Friday, September 28, 2012

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Having tried to walk before I could run, as usual, I've overdone my blogging in the past few days. While the desire to comment is there, the physical effort that is required to do so is too much, so it's time to once again lie doggo for a while.

I'll be back again as soon as I can. 

May the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ed Miliband On Gay Marriage In Churches

"Lenin left us a country and we shat it away'

Stalin, on hearing of the commencement of Operation Barbarossa.

While Ed Miliband's call for gay marriages to be staged in churches shows, to my mind, how little any kind of religious sensibility informs thought at the top of the Labour policy machine, I'm afraid I'm not as sanguine about this as David Lindsay. This seems to matter too much to too many people to be capable of being so easily dismissed.

Miliband seems so determined to drive Labour voters away from his party that he might as well be named 'Blue Ed', and one can only speculate on whether or not he will wake up on the morning after the next General Election with Djugashvili's typically coarse injunction on his lips.

What he is doing, to my mind, is courting the Liberal Democrats, for whom this sort of stuff is incredibly important. If that's his game, then that natural minority party, serving no real function other than providing an option for a protest vote at bye-elections but never really meant to be doing anything consequential, has become the most important demographic in the country - we have proceeded from government of Liberal Democrats and by Liberal Democrats to government for Liberal Democrats, and this sort of nonsense is the result. Now that Nick Clegg has been in government, or at least as far as his bucket of warm piss non-job will allow  - the horrible irony of being a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition with the Tories is that all your legion rivals for your party's leadership wield far more actual power than you do, a state of affairs guaranteed to make any Liberal Democrat feel a bit sweaty - he and his colleagues expect to remain there, whether by fair means or by their more predictably if not habitually foul ones, and their albeit limited influence over the policy agenda means that at least in the political class they have to be taken seriously, if nowhere else. Why their views on anything should be canvassed so heavily is baffling. As far as gay marriage in churches is concerned, most of them seem to be atheists, so you'd think none of them would really give a toss who can get married where. Maybe that's the point. Maybe it's not the gay element that matters in this, but the marriage. Maybe we'll end up with the right to demand that the religious services of one denomination be conducted in another's place of worship. Maybe the idea is neither the possibility of elevating civil partnerships to the status of marriages in the same way you can upgrade a mobile phone, or get an upgrade from Economy Class to Business, nor displaying equity to gay people by enabling them to do so. Maybe the whole idea, as I've said before, is not to redefine marriage but to redefine the very meaning of the family. 

If that is the case, then that would be highly patronising to gay people, their sexualities being used by others for political purposes wholly different from the stated purpose of advancing their civil rights.  

It is, of course, highly possible that Miliband actually believes his statement himself; indeed, one must instead sadly take that as a given. While his behaviour towards his brother most certainly indicates that he is capable of ruthlessness, the one thing he just doesn't seem capable of is artifice. When Ed Miliband makes a policy pronouncement, he probably means it while he's making it. If that is the case, then his disconnection from the religious sensibilities predominant in his own country is so complete that he does not seem to know that the Church of England has been tearing itself apart for years over whether the vicar officiating at a gay marriage can be gay, never mind the bride.

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'The Knights Of Islam'

While I am not altogether sure that James Waterson really meant to refer to Cape Horn when he does so on pages 274 and 278, his book 'The Knights Of Islam', a history of the Mamluks, is nonetheless an instructive and pacy guide to that society. It is hampered slightly by the Mamluks themselves - their constant plotting and apparently avid devotion to political murder ensured a very large number of very short terms in office, and plotting one's way through the plots means that close attention is sometimes required, but that makes the effort more rewarding.

Mr. Waterson performs the signal service of reminding us that describing the Mamluks as a civilisation is an affront to the civilised, that their way of life was appallingly nasty and that it is a good thing that they are gone - most definitely not the sort of people you'd want to live next door to. The Mamluks left no achievement of any kind - no work of art, no work of literature, no great building, no scientific discovery, nothing - which could be described as a gain to humanity in any way whatsoever.

Good riddance to them.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Defenestrated Yoga Instructor Of Southampton

The non-news item that Father John Chandler has banned sessions of what was apparently advertised as 'spiritual yoga' from the hall attached to St. Edmund's, Southampton, is, in my opinion, so blatantly anti-Catholic it's laughable. 

Father Chandler sounds like an extremely obliging fellow, to the extent that one might take issue with his assertion, perhaps under what he felt to be media pressure, that,

"We did say that yoga could not take place. It's the fact that it's a different religious practice going on in a Catholic church. It's not compatible. We are not saying that yoga is bad or wrong."

If it belongs to another religion then of course we believe it's wrong. We would not be Catholics if we did not believe it was wrong. The civic guarantee of freedom of conscience allows us to believe it's wrong. That's not an attack upon anyone else's right to believe it if they wish. However, one of the more depressing legacies of the past half-millenium of British history is that most Catholics are just too polite to say so.

Some questions about all this spring to my mind. For example, Cori Withell, the defenestrated yoga instructor, seems to be wearing a hat. Now, ladies of 37 might wear hats for any number of reasons, not the least of which, God forbid, might either be that she has a medical condition which impedes hair growth or that she is either undergoing, or has recently finished, some pretty intensive medical treatment. If either of these scenarios apply to Ms. Withell, then she has my apologies and best wishes.

However, and without wishing to sound ungallant, she doesn't seem to have too much hair popping out from under the hat. It would be interesting to know whether she belongs to the Hare Krishna cult, or any other such cult of that type. If that is the case, then one is entitled to ask just why she booked a venue for her activities which she must either have known or ought to have known would cause controversy, albeit a thoroughly lightweight, almost frothy, controversy of the kind that wouldn't even make the papers if Parliament were in session, never mind the Liberal Democrat party conference; after all, any attention-seeker left with so much as an ounce of self-respect must gag at the thought of having to play second fiddle to Danny Alexander. If that was her intention, she has created not a controversy but a nuisance, and relegated herself into the box marked 'Public Pests', along with, sigh, one Stephen Gough, still crazy after all these years (all of them - look at the date on that link), and still depressingly letting it all hang out in central Scotland, although this time rather too close to a children's playground for comfort

One seriously does hope that Ms. Withell has not been trying to manufacture some sort of attack on the Catholic Church, or attempting to undermine the faith of individual Catholics. If that was her game, then she's been found out. Catholics know better than anyone else that priests are only human, meaning that some of them can be deceitful and that some are liars - functions not of their priesthood but their humanity - but in this day and age, if Father Chandler says her classes were advertised as 'spiritual yoga' I am naturally inclined to believe him, and also that he would therefore have been well within his rights to show her the door in the way he has. On another level, of course, if manufacturing a nuisance has been her game it would be a really rather horrible example of the most grossly unpleasant passive-aggressive behaviour; just the sort of thing one would not expect from someone committed to unity and understanding, but just the thing one would expect from someone intent on nothing more than trying to make a Catholic priest look like a bigot or a fool.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Interesting Admission (Of Sorts)

The Bishop of Motherwell's perfectly reasonable observation that the use of images of mangled infants by anti-abortion demonstrators is as morally valid as the use of images of Holocaust survivors to raise awareness of the Holocaust has provoked an interesting reaction from Clare Murphy, the militant abortionist in charge of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's outpost in Brighton - 

"It is staggering that those who invoke morality are comfortable with waving large banners of dismembered foetuses in the faces of pregnant women outside clinics with a view to causing them as much distress as possible."

Is this an admission that abortion really is effected by the infliction of an extreme degree of violence upon the subject? The use of the words 'dismembered' and 'foetuses' in immediate proximity to each other suggests to me the presence of a very great degree of moral confusion about this subject in the mind of the abortionist. 'Foetus' is their jargon's verbal semaphore for a baby, the codeword they use to depersonalise the subject of the abortion procedure (for after all, it's not the mother who undergoes the procedure, but the child) - yet 'dismemberment' is one of those actions that can only properly be perpetrated upon a living thing. You don't dismember a corpse, you dissect it. The only way in which I can imagine that they can resolve this disconnect is for them to extend the potential for death in the same way as they do the potential for life - as many of them like to say that a foetus is only an entity with the potential for life (a shibboleth that neonatal medicine shreds to pieces day in, day out, thank God), perhaps they feel that the images of those they describe as 'dismembered' are only of creatures with the potential for death - never having been alive, they cannot really be dead. 

But if that is the case, why describe them with words that can only properly apply to the living? Beats me.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Big P

Suspecting that one might be Parkinsonian is never as good as actually knowing, and to that end I have been relieved to receive confirmation of a forthcoming appointment with a neurologist.

The last wee while has been, well, interesting, to say the least. I reduced my Nicorette intake from the 4 mg gums to the 2 mg, and almost immediately lost control of my left hand. The really weird thing about it is that the bugger can't make up its mind what it wants to do; it phases in and out, like a telephone call in which your interlocutor keeps moving the mouthpiece. Sometimes flexion is good, while at others it just slows down and stops, the little finger curling ominously round the ring. The best analogy I can come up with to describe it is like liquid settling in a jar. It's certainly a strange sensation, and an extremely challenging one on an existential level.

Another consequence of the reduction in nicotine was a marked and almost immediate change in my speech. Readers will be familiar with those annoying types of games where the first and last letters of a word are displayed and the reader must then guess the rest of it. Well, that's not unlike many of my sentences - the first and last words are fine, with the rest sounding like a cross between a dial-up Internet connection and a 1980's fax machine. On bad days, I sound like Boomhauer from 'King Of The Hill'.

The whole stooping guff takes a bit of getting used to as well. Forward motion is normal provided one is able to tolerate leaning forward at an angle of 30 degrees. At such times, it's possible to correct one's posture by pushing oneself upright using one's mobility aid, but the trade-off in that scenario is that you then assume the gait of a gibbon. My shadow has developed a gait all of its own. It walks like 'Alien'.

With all this going on, it was with an air of resignation that one saw that Margo MacDonald has been permitted to re-introduce her End of Life Assistance Bill into the Scottish Parliament. Ms. MacDonald is quite clearly determined to do everything she can to get this law on to the books. She will not let this go. If she is willing to use her Parkinson's to justify her behaviour, then good taste - and really only good taste - prevents her critics from using that illness to query not only her motives for promoting this law but also her capacity to take it through Parliament. Having the protection of that shield, one hopes she does not expect other Parkinsonians just to fall into step behind her. She can try and plough ahead with her plans, but she will never, ever receive any support from me.

Regardless of diagnosis.

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The Dog In The Playground

This afternoon, my wife and I took our wee boy to the under-12's playground on Glasgow Green. 

It's a great wee place with a sand surface, and he had a fantastic time.

Just as we were leaving, we noticed that an adult had brought a Rottweiler dog into the playground. This was despite a very clear notice that no dog of any kind is permitted within that facility, never mind one so powerful.

The person controlling the dog was, admittedly, sitting on one of the benches around the playground's walls, and was holding the dog on a leash; but nothwithstanding their obvious confidence in their ability to control an animal that seemed to be the same size as themself, their actions struck me as betraying a gross disregard not only of the rules stated for the facility's use but also of the demographic for which it is intended - very vulnerable people who would have no chance against an animal of that size if it got away from the person who thinks they're in charge of it. 

Maybe Glasgow City Council might see fit to post a warden there at weekends, if only to save the facility's users from their own pets.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Notes And Musings

While one naturally sympathises with the families of the two police officers who were murdered in Manchester three days ago, the suggestion that their colleagues should be armed must be resisted, if only because they are armed already. 

For as long as British police routinely carry items prohibited to the wider public such as tasers and CS spray, or any other item listed in, for example, the Schedules to the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, they must be considered to be armed. The failure of commentators to precisely state that their references to 'arms' in this context means only firearms is misleading. Maybe that's their point. 

To be resisted with an equal degree of force are calls for the death penalty to be reinstated as a consequence of this dreadful crime, and it was depressing to see Tebbit showing what I consider to be gross bad taste in raising that particular shout. Look at the legerdemain he deploys in his house blog on The Daily Telegraph

"The murder of two unarmed women police officers is bound to re-ignite the debate over whether our police officers should be armed as a matter of routine and whether there should be a return to capital punishment for limited categories of murder, such as that of a police officer, or more generally."

Look at the sheer confidence of his prose. The murder was not 'bound' to 're-ignite' any debate at all. For nearly half a century debate on capital punishment has been a damp squib that no atrocity has been able to ignite. There is absolutely nothing inevitable about these events causing any debate on capital debate to be revived, never mind well received. For what my opinion's worth, Tebbit quite clearly wants capital punishment re-established under any circumstances and is prepared to descend, vulture-like, on the Manchester murders in the ultra right-wing spirit of not wanting to let a good crisis go to waste. Two young women are dead in horrible circumstances, and he's off trying to manipulate the policy agenda like a whippet out a trap, no matter how well he knows that his efforts will be forlorn. If he does not know that his efforts will be forlorn then his judgment is so flawed that he should not be taken seriously. It is as if he cannot help himself. Thank God he's not in office any  more.

It is dispiriting to see that someone who was once responsible for making law would seem to have so little knowledge of how our law works. By law, the British police services are civilian services, and to apply a death penalty for the murder of some classes of civilians but not for others is insupportably uncivic. What it does betray, in my opinion, is Tebbit's worship of force. That he should worship force is not surprising. He's a Tory, and all Tories worship force to a greater or lesser degree, a tendency noted by Hazlitt. If anything, the current generation of Tories seems to worship force even more than Tebbit's, a perfectly forseeable consequence of having been raised in times of peace and plenty. It is always those raised in peace and plenty who are most willing to mix it up a bit for sport; but before, they didn't have to make sure they were on message.

If he is still a member of the Conservative Party, his branch chairman might want to have a word with him about remembering his place in the chain of command. He weighed into this long before the Home Secretary had had a chance to get to Manchester, and while we're all for free speech and all that, if we insist upon discipline being exercised on others we must be prepared to exercise it upon ourselves.

Yet they do not learn. One can only wonder precisely just why David Cameron seems to value Andrew Mitchell so highly that he does not cut him loose over what can only be described as his gross misjudgement in verbally abusing a police officer  - in Downing Street, of all places - the day after two police officers had been murdered. The Chief Whip's function is to keep the plebs in line, so he must be aggressive and absolutely loyal. Yet is the talent gap in the Conservative Parliamentary Party so wide that no alternative candidate for that job can be found? This is an interesting one, because as Chief Whip he is presumably responsible for whipping the Lib Dems as well as the Tories. Coalitions can only exist by consent, and if the Chief Whip in a coalition loses the confidence of one or other of its members the whole edifice might collapse. Coalitions never govern as confidently as governments with strong majorities; rationally, majority governments must therefore be easier to whip because their members feel a greater freedom to legislate their programs than those which must constantly placate coalition partners. On the other hand, Tories will always be Tories and will always undermine and plot against their leader, and the recent anti-Cameron ramblings from the ultra-right wing on the back benches might have so unsettled him that the need has been felt for a bootboy to be sent in to keep them on the reservation while also keeping the Lib Dems sweet. Enter Mitchell? 

If that was the case, then he might just have proved his qualifications for the job in the most appalling manner - if only because no policeman worth his salt would not have made an ex tempore record of the exchange in their notebook. As a Big Picture person, he didn't think of that, because he might not even know how the police go about their business. Even if he does remain in the government for a while, he's toast. One way or another, this is a self-inflicted career ending injury, with the arrogance animating it quite incredible to behold. He has Ratnered himself in a brutally spectacular manner, and possibly only just avoided earning the distinction of being the first Cabinet level government official to be slung into the back of the van in Downing Street. 

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

'Watermelons'

The subject of this book is climate change scepticism. Although the words 'climate change' are guaranteed to cause one's eyes to glaze over regardless of the context in which they appear, the title caught my eye because I have previously alluded, as does the title of this book, perhaps unconsciously, to the political rhetoric of the late Roberto d' Aubuisson, so I thought I'd give it a go. 

For what my opinion's worth, and it is only my opinion, James Delingpole, its author, sometimes seems to labour under what certainly as far as I am concerned is the misconception that his readers might be as dazzled by his prose style as he appears to be himself. In a book which is packed with information and quotations, always a sign that a lot of hard graft and honest good work have gone into the preparation of a book, there is still rather too much of the author. No disrespect, but it's a view - you might disagree with it, you might not, but one can still say it. One's own view of the whole climate change thang is that any phenomenon both advocated and opposed so bitterly has got to be a load of nonsense, and in this regard I am at one with Mr. Delingpole. He makes his case well, the first violins of his argument remaining clearly audible through the crashing cymbals of his prose style. If he was trying to be entertaining, then sometimes he does certainly succeed, though not perhaps in the way he might have been intending - one almost laughed out loud when one saw that he was actually quoting Matt Ridley's thoroughly squalid and meretricious book 'The Rational Optimist'. That was hilarious.

Yet no matter what one might say about how the book is written, Mr. Delingpole must be commended both for his intellectual honesty and for his refusal to shy away from matters his discussion of which could easily lead to him being labelled a conspiracy theorist. It's gratifying to know that I'm not the only person I've ever come across who seems to have heard of the Georgia Guidestones, for example, nor that I am not alone in taking their message seriously. He also has a good go at Sir David Attenborough, an act which always qualifies as a good day's work in my book, and Chris Packham, changing my opinion of him from being a self-confessed misanthrope of a particularly nasty stripe (see his appearance on 'Room 101', BBC Television) to being a serial one. Mr. Delingpole also digs up a fascinating quote from the Duke of Edinburgh on his vision for the future of humanity - "In the event that I am reincarnated (blogger's note - this is contrary to the doctrines of the church of which his missus is the head), I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation". While this quote, to be found on Page 183 of Mr. Delingpole's book, was not referenced in its index, a rare lapse in his standards, having to go and find it has made quoting it all the sweeter.

Although it's not the easiest of reads - and a very technical subject is never going to be an easy read, no matter how hard the author tries -  it's by no means a waste of time either. If you're interested in some good old-fashioned right-wing froth on climate change scepticism it is infinitely more accessible than Nigel Lawson's 'An Appeal to Reason', a work which manages the difficult feat of being both clearly written and opaque, and which is only really memorable for making me wonder in just what fertile soil lie the roots of what seem to me to be his rather outre views on kitchen hygiene. Delingpole 1, Lawson 0.

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Britannia Unhinged

One notes, one must say rather wearily, that a group of new Tory MP's have published a book called 'Britannia Unchained'. 

One of its bon mots runs as follows - 

"The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music."

Given the stridency of the views expressed, one would have to ask just how many ordinary British people with ordinary British jobs the authors actually know. My money would be that they don't know any low-waged British people at all. Not one. Probably never met one. If they think the British work low hours, they are in cloud cuckoo-land. They thus give every indication that they don't know what they're talking about, and in my opinion this passage indicates that they are off their bloody trolleys. If they believe that Indian children are somehow more worthy than British children on account of their aspirations -a rather ugly inference I'm afraid I can't help drawing from a simple reading of their own words - would they prefer British children to be motivated by the same appalling conditions of poverty as those in which some Indian children have to live? Given the statement, the question doesn't seem unreasonable.

In one sense, however, they prove their own case. So little economic activity has actually taken place in this country for so long that we are now top heavy with Big Picture people like the authors of this book, their heads full of ideology but without a bloody clue about how things bloody work. If you want to make the British work harder, show them a good example and get a proper bloody job. Do something. You're always saying we need more entrepreneurs. Well, put your own or your bank's money where your mouth is and start a business. Are they all too scared of becoming just another statistic in this country's appalling new business failure rate? Or is hassling the rest of us what really gets them going?

Save us, O Lord, from the right-wing nutters.

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Why A Privacy Law Would Be Bad For The Republic Of Ireland

While one feels not the slightest frisson of schadenfreude at the suspension of Michael O' Kane  - upgraded from 'Mike' since the weekend, one sees, always a sign you're in trouble - it would be an extremely bad thing for the Republic to either introduce or re-introduce a privacy law based solely upon Mr. O'Kane's job boob.

For one thing, it would reek of the ultra right-wing mantra of 'not letting a good crisis go to waste'. These days, that should in itself be enough to render unreasonable even the suggestion that any such law be enacted. However, there are other, perhaps equally valid reasons. 

One notes that Clive James has become poorly, and for what they're worth he has my best wishes. In 'The Revolt Of The Pendulum', a book of his I didn't really like, he referred to the congenital Australian fear of oligarchy; even if it's unreasonable, one can at least understand why they might hold it when one sees how many relations of the late Robert Hughes, God rest his soul (a sentiment for which he wouldn't have thanked you), born far higher up the Australian social scale than James, are or have been connected to entities with words like 'Holdings' and 'Partners' in their titles. I've recently finished a very interesting book by Andy Wightman called 'The Poor Had No Lawyers'. Mr. Wightman, of whose work I'd previously been unaware, gives the impression of being a single-issue specialist, his speciality being maintaining the process of land reform in Scotland. However, being a very good writer he manages to make the subject far more accessible than my university teachers ever did, and also conveys quite clearly why it is necessary for us to engage with this subject even in the 21st Century. He's bloody right, you know. Reading his book, it became abundantly clear that although the Edinburgh legal establishment and their clients are not quite an oligarchy at the moment they are certainly one in embryo, and one upon which a great deal of disinfecting sunlight will require to shine before any step is taken towards ending the Union.

The Republic of Ireland failed because it was a de facto oligarchy, its banks, developers and politicians all far too close to each other for the country's economic and social health. We were over there for a few days during the recent blogging interregnum, a trip about which much could be written; a very great deal could be written. However, one of the items that caught my eye while I was there made me think that the Republic might in fact be slipping downwards from oligarchy into a pretty full-on 'Big Man' economy. 

Confusingly described as a 'bankrupt billionaire', Sean Quinn and his family have repeatedly been accused of engaging in a variety of egregious schemes to defeat both their creditors and the Irish State. His son has been committed to prison for contempt of court in these matters, while a nephew has decamped to Northern Ireland. However, this has not prevented several thousand people marching in their support through the village of Ballyconnell, County Cavan.

The mainstream Irish press were, of course, righteously furious about this incident, wondering just what sort of signals about Ireland and the Irish such behaviours send out to the rest of the world. It's very encouraging to see that the civic spirit of the march's critics has continued to thrive even after years of austerity with no end to it in sight, but it was equally clear that before his fall Sean Quinn was a 'Big Man' in Ballyconnell, albeit one with a global reach. While the extent of his losses have been unusual, what would be interesting to know would be whether the phenomenon of one person holding such a degree of local economic power is unusual in Ireland. If it isn't, then a privacy law for that country would be a very bad idea, for it would only be used to keep The Big Men in The Big Houses, closing down enquiries into their affairs. A country like Ireland, in which there is much to investigate, needs as few impediments to investigation as possible. A privacy law would do nothing but slap a giant brake on discovering just where the country's money went.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Comparing Our Way Of Life With The Russians

I'm only on page 149 of the hardback edition, but Luke Harding's 'Mafia State' would be a more credible read if, inter alia, he hadn't spelled his son's forename two different ways on two consecutive pages (63 and 64), or named the manager of Manchester United as 'Sir Alec Ferguson' (p. 127). There was another one somewhere relating to a 'navel base', but I can't find it again. It's in there.

To my mind, he also rather skirts over the fact that his membership of the Duma renders Andrei Lugovoi's extradition to the UK to face charges relating to the death of Alexander Litvinenko an absolute impossibility under Russian law. Russia does not extradite Russian nationals. The constitution forbids it. While Mr. Harding acknowledges this, it is a matter of such profound importance to Anglo-Russian relations that it should not either be skated over or dismissed as inconvenient. British politicians know the Russian position; British diplomats know it; yet by continuing to call for Lugovoi's extradition the British are demanding that the Russians act contrary to the rule of their own law, and conform to ours instead. As a British person interested in the fostering of cordial Anglo-Russian relations, I find this behaviour embarrassing; and I do wish they'd stop.

However, one must be fair where fairness is due, and he quite rightly criticises the appalling treatment of journalists who criticise the Russian government. Mr. Harding's book is particularly strong on the murder of Natalia Estemirova. Having just criticised one's own government for telling the Russians what to do, it seems a little hypocritical to immediately do the same thing oneself, but they really do need to get this sort of stuff sorted out. It gives the country a bad name. Putin's decision to stand for a third term was a very bad signal; while I'm sure it was absolutely within the letter of the law it indicated the kind of arrogant disregard for the spirit of the law that Tony Blair showed day in, day out. If Putin is uncomfortable with being compared to Blair, he has nobody to blame for that but himself. 

As I've said, Mr. Harding does a sterling job of reminding his readers, the treatment of the media and its journalists in Russia is a national scandal. That being the case, and although all parties should certainly agree the stakes involved are vastly lower than any ever played for by Paul Klebnikov or Anna Politkovskaya, one can only wonder just what hay the Kremlin could make of News International's treatment of one Phil Mac Giolla Bhain (a hat tip to The Big Lad).

Although I have heard his work being praised highly, admittedly in, shall we say, more partisan local circles, the synopses provided made me think that it might not be my cup of tea, so readers must take it on trust that I've never read actually a word that Mr. Mac Giolla Bhain has written; not that that should matter to anyone but me, but where we come from unfortunately it might matter a great deal to some people interested in his book, but not in its success. In Russia, the state pulls the plug on unwanted viewpoints. In the UK, that's the privilege of the press. It was only a mere 104 years ago that GK Chesterton wrote, in his book 'Orthodoxy', that it was quite right to say that Britain did not have censorship of the press, and had instead freedom of censorship by the press. If public authoritarianism is deplorable in Russia - as it certainly is - the private authoritarianism, perhaps motivated by cowardice, that News International is indulging itself in in this country with regard to Mr. Mac Giolla Bhain's book is equally deplorable. 

I have heard it said several times that the beldams now on temporary leave from the line-up of the entity known as 'Pussy Riot' were convicted of desecrating the cathedral, or blasphemy, or such like. That is not the case. They were instead convicted of 'hooliganism'. 'Hooliganism' is a crime with a very long tradition in Russia, actually one of Tsarist origin, as I discovered earlier this year from Valery Chalidze's 'Criminal Russia'. The Criminal Code Of The RSFSR in force at the time Chalidze's book was published (1977), described 'hooliganism' as "intentional acts which seriously disturb public order and show clear disrespect for society" (p.79); a phrase which, when I read it, caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, if only because the failure of that code to define any specific type of act as 'hooliganism' is remarkably similar to the failure of the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 to define precisely what 'antisocial behaviour' really is. It is almost as if the authors of the 2004 Act had been animated by the same spirit as the authors of those parts of the Soviet code relating to hooliganism. One can only be found guilty of engaging in antisocial behaviour here in the same extremely subjective way that the Russians can be found guilty of hooliganism - by doing something and then having your actions declared illegal by the court which convicts you, rather than by doing something illegal and then being convicted by a court. 

Tell me, are we still lecturing these people on the importance of human rights?

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Dog Passports

While sitting in my doctor's waiting room this morning, I overheard a tale of woe concerning the obstacles a rather wheezy old lady's daughter had had to overcome in order to take her beagle with her on holiday to Spain. 

As readers of this blog with very long memories might recall, I am afraid I am no dog-lover (my first rule for the care and maintenance of dogs is 'Shoot on sight', my second 'Shoot to kill'; dogs are unlike politicians in that even the ones you know are all bad; while a dog might be man's best friend, in my book a dog's best friend is a Korean chef), and it baffles me that so much time and energy and effort should go and have gone into enabling a very dumb and dangerous animal to travel to a location where all it will do is eat, defecate, make unpleasant noises, act in a threatening manner and pick up dangerous illnesses.

On the other hand that sounds not unlike how many human holidaymakers behave, so if we consider allowing the possibility of rabies being brought back into the country as a price worth paying in order to allow Fido his day in the sun we will have nobody to blame but ourselves should it actually happen.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Irish Daily Star's Breach Of The Duchess Of Cambridge's Privacy

The Irish Daily Star's invasion of the Duchess of Cambridge's privacy is of a totally different character to any newspaper's coverage of her brother-in-law going wild in Vegas; which no matter how small was certainly more coverage than he was able to manage.

Any mental suggestion that she was naive in sunbathing in the manner in which she did must be resisted, for it amounts to blaming the victim. Kate was on a private holiday with her husband in a secluded location - indeed was in his cousin's home - while Harry was once again displaying a catastrophic lack of the most basic common sense. One line that I saw his apologists shooting was that he was just blowing off steam like any other 27 year old single soldier, an argument whose credibility dries to dust when one considers that the law does not consider every soldier's nan to be The Lord's Anointed, nor does every soldier have their own team of police protection officers. Everything he does from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep is of public interest, and his apparent inability to internalise this most basic of all his realities makes me wonder just what being compelled to try to manage him must be like. 

In one sense, at least, the Irish Daily Star has achieved a feat that even this morning many people might have considered impossible; it has turned Richard Desmond into a deserving recipient of public sympathy. I for one certainly do feel sorry for him over this. The brands he controls might very possibly be damaged by this. While he is a very wily businessman, albeit one with a great deal of history in some very unpleasant businesses, it is unconscionable to think that this is some kind of put-up job, that he or his associates knew that the Irish Daily Star would take this action while they maintained some kind of 'plausible deniability'. The publication of these images is too aggressively offensive to the residual British respect for royalty  - a sensibility the royals themselves erode every time they are stupid enough to allow themselves to be photographed in the scud in Vegas, with their hands over their knackers in the company of dim-looking women who seem to have Zeppelins stapled to their chests - to render such a scenario reasonable. As time passes, one gets a sense of Desmond as being some kind of figure from the pages of, perhaps appropriately, Trollope, or 'The Department of Dead Ends' - perhaps like many people who have made their fortunes in areas others shun he feels the need for his professional life to be considered as not having been entirely without merit, hence his forays from more niche areas of publishing and broadcasting into mainstream media; yet no matter how hard he tries, something always brings him down to the level from which he is trying to escape. The next few days will be very important to his career; I'm sure he won't give a monkey's what I think about him, but I do sincerely hope that he manages to disengage his brands from this fiasco. I'm sure that he long ago reconciled himself to the idea that no matter how much money he gives to charity he will never become Sir Richard Desmond, but if he does what he is very good at, being cleverly tougher, or perhaps toughly cleverer, than the people he chooses to deal with, a little official thawing might just be his due reward. Richard Desmond MVO might be pushing it, but inviting him to sit on a commission or enquiry or two would be nice.

That the photographs were first published in France is of no consequence to this matter. Although an atrocious act, French law at least allows for the pursuit of a remedy. I am, to say the least, uncertain whether the Republic of Ireland would offer a similar remedy to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; or even if it did, whether or not they would take it (perhaps regrettably, they do not, alas, consult me in such matters), given a history in which they have played no part but which would inevitably be thrown in their faces by the little Irelanders were they to try. While her husband's ancestors have been kings of France as well as of Ireland, they have not been so within living memory; nor has France recently been the recipient of massive British state aid. Listening to Mike O'Kane, the editor of the Irish Daily Star, attempt to justify his decision by saying, basically, that 'They're not our royals, like', one got a definite whiff of that arrogance born of the extreme self-confidence, often lapsing into grotesque and dangerous over-confidence, with which the citizens of some recently independent small nations seem to be invested by educations dominated by nationalist tradition  - X/Y/Z is free of the oppressor; We are of X/Y/Z; therefore We Are The Real People. The possibility of that arrogance developing in the citizens of an independent Scotland is, to my mind, the most significant warning that modern Irish history can give to Scottish nationalists, and is, to my mind, among the most compelling reasons for maintaining the Union. One hopes that his supreme self-confidence sustains Mr. O'Kane when he's jobhunting - as he's probably likely to be doing very soon, if only because his actions will have disgusted so many of his fellow Irish, who then might, perhaps rightly, question whether he would ever have treated Robbie Keane's or Brian O'Driscoll's wives as disrespectfully as he's treated Wills Windsor's.

If the best that a newspaper in a very small, still very broke country with a plethora of social problems, one which has almost instantaneously rebooted to its historic default mode of bleeding its brightest and best, can do is aggressively invade the privacy of a young woman who has no connection to that country while she's on holiday, that faint creaking sound that Mike O'Kane can hear is Veronica Guerin turning in her grave.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Footnotes And Corrections

A few items that cropped up while I was on sabbatical. 

Firstly, this post of mine from June 12 this year is a load of nonsense, and I am ashamed of myself that the reason why it is nonsense did not occur to me while I was writing it. I am getting slow in my old age. The title that was granted to Henry VIII was not 'Defender of the Faith' or 'Defender of Faith' but 'Fidei Defensor'. As both English phrases are suitable translations of the Latin, both are equally valid; as the title he will allegedly inherit will remain unchanged, the Prince of Wales can adopt his rather idiosyncratic, more fair trade version without subjecting the original to any risk of challenge. It's entirely cosmetic, making him look good while the fundamentals remain completely unchanged. It's a very lawyerly fudge of the type that makes one proud to be British. Maybe.

As someone who would usually prefer to have rats gnaw at their ankles rather than watch any type of sport, I have to say I did enjoy both the Olympics and Paralympics. Now they really did make one feel proud to be British. It all just seemed to go so well, and so smoothly, providing no opportunity for the tongues of superannuated comedians of the type who appear on BBC panel shows to burrow into their cheeks so deeply that they become ingrown. It was refreshing; even nice. Congratulations as well to Andy Murray, who I'm told is having a good year - although I'm not sure how he'll do against Lewis Hamilton in the Ryder Cup.

I have recently encountered quite a number of Big Picture people. Big Picture people can best be described as those who seem confident of dictating strategic decisions without actually having a blind clue about what's happening on the ground. I'm sorry if I've mentioned this before - I really am becoming more repetitive - but the whole mess with G4S and the security guards, or lack thereof, at the Olympics is a classic example of what happens when Big Picture people are left in charge. Ministers seemed to be concerned only with the Big Picture items, like missile batteries on rooftops, rather than the tawdry minutiae of who was actually going to be checking passes at the gates. This was a situation that could only have arisen as a result of none of the people in charge ever having had any experience of working in any system which has had to produce results. Our leaders are the product of a modern version of the Roman 'cursus honorum'; they go from Oxbridge to thinktanks/trade unions, then become special advisers, then get selected to contest seats. But none of them seem to grasp that the little ticket news items are just as important as the big, unless, of course, it's a good day to bury bad news.

An awful lot of young people I come across seem to be Big Picture people, and for this I blame the decline in literacy. Not knowing much history, they have virtually no perspective on events, no framework for putting them into a proper context. Their intellectual Meccano is missing that inevitable, and inevitably vital, final nut. By God, if any of them actually believe in Him, they know what it takes to put the world to rights. They just wouldn't have a clue how to go about it.

Being incapable of understanding just how Mitt Romney came to be a candidate for the office of President of the United States, it is best to leave that subject well alone. Does the Republican Party actually carry a collective death wish? Don't they like being Republicans? 

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The Death Of Tony Nicklinson

How strange it is to draw one's will to live from pursuing the right to die.

Very sad. At least the poor man's at peace now.

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The Wolves Around The Well

An item which caught one's eye during one's most recent leave of absence from blogging was that Iain MacMillan, the director of CBI Scotland, had called for Scotland's water to be privatised - and had promptly been given the bum's rush by John Swinney.

While one will continue to criticise the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' for its frequent forays into authoritarianism, ranging from the minimum pricing of alcohol to the proposed abolition of the requirement for corroboration in criminal cases, one must applaud the Finance Minister for having closed down that particular policy debate so quickly and decisively. Every advocate of the private ownership of water supplies should be called upon to justify their argument, that a commodity which cannot be manufactured can be administered more efficiently in private hands rather than public. Merely citing the dicta of right-wing economists will not suffice. Citing the arcane accounting practices by which the Barnett formula is administered will not suffice. The water comes in through one pipe, and it goes out through one pipe. It's a natural monopoly, and merely swapping one monopoly supplier for another doesn't seem very efficient. 

While I am sure Mr. MacMillan made his argument with the noblest of motives, I am deeply suspicious of some of those who insist upon private ownership of piped water, the one supply which is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of all human life. Water is not an industry. In some parts of the world, proposals to privatise water have led to disorder. Wherever it happens the privatisation of water is deeply contentious, and rightly so, and I for one am deeply suspicious of the motives of those who make the case for it; I suspect that some might be motivated far more by the desire for the easiest of profits rather than by any desire to see water provided more efficiently. 

Those who see profit in water are wolves around the well; and should be opposed tooth and nail wherever they appear.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Crash

On 10th July, I suffered a catastrophic dopamine crash while online. Recalling its particularly nasty character has been so traumatic that this is the first time I've been on Blogger since then, and only about the the third time I've been on the Internet.

My apologies if my uncharacteristic, if personally not wholly unwelcome, silence has given any of my most loyal readers cause for concern. I can assure you all I'm as fine as I can be. May God bless you all.