 in London; at 12.14, from 217.14.88.33, again at undisclosed address in Nigeria; at 12.32, from 41.184.6.42, in Isheri, Ogun, Nigeria; at 13.08, from 41.184.6.42, at an undisclosed address in the UK; at 13.20, from 92.21.34.85, in Redditch, Worcestershire, UK (maybe pals of Laban Tall's); 13.55, from 68.84.14.63, in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA; and at 14.56, from 66.214.238.149, in Hacienda Heights, California.

If somebody is trying to creep me out, it's working. If you want to make a point, or to pass comment on previous content, just send me an email, for God's sake.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

'A Good Man Goes To War'

Sorry, folks, this is a me post, with lots of spoilers.

At the end of a very unpleasant weekend of DYI, both planned and unplanned, with the day and a great deal more once again having been saved by two household implements best described as The Magic Pump and The Bicycle Lock Of The Apocalypse, I really was rather looking forward to the finale of the sixth series of the revived 'Doctor Who'. Sadly, like so many once fine pleasures, the anticipation of the event was more enjoyable than the reality.

Entitled 'A Good Man Goes To War', it ranks amongst the most pointless, disjointed pieces of television I've ever seen. The second series to star Matt Smith as The Doctor has been of a markedly lower standard than the first. Two episodes, 'The Rebel Flesh', and 'The Almost People', should have been classed as horror instead of science fiction, fit only for being broadcast after the now perhaps only notional 9pm watershed. They were not suitable viewing for young children, always proclaimed by that show's makers to be an integral, if not core, part of its audience. I found the imagery they displayed unsettling, and I'm 41 years old and have attended a murder victim's post mortem.

This series had had more loose threads than a sweatshop kilt. The second show in the run ended with a young girl undergoing a Time Lord's regeneration cycle. This was interesting, as one of the revived show's main premises is that The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. This incident was neither explained nor resolved. In the episode 'The Doctor's Wife', written by Neil Gaiman, another horrifying episode which was doubly unsuitable for children due to the use of sexual language, reference was made to other Time Lords having been alive at some point. Admittedly, this was in the context of them having been murdered for their body parts, but no explanation was provided as to how they might have escaped from the time bubble in which the Time War was apparently locked.

'A Good Man Goes To War' proceeded on the basis that Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), the Doctor's assistant, had been kidnapped at some point and was due to give birth on an asteroid known as 'Demon's Run'. No explanation was provided regarding where or when she had been abducted. At the start of the episode, her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) is shown confronting the recurring villains the Cybermen, and demanding to know where his wife was. No explanation was provided regarding why the Cybermen might know that. The Doctor assembles an army to recover her. The army is comprised of characters who have appeared in episodes of 'Doctor Who' starring Matt Smith. This seemed to be a reprise of the plot device used more effectively, and much more affectingly, to conclude Series 4, particularly the episode entitled 'Journey's End', and previously criticised here. In the case of 'A Good Man Goes To War', the producers might as well have had Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney getting the kids together to put on a show for all of the passion that some of these characters seemed to exhibit for the task in hand. For example, there was a Sontaran nurse that I didn't really recall from other episodes, but he did get to say that he'd had a good life, being nearly 12. Maybe I've watched too much bubblegum TV science fiction, but to me this was reminiscent of the early episode of 'Star Trek Voyager' in which an Ocampa, played by Gary Graham, announced his astonishing longevity of nearly 14. There was also what, to my mind, was an unwholeseome depiction of a quasi-lesbian relationship between a human and a Silurian (Silurians are lizards). And to cap it all, we had Hugh Bonneville. For a moment or two, at least.

Mr. Bonneville had appeared as a pirate captain in an earlier episode of Series 6 entitled 'The Curse Of The Black Spot'. That might sound like some horrific sort of venereal disease to the less cultured viewer, but that hackneyed homage to 'Treasure Island' enabled him to appear and then almost immediately disappear as a member of The Doctor's 'army' in 'A Good Man Goes To War'. For a star of his magnitude, his appearance in the latter episode was so fleeting as to be pointless, making one wonder whether he had other commitments to attend to.

But we've got to give the producers their due - they really know how to stick it to the Catholic Church!

Among the villains of 'A Good Man Goes To War' are the Headless Monks. Unsurprisingly, these are a group of monks who don't have heads. Predictably, there are two things we weren't told about them. The first was why they don't have heads. The second was why they were after The Doctor.

But hey, one of the characters was given the line that he had received a dispensation from 'the papal mainframe herself' to remove their hoods! The piece of dialogue was, to my mind, a gratuitous slap in the face to this show's Catholic fans. That might not have been the writer's intention, but that was certainly how it was perceived.

In all this has been a shoddy, crappy series, one rounded off by a particularly shoddy, crappy finale. The previous faults of the show are creeping back in, in particular unspeakable dialogue and viscous plots so densely larded on top of sound effects so loud that you have to have the subtitles on in order to keep track of the action (at this point one can only say thank goodness for the iPlayer, as an unscheduled trip to, or, after last weekend, even trip into, the bathroom would leave you bamboozled for the rest of the run, and that's even if the threads had all come together). The TARDIS is famous for being bigger on the inside than the outside. The show itself is becoming the reverse, being now very much bigger on the outside than the inside. The Doctor is able to travel across time and space at will. It seems that the show's writers are trying to perform the same trick with the rules of plot and narrative.

Why does this matter? Like all deeply unserious things, it matters a great deal. 'Doctor Who' is perhaps the only taxpayer-funded institution this country has which is held in universal affection, and I include the monarchy in that assessment. There is no point in reviving a show if you aren't going to do it well, and this series has not been done well. I loved it as a child, and I still love it. I'll love it forever, but right now I wouldn't want my own son to watch it. And that's not my fault, it's not the fault of the show or the format, but it is entirely the fault of the people making it at the moment. Right now, they seem to be angling to have their careers kicked into the nearest black hole.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

A Few Words On Words

Bear with me.

I've recently finished Anthony Storr's wonderful wee book 'Music and the Mind'. In it, he writes, "(t)he balanced sentences of a prose stylist like Edward Gibbon are probably derived from the antiphonal singing of psalms"(p.132).

This brought to mind an observation of Arnold Toynbee's on F.M. Cornford's 'Thucydides Mythistoricus', specifically Cornford's contention that Thucydides should be read as if he were writing an epic poem, like 'The Iliad', and not a history.

Apart from showing that I am devastatingly well-read, what does any of this have to do with the price of fish? Well, there now follows a short exercise in ontology; one which I am sure very many more devastatingly well-read people than myself have conducted and in so doing have reached the same conclusion, but if they have, I haven't seen it.

Prayer is as uniquely human as the religious impulse (atheists sometimes have a blind spot when it comes to admitting that not believing in God is as surefire an exercise of the human religious impulse as belief in Him; a direct analogy from the political sphere is the truism that not having a policy is itself a policy). Spoken and written language are also uniquely human. Might it not be the case that prayer is not a function of language, but that all language is a function of prayer? In the sense that all language initially developed for no purpose other than the expression of the religious impulse?

One need only think of how much of the world's earliest literatures seem to be dedicated to the religious impulse to see how the theory might have some validity. After all, the Bible, the Vedas and the Koran had all been best-sellers long before 'The Wealth of Nations' appeared. And if that theory is correct, then who, or what, facilitated, animated, or perhaps even created in humans the need to develop this method for the expression of the religious impulse? Or are we all really foolish enough to believe the foolishness that these universal linguistic and religious impulses appeared randomly, like magic, amongst an extraordinarily diverse group of primates?

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'The Elders'

In a move which may give some of those reductionists who think that it's all a cock-up and not a conspiracy a little pause for thought, Sir Richard Branson has been quoted this week in his capacity as co-founder of a group called 'The Elders'.

Whenever I see or hear of that very perfect gentle knight, I have two automatic reactions. The first is that the theme tune from 'Gremlins' comes into my head. The second is the memory that before he got rich, he was up to his neck in abortion.

While the name 'The Elders' is capable of invoking any number of images, from, say, a group of militant Presbyterians to a clapped-out folk band playing The Last Chance Saloon, to my eyes its prominent supporters look hideously white, with the only possible ethnic minority 'prominent supporter' having a lower profile than Benjamin Zephaniah on a pro-AV leaflet in Cornwall. If these people wish to spend their time and, preferably, their own money trying to tell us what to do and how we should live and govern ourselves then they are free to do so, just as we are free to ignore them if we wish.

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