Thursday, January 31, 2013

Scotland's Security Service

The suggestion that an independent Scotland would have its own security service really does raise a smile. 

After all, isn't one of the arguments advanced in favour of the division of Scotland from the Union that Scots are really friendly people who all get along together very well, jollily singing 'A Man's A Man For A' That' with a heuch and a teuch and a twiddle o' the fiddle o (insert whoops where appropriate) at each other all day long? What possible internal threats to state security could ever come from a people which has produced such famously amiable football fans as the Tartan Army? 

The SSS would surely therefore be the world's friendliest secret police, ensuring that you eat the correct number of neeps with your haggis and, inevitably failing to see the woad for the trees, can recite Mel Gibson's 'Never Take Our Freedom' speech from 'Braveheart', perhaps even in an anatomically correct manner. Being throughly bourgeois, they will also be the only secret policemen in the world capable of smelling a rat and a good single malt in the same breath.

With this announcement, the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' has put the Scottish people on notice that any government of an independent Scotland will surely treat them with as much suspicion as any British government has. And this is supposed to make independence attractive?

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

'She's The Boss'

As far as I can see, this is in fact the most important sentence in a recent Salon article by one Mary Elizabeth Williams entitled 'So what if abortion ends life?

In my view it's in a direct line of intellectual succession from the eugenics of Galton, with added feminism, so help us all (but especially the little ones). My own understanding of feminism is that it's perhaps best described as sexual nationalism, and therefore as putrid and divisive as all other nationalisms. To my mind this means that everything that every person who describes themself as a feminist either says or writes which makes its way into the public domain should be treated with the utmost suspicion, as it's very possibly been animated by the exclusionary bigotry which is the hallmark of all nationalisms wherever and whenever they appear.

Although in some respects it's a comparatively peaceful nationalism as far as nationalisms go - after all, you can't really plan on achieving world domination when you shriek at the sight of a spider - it thrives instead on fostering a sense of complete disrespect for that half of humanity that does not automatically belong to your preferred group, and in this it has been extremely successful.

What feminism lacks in physical aggression, it more than makes up for in potential numbers. That is not to say that it cannot be aggressive; the extreme violence encouraged by many feminists against infants in their mothers' wombs marks it as one of the most passively-aggressive, lethally destructive expressions of nationalism that has ever existed.  However, although its almost Ptolemaic obsession with the performance of bodily functions is a particularly, well, odd feature of feminism, an obsession with hygiene in its own way not unlike the Nazi fetishes for exercise and naturism, with the undisturbed hygiene of the womb taking the place of the hygiene of the flesh (or the race, if you prefer), the ferocity of feminism's war on the unborn is a really rather sordid and ignoble war of liberation as far as wars of liberation go. It's genocidal violence perpetrated by those who proclaim their disenfranchisement, and demand political restitution for it, upon those who, by any objective standard, are far more disenfranchised than they are. The freedom of self-proclaimed disenfranchised feminists to do violence to those vastly more disenfranchised than themselves - a type of violence which we deplore as bullying when it happens in schools - has been enshrined in law for many years; and still the complaints keep coming, which shows that it's really just like all other nationalisms in that it won't stop until the other side (like all nationalisms, feminism doesn't care who that might really be) is hammered completely into the ground. There is no appeasing it. 

Mark Shea is quite right to describe the attitudes expressed by Williams as paganism. There is nothing remotely Christian about a mother electing to kill her children on the basis that 'She's The Boss'. That says it all in a nutshell.

My own view is that although her article is dangerously frivolous drivel, the only real difference between Williams and many other feminists is her candour.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting Worked Up Over Nothing

So the suspended disbelievers of the National Secular Society (presumably not in schism from the tenets of international secularism, but we can safely let that one pass) have rather uncharitably dubbed up the St. Margaret's Children and Family Care Society to the charity beaks for perceived breaches of the Equality Act 2010; when providing adoption services, they give preference to heterosexual couples who've been married for at least two years. 

The sight of the forces of militant nothingness on the march is always disconcerting, if only because one thought that religious fervour of the type being exhibited by the NSS was the sort of thing that secularists sneered at into their G's & T's. Note that their attack is not from the front in the form of an outright accusation of criminal homophobia; their attacking style is instead the dirty side punch to the kidneys in the form of a subtle, actually quite lawyerly, attack on the means by which St. Margaret's is funded. That's very middle class, actually very bourgeois in the original French sense. These are the guys who would have been red-hot for Napoleon, had he ever achieved any foothold in this country other than the one he built inside the head of William Hazlitt. I suppose they deserve a measure of back-handed congratulation, if only because they are a credit to their parents' high ambitions for them in having ensured that they were educated to such an obviously high standard.

Writing as the most diverse person I know, it's disappointing that the charity beaks seem to have to find that St. Margaret's is a body that provides no 'public benefit' while at that same time acknowledging the 'valuable service provided by this charity', a division between the fact of the facts and the fact of the law which borders on the schizophrenic. That what is beneficial to the public has to be able to satisfy a legal test of 'public benefit' seems faintly tyrannical, if only because it so clearly smacks of an attempt to engineer minds. Regardless of whether their charity provides care for young single homeless people in Dundee or preserves miniature steam locomotives in Didcot, in order to be able to satisfy the terms of the Equality Act 2010 the trustees of all charities will all require to ensure that all their charities all satisfy all the same criteria of 'public benefit'. The only way that all charities will all be able to satisfy all the same criteria, of course, is if all trustees think the same way, and one of the ways in which Parliament has dictated that they must think is that gays must enjoy precisely all the same rights as all other people, regardless of whether individual gays want them or not. This is nothing less than an attempt to enforce uniformity of thought, to establish diversity in principle by destroying diversity in practice; not unlike saying you represent the proletariat while enjoying the use of a Zil and a dacha. The great consolation one can draw from such heavy-handed egalitarianism is that just as every other attempt to engineer minds in history has failed, this one will also fail. It's a dead cert.

In the case of St. Margaret's, the consequences of this bold emancipation of the perhaps gratefully unemancipated include enabling the NSS to scream 'Unfairness!' in the name of Britain's poor downtrodden godless, and might just also mean that some children who might have been adopted into families in which they would receive limitless love and attention and encouragement might stay mired in the care system. That an association of people whose shared interest is stated to be secularism  - the NSS makes no mention of either advancing the cause of gay rights or of promoting the best interests of children in its title - should have used the cause of gay rights to attack a body supported by a church, a move which might just undermine the best interests of some children, for no apparent reason other than that it follows the teachings of that church perfectly illustrates the wisdom of Bossuet's remark that "those who suffer in schism will have but a sour zeal".

One of these days, the National Secular Society will be a footnote in history, joining the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and The Manchester No Breakfast Association (most famous disciple M.K. Gandhi) in the ranks of those groups who temporarily achieved a far greater influence than their numbers actually merited and their message actually deserved. In this instance, they are prepared to police religion even if it means children stay in orphanages, mean-spiritedness of that particularly nasty stripe which bourgeois liberals show themselves capable of with depressing frequency. Secularism is for middle class men what spiritualism is for middle class women; a dangerous pastime indulged in by those with too much time on their hands.That they can be so fervent about unbelief only makes them even more ridiculous. 

After all, even by their own standards they're getting worked up over nothing.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

From A Rather Fishy Trawl Of The Archives

(I am indebted to Chris Mounsey for having kept that piece online).

On 2nd November 2006, I wrote on 'The Devil's Kitchen' that,

"Voting for the SNP is not an option for conservatives. Its values are incompatible with our values. An independent Scotland would be a weaker, poorer and more feeble place. Scottish independence would show the type of Scottish nationalism espoused by the SNP for the hypocrisy it is.

The SNP has been opposed to every military operation that the UK has undertaken in recent years. Many assume that this is because they are leftists - but that is not the real reason.

The SNP consider themselves to be Scottish, not British, first. They do not see these operations as Scotland's wars - consequently, they feel no duty to support them. One can rest assured that should Scotland become independent, and should it suit his narrow political purposes, The Tartanissimo would not hesitate to despatch a fleet of rowing boats to Rockall with a shout of 'Nemo Me Impune Lacessit!'.

Then again, one of independence's saving graces would be that we would be so poor, weak and feeble that the only country we could realistically invade would be the Faroe Islands. Readers in Torshavn should start checking the shore defences."

What's in the news today? 

"Scottish fishermen have condemned the Faroe Islands for pulling out of international sharing arrangements for Atlantic herring stock.

At talks in London, the Faroese withdrew from international management for Atlanto-Scandian herring.

Instead it set its own unilateral quota...

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead backed the call for European sanctions, describing the Faroese decision to walk away from the talks as a "huge disappointment".

He said: "By continually choosing to ignore international agreements and set their own unacceptable quotas the Faroes are jeopardising the future of vital fishing stocks - and in turn the livelihood of our fishermen who have already had to face years of tough restrictions to ensure the health of the stocks and the survival of their industry. 

"The health of fish stocks should not suffer due to this continued reckless attitude. 

"I call on the EU to make use of their available powers to introduce sanctions against the Faroe Islands." 

We shall, of course, be keeping an eye on Torshavn, and will strenuously oppose any policy which smacks of appeasement.

Just kidding.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

If We Have a 'Scottish Government', Why Don't We Have A 'First Minister Of Scots'?

My opposition to the Scottish civic nationalists' unconstitutional appropriation of the title 'The Scottish Government' for the Scottish Executives they have formed is well-known. 

However, given that one of their philosophy's shibboleths is that pre-Union Scotland was governed with the consent of the people (an assertion which to my mind suggests that if you are willing to believe that, you really will believe anything), then if they really are engaged in some kind of Wilsonian struggle for national self-determination it seems odd that the leader of that Executive should choose to style himself 'First Minister of Scotland' and not 'First Minister of Scots'. 

After all, if they are prepared to assume one title for themselves against both the letter and the spirit of the law, it seems odd they should be unwilling to adopt another; and if the title 'Queen of Scots' is good enough to describe one of our most famous monarchs, why hasn't the politician who seems determined to drive us into a division from the Union taken the title 'First Minister of Scots?'

Doesn't he think he needs our consent in order to govern?

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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Great Scottish Police Service Spat

Most clashes of personality are usually the consequence of some form of egotism. Clashes of personality between holders of important public offices, enabled by badly written laws and conducted in public, are unseemly and don't give one confidence that public affairs are being administered competently. 

This one has been a disgrace, and both of the individuals involved should be ashamed of themselves. The reek that rises from this spat bears the man-smell of two alphas unaccustomed to having their views being questioned, both of them labouring under the expectation that they'll always get what they want. Being questioned is uncomfortable sometimes, but it's good for the soul. The lack of humility in the face of collective underachievement in this case has been staggering.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Two Defective Arguments Against The Existence of Separate Catholic Schools In Scotland

On 18 March 2011, Joan Burnie, a writer of pieces I usually find quite silly, wrote in her column for the 'Daily Record' that,

"Andrew Neil has been getting pelters from some people because the broadcaster and former Paisley Grammar pupil dared to suggest that the Scottish system of both Catholic and non-denominational schools was a form of apartheid."

So he should have done, because as analogies go it is every bit as ridiculous and overblown as Peter Kearney's suggestion that  the situation of Catholics in Scotland is similar to that of the civil rights movement in the United States (and that, incidentally, would be the same Andrew Neil whose memoirs were described by John Pilger, in his book 'Hidden Agendas', as, if memory serves, 'the most prolonged boast in the history of British journalism'). 

As arguments go, that one's a dud. More subtle was one from another Scottish broadcaster. 

On 12 December 2002, the 'Daily Telegraph' reported that

"Kirsty Wark, the broadcaster, also raised the issue last weekend when she urged head teachers to question the separate funding of Scotland's 412 Catholic state schools.

She spoke of her unease with the system at an awards ceremony in Glasgow, when she revealed that her best friend had been sent to a different school because of their religious backgrounds."

Ah, how cruel! The children can't go to school together! 

One small point - Scotland's system of separate Catholic education might be defective to the point of requiring to be abolished, but while it exists Catholic parents cannot and should not be criticised for sending their children to Catholic schools; and whether or not she actually intended what she said to have had that effect, that type of criticism is really what Wark's observations amounted to.

For as long as the schools exists, parents will elect to send their children to them. By doing so they are making a free and legal choice regarding the type of education they consider to be best for their children - the type of choice with which Kirsty Wark would probably have brooked no interference as far as her own childrens' education was concerned.


Making The NHS Paperless

Jeremy Hunt's plan to make the NHS paperless by 2018 seems to be one of those ideas that sound good on, er, paper, but there are significant difficulties with it.

The extreme levels of IT investment in the NHS, very possibly flowing more from some obsessive ideological desire to improve always chimerical 'public sector productivity' than from any wish to actually improve patient care, may have had some interesting unintended consequences. Increased reliance on IT may mean that doctors are less likely to take paper notes of consultations, relying instead on their memories to write up notes on the PC later, the medics becoming the medical secretaries. The scope for error that this involves is enormous; and although I imagine that it would be impossible to find out, it would be fascinating to see whether there has been an increase in the number of cases of medical negligence where poor note-taking has been a factor since the NHS seems to have been compelled to attach a PC to every solid surface. 

What this might mean is that an ideologically driven move to make a body more efficient may in fact be costing it money by contributing to an increase in the number of compensation claims against it. The sums just don't add up, do they?

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Lynne Featherstone's Violent Outburst Of Tolerance Directed At Julie Burchill

I couldn't really give a monkey's about what Julie Burchill actually said, but the disgusting sight of  a government minister calling for a writer not to be published because they wrote something she didn't like brings something I read a couple of years ago back to mind. 

Some years ago, an academic named J. Michael Bailey published a book about transsexualism named 'The Man Who Would Be Queen', the principal thesis of which was that transsexuality is an extreme form of male narcissism. This idea offended me at the time. 

A couple of years ago, I read Jan Morris's book 'Contact!' Morris underwent gender re-alignment surgery in North Africa in 1972, and in the book shares her recollections of the hours before it commenced. 

If memory serves, she describes looking at himself in the mirror, and bidding her old self goodbye. And the last words that she records herself speaking as a man were? 

"Goodnight, sweet prince..."

Just sayin'...

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Some Thoughts On The Cases Of Nadia Eweida And Others

The decisions in the cases of Nadia Eweida and others are a bit of a mixed bag.

Congratulations, of course, to Ms. Eweida, upon her victory in her case. The treatment to which she was subjected reeks of someone having tried to make far-reaching policy on the hoof, agenda optional. That particular practice is one that always ends in tears, and it's a pity that Ms. Eweida has been required to go so far as Strasbourg in order to get a rational decision. However I am slightly dubious about whether the cases raised by Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane should ever have been brought.

Ms. Ladele was a registrar with Islington Council who declined to conduct civil partnerships. If she did not find officiating at civil marriages between men and women to be incompatible with her beliefs, it is hard to see how she could  decline to officiate at civil partnerships without facing disciplinary action. While one may legitimately disapprove of homosexuality on religious grounds and believe that the state has no right to declare what conduct is either moral or immoral, the state is perfectly entitled to declare what is legal and what is illegal. The principal characteristic that civil marriages and civil partnerships share is their civil nature (and there are some very good arguments for the existence of civil partnerships); and if she was willing to help those seeking to exercise one class of civil right her employers could perfectly reasonably require her to help those seeking to exercise another, and directly comparable, class of civil right. This might have been distasteful for her, I'm sure, but it would be fundamental to her ability to work as a registrar. 

Gary McFarlane was a relationship counsellor with Relate who indicated that he might object to counselling same-sex couples. I don't know anything about the specifics of his case, but I suspect Mr. McFarlane might have been as much a victim of our celebrated system of flexible employment rights (and also of the state's now de facto control of the charitable sector) as of any anti-Christian discrimination. If Mr. McFarlane's contract of employment had the bog standard 'such other duties as the employer might require' clause in it, then I would have to say his very principled position was undermined by Parliaments both British and European before he even opened his mouth. If 'such other duties' are deemed to include counselling same-sex couples, then that is what such other duties would be and he could be required to perform them.

What might also have been the case was that if his employers were receiving any funding of any kind from the state, they would have to ensure that they were not seen to be discriminating in any way, shape or form, otherwise their funding would be cut. To say again I don't know anything about the specifics of Mr. McFarlane's case, but if Relate was receiving state funding then it would be interesting to know whether financial considerations were a factor in its decision to discipline him. Ms. Ladele's stance, very courageous as it was, was also perhaps more foolhardy, more clearly contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law than Mr. McFarlane's. I can't help getting the feeling that Mr. McFarlane was something of a sacrificial lamb; cut loose, perhaps, for no cause higher than money, or maybe even to help someone else keep their own job.

Yet the case of Shirley Chaplin is the most ambivalent, and disturbing, of all. It is what has not been said about her case that shouts the loudest of all. 

Ms. Chaplin was a nurse who had worn a crucifix on her wards for 30 years without incident, before being told to remove it on the grounds of health and safety. Keith Porteous-Wood, the National Secular Society wallah wheeled out to dutifully bloviate on behalf of Britain's poor, downtrodden godless whenever Christ gets a kicking from the law, a task he always seem to perform not only with exemplary diligence but also an enthusiasm that borders on relish, has been quoted as saying that "(r)eligious people who feel elements of their job go against their conscience can always find employment that better matches their needs", an observation which explains precisely not only why Shirley Chaplin was a nurse but also why so many atheist doctors work in hospitals run by, er, orders of nuns (hint - deep down, many of them think they're Peter Finch giving Audrey Hepburn the cracker talk, you know, really reminding her that the Belgian government pays her to assist at operations and not to attend Mass, and all the while forgetting that he's unable to run his operating theatre without her).

Ms. Chaplin was presumably extremely conversant with the principles of infection control, so hygiene can be discounted as a factor. She'd presumably been around the nursing block often enough to know how to handle fractious patients. So could any other factor have led to her employers requiring her to remove a crucifix she wore on a chain, on the grounds of health and safety? 

The only health and safety grounds I can think of that might justify such a personally invasive demand would be if Ms. Chaplin and her colleagues worked in an environment in which there had been a dramatic increase in the number of patient-upon-nurse assaults, no quarter attacks in which any type of weapon is acceptable; even, God forbid, a crucifix. Any body which bans any practice on the grounds of health and safety is usually petrified of being sued - and it would be very interesting to know whether there had been an increase in patient-upon-nurse assaults in her hospital, and whether the risk of exposure to litigation animated what seems to be the now declaredly equal and therefore perfectly legal, and also patronising and barmy, decision to tell Ms. Chaplin to remove her crucifix. This case may have had nothing to do with Ms. Chaplin's crucifix being an impediment to health and safety; it might have had everything to do with her employers' inability to protect her and her colleagues from the violence of those they were caring for.

And who should pop up like a Jack in the box but Shami Chakrabarti, describing the verdicts as "an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense".

Chakrabarti was not so vocal in her defence of the legal rights of Jon Venables - and if God spares me, I'm never going to let her forget it. 

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Perfect Illustration Of Why State Catholic Schooling In Scotland Should Be Abolished

"Scottish Borders Council has approved plans to appoint a single head teacher to oversee all four of its Roman Catholic schools.

Concerns have been raised about the proposal but the authority said it was necessary to tackle recruitment issues.

Some parents have suggested that the job would be "too big" for one person to take on.

The Roman Catholic Church has backed the single head teacher arrangement, but only on a pilot basis."

The kamikazes were only ever recruited on a pilot basis, and look how they ended up. 

In this case, the priority appears to be keeping all four schools open, rather than that each of them have their own headteacher. This is madness. A more rational solution would surely be to close all four schools and amalgamate the pupil populations with those of other schools in their areas, ensuring that they learn in environments which can be guaranteed to have all appropriate grades of staff on site. Instead, four Catholic schools will be kept open even when it might not have been possible to find suitably qualified people to lead them all. This is just nuts. 

Having recently gained some experience of being on the sharp end of our rancid religious divisions, one of the thoughts that that episode has liberated one to express is whether or not having had a separate system of Catholic education might have kept the country's level of educational attainment back through bad leadership on the ground. It's probably unknowable, yet it also strikes me as being quite possible that teachers who might not have been deemed qualified to become heads in a fully non-denominational system might have become suitable for consideration once their faith had been taken into account; in other words, people who wouldn't have been considered for promotion on merit in a universal system might have become worthy of consideration merely because they were Catholics (disclaimer - before his retirement my father was the headteacher of a Catholic school, and under his leadership it received a glowing report from our universally impartial inspectorate). 

This is a troubling thought, one which some Scottish Catholics might remain too intellectually segregated, indeed perhaps even too civically immature, to care to reflect upon. Yet it's also one which is amplified by reports such as this. Is it better for pupils to attend  a school which has its own headteacher, or for one headteacher to work between four schools? If you think the latter option is the better option if it would enable a Catholic school to stay open merely because it's a Catholic school, I'd have to disagree with you.


The PPI Mis-Selling Scandal

Without wishing to seem even more contrarian than usual, I'm a little bit sceptical of the whole brouhaha surrounding the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance. 

PPI was industrially mis-sold, for sure, and there must therefore be some accounting for that; yet it seems to have been mis-sold in the context of 'victims' having been mis-sold it as a consequence of having sought credit facilities, for example loans or credit cards. If they hadn't sought some sort of credit, they wouldn't have been exposed, or indeed have exposed themselves, to the risk of it being mis-sold to them. 

While the behaviour of British banks in behaving the way they did was predictably despicable, getting their PPI money back seems to me to be something of a 'win-win' for some of the people who were mis-sold it. Not only did they obtain the credit facilities they sought, and presumably enjoyed whatever benefits they had sought to gain from that credit, but they may also have covered at least part of its cost from their PPI compensation. 

There will be some, perhaps many, people who got the raw end of the deal from PPI when they tried to claim it, I'm sure; but there will be others whose only losses from having been mis-sold PPI are strictly notional, and whose compensation means that they might have done quite nicely out of it. 

This is troubling, because it might then run the risk of being regarded as being a reward for what, for some, might have been mere common improvidence.


Monday, January 14, 2013

One For Peter Hitchens (If He's In The Mood For Going Ten Rounds With The House Of Lords)

The Personal Independence Payment

I should explain that I have never received Disability Living Allowance. The reason for this was apparently that although I have some difficulty walking forwards I can walk backwards without any difficulties whatsoever. If the British state had its way I would be walking the Earth like a Lakota contraire, and presumably going as mad as them in the process. 

According to the BBC, 

"Tougher rules to assess how far people can walk mean many claimants will lose help with transport from April.

Those unable to walk more than 20m would qualify, rather than the previous distance of 50m."

On the face of it, this seems to be just the sort of hard-hearted, mean-spirited nonsense we have come to expect from the softly spoken right-wing fanatics who are currently tearing the welfare state limb from limb, hewing its flesh from its bones with unseemly relish; and it's worth quoting a little more from that BBC report to give that distance some context -

"Baroness Grey-Thompson said at her local supermarket she could not get from a blue badge parking space to the doors - 20m is not that far, she said."

(What Baroness Grey Thompson might have been too civil to say is that any attempt she might make at doing that would be dependent upon actually being able to find a Blue Badge parking space that was not already, and illegally, occupied by a vehicle not displaying a valid Blue Badge. If abuse of the Blue Badge system is not a victimless crime, then neither is the commandeering of disabled parking spaces by those not entitled to use them. But that's life, at least as some of us have to live it; and don't ever get me started on the abuse of the disabled toilet system by the able-bodied.)

However, thinking about this a little harder made me realise that it might not be intended to be so sinister; it might merely be the consequence of the person who drafted that law being as mentally disengaged from wider society around them as some disabled people will become physically after it comes into force. 

The only logical reason why a distance as short as twenty metres has been selected as the cut-off point is that it was selected by someone who doesn't walk anywhere; in other words by someone who travels everywhere by car and who does all of their shopping online, someone who doesn't ever stand at a bus stop and who never goes into a shop; someone so digitised and lacking in spontaneity that they can program when they'll need milk for their tea.

A law very possibly designed by a 24 year old nerd, with a 24 year old nerd's range of influences and experiences, might just be about to determine whether mobility impaired 50 year old computing illiterates are going to be able to get out and about. It's got to be something as daft as that, for the only alternative explanation is that it's intended to keep the disabled in their homes; turning them not into ghettos, as Baroness Grey Thompson believes, but prisons. 


The Lords' Call For Drugs To Be Legalised

If the old duffers think that selling smack in shops will somehow stop people from becoming smack addicts, one has to wonder whether any of them have ever heard of the concept of 'alcoholism'. 

They'll be replacing the dinner gong with a dinner bong in there next. 

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The Lords' Rejection Of A Reduced (And Therefore Diminished) House Of Commons

Good to see the old duffers telling the technocrats to get stuffed.

And it seems to have annoyed Lord Forsyth of Drumlean - which, in my view in least, means that it must be A Good And Wholesome Thing. Result!


A Short Thought On Current Policing Issues In Northern Ireland

I'd love to know how all this has been playing on Russia Today, never mind Press TV.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Amanda Platell

Reading this lady's output, one is reminded of the late Robert Hughes's execration of what he described as 'that jocular, domineering, faux-egalitarian cruelty that remains one of the bad dreams of Australian life'.


How The Ukrainian Media Have Reported Today's Violent Outburst Of Tolerance In St.Peter's Square

The Welfare State

Reading articles such as this, one could easily forget that every extension and expansion of the welfare state has been the consequence of a previous economic policy having failed. 

That fact alone suggests to me that scrapping it would be a rather bad idea. That's not likely to cut much ice with the softly spoken right-wing fanatics currently dismembering it the way a sparrowhawk carves apart a fieldmouse, I admit; it was just more of a footnote for the record.

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Simon Weston's Plea For Justice

That someone so distinguished as Simon Weston was unable to stand for election as a Police Commissioner on the basis that he possessed a criminal record incurred as a minor suggests two things to me. 

The first is that those joke Frankencop jobs were only ever intended to be political in nature, satrapcies for the squeakiest of squeaky clean 24 hour party people. If it didn't actually happen the first time round, the next round of elections for those bonzo offices will see candidates being bussed in - presumably under the speed limit, and with an appropriately low blood alcohol reading.

The second is that although I'm sure Mr. Weston would have done as good a job as he or probably anyone else could have done, if I were him I would consider it to be beneath my dignity to expose myself to that sort of treatment again. 

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One Nation Labour

Of course Labour is a 'One Nation' party.

Every mainstream party represented in the House of Commons is a one nation party.

That nation is the EU.


Throwing Savilecant At The BBC

The abandon with which other media organisations have criticised the BBC for its historic failure to deal with Savile might almost make one forget that they would probably also have been as happy to be associated with him while he was alive as the BBC was.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Finding Out Who Your Friends Are

Although I am not in the least precious about that sort of comment - many people I know have thought that of me - the idea that someone has slung inevitably anonymous online abuse in my direction in the context of criticising other people for having slung anonymous online abuse in my direction illustrates to my absolute satisfaction that some supporters of the green entity are just as loopy as some supporters of the blue. Whoever that person is, they have done precisely what some of the other lot did while criticising those some of the other lot for having done so, without realising that even oddballs have stats trackers!

Those are the actions of a true oddball. Whoever that person is they should have a fitting for the white coat with long sleeves before the Thurberesque wife of whom they're probably terrified finds out that they're surfing the Internet on their own. If they ever thought she would find out, they'd probably beat down the doors of Bedlam itself to try to get away from her.

That person also found the fact of my having been wrongly named as the 'Rangers Tax Case' blogger 'hilarious'. I can assure them they might not have found it so funny if it had happened to them. That comment is a perfect example of just what is wrong with the whole culture of the Scottish football forum, a place in which you can quite literally be thrilled by the prospect of digitally rubbernecking at the sight of the life of a family you claim to know being turned upside down, and enjoy doing so at one o' clock in the morning. 

I have apparently disappointed some other posters on that thread. This gentleman seems to be bemoaning my failure to indulge in ethnic grievance-mongering, while this gentleman all but accuses me of suffering from 'Stockholm Syndrome' (and their recounting of the history of Scottish education in the 19th Century is completely, meretriciously false).

Having now been abused online by supporters of both the blue and green entities, I can at least claim some insight into the truth of one of our language's more worn cliches...the one that goes 'the first time  as tragedy, the second time as farce'...

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Some Thoughts On Recently Having Had To Report A Crime To The Police

In what seems like one of his, in my opinion, many periodic but consistently buffoonish attempts to raise the spectre of sectarianism, Peter Kearney, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland who once claimed that the singing of the 'Hokey Cokey' could be a potential 'hate crime' and whose timing of his criticisms of Hugh Dallas has always, to my mind, seemed deeply suspicious, has now surpassed all his previous efforts and ascended to truly rarified heights of banality and irrelevance. 

With bad taste so gross that he brings the Catholic Church in Scotland into disrepute, Mr. Kearney has compared the 'struggle' against bigotry in Scotland with the struggle for civil rights in the United States writing that,

"In much the same way as America's black citizens in an earlier era were urged to straighten their hair and whiten their complexions in order to 'minimise' differences with the white majority, many will surely urge Scottish Catholics to stop sending their children to Catholic schools or making public or overt declarations of faith at any time."

That comment is tripe, and the thinking that has animated it is tripe as well; and that is not an opinion, but a statement of fact. I know it to be a fact because I have recently had cause to make a complaint to Strathclyde Police concerning grossly abusive, grossly threatening, grossly sectarian behaviour directed towards me on the Internet. 

On 15th November 2012, I was wrongly named online as being the author of the so-called 'Rangers Tax Case' blog, the recipient of the Orwell Prize for 2012. This caused a storm of abuse to be directed towards me, some of which was of a type that, since the recent case of Her Majesty's Advocate versus Muirhead and McKenzie, could not be ignored. The west of Scotland did not show its best face to the world that day, and people who have not read such things being written about themselves might not perhaps understand the sheer terror they can generate. 

I spent four of the next forty-eight hours in one to one meetings with three officers of Strathclyde Police. For the period of two weeks from 18th November, a 'DBR Entry', an internal direction that increased foot patrols be conducted around property that might be at risk, was in place for our home. I felt it necessary to request that an adviser contact the Law Society of Scotland to clarify the security of my professional records, and the degree of relief with which I learned that they are exempt from the operation of both the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act was enormous.

I had many subsequent conversations with both the investigating officer at my local station and another officer from the Football and Antisocial Behaviour Unit, based at Govan Police Office. These two officers could not have been more helpful and solicitous. They are a credit both to Strathclyde Police and to the community it serves, and deserve especial recognition for the sensitivity and tact with which they managed a very disabled, very well-informed, incredibly agitated and incurably talkative complainer. Their investigations resulted in two arrests (no prosecution has been proceeded with by the Procurator Fiscal Service in either case, in one of them on the basis that insufficient evidence was available; a decision that not only beggars belief but also makes one fearful for the right administration of criminal justice in Scotland). 

A number of lessons can be drawn from this episode. 

The first is that the anonymous author of the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog, is, in my opinion, a wee bit wanting in character, not the sort of person you might have wanted at your back at Dunkirk. They knew what was being said about me, and could have stopped it either by making it known that I was not them or even by showing a bit of backbone and revealing their true identity, if only to stop abuse being directed towards me. They didn't do either of these things. What they did do was tweet the following smart-assed comment - 

Maybe I'm biased, but that doesn't seem like the most principled thing they could have done when somebody who had never even read their blog has been wrongly accused of writing it (at that point I'd never even read it, and I was being accused of writing it! The adjective 'Kafkaesque' doesn't begin to describe this!) It seems that the author of the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog's taste for disclosure is strictly a one way street. 

The second lesson is that you would have thought that the Orwell Prize committee would have been a little more protective of its brand after the Johann Hari fiasco, but they've boobed big style. They awarded a prize for investigative journalism to a blog concerned with a litigation in progress. Maybe they were engaged in a little freelance anthropology, swooning at the sight of the word 'Rangers'. Maybe they just didn't think Rangers would win and didn't factor in that possibility when awarding the prize, considering the quality of the journalism to be more important than the fact that the case it covered was still undecided. The author of the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog certainly had factored  a Rangers victory in the tax case into their planning - as soon as the result in favour of Rangers was announced, they deleted every post on their blog! The Orwell Prize for 2012 was awarded for a piece of investigative journalism which now, less than a year later, no longer exists. It's like one of those debates concerning the nature of essence and being that have consumed the energies of theologians for over two millenia; it was there before, but now it is not there any longer - where is it, and what has it become? 

The Orwell Prize wallahs really have to be more careful about who they dish out their award to, in my opinion, for in giving it to the 'Rangers Tax Case' blog they have taken more than a little lustre off the bauble. 

The third lesson is the utterly hateful nature of many Scottish football forums, those 'safe areas for casual hatred'. While most people aspire to live in a fair and just world, in the west of Scotland we have to settle for a slightly lower bar and aspire to merely living in a sane one. While reading some of these forums, you come to realise the eternal wisdom preached by that secular prophet James Thurber in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'. There really are people out there leading fully formed, vividly real lives of the mind in which they're warriors of the UVF, or the INLA, or whatever, all the while holding down normal jobs, appearing to be fully integrated members of societies with wives, homes and children  - and they're conducting these parallel lives on iPads and smartphones, some of the most sophisticated software ever written used for no purpose higher than abusing their neighbours! Stone Age New Guinean highlanders would feel embarrassed at being in the presence of such uncivilised behaviour.

The Scottish football forum is a phenomenon that will continue to yield research material for Ph.D's in sociology from now to 'til Kingdom come. You have to wonder whether some part of it is a need for male company wherever it is to be found. You have to wonder whether, in some sense, it's a reaction to some of them maybe being as terrified of their wives as Walter Mitty was of his; now and then, they just have to go somewhere they matter. 

Yet more sinisterly and, if correct, sadly, you have to wonder whether these forums are a grimly useful variable in the west of Scotland's black calculus - do they provide a safety valve for the release of the hatred some people just can't seem to help feeling for their neighbours, thus perhaps minimising the risk of actual one on one violence? Does the act of 'blackening' some 'bheast' (sic) online get it out of your system for a while, and lessen the likelihood of you actually going out and killing someone? That not particularly cheerful thought occurred to me while reading what was being written about me and then reflecting upon how long it seems to have been since what could reasonably be described as a sectarian murder has actually been committed here. 

And if that is the case, would any government that might talk tough about combatting sectarianism actually be serious about doing so when these forums ensure that steam that might otherwise be let off on the streets is let off on the sofa instead? I don't think so. 

Which leads me to the fourth lesson, which is that for all practical purposes Scotland's anti-sectarianism legislation is decorative legislation, the legal equivalent of your grandmother's best china, laws for display rather than daily use, brochure laws enacted so that it can be said that we have them rather than that they ever be enforced. This is not mere sour grapes - Strathclyde Police officers devoted what seems to me to have been a significant degree of manpower into this matter, manpower that could have been deployed elsewhere. For that effort to have result in two arrests and for no action then to be taken suggests to me that the Procurator Fiscal Service does not wish to see anti-sectarianism cases in court. I can't think why. 

The fifth lesson is that whatever divides Protestant from Catholic in Scotland has got to go; and if that means the end of separate Catholic schools, then they should go. Catholics were Catholics before there were Catholic schools. They will be Catholics without Catholic schools.

Having been through all this, I'm going to take a radically different approach to combatting sectarianism - I forgive everyone who has posted a threatening or sectarian remark about me online. I forgive the people who called for violence to be done to me. I forgive the people who defamed me. I forgive them all. I have no vested interest in seeing sectarianism thrive. I want it gone from our common home forever, and I can't call myself a Christian if I don't forgive you, so I forgive you all. Go and live your lives in peace, love your neighbour as you love yourself, and stay off those bloody forums.

And because I forgive them, and because I want the west of Scotland to be a better place than it is, it makes me incredibly angry that Peter Kearney has compared what happens here with what happened during the civil rights struggle. I've not written about this before now because, you know, let sleeping dogs lie and all that - but the analogy made by the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland is in such bad taste, is so inappropriate, that it cannot go unanswered; and the best answer to stupidity is experience. 

In Montgomery, the police held Martin Luther King incommunicado; in Glasgow, the police give you an incident number for online sectarianism when you haven't even seen the relevant remarks yourself yet. At Birmingham, Bull Connor and his police set attack dogs on demonstrators; in Glasgow, the police call you at 10 o'clock on a Friday night, their busiest night of the week, just to make sure you're all right. That Strathclyde Police is utterly committed to the enforcement of Scotland's anti-sectarianism laws is, in my experience, beyond any doubt. Whether the same can be said of everyone else in the system is another matter. 

In this context, I will not have it suggested that Scotland's police, and Strathclyde Police in particular, are dilatory in their investigation of sectarian offences, a suggestion which, in my opinion, has been implied by Peter Kearney, probably thoughtlessly and probably carelessly, in his equation of what happens here with the experiences of those who engaged in the civil rights movement in the United States. As a churchgoing Catholic, I really have to wonder what kind of supervision and direction Mr. Kearney receives during the course of his working day. It doesn't seem to be enough.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

The Top Of My Head, Epilogue - The Daughters Of Le Roy

(For my late and much beloved maiden great aunt - and it doesn't seem like six years)

And so the end is in sight, and I will very soon be able to lay down the burden that I picked up some months ago. 

All things considered, to have done so wasn't really a good move - but one must do what one must, as must we all. If I'd ever been given the option of suffering from any type of illness, I'd really rather have had a bad dose of the cold.

The epilogue I had originally envisaged was a rather gloomy one. However, just this very day it has been my privilege to have had a considerable glimmer of that most precious thing called 'Hope' shone right in my face; and having been humming and hawing about how to end this thing, it was nice to have an appropriate ending land right in my lap. 

On 25 October 2012, the UK's Channel 4 broadcast a documentary entitled 'The Town That Caught Tourettes'. It concerned the very sudden development of Tourettes-like symptoms among a group of teenage girls in the town of Le Roy, New York, which has since moved on to at least one adult female. 

Apparently all good girls with no history of drug or alcohol abuse (one must also assume that they hadn't been messing about with stuff like Ouija boards, a factor no psychiatrist worth their salt would ever discount), they had all really been put through the mercilessly slow-grinding,  and small-grinding, mill that is the process of receiving a diagnosis of 'neuropsychiatric' (dopamine-dysfunctional) illness. At 21, I found the process by which I was diagnosed with Tourettes to be appalling slow, an ordeal of long waiting that lasted twelve months from start to finish, from November 1991 until November 1992 (and the next time that anybody took a look inside my head was in November 2012). That was at a time when public awareness of Tourettes was nothing like as high as it is now, and it was more than a little depressing to see how although awareness of the illness has moved on to the extent that its name can be included in the title of a TV show, the apparent reticence of physicians to diagnose dopamine illness seems to remain solid.

It seems to be the case that they consulted the local neurological experts in Buffalo, who advised them that they were suffering from something called a 'conversion disorder'. When I heard that, I thought 'By St. Loy! I question that!'

'By St. Loy!' is, of course, that most fashionable of oaths uttered by the Wife of Bath, a dedicated follower of fashion if ever there was one. Those of us who have felt it necessary to make our own investigations into neurology can sometimes suspect that some doctors can become fashion victims as well, sometimes perhaps overwhelmed not only by the need to publish but also by the need to keep up with what has been published, a task that even in the late 1980's the late Arthur Shapiro, who after all wrote the book on Tourettes, described as being nearly impossible. What 'conversion disorder' seems to be describing may instead be what is known in other circles as 'somatic compliance' - that function of diencephalic illness by which two sufferers in the same room start displaying each others' symptoms. Unless I am greatly mistaken, it is a symptom of another underlying illness being present and should perhaps not be treated as an illness in itself.  If that is how it is being treated, that would to my mind be a textbook example of the operation of Charcot's Straitjacket in action, of perfectly competent and well-intentioned physicians seeing illnesses where there are only symptoms - because, perhaps, as a consequence of the manner in which they were trained, perhaps a training which placed too great an emphasis upon the classification of symptoms rather than the reactions of the patient, perhaps leading to the development of an unconscious mindset in which the patient requiring to fit the symptoms becomes a higher priority than the symptoms requiring to fit the patient. 

The local experts seemed to think that this so-called 'conversion disorder' was a somatic expression of stress, which the girls denied. However, if they were not stressed before they might soon had have cause to be stressed when a journalist for the 'New York Times' named Susan Dominus, in my opinion a thoroughly self-satisfied interviewee, published what is in my opinion a remarkably unscrupulous article (1) which in my view rather coyly exposed the girls' private stresses for all the world to gawp at - perhaps in this day and age not the solecism that the teenage girls I used to try and hang around with in the bad old days BFE (Before The Facebook Era) might have considered it to have been, but still in my view a rather crappy thing for another woman to do to you when you're still at high school and coming to terms with life-changing illness in the glare of publicity.

But that's just my opinion. I am a naught but a lowly blogger, a poor and trembling cripple screaming, screaming, I tell you, on the fringes of the blogosphere, a scavenger on the cadmium polluted Third World rubbish dump of the intellect that is self-published journalism, whereas Susan Dominus writes for the 'New York Times', by God! What she writes about, and how she writes it, must therefore be taken extremely seriously, if only because she certainly seems to think so. As her article was published on 7th March 2012, she would obviously not have read my essay 'The Politics of Parkinsonism' of 23rd June 2012, which discusses in some depth the role that trauma can play in inducing certain types of neurological illness; just as I wrote it before I had had a chance to see 'The Town That Caught Tourettes'.

The documentary ended on a very upbeat note. Some of the girls seem to be making progress under the care of a paediatric neurologist named Dr. Rosario Trefiletti, who has diagnosed a condition akin to PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus), and has treated it accordingly. This largely seems to be doing the trick - a great relief, for while watching it I had become greatly concerned that the terror that is encephalitis lethargica, now perhaps pinned down to being related to streptococcal infection, with all its horrible possible sequelae, might have returned. And that would be horrifying. 

It would be horrifying not merely because EL is the horrifying illness it surely is, but because it would mean that a failure to diagnose it might mean that EL has been forgotten by neurology in the way that Tourettes was forgotten in EL's wake. Remember, there were no diagnoses of Tourettes made in the United States from about 1925 until 1965, when Arthur Shapiro finally diagnosed a (female) patient. Remember, Oliver Sacks, born in 1933 and qualifying as a doctor in the mid '50's, was nearly 40 before he saw a patient he was confident enough to diagnose as suffering from Tourettes. The Great Forgetting of Tourettes happened because it seems that although society can accept people with Tourettes symptoms, it can't accept them in great numbers - and the sheer number of people who presented with TS symptoms during and after episodes of EL was just too great for society to take; so society just decided to forget about Tourettes instead, and the 'Enkies' went into the chronic hospitals, where they gradually died, and that was that. What Shapiro described as the over-diagnosis of Tourettes, a development he despaired of, may have arisen from the need for the illness to be rediscovered, which may in turn have resulted in things other than Tourettes being described as Tourettes. It would be a tragedy for medicine, and therefore for the world, if encephalitis lethargica, the cause of so many people suffering from an illness which the world found so traumatic it deliberately forgot it completely, had also been forgotten. The pendulum of history would then have swung too far, and sufferers of EL, wherever and whenever it appears, and their doctors would be faced with precisely the same traps and precisely the same pitfalls as those faced by doctors trying to treat Tourettes from the 1960's onwards. The doctors would not have not remembered the past, and their patients would be the ones who would have to relive it.

I am grateful to be wrong, and wish them all the very best of luck, doctors and patients alike; and may all The Daughters Of Le Roy enjoy lifelong good health. 

Oh yes, today. Today I happened to stumble across the very heartening story of Susannah Cahalan in the 'Mail on Sunday'. In 2009, Miss Cahalan suffered an extremely unpleasant episode of illness for a month, the consequence of anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis, an illness that attacks mostly females and which is relatively easily treated with steroids. Miss Cahalan, who I think will be forever grateful to Dr. Souhel Najjar for his prompt diagnosis and treatment, has written a book about her experiences entitled 'Brain On Fire'. Such stories as hers and those of The Daughters Of Le Roy encourage one greatly, and lead one to believe that the days of restrictive, symptom-chopping, overly Linnean neurology will one day be remembered as a suitably obscure footnote in a never-borrowed volume of medical history, forgotten as soon as it has been published. 

Now to the really important things in life. I adhere to my view that 'Hulk' was much better than 'The Incredible Hulk'. Discuss.

(1) 23:03 07/01/13 - I have again perused in full the article 'The Mystery of 18 Twitching Teenagers', written by Susan Dominus and published in the 'New York Times' on 7th March 2012, and adhere to my original analysis of its character. 

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Saturday, January 05, 2013

'Aiming High'

Earlier this evening, while watching the BBC News Channel, it came as something of a shock to see that an author named Mark Frary has published a biography of my old landlady Erna Low

Between May and September 1994, I was the tenant of what Miss Low had cunningly marketed as the 'flatlet' (otherwise known as the room) above her office at 9 Reece Mews (kitchen and toilet shared with the office). The address was 9A Reece Mews, London SW7 3TQ, I think - not sure about the last two characters -  but I do definitely remember that the rent was £60.00 per week.

My landlady was very elderly at that point - how old I did not then know - and we got along quite well enough. When we first met, two days after I had arrived in London and the day after her advert had appeared in 'Loot', she asked me if I was Irish (she herself spoke with what to my ears seemed a very heavy Middle European accent) and told me that I had very small hands - a recollection which has kind of been brought back to my mind in recent months.

We only had two wee blips, one when she'd forgotten I'd already paid the rent and in respect of which she was extremely apologetic upon being shown the receipt, and the other when I had had to call a locksmith after the levers on the lock on the room's door terminally collapsed one Sunday while I was out at Mass at St. Mary's, Cadogan Street (a beautiful church that, if memory serves, had at that point a visiting American priest named Father Mark, who was an expert in church music, and a wonderful singer; Mass there was a far less oppressive, far less floridly recusant, experience than in the Brompton Oratory). However, she seemed satisfied by my explanation that it had been either call a locksmith or kick the door down (I actually think she'd been in Cornwall at the time), and we parted on good terms. The last I heard of her was the publication of the valuation of her probate in the 'Daily Telegraph' in 2004.

Her book-keeper at that time was an old Welshman who wore black-rimmed glasses and who kept his hair slicked back, and who would occasionally startle me by turning up for work on Sunday afternoons. The only neighbour with whom I had any contact was a very civil and very friendly American guy called Tim, who lived with his family on the other side of the street - filled as I then was with the inborn, almost ingrown, avarice of the Scottish solicitor, I remember being enormously covetous of his Mercedes estate car. He was, in fact, the only neighbour I ever saw. There was a Morgan showroom at the corner of Reece Mews and Old Brompton Road which always caught the eye of the few visitors I ever had, who would usually make their way to the mews from South Ken tube station (opposite which, incidentally, is, or was, the 'Glasgow Boy' Sir John Lavery's blue plaque). I was told that the deli in Bute Street was very good, but I never went in (hardly surprising, given that I'm the only person I know who has visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa and refused to ascend it, a story which is most certainly not a tall one in any sense of the word).

I did virtually all my shopping at the Sainsburys on Cromwell Road - as that chain had no presence on Scotland at that time, I had never been in one before, so every visit was an adventure. I used to go to aerobics classes at a gym on the Tite Street side of the King's Road, and was a briefly a member of Chelsea Library, a civic amenity I used for no purpose higher than borrowing as many works on Scotland and Scottish history as I could, and making myself thoroughly homesick in the process  - at 23, I had never lived away from home before. Hardy's 'Farfrae' had nothing on me. That being said, my heart wasn't really in the adventure (for that was what I thought it was, and how I accordingly came to treat it) and when the job didn't work out for me (or was it the other way round?), I came home straight away and haven't budged since, Thank God.

From my time in London, I took away one lifelong friendship, a reasonable knowledge of SW7 and the ability to say I used to live in the building next door to the one in which Francis Bacon had lived and worked, a factoid that nearly bowled over my wife's art student cousin.

And, of course, the sheer shock of finding out that my old landlady was important enough to be considered a worthy subject for a posthumous biography. How does that saying go again - you know, the one about being nice to the people you meet on the way up?


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Top Of My Head, Part X - A View On Some Writings By Oliver Sacks

 (Warning - please note this essay deals with extremely adult themes)

As those readers who have stuck with me all the way through this project from the beginning will attest, I have relied heavily upon the writings of Oliver Sacks. Given that their author seems so dedicated to the raising of awareness of neurology through literature, it therefore seems only fair to express one's own views upon those works of his that I have read as wholly as I can.

Without any shadow of doubt the most famous neurologist in the world, Dr. Sacks has achieved this status by publishing a number of what might be termed 'crossover' books, effectively popular books on neurological themes, usually based on case studies. I have read two of these, 'Awakenings' and 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat'.

'Awakenings' describes how, in 19659, he treated a group of post-encepahalitic Parkinsonians with L-DOPA at a New York hospital which he named 'Mount Carmel', and the sequelae they suffered. The real name of 'Mount Carmel' was Beth Abraham, a discovery made within moments of starting to peruse Dr. Sacks's entry in my local library's copy of 'Who's Who' (it's also on the web).

Some of the observations he makes in that book are, as I have noted elsewhere, extremely acute.  In particular, his observations on what he describes as the 'infinite' nature of Parkinsonian illness and the Parkinsonian's disrupted relationship with space are bang on the money. His description of the Parkinsonian's need for medical advice is also extremely acute. If nothing else, his aim in wishing to depart from what he describes as the 'styleless style' of much writing on neurology is a worthy one - the inaccessibility of most medical literature reinforces the impression that medicine is the property of medics, which it most certainly is not. Yet he had a few patients at Beth Abraham in whose histories he perhaps left a little too much of himself - and those parts that he left lying around sometimes seem very revealing indeed.

It should not be forgotten that Dr. Sacks did not isolate L-DOPA, nor was he the first to envisage its possibilities. That was the work of Dr. George Cotzias and his colleagues. Nor was he the first to describe some of the effects that L-DOPA could produce in those to whom it was administered - the 'involuntary foot stamping', or 'pawing of the ground', he described as being exhibited by 'Rolando' in 'Awakenings', first published in 1973, had earlier been described by Drs. Krasner and Cornelius in the British Medical Journal of 21st November 1970.

'Leonard L', a Harvard graduate, then in his mid-40's, whose Parkinsonism had rendered him speechless and immobile, and whose only means communication was a letter board upon which he would tap with a single finger, was the first patient to whom Dr. Sacks administered L-DOPA. Dr. Sacks seems to have had a very great deal of sympathy for Leonard's plight; their relationship perhaps having been cemented by Leonard's description of himself as being like 'Rilke's 'Panther'', perhaps a meeting of two literary minds. His description of Leonard's case is quite unusual amongst those narrated in that book in that, in the fourth edition at least, he provides no information either on Leonard's ethnic origins nor indeed upon when, if ever, he developed encephalitis lethargica. He is described as being 'post-encephalitic', but no mention is made of when he suffered the actual illness, only that he started to become unwell after the death of his father when he was six.  Leonard's immobilised description of Beth Abraham as a 'human zoo' might have given some indication of the presence of some emotional problems, but the difficulties he suffered on L-DOPA were immense.

Over the course of several months' treatment with L-DOPA, Leonard became psychotic, passing from total disability to awakening to benign wellness to exorbitance to hyperlibido to eventually requiring to be placed in a punishment room - a raw deal, I thought, given that he was being punished by the hospital authorities for a decline in behaviour which was the consequence of a reaction to a drug which he had been administered under their aegis. Even with the L-DOPA alternative amantadine, Leonard never recovered, and died in 1981.

As I have said frequently, I am not a doctor, but there are some aspects of Leonard's case that puzzle me, not the least of which is, of all things, the size of his hands.

Dr. Sacks describes Leonard's hands as having been very small, dystrophied from lack of use; yet in her rather marvellous little book 'Diaghilev and Friends', Joy Melville described the hands of Vaslav Nijinsky as having been similarly small and underdeveloped; and Nijinsky, once dubbed 'the fly catcher' because his mouth was always open, was a chronic and almost lifelong schizophrenic.

Could Leonard have been schizophrenic?

(At this point, I must confess that ballet is an art from about which I desire to know a great deal more than I do. As long as we have ballet, we can call ourselves civilised. This interest was sparked by Andy Wilson's marvellous BBC film 'Riot at The Rite', a dramatisation of the notorious riot which occurred at the premiere of 'The Rite of Spring' in 1913, starring Adam Garcia as Nijinsky and Alex Jennings as Diaghilev. In her book, Melville describes how Nijinsky had a range of movement well beyond that of other dancers - perhaps a description of that capacity for odd movement described by Dr. Sacks in two of his Parkinsonian patients, one a former racing driver, the other a former boxer? Nijinsky's original choreography for 'The Rite of Spring' was lost within a few years of the premiere, but if his opening poses were recreated accurately in 'Riot at The Rite', then the knock knees, inwardly pointing toes and shoulders sloping into stoop suggest a classic Parkinsonian posture). 

I had been wondering about this for a while even before I read this essay describing Robert De Niro's portrayal of 'Leonard Lowe' in the 1990 movie of 'Awakenings', a movie I must confess I've never seen. Schizophrenia thrives in families, and Leonard's relationship with his mother was unhealthily close - at one point, Dr. Sacks describes the two of them as being in love with each other, and that Leonard's mother had a need for him to be ill; when he was well, the relationship just did not function. There can be no doubt that Leonard was extremely 'divided', the bookish devotee of Rilke and T. S. Eliot also quite validly being the hyperlibidinous, and habitually hallucinating, fantasist of cannibalism.

That the question of whether Leonard was schizophrenic is not canvassed in 'Awakenings' seems like something of a missed opportunity, if only because it might have shed some light on the question of whether Parkinsonism and schizophrenia can exist in the same patient in a way in which Parkinsonism and Tourettes cannot; and if that is the case, whether Tourettes and schizophrenia can also similarly co-exist in the same patient.

Given the quirks of schizophrenogenic families, it would also be interesting to note whether there was anything else about his father's death, other than the bald fact of his death, which so traumatised Leonard that it might have led to him becoming disabled him for life. 

Yet it is in the case of 'Ida T' that Dr. Sacks seems to reveal most of himself; through a glass, darkly. 

'Ida' was originally Polish. Bedridden for years by the time Dr. Sacks began to treat her, she was then bald, her head was covered in sebum and she weighed 400 pounds - he describes her as being 'seal-shaped'. Yet under the influence of L-DOPA Ida achieved the most remarkable transformation, getting up, walking, singing, making contact with a daughter who had been told she was dead and never for one moment stopping being grateful to Dr. Sacks for having medicated her by subterfuge. It is in his description of her priorities after her awakening that Dr. Sacks gives us a glimpse of what perhaps his own priorities as far as the writing of 'Awakenings' might have been. 

At Page 178 of the fourth edition of 'Awakenings', he wrote (with his italics), 

"To celebrate her 'awakening', Mrs T. announced in a stentorian voice that she wanted a quart of chocolate ice-cream with each meal every day, and 'a big olive-oil enema -but big!"

To the best of my recollection, my knowledge and my belief, this is the only reference which Dr. Sacks makes in 'Awakenings' to any of his patients having suffered from bowel difficulties. This is in marked contrast to the very sensitive treatment given to this subject by Gilbert Obiafor Onuaguluchi is his previously cited work 'Parkinsonism'. Toiling away in the lazaretto at Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow, where he did that groundbreaking work on the use of the EEG on Parkinsonians which Dr. Sacks was later more than happy to cite, Professor Onuaguluchi noted that all his patients suffered from bowel difficulties resulting in acute constipation, best relieved by enemas of either olive oil or warm soapy water. 

It may be the case that a discussion of his patients' bowel movements, or indeed their lack thereof, might have been deemed inappropriate in a book designed for the mass market. Yet while I may be completely incorrect, I can't help but think that the mention of the 'but big!' might have been intended to be slightly comic, an attempt to turn poor, horribly afflicted Ida, a patient who for all I know he might have found personally disgusting yet who was also the recipient of so much affection from her nurses, into something of a figure of fun. 

If that was the case, if that was his intention, then the nature of Dr. Sacks's motives might have become a little clearer; that instead of being interested in narrating his patients' histories for their sake, he would instead be one of that class of authors, like Thomas Cranmer with the English Reformation, like P. J. O' Rourke with right-wing politics, of whom it can be fairly said that they have attached themselves to an activity or cause not for its own sake but for the opportunities it provides them with to create literature. In the case of Dr. Sacks, the activity is neurology; for it seemed important to him to tell the world that poor Ida wanted an olive-oil enema, without explaining why. 

This is a very slightly different criticism to that offered by Tom Shakespeare when he wrote that Dr. Sacks was 'the man who mistook his patients for a literary career'. That would suggest that at some point the practice of medicine has been more important than the creation of literature. Both might be equally important, but the thing you have to remember about cause-barnacled litterateurs is that the opportunity to write about the cause is always at least as important as the cause itself. 

And the difficulty with creating literature for its own sake is that those addicted to it, like P. J. O' Rourke, indeed perhaps even like Oliver Sacks, can never stop. They will write and write and write even as the soil is being thrown over their coffins, their pathological compulsion to vomit out words, to talk and talk and talk always, always getting the better of them. As it certainly gets the better of Oliver Sacks, when he finishes the story of Ida on Page 179 by writing that,

"In the last year there have been some complications from the continued use of L-DOPA - some return of her rigidity and stuttering, etc. But, all considered, she is still doing incredibly well considering she was dead for forty-eight years". 

But Ida, all bald, ravenous,Yiddish-folk-song-bawling, just off the boat, four hundred Polish pounds of her, was never 'dead'. She had always been triumphantly alive, just unable to express it. For a person so deprived of normal living for so long to be described by their doctor as having been dead when they were clearly anything but dead seems, in my opinion, to be grossly disrespectful.

This need to talk leads him down some other strange paths. In one of his more excitable moments, Leonard suggested the establishment of a brothel service in Beth Abraham. When this was automatically rebuffed, he began to play with himself, in Dr. Sacks' words, 'fiercely, freely and with little attempt at concealment'. Yet the extent of Leonard's mania was such that it led Dr. Sacks, in a perhaps unguarded footnote, to speculate on just what might have happened had he been permitted to set up such a service - a totally fruitless line of thinking, given that I imagine the American Medical Association would never have permitted it, never mind the hospital authorities.

He is a very well-read man, for sure. The pages of 'Awakenings' are peppered with quotes from Kant, and Donne, and Eliot. Yet like all the rest of who like reading I'm sure he knows that he's not as well-read as he'd like to be - if he were, he might have known that the expression 'Cupid's Disease', an expression of which he admits ignorance while treating 'Natasha' in 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat', is recorded on Page 236 of George R. Stewart's classic science fiction novel 'Earth Abides', first published in 1949. 

Yet the achievement that is 'Awakenings' is one that can't be taken away from Dr. Sacks. Filmed in 1990, it's also been adapted for radio, and one of his case histories, that of 'Rose R', was adapted by Harold Pinter into a one act play entitled 'A Kind Of Alaska', which premiered at the National Theatre in October 1982, with Judi Dench in the role of 'Deborah' (the real 'Rose R' choked to death on a chicken bone one night in 1979). It was with a little wry amusement that I noted Dr. Sacks's footnote at the bottom of Page 371-

"At its most recent (1989) performance in London, Pinter himself played the part of the doctor"

Pinter himself? My word!

If it is the case that Oliver Sacks considers neurology to be a vehicle for the creation of literature, then although his medical ethics might be intact (a question which has sometimes been the subject of debate.pdf), then it is only fair to suggest to readers that that desire to create literature is the prism through which will Oliver Sacks writes about neurology, and that they will be experiencing his literary skills just as much as they will be receiving his knowledge of neurology. Neurology is not unlike plumbing; there are some things in life you just cannot make interesting no matter how hard you try, and they are usually the things in respect of which substance is always more important than style. 

The body of the essays is now complete. Only the epilogue now remains to be written, and that will hopefully appear in a few days time. 

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