Tuesday, March 30, 2010

India Knight

It is with some distress that one reads the columnist India Knight appearing, to my eyes, to commit apostasy in the comment pages of the 'Sunday Times'. Ms. Knight's apparent spiritual confusion, evidenced by her apparent acknowledgment of the efficacy of prayer, in her case to St. Catherine Laboure, sitting beside a bog-standard systematic trashing of Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and her sloppy use of the word 'infallible', shines through like a lighthouse lamp.
Whether the publisher of an apostasy can remain a papal knight is a matter for the Pope and not for me, thank goodness. However, one can say, with burning concern for India Knight- St. Catherine Laboure, pray for her.

Friday, March 26, 2010

UKulturkampf Marches On To Glory

The BBC joins 'The Times' in failing to mention that Rembert Weakland, the first witness for the prosecution in the liberal media's attempt to subject Benedict XVI to trial by public opinion, has been proven to have occasioned more scandal for the Church than the Holy Father ever has.
Does one sense a desire to settle scores hanging in the ether? And can such omissions, themselves failures of media's duties of care to its consumers, really be described as responsible and objective journalism? After all, you don't expect to buy what is described as a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich and expect to find out that the bacon has been deliberately withheld from you. Why should one buy a newspaper and expect it not to report the news?
In an aside, it has been reported that News International will soon start charging viewers to read the 'Times' and 'Sunday Times' online. If its chairman believes that this should be considered a progressive step, he's up a gum tree. Keith is not the only person in the world who incurs costs to use the Internet. Those who read his publications online at the moment may well resist the idea of having to incur more. I for one will not, and 'The Thunderer' may one day just become a squeak in the distance of memory.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

UKulturkampf - Murdoch's Milwaukee Muckrakers

Remember, it's not about 'the Church', or 'the Catholic Church'; their problem is with the existence of Catholicism itself.
The Murdoch press is famous for rushing to judgment. Sometimes that judgment is hideously flawed, such as its publication of the forged 'Hitler Diaries' many years ago. I, for one, would be very interested in reading the Holy Father's side of the story regarding whatever role he might have had in the investigation and canonical prosecution of Father Lawrence Murphy before condemning him.
And it is ironic, almost laughable, to see Rembert Weakland, of all people, being reported as having grave concern to avoid 'true scandal'. 'The Times', of course, makes no mention of Weakland's own history. You must remember that there is no anti-Catholic agenda at work here. This is only the sturdy and stouthearted seekers after truth and speakers of truth to power in the British press doing their best to get to the bottom of the case, without fear or favour.

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The Thoughts Of Hans Frank, Part I

"On no account must the National Socialist ideological structure be imperceptibly falsified by denominational ideas" -
Hans Frank, as reported in the 'Westdeutscher Beobachter' of 13th October 1937 and quoted in a very powerful book entitled 'The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich', published anonymously by the Catholic Book Club in 1942, in translation from German.

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The Thoughts Of Hans Frank, Part II

"I am thankful for the kind treatment during my captivity and I ask God to accept me with mercy" -
On the gallows at Nuremberg, as recorded by Kingsbury Smith and quoted in the 'Faber Book of Reportage'. Frank had converted to Catholicism while in custody.
There is always hope.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Very British Kulturkampf Kontinues

Sir Ken Macdonald, MC (Matrix Chambers, presumably with Bar), weighs in with a reminiscence of the Christian Brothers before airing a number of what might be his own issues and offering sensible advice such as 'Call the police'.
Please, please - if you're beef is with Catholicism, please use that word and do not use any form which uses 'The Catholic Church' or 'The Church'. If you have a problem with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Transubstantiation, The Real Presence or any other matter of doctrine, do please keep me out of it. I have never had anything to do with bad men doing bad things. No Catholic priest ever did bad things to me. Those who have done bad things must answer for their crimes. It is the very essence of persecution and Kulturkampf to make others answer for them, and to hold every member of a body collectively guilty for the crimes of some. That might not be what Sir Ken intended to do, but that's the perceived effect of such a lazy, sloppy use of language; one quite unbecoming of a former Director of Public Prosecutions.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Byers's Midden

'At least it's given us a good laugh to see (Patricia Hewitt) caught on a secret camera."

Nicola Sturgeon's Comments About Glasgow City Council

Perhaps some councillors are considered to be less Scottish than others; or have committed the cardinal sin of letting their golf club subscriptions fall into arrears.
It says much, or little, for Sturgeon that she has not been reported as offering any word of sympathy to Steven Purcell, who, as I've said before, was once my friend, and now seems to be a sick and troubled man. The compassion flows from her like milk; if you're a benefit fraudster, that is.

Liberty In Scotland

Good to see that the soi-disant, ersatz, 'Scottish Government' is fiddling while Rome - No! Don't mention Rome! - burns, with The Copfighter-General publishing proposals for the 'reform' (for which read 'abolition') of double jeopardy.
Yes, one day you too will be persecuted by retired schoolteachers over and over again for being suspected of having criticised The Tartanissimo, their vision of Scotland's future being a Highland dancing shoe stamping on a human face forever. You'll be a guid Scot, according to how they define 'Scottishness', or no kind of Scot at all. Wha's like us?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Very British Kulturkampf

The Holy Father's apology to the victims of clerical abuse is not enough for The Observer, whose leading article of today displays an ignorance of the circumstances in which papal infallibility operates. The issue was only settled in 1870, you know; can't expect these chaps to be able to find out something that Stephen Fry hasn't Twittered.
As ever, when it comes bashing the Catholic Church there's no group so willing to pick up the cudgels as a papal knight's gang of bought-and-paid-for scribblers. One wonders how often Keith and Jimbo Murdoch pop into the London branches of Newskorp; and when they do, whether they discuss affairs with the fearlessly independent intellectual elite who rely on them for the food in their bellies and the clothes on their backs, or make them beg like puppies before throwing them dogbiscuits. For what my opinion's worth, if either Steptoe or Son told them to go out and sell Sky TV subscriptions door-to-door in Tower Hamlets, they'd do it without blinking. In any society, no group knows quite so well upon just which side its bread is buttered as its intellectual elite.
In the 'Sunday Times', the blowhard Rod Liddle, whose attractions as a possible editor of the 'Independent' remain hidden from me in an almost gnostic manner, gives a thundering display of bigotry and ignorance when he writes 'Sorry, Holy Father, we can’t forgive the sins of your church', as if the abuse of children were doctrinally mandated. What gives with the 'we', by the way? You talkin' for me? By what authority?
The constant conflation of the clergy and the hierarchy with 'the Church' is just another of those tedious exercises in ignorant anti-clericalism which we in the Church have had to endure for, oh, I'd say about 1,700 years now. Clericalism is bad; anti-clericalism is just as bad. Love them or loathe them, they're the only clerics we have. It really would be nice if the intellectual elite were to use some of its proclaimed and, we are told, fearsome intellect before they started banging out words in pursuit of a paycheck. Or a bowl of Pedigree Chum.
On the 'Times' blogs, we have Oliver Kamm, a man who might not be as clever as his prose makes me believe that he seems to think he is, giving another wordy exposition of what he believes to be his own cleverness in reproducing what is actually the less offensive of Peter Brooke's cartoons of the Holy Father; you know, the one with the condom on his head.
The secularist fascination with the application of latex rubber to a chap's most intimate parts, and the teaching of the Catholic Church in relation thereto, may one day provide psychiatrists with a fecund source of research material. It is, to say the least, disturbing.
It goes without saying that abuse of children by clergy, wherever it happened or however it happened, and violence perpetrated by religious upon those in their care are atrocious scandals. In the private sector we're all supposed to love, because, you know, participating in the act of wealth creation is just about the most important thing people in any society can ever do, or so we're told, these would be classed as catastrophic failures of senior management. In Ireland, they managed to happen without any member of the Dail, any Commissioner of An Garda Siochana, any High Court judge, any editor of the 'Irish Times' or any reporter from RTE ever hearing about them; if you believe that, you will believe anything. In Ireland, they were as much top-to-toe, root and branch failures of the Establishment as mere scandals perpetrated by the religious, the product as much of De Valeran state clericalism as of the discipline commanded of those who undertake the religious life; a discipline of which many proved incapable. Clerical celibacy isn't the problem. It's the fitness of some of those who swore themselves to celibacy that's the problem. If there are lessons all Irish can take from this, they're that some clergy did bad things; and that there seem to be a great many blind eyes in Dublin.
Today's Gospel told of the woman caught in adultery. It contains Our Lord's famous direction that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. Having once divorced myself from legitimate reception of the Sacraments for a period of over 14 years on account of what amounted to little more than a fit of pique, I have been in the position that woman found herself in. Not literally, of course, but in the position of having done condemnable things and be seeking reconciliation. The woman did not lie to Our Lord, did not stand in front of him and deny what she had done; it was pointless, she'd been caught in flagrante delicto. She accepted her guilt before being told to go away and sin no more. The principle upon which the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions operate is that there can be reconciliation, but that there can be no reconciliation without truth. The Holy Father's letter is an admission of corporate, collective guilt; an acknowledgment that some of those in authority did not do their jobs as well as they should have, with catastrophic consequences, and with profound regret for the harm caused and profound apologies to those who were harmed. It would be hoped that this admission of truth would lead to reconciliation. Instead, those whose futures might include selling Sky TV subscriptions door-to-door in Tower Hamlets, or being a victim of the Guardian Media Group's next restructuring, don't think it's good enough. The Roman Catholic Church must be held to a higher standard than the thugs of apartheid South Africa's Bureau of State Security, or than the terrorists of Umkhonto we Sizwe. At least we know where they stand. It was ever thus.
From this particular Catholic's point of view, the clerical abuse scandals have provided an open goal to those whose aim is a spot of light priest-baiting, a very British Kulturkampf. The blogger Paulinus has written of his fear that we are set to see some kind of Civil Constitution of the Clergy. I sincerely hope not, but the only words of comfort one can offer the Big P is - bring it on. Every Civil Constitution of the Clergy produces an equal and opposite Concordat of 1801. St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, was a distinctly post-Civil Constitution kind of guy. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy was the brainchild of Talleyrand, a politicially ambitious, and hereditary, bishop. As a relatively keen observer of British public life, I don't see anyone possessing Talleyrand's political skills on the horizon. There was massive opposition to the Civil Constitution; the people didn't take it lying down. And last, and most certainly not least, Talleyrand, just like Voltaire, just like Gramsci, came home to the Church at the end. At one time or another, the Catholic Church has been persecuted wherever it has gone. It endures all persecutions, and welcomes back those who persecute it. It will endure the persecution which is following on this scandal as well. It is eternal. The fat lady has not sung on it yet by any manner of means. It is to be hoped that those who might seek to persecute it in a very British kind of fair trade, persecution-lite kind of way will one day actually appreciate the secret of its longevity.
In the meantime, of course, there are a number of things which can be done to ensure that such scandals do not occur again. The first of these is the enforcement of clerical confession. Given the grace it bestows, the question of how often the clergy receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation seems central to the good administration of an orderly and healthy Church. I am not in the least interested in a cleric's skill with a driver or a four iron, or whether or not they are committed to social justice, or whether they have a passion for rugby and grand opera. I am interested in knowing that they lead a reflective spiritual life in which they consider the effects of their words and action on others. I'm sure many do. Perhaps some others, perhaps those who commit or who have committed crimes against innocence, don't. There can be reconciliation; but there must be truth, and living a lie isn't really conducive to your salvation.
Or at least that's what the Jesuits said. St. John Vianney, pray for us.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum

The fulsome tribute paid by The Tartanissimo to the late Scottish Nationalist politician Billy Wolfe does not seem to quote one of the more colourful phrases sometimes attributed to the gentleman, that 'Home Rule is Rome Rule'.
Why he should not have done so is a matter upon which I shall leave his biographers to speculate.

The Hunt Goes On



Credit where credit's due. It seems that the police are unwilling to let anyone who may have had a role to play in the murder of Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha go unpunished.
To my mind, the nature of her end makes the possessor of that pretty wee face worthy of a special place amongst those martyred to false honour.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Picket Lines And Passengers

It is disgusting to read that David Cameron, who time and events are showing to be just another well-heeled bootboy, has suggested that BA workers cross picket lines.
This is feral, reactionary, neoliberal Toryism at its worst. While Cameron was shoving champagne down his throat in the Bullingdon Club, the Thatcher government was divesting the state of BA with the same degree of urgency. This is a private sector dispute. There is no need for it to be discussed on the floor of the House of Commons.
On the other hand, those of us who believe in social ownership should perhaps take some heart from this political interference in a private matter. Cameron's atavistic, deeply Tory need to shove his boot into those weaker than himself, people trying not to take action to preserve the terms and conditions of employment they already have and which his party, while in government, was instrumental in setting, is a kind of backhanded recognition that some industries are so vital that they should be in public hands. Yes folks, the Conservatives recognise that privatisation has failed. That can be the only reason why they should feel the need to comment upon an industrial dispute in the private sector. If that is not the case, why should they feel it necessary to discuss it in Parliament? Are we all interventionists now? Or are we only interventionists when we think it might suit our political purposes?
There is much blather and bluster spoken about BA passengers, and how their holidays might be disrupted. Those who make such comments seem to have forgotten that our law contains a principle known as 'Caveat Emptor' - Let the Buyer Beware. If I buy a ticket to fly upon an airline, that is a free choice made in a free market. It doesn't matter whether that airline is the only one flying directly to where I want to go. The rise of the discount airlines has shown that if the price of the flight is right, consumers are more than willing to suffer the inconvenience of travelling to airports far from their ultimate destination. My purchase of that ticket is an endorsement of everything about that airline, including its cabin crews' historic terms and conditions of employment. If those cabin crew seek to preserve those terms and conditions by the means afforded to them by law - and, it should be noted, with a democratic mandate for doing so larger than any ever achieved by a British government - then I have no real cause for complaint. If I had been prudent, I would have purchased travel insurance to cover such an eventuality. If the insurers are no longer offering strike insurance, then they need history lessons.
I do not think it is too strong a word to describe complaints about the suffering of passengers as wickedness. No demographic involved in this dispute knows BA's passengers better than those who are the major actors in this dispute - the cabin crew. They are the ones who know that without the passengers, they don't have jobs. They are the ones who serve them coffee. It shouldn't really be forgotten that they are also the ones who will be expected to shepherd them down the escape chutes of a burning plane that's crashlanded on water. That's really why they're there in the first place. They're the ones who the same tabloid press and the same gutter politicians who are condemning their possible strike action would describe as heroes for taking a bullet - you know, giving their life - to protect some of the very same passengers who might feel like complaining about disruption to their holiday plans.
But to attach greater importance to one person's holiday, their playtime, than to another person's livelihood is just wicked. It's very Tory, indeed very British, but it's still wicked. There may be no livelihood without the playtime, for sure; but neither is there any playtime without the livelihood.

David Starkey

It was interesting to hear the distinguished historian David Starkey huff and puff about the bloated state of the public sector on last night's 'Question Time'. He should know - having been a university lecturer for many years, presumably he was part of it.
In the United Kingdom, we have rather too many people who think it acceptable to bite the hand that feeds them - or has fed them, as soon as it's withdrawn. The entity known as 'Dearieme' is another classic example of the breed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Political Activity By Trade Unions

Seumas Milne makes an interesting point regarding the hyperbolic, hyperventilating attacks on trade unionism by, inter alia, the Murdoch press and the Conservatives. To all intents and purposes, to attack unions and political activity by unions is to attack democracy.
Whether or not such a thing as 'trade unionism' can be said to exist any more is debatable. The hollowing out of our economy over three decades of neoliberalism has pretty much killed the trades stone dead. The decline in the number of British plumbers, and the consequent premium that became payable for plumbing services, must have been a critical factor in the similarly hyperbolic, similarly hyperventilating demand for cheap Polish plumbers.
In the face of the attempted demolition of the trades and the consequent decline in union membership, the unions adapted. If it is logical for employers to be permitted to consolidate their holdings, and for a grocer to be able to sell everything from a mobile phone to a toilet seat, it is similarly logical, and perfectly rational, for a union to be able to represent any number of different occupations. If big is good for, say, supermarkets, the private benefit generated by economies of scale outweighing the decline in local economies and the turning of our high streets into deserts, then big is also good for unions, the private benefit generated by economies of scale outweighing petty demarcation disputes between plumbers and platers. Indeed, there's a very strong case to be made for forbidding employers, many of whose businesses are very diverse, from acknowledging only one union. In such cases, while the employee might wish to join a union, their employer is permitted to determine which one they can join. In a flexible labour market, this amount to an unconscionable restraint on choice. Nobody tells me that I can only shop at either Tesco or ASDA; why should anyone be able to tell me which union I should be able to join?
The removal of this restraint on choice could produce some interesting outcomes. One could be certain that at least one business, very likely a large supermarket chain, would set up its own union to try to lure members away from their current organisations. If that were to happen, it would also be entirely rational for a union to open a supermarket. This is capitalism, baby. It's mad and it sucks, but what's the alternative? Well, it's called distributism, an economic philosophy that has animated public fugures ranging from G.K. Chesterton to Nick Griffin to M.K. Gandhi, but it's a hard one because it involves selflessness and sharing, and if adopted would destroy the advertising revenues upon which newspaper empires still rely at a stroke, so we can't be having any of that. No, sirreee.
As an aside, capitalism makes many boasts for itself, one of the main ones being that it encourages innovation. Capitalism's apologists accept this statement as an article of faith, despite it having more holes than a hermit's socks. I cannot recall ever reading that Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, and Alexander Fleming only made their discoveries due to research grants issued by international pharmaceutical companies, or that John Logie Baird needed a grant from Sony to invent the television set. Just a thought.
So it's capitalism we're stuck with, at least pro loco et tempore. If businesses are permitted to lobby Parliament, providing lots of scoff and away day treats, it is also perfectly acceptable for unions to sponsor its members. If that doesn't happen, then only one group's voice is being heard. If union sponsorship is restricted or outlawed, lobbying must also be restricted or outlawed. Despite the best efforts of the Labour government over the best part of the last 15 years, the British Airways dispute would seem to show that the old dinosaur's got a bit of life left in it, and that's maybe not a bad thing. Union sponsorship of MP's provides at least a little bit of balance, introduces a little leaven, into the mayhem. It's only fair.

You Couldn't Make It Up

"Stars including Alice Patten, the daughter of Lord Patten of Barnes, and Hazel Crowney, a former model from Kent, have been accused of stealing jobs from local girls.

Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a Mumbai nationalist street gang and political party which inspires terror throughout the city, has called on foreign white actresses to go home...
The campaign to ban foreign actors was launched last week after the MNS raided a the set of Crooked, starring Amitabh Bachchan, India's most famous star, and demanded to see the work permits of 136 foreign actors and actresses...
Shalini Thackeray, an MNS leader, said: "Why can't our Indian actors dance with locals? We will insist that only local junior artists should be employed.

"We will check whether they have valid permits. Many times, foreigners come here on tourist visas, but take up work in Bollywood."

She was supported by one of Bollywood's top dancers, Rakhi Sawant, who said: "Because of these foreigners, our Indian girls remain jobless. These white girls are like lollipops that only last for two days."
It is hard to know what to say in relation to this. Indeed, I can only think of one word. Oddly enough, that word is 'Helpdesk'.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thank You For Flying, And Have A Nice Day

The dispute between British Airways' management and cabin crew seems to be escalating in a thoroughly unexpected and, in my opinion, quite positive manner.
There will no doubt be some who will say the move smacks of desperation; but to my mind, reports that Unite will be meeting with the Teamsters to discuss this dispute indicate a commendable degree of creativity amongst its leaders. I would think it is almost certain that any action taken in the US in consequence of this meeting will be completely legitimate under both British and European labour law. The rigid nature of British labour law suggests that Unite would not follow this course otherwise. It is gratifying to think that trade unionists may be following the maxim of classical liberalism that everything is permitted unless it is specifically banned. While sympathy action might be illegal, or at least frowned upon, if taken by workers at the company next door, just even thinking of how loudly neoliberalism's cheerleaders will scream and scream like wounded eagles at the thought of probably perfectly legitimate sympathy action being taken by workers in another country warms the heart. That's not meant to happen! That's not in the script!
Indeed it isn't. One can only speculate why BBC News 24 had Theresa Villiers, the Conservative Transport spokesperson, giving a comment upon this report at approximately 21.50 yesterday evening. It's none of her business. People who join trade unions are expected to do what they're told for any number of reasons - the necessity of maintaining industrial discipline, for the good of 'the economy', whatever that might be, etc., etc. They are not expected to be creative.
During the course of today, one should expect to see an almost unprecedented outburst of impotent rage from politicians, the media and the rest of the governing class. They may scream and rage about how Unite will be messing up people's holidays. I will be spending Easter at home. With respect and friendship to American readers, I also have no intention of travelling to the United States for as long as one of its hidden costs of admissions is being treated like a potential jihadist upon arrival. In the great scheme of things, it would be nice to see New York City before I die, but the thought of not doing so doesn't really keep me awake at night. If other British people wish to fly to the USA, good on them; but they really do need to recognise that part of the price of doing so is having to rely on other people.
You have to rely on the guys who designed and built your plane. You have to rely on the training, expertise, skill and sobriety of your pilot. You have to rely upon the greasemonkeys who service it. You have to rely on somebody drilling a hole in the ground to provide it with fuel. Oddly enough, even in these days you still have to rely on the weather. The weather has proved remarkably resistant to the blandishments of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. Its role in restricting individual liberty, as evidenced by its tendency to produce rain when people want to fly, should be investigated - perhaps even outlawed.
The whole thing's a complicated system, and if any one part of that system fails the whole thing fails. The cabin crew are part of that system. They have rights, protected by law. They wish to exercise those rights. If you don't think they should exercise those rights, I wouldn't say so too loudly once you get on board, if only because you might get the pillow filled with rocks, or end up drinking your second cup of coffee from your trousers. Thank you for flying, and have a nice day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The British Airways Strike

If the right to work is a fundamental human right, then logically so also is the right to withdraw your labour without interference from any politician. If the BA cabin crew go on strike, it is nobody's business but theirs; not Gordon Brown's, not George Osborne's, not Rupert Murdoch's, nobody's.
How does that song go - 'Britons never, ever, ever shall be slaves'? Isn't it something like that? You'd think that one group of people that maxim applies to would be the staff of British Airways, wouldn't you? For all of some trade unionists' legion and well-rehearsed faults, the effects of whose actions history has shown to have been no more economically catastrophic than those of some bankers on their recent rampage through the public finances, trade unionism exists to prevent people who work for a living from being abused. This makes it a good thing by and of itself. The castration not of trade unions but of trade unionism, as politically motivated as you could get without outlawing unions altogether and as reactionary as the Declaration of Verona, has bred a generation of people of the type who would have no problem collaborating with invading armies in times of war - I'm All Right, Jack, after all you've got to look out for Number One. Trade unionism stands foursquare against this mindset. If BA's cabin crew earn more than those employed by other airlines, blame should be laid at the door of those responsible for its privatisation. They're the ones who would have had the greatest part to play in setting terms and conditions.
Cheap travel is good. Cheap travel through someone else getting the shaft is not good. It's a form of slavery. Perhaps it's time for British Airways to behave in a British manner, and exhibit a British sense of fair play.

It Is To Be Hoped...

that these gentlemen will soon be familiar with the collected works of Percy French, Val Doonican and The Dubliners, and be able to sing 'Come home, Paddy Reilly, to Ballyjamesduff' in suitable whisky tenor mode.
I wonder whether Paddy O' Shaughnessy was up in court at the same time.

Juvenile Justice

I would be inclined to agree with David Aaronovitch, were it not for the fact that he has excluded two of the main differences between the nature of juvenile justice as it is understood in the UK and as it is understood in Norway.
In the UK, we have two things the Norwegians don't have. The first are baying mobs surrounding prison vans. Such mobs are a stock type of literature; in Westerns, they're the type of people who form lynch mobs in front of the sheriff's office occupied by John Wayne or Robert Mitchum. In the movies, Wayne and Mitchum usually punch out the ringleader before telling the rest of them to go home and sober up; our mobs could easily be discouraged by truncheons, watercannon, and a spot of light kettling, something the British police are good at doing to you if you're a newspaper vendor trying to get home. However, these vengeful mobs of natural born howler monkeys now seem to be an integral element of the criminal justice process. That doesn't say much for the general health of British civilisation.
The second is the Murdoch press, Aaronovitch's own paymasters, an entity never shy of a half-literate, inarticulate, and sentimental exclusive interview with anyone on the periphery of a cause celebre. These two factors will always work against an enlightened aproach to juvenile offenders, even child offenders. For them, it will always boil down to short, sharp shocks and as long a stretch of jailtime as possible. In the case of the Murdoch press, it even extends to what, in my opinion, amounts to subversion of subsequent process unconnected to the original offence.
We can be a brutal and unforgiving lot, we British, even to the extent of making demons of children. The unworldly failure of Maggie Atkinson, the Children's Commissioner for England and Wales, to understand this fact, an essential parameter of the system she administers, means that she shouldn't really be in post. It was not what she said that's the problem. It's what she just doesn't seem to know that's the problem.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Cybernats

The Scottish civic nationalist establishment disowns the less reputable type of 'cybernat' as having nothing to do with them. We must take them at their word for that. However, appalling behaviours such as that indulged in by Alan Clayton do raise very real questions not just about Scottish civic nationalism, but civic nationalism altogether.
Any type of nationalism eventually leads to someone being discriminated against. Hold your breath, because I might just get pelters for what's coming next.
Although all racial nationalism is deplorable, on one level it is at least understandable, if only because it flows from imperfect human nature. Some people are naturally apprehensive of other people who don't look like them, or of those who speak with a different accent. It is one of modern history's sadder traits that minorities sometimes get persecuted. Whether or not it can ever be stamped out by legal process is another matter. In my view, the theory that it can is highly questionable. It must be opposed, that should go without saying, but whether it can be stamped out in a society of our stamp is beyond my power to suggest. Glasgow's courts have been unable to stamp out the spirit of sometimes violent territorialism expressed in those two short but deadly words, 'My bit'; people have died for not coming from 'my bit'. The idea that laws don't really help change behaviours on any level deeper than the highest intellectual heights might just explain why the Gospels are still the best guide to behaviour ever written. Stack them against any number of declarations of rights and they still come out on top.
However, what makes civic nationalism truly terrifying is precisely that it is an entirely intellectual construct. It says it can include everyone, and that's what makes it really terrifying.
Being a nationalism, it tends to exclude people, and will persecute people if given the time and opportunity. Racial nationalism excludes people because of what they look like or how they pray. Civic nationalism might just seek to exclude people because of how they think. In other words, if you don't get with the civic nationalist program then you might not be considered a 'true Scot', despite having been born here to Scottish parents and lived here all your life. Once one group of people proclaims for itself the right to define national identity, as the Scottish National Party does, then it's a very short step for it to proclaim itself the only legitimate national government, as the minority SNP Executive has done with its assumption of the soi-disant, ersatz title of 'The Scottish Government'. Contrary to anything else that might be happening, there has been no issue in Scottish politics since they did this nearly three years ago. Nothing else has mattered to anything like the same degree. This was a minority grouping throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of us, casting aside law and the rule of law in the process.
Having done that, it's again only a short step before they start persecuting people who won't get with the program, no matter what they look like or how they sound. One member of a family might be considered a 'true Scot', another not. While I try to live my life without attracting enemies, there are times when you have to acknowledge they exist; people you don't know who would stop you trying to oppose them. The most vociferous of the cybernats fall into that category.
Some readers will notice I've written about Scottish civic nationalism and the SNP before, but it's important and doesn't get anything like the degree of public comment that it should. The reason I get annoyed about this is the same reason I get angry at Rupert Murdoch's attempts to trample on Jon Venables's rights; both involved the powerful trampling on law and the rule of law. The law is made for man, not man for for the law, for sure; but a society with law, particularly law like ours, is better than the alternative, and infinitely better than government by 'The Sun'.
But once one group says 'Only we can make the law', then very dark days are ahead for us all. Given the SNP's track record, I wouldn't put it past them.

Getting Rid Of The Bishops

Could some please tell Mary Louisa Toynbee that we are not a 'secular country', but one which has been thoroughly de-Christianised? This has not been the result of a spontaneous epiphenomenon, but is instead the consequence of a policy of soft persecution, ruthlessly prosecuted.
To paraphrase one of her commentors, what has humanism ever done for us?

Female Art Students, Then And Now

"After a heavy raid with many casualties such as this one there was a task for which we were sometimes detailed from our FAP and to which both our Commandants disliked having to send us. This was to help piece the bodies together in preparation for burial. The bodies - or rather the pieces - were in temporary mortuaries. It was a grim task and Betty Compton felt that we were too young and too inexperienced for such a terrible undertaking - but someone had to do it and we were sent in pairs when it became absolutely necessary. Betty asked me if I would go as I had studied anatomy at the Slade - "
Frances Faviell recollects her experience of being a teenage air raid warden in Chelsea during the Blitz, quoted in the 'Faber Book of Reportage', ed. John Carey.
"Ms Arrowsmith has been preoccupied by politics even longer than by pornography, admiring Margaret Thatcher when she was a child. At St Martin’s School of Art her dissertation was called 'Towards a New Pornography' -
Profile of Anna Arrowsmith, aka 'Anna Span', pornographer and Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Gravesham, 'The Times'.

A Failed State Called England

Boris Johnson makes many of the same points about the teaching of classical languages as I did in an article called 'A Failed State Called Scotland'.
I wrote it three days shy of six years ago.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Timing

Another short thought regarding Margo MacDonald's 'Let's Give Big Jim Sillars A Get Out Of Jail Card' Bill currently being considered in the Scottish Parliament.
MacDonald has suffered from the Parkinson's Disease which she believes will eventually disable her for over 15 years. She has been a member of the Scottish Parliament for over a decade. She took the SNP whip for some of those, while sitting as an Independent for the balance.
She will presumably have had many opportunities to bring such a bill before Holyrood before now, but has failed to take them. Did she believe that it would have a greater chance of success under an SNP Executive?
I'm not suggesting for a second that this Bill may be some kind of false flag operation; but its timing is interesting nonetheless.

This Must Be Investigated More Closely

As fond as I am of Steven Purcell, who, I reiterate, was once quite a good friend for my part, this article raises questions which do not merely demand answers - they come to the door with Rottweilers.

Hell

This gentleman believes that Hell is grey polenta.
I've had some experiences which might be described as hellish - sometimes being unable to control my arms, for example. A very bad one, which may be a good one for connoisseurs of hellish experiences, is the first time you find yourself falling over when walking. That really puts the wind up you.
However, should the author of that piece be looking for a hellish crew to man his Battleship Polenta, I could suggest typos - such as the one which mis-spells his name in the article's URL.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Meaning Of Irony

Last night, 'Question Time' featured Kelvin McKenzie, formerly a promoter of topless darts contests, in a programme with an all-female audience in honour of International Womens' Week.
Go figure. No - don't mention figures! Doh!

Life In Free Scotland

The Tartanissimo stamps his Highland dancing shoes in rage at not being admitted to the top table with The Real People.
Know your place, little man, which is down at the bottom where you belong. You're a little man; and you shouldn't be where you have no place.
It is to be hoped that the broadcasting authorities go through him like last night's tikka masala over the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government's' sponsorship of Scottish themed broadcasting; 'Shortbreadgate', if you will. Such deep capture of propaganda tools would put Goebbels to shame.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Public Sector Productivity

Anyone who can publish editorials in both 'The Mail on Sunday' and 'The Sunday Times' on the same day, as Neil O' Brien, the director of Policy Exchange, did on 7th March 2010, must be a figure to be reckoned with; or perhaps not.
The fly in his ointment is the public sector, and how expensive and inefficient it is. Snore. While I'm sure he believes it, he's the latest addition to that long line which has stood in front of those who really matter in Britain and told them what they want to hear, that government is too big and the people have been spoiled. Such coming men come and go - indeed many have come and gone before it could be said that they've been and went.
His piece in today's 'Telegraph' seems to proceed from the assumption that the public sector is naturally more inefficient than the private. Never having worked in the public sector, I can only assume that his assumption must be incorrect. If the public services were as inefficient and loaded with time-servers as many of the businesses I have worked for, we'd be at serious risk of invasion by the Faroe Islands.
There is no way of measuring public sector productivity; and perhaps this is not a bad thing. After all, I'm not really interested in a doctor's productivity, but their professional competence. I'm not interested in how productive a nurse is, but in how capably she nurses. Our public sector takes a bad press, much of which may be deserved; but it's better than O' Brien's extremely reactionary alternative.
O' Brien...where have I heard that name before?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bravo

Kudos to Sir Simon Jenkins, a writer I'm not usually in the habit of agreeing with, over his analysis of the Jon Venables case.
And if Shami Chakrabarti doesn't have something to say about this soon, someone should contact Special Agent Jack Malone. Lord Lucan has a better publicist.

The Use Of The Law As A Medieval Torture Instrument

Instead of smoking it, those responsible for school administration in Fort Smith, Arkansas really need to get the dope on how to deal with disabled people. They are prosecuting an 11 year old autistic boy for being autistic.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Creative Destruction In The Public Services

Andrew Rawnsley's documentary 'Cameron Uncovered' on Channel 4 last night brought a familiar name to the front of mind.
Apparently David Cameron's speechwriter between 2006 to 2008 was a guy called Danny Kruger, now heading up a spaghetti hoop outfit called 'Only Connect'.
This is presumably the same Danny Kruger who was binned as the Tory candidate to stand against Tony Blair in 2005 for remarking that the Tories wanted 'a period of creative destruction in the public services'. Last night, David Cameron said that he wasn't very ideological. Aye. Whatever you say.

A Measure Of Sanity

How gratifying to see that Jack Straw and Elizabeth Butler-Sloss appear to agree with me about the need for Jon Venables's anonymity to be preserved. I wouldn't put it past Straw to be more heavily motivated by concerns about Jon Venables' health and safety than by his right to a fair trial, but Baroness Butler-Sloss probably knows more about this sort of stuff than any other British person breathing, I would guess. That her opinion can still be heard in the House of Lords is one of the best reasons I can think of for it not to be vandalised even more than it already has been.
Rare kudos also to Baroness 'Lady Gaga' Warnock, Mary Riddell, Sir Ken Macdonald and Raymond Tallis for speaking the self-evident truth. Thanks, folks. It was a long weekend.
How disappointing to see that Shami Chakrabarti CBE, youthful and often vocal professional civil libertarian, doesn't yet seem to have seen fit to comment upon the need for a vulnerable prisoner to receive a fair trial. Then again, speaking up for the rights of a child-murderer might court unpopularity. If she doesn't recognise just how deeply unpopular the idea that some British people should actually have civil liberties is in some quarters of the British population, she shouldn't be in the civil liberties business. I have previously stated my opinion that professional civil libertarians aren't really interested in protecting the liberties that you actually have, only those they think you should have. One of these days, I hope to see evidence that will help change it.
How disappointing to see that Keith Rupert Murdoch still does not seem to have been arrested - yesterday's coverage in the 'Scottish Sun' made reference not only to the nature of the allegations against Venables, but also to the apparent character and severity of the evidence. If that is not contempt, nothing is. That's the full two years under s. 15 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 right in front of you. If what they published yesterday is true - and it may not be - then Murdoch and his assorted gangs of bought-and-paid-for monkeys have pushed the journalistic envelope well beyond investigation deep into the territory of subversion. They do not believe themselves to be the reporters of the law - they believe themselves to be the law. There used to be a term for such behaviour - lese-majeste.
It is my opinion that Newskorp's pattern of behaviour means that it should not be considered to be a limited liability company, but a crime gang. There, I've said it. I feel better now.
Lest any member of the British press think I've been too hard on them over the last couple of days, then I would only like to say that your hypocrisy is astonishing. Whose identity - not 'privacy' or 'safety' - has the greater degree of protection under British law; Jon Venables's or Prince Harry's? Jon Venables, of course. Prince Harry isn't the subject of a lifetime anonymity order.
Yet when Prince Harry went to serve in Afghanistan, you all shut up of your own accord, stuffed rags in your mouths and did not publish a word of what you knew. Prince Harry is a brave young man, for sure, but in the capacity in which he was there he should have been subject to the same levels of reporting access as every other soldier in the army. If that can't be maintained, perhaps he shouldn't be in the army, if only because he has to serve under a different set of operational rules to everyone else. The fearless British press knew he was there, and said nothing. This wasn't 1936, when the King was causing public scandal with an unsuitable mistress. This was 2008, when deference is supposed to be dead. Does the threat of having Royal access withdrawn still carry some weight with the press? And if they are so respectful of the Queen's family, and acknowledge that what they do could put them at risk, then why have they sought to undermine a court order issued in her name, putting the person it protects at risk? And if they so respect the Queen and all she stands for, why haven't they respected the right of one of her subjects to have a fair trial in her name under her laws in her courts?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Richard Littlejohn On Michael Foot

While believing Andrew Marr's suggestion in his book 'My Trade', that Littlejohn probably possesses many more subtle views than he expresses, perhaps has a ring of truth, it's been difficult to find fault with his article on the late Michael Foot. It's true that there is a place for people like Foot in our system - there has to be, otherwise we can't consider ourselves to be civilised - but at the same token we should also ensure that wherever it is, it should absolutely nowhere near any position of responsibility.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A Taste Of Their Own Medicine

The British press is continuing its rampage through the rights of a life prisoner subject to an anonymity order. Should proof of its largely despicable character be required, the ferreting by some of Fleet Street's more animalistic ferrets into the reasons behind Jon Venables's reincarceration may suffice. Nobody in power is speaking out against this. Government appears to have surrendered control of the criminal justice system to the media. And all the while, Shami Chakrabarti is nowhere to be seen. This is not her finest hour.
The reactions to Venables's reincarceration are evidence of that deeply unpleasant strain in the British national character which makes us want to hang and flog our neighbours, to do violence to those more vulnerable than ourselves with fists and feet. Venables committed the only crime for which he ever seems to have been convicted at the age of 10. It was an appalling crime; yet it was also a very unusual crime. The murders of children by children are extremely rare events. British politicians have a very bad habit of interfering with the workings of the criminal justice system. If our politicians had followed their baser instincts unimpeded by the European Court of Human Rights, it is likely that both Venables and Thompson would still be behind bars serving whole-of-life tariffs. It would be very interesting to find out whether the UK has been defeated in the European Court of Human Rights more frequently than any other state in cases subject to political interference, and where the consequences of that interference form the grounds of appeal. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that were the case. While the European Court has some deep flaws, we should at least be very grateful that it has been our last line of defence against the likes of the venomous Michael Howard, who wanted two 10 year old boys to spend 20 years in custody.
What do those who seem to wish Venables exposed, or who complain about the veil of secrecy which surrounds him - or which should surround him, given that it's being eroded on a daily basis by the yellow journalism of the London gutter - actually want to happen? Do they want to see him stabbed in prison? Do they want to see him lynched by his neighbours? What do they want? Would they prefer to have seen him hanged at the age of 10? Is that what they really want? How anyone could think these things is beyond me, but from what one reads of what is being published about this case that seems to be the mood into which the largely despicable press is trying to whip the public; not that many British people seem to need much whipping into an ecstasy of excitement at the thought of violent death being visited on someone they don't know. After all, as well as being a murderer, he might be a paedo! A beast!
What is needed in this case is for the DPP to step in and threaten to prosecute not just the reporters, not just the editors, but also the senior management of media outlets for contempt of court for their coverage of this case; or any other competent charge that might be levelled at them. That last sentence was wrong; in this case there is no case. All that has happened in this case is that the life licence system seems to have worked like a ha'penny watch and a lifer has been returned to prison pending the resolution of other matters. That's it. It happens day in, day out. It is routine. OK, Venables might not be languishing like Edmond Dantes in the Chateau d'If, but neither is he a fire-breathing dragon in its lair. He did a very cruel and wicked thing when he was a young boy. He may have done very cruel and wicked things as an adult, but we have laws for dealing with such cases, and one of those laws is that we observe other laws. British newspapers, and the British public, are often very keen to have other people feel the full force of the law. It's time the press took a taste of their own medicine.
First up should be the top bananas at the 'Sunday Mirror' for publishing unconfirmed and unconfirmable speculation regarding the reasons behind this reincarceration. A prosecution could be mounted on the basis that every new prisoner in his late 20's in custody for alleged child sex offences will be assumed by other inmates to be Jon Venables. This is likely to lead to either injury or loss of life. Publication of these details should therefore be considered to be the English equivalent of conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.
Next up, it should be the turn of Keith Rupert Murdoch himself to be sitting in the dock, for chairing the company that has published an appalling piece of blathery, drivelling, saloon bar hackwork by one Eleanor Mills in today's 'Sunday Times' entitled 'Jon Venables had his chance'. The section that would, in a just world, have Keith facing the magistrates before being driven away in a Reliance van is,
"By breaching the terms of his licence and ending up back in prison, he has violated our trust. The anonymity order was there to protect him while he remained on the straight and narrow — and now that he is back in prison, we have the right to know what he has done."
This is factually incorrect. The anonymity order is absolute, and not conditional upon subsequent behaviour. We don't know if he's breached his licence. We don't know if he's guilty of anything, if only because he doesn't seem to have been tried yet. However, if Mills is suggesting that an anonymity order becomes null and void and thus become capable of being ignored because an anonymous person has been returned to custody, and that's the way I interpret what she has written, that is one of the most blatant, one of the most egregious, contempts of court in the history of British journalism. She is assuming that Venables has actually committed a crime - we don't know, and shouldn't know, if he has. We can't know until the law has run its course. The terms of an anonymity order are so sweeping that there might not be any legal way of knowing at all. Once more, with feeling - we don't know whether the reincarceration is the consequence of a conviction, or is an administrative step resulting from an allegation. As I wrote yesterday, the only thing we know is that the life licence system has worked in this case. That's it. It's done what it says on the tin. Mills's contention seems to take no regard of the presumption of innocence. Doesn't News International have lawyers?
But as hard as it might be to believe, there's a very much more serious reason why someone should answer for what the 'Sunday Times' has done today. In their desire to get someone, anyone, to write about this case, they may have compromised any prosecution likely to flow from the circumstances under which Venables has been reincarcerated. Is Jon Venables likely to get a fair trial from any British jury that knows he's Jon Venables? Obviously not, otherwise he wouldn't be the subject of an anonymity order. Anyone who thinks that he would doesn't know very much about the UK's criminal justice systems, and probably doesn't know much about the British people. We are a vengeful breed; witness those howling gangs of free people who surround prison vans carrying suspects in notorious cases. All such mobs should be truncheoned and watercannoned until they disperse, something of a short, sharp lesson in the meaning of the words 'the presumption of innocence'.
If Venables's anonymity is compromised, my bet is that any prosecution he might be likely to face would be dropped on the basis that the mere fact of his identity having been revealed would be automatically prejudicial to a fair trial. Not only do Mills and her bosses not seem to know the law as it stands - they might just have done their bit to compromise future process. Mills whines at the cost of providing Venables with false identities; she might just have helped ensure that more public funds have to be spent to that end.
And let's just say for a moment, OK, maybe he has committed a crime - how are the interests of any such crime's victims served by the person responsible for that crime not being prosecuted? Our egostistical, lumpen, largely despicable press would not bat an eyelid at a prosecution failing because of press incompetence; they'd be blaming the judges while lining up to try get the victim to sell their story instead.
In the very recent past, a member of Newskorp's staff has been sent to custody for the very serious crime of illegally intercepting communications. In the UK, our laws on the disqualification of company directors are notoriously weak and unsatisfactory; in this country, you can get away with just about anything if you say you run a business - if your business is large enough, that is. However, we do have laws allowing for the recovery of assets procured from the proceeds of crime. I don't know whether Newskorp ever ran transcripts of illegally intercepted calls or used them as leads to get other 'stories', but if they did, then any profit they made from those stories should surely be recoverable under the proceeds of crime laws. If such violent profits are not recoverable, that's a state of affairs begging to be changed.
Many years ago, I acted for a pair of shopkeepers being prosecuted for a contravention of the food hygiene laws. They were both willing to plead guilty, but the prosecutor agreed to let one go free while the other went into the dock. I remember the words the prosecutor used to justify that position very clearly - 'Your client has to take responsibility for his business'. Well, if that philosophy was good enough for my old client it's good enough for Keith Rupert Murdoch. Nothing will change in the British media's toxic culture until those at its top are personally held to account for the irresponsibility of the outlets they control. They make the decisions, they draw the dividends, they get the political access; it's time for them to start taking responsibility.
A free press is a good thing. An irresponsible press is a calamity.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Jack Straw Is Wrong To Meet Denise Fergus

He is also equally wrong to make any revelation concerning why Jon Venables has been recalled to prison. The statement Straw has made regarding the reasons for the revocation of Venables's licence is outrageous. It is an attack upon the confidentiality granted by law to a prisoner; a person who for many other legal purposes is regarded as being vulnerable. It cannot stand. Where is Saint Shami Chakrabarti when you need her?
The individual currently in custody would only ever appear to be known as Jon Venables for the purposes of their supervision by the prison system and parole authorities. For better or worse, he has been granted lifelong anonymity. It is not known whether the conduct for which he has been returned to prison has resulted in a conviction; the BBC's quotation of the word 'allegations' suggests that it has not. Accordingly, the only insight that reports of his reincarceration can afford us are into the level of supervision which some of those who live under life licence must live under, and the rigour with which the authorities police life licence.
And it is wrong for Jack Straw to meet Denise Fergus. I can offer Mrs. Fergus no appropriate words of comfort other than that I know a mother who lost her son to a violent end; and no matter how old they are when they are taken or the manner of their passing, I know that that particular pain never goes away. No matter how much counselling is received, there is no manual to help deal with it.
However, as I wrote yesterday, in the UK justice is dispensed by the Queen's courts in her name and for the benefit of all; I should have written 'in her name, and in public, for the benefit of all'. After Thompson and Venables were sent down, the Bulger family had no locus in the case any more. The introduction of 'victim impact statements' into the criminal justice system is to be deplored. For all their faults, the British judiciary tends to be really quite good at hunting down the correct sentence for a particular crime. As the recent case of Munir Hussain has shown, when they do get it wrong they get pulled up for it pretty quickly. Our largely despicable press often likes to claim the credit for such victories, but they are victories for the system just as much as the original failures are failures of the system. Those who dispense justice have their own families; that the death of a child under any circumstances causes their bereaved parent pain and suffering should be considered to be a matter within judicial knowledge, and be allowed to rest at that. At least, that's what good taste and common sense might suggest. The victim impact statement is an assault on the impartiality of the sentencing process, and should be abolished forthwith.
If one feels that way, one cannot see why a minister of Cabinet rank, someone with no judicial function whatsoever, should be meeting with the parent of a crime victim. Justice has been done; it has been seen to be done; the case is closed. Where it becomes actively dangerous for Straw to meet with Mrs. Fergus is on account of his responsibility for administering the prison and probation services. Just as the victim impact statement assaults the impartiality of the sentencing process, meetings between those responsible for administering rehabilitation services and the families of their victims are assaults upon the penal process. Are the views of crime victims or their survivors to be heard not merely upon the level and nature of sentence imposed, but upon how sentence is carried out?
In the UK, prisoners are responsibility of the state. There is a great deal of talk, much of it idle and uninformed, of how 'cushy' prisons are - I stopped visiting them in the late '90's, and things may have changed since then, but by the time I'd done the rounds I'd been inside almost every male prison in Scotland bar Inverness and Dumfries, and had been inside the female prison as well, and the one insight you came away with from all of them was that you wouldn't want to spend a moment on the wrong side of the bars. Talk of cushy prisons is the ignorant populism of the saloon bar; for better or worse, we live in a country of law and the rule of law. What do those who speak of cushy prisons really want? The return of the treadmill? Rockbreaking? The law dictates that prisoners be treated in a certain way. If you don't like it, campaign for the law to be changed. If the government won't change the law, campaign to change the government.
It is possible, perhaps even probable, that Venables has been returned to custody on account of allegations entirely unrelated to his original crime - if nothing else, Mrs. Fergus might hopefully be able to see that, in this case, the system of life licence seems to be working, and perhaps draw some comfort from that. If she does meet with Straw, then she should remember that although he might utter sincere words and might even believe them, he is a politician and his real priority is re-election. That's all he really cares about.

Charles Moore On Michael Foot

Margaret Thatcher's Old Etonian biographer suggests that Michael Foot was a passive agent of the KGB. His source is a conversation with Col. Oleg Gordievsky, CMG, KGB (Retd.)
And we all know what a credible and reliable witness Old Uncle Oleg is.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Boris Vorderman

Last night's 'Question Time' featured Boris Johnson, Conservative Mayor of London, and Carol Vorderman, described as a 'columnist and broadcaster' and apparently now advising the Conservatives on maths.
Those of us with memories longer than that of an average blowfly remember Ms. Vorderman as a quiz show hostess, albeit one with an exceptional facility for mental arithmetic. Last night, she sounded like the worst kind of female recruitment consultant, juiced up on a lifetime of Daily Mail editorials and chewing the chip on her shoulder for strength. All that was missing was 'The Ride of the Valkyries' blasting over the soundtrack.
In one of those dopamine-fuelled fits of embarrassment that occasionally overtake me, I had to get up and leave the room when she started talking about Jon Venables and how James Bulger's family has a right to know why Venables has been returned to custody. I'm sure that this will offend someone somewhere, and that's not my intention; however, the state of British civic education seems to be as dire as that of maths instruction, so a few home truths should be pointed out.
Any victim of crime, or their relative, who says they want 'justice', either for themself of their relative, after an accused person has been convicted should be taken to task. They have had justice. In the UK, we do not have personal justice. Justice is dispensed in the Queen's courts in her name and for the benefit of all. Politicians interfere in the criminal justice process all the time, usually to court public popularity with our largely despicable press or else to extend their own power. Our judges sometimes sentence in a way we don't like. However, just as the British state retains a monopoly on force, so too does the British state retain a monopoly on justice. It is only the fact that British justice has largely been so fair over the course of our history that causes us to be shocked by miscarriages of justice. If you don't understand that, you don't understand justice, and what you want is the anarchy of vengeance. And if a superannuated quiz show hostess who came to prominence by being told 'I'll have one number from the top line, Carol, and you pick the rest' by complete strangers gives you succour then she, however unwittingly, is also advocating the anarchy of vengeance as well.
Strong words, perhaps; but having seen a miscarriage of justice take place before my eyes and been powerless to stop it, and also having represented child offenders, I do speak from a position of some knowledge.
Watching Johnson and Vorderman together made me wonder what the two of them would look like combined - a New Model Tory, 'Boris Vorderman', a buffoonishly populist arithmetician and classicist who runs London from a TV studio. Maybe Lord Ashdelson - sorry, Lord Mandelcroft - sorry, Lord Ashcroft owns a genetics lab deep in the jungles of Belize where such a figure is being engineered at the moment. Stranger things have happened; for example, William Hague seems to have been told of Mandelcroft's tax status a decade ago, and promptly forgot all about it. Maybe that baseball cap was not just a lame attempt to capture the youth vote, but was in fact helping to keep his brain in. And in less than six months, these guys might be the government. Arise, Baroness Vorderman of Vowel-on-Consonant!
O Brave New World, that has such people in it.

The Intergenerational Crisis

I didn't catch all of 'Newsnight's segment on inter-generational tensions last night - however, let's just say that if the three young people putting forward the case for the young are representative of those engaged in this debate, then it is one of absolutely no relevance to any young person living on a sink estate anywhere in the United Kingdom.
There is no such thing as inter-generational warfare - there is only an incipient civil war brewing among the rich. And Britain's young rich are an exceptionally dangerous breed; having been brought up to place themselves at the centre of the universe, without any sense of religious belief, charity or noblesse oblige, it would not surprise me if they were among the most consistent advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide. They want the goodies - and they want them now. Keep your meds locked up tight, Gramps.

'The Guardian' - Shilling For The Boss Class

"The argument that foreign workers are "taking the jobs of British workers" is very short-sighted. If Britain has a shortage of skilled workers, migrants are needed to fill these positions"...
"Britain has failed miserably to cultivate essential skills among its own population. " -
Someone named Christina Meredith, 'Comment is Free'.
"That the natural increase of the number of labourers does not satisfy the requirements of the accumulation of capital, and yet all the time is in excess of them, is a contradiction inherent to the movement of capital itself. It wants larger numbers of youthful labourers, a smaller number of adults. The contradiction is not more glaring than that other one that there is a complaint of the want of hands, while at the same time many thousands are out of work, because the division of labour chains them to a particular branch of industry" -
Karl Marx, 'Capital'.

Globalisation May Be Dead...

but its advocates refuse to let it lie down.
The author of the brainless screed to which the above hyperlink is attached seems to have swallowed the line pushed by Goldman Sachs that having an income of between £6,000 and £30,000 a year qualifies you as being middle class. Only a toff could spout such rubbish.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Wife

I was thinking again about a post I wrote a couple of days ago about Margo MacDonald's inappropriate comments regarding the English DPP's directions on 'assisted suicide' (Scottish joke - I was not on my way homewards at the time).
I remain unshaken in the belief that Debby Purdy's activism for the advance of assisted suicide in England and Wales is motivated by her desire to spare her husband from possible deportation to Cuba; a fate that he would risk if he 'helped' her die under the current law.
Could MacDonald also be motivated by the desire to spare her husband, ex-SNP MP Jim Sillars, from the risk of prosecution should she desire to slip off into the great goodnight with a single malt, Mahler on the iPod and a little bit of TLC? Could it be the case that in the bright new Scotland, the prospect of one of Scottish civic nationalism's heroes getting banged up for helping another kill themself is just too horrible to contemplate?
I hope that's not the case - if it were true, civic nationalism's corruption would be worse than even I imagined. It would mean that we would have reached the stage of passing general laws for private purposes; in such a case as MacDonald's, providing a front-ended amnesty, the legal equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.

A Welcome Return To Form

Naomi Klein has once again done history a service and busted the embryonic myth that Milton Friedman was behind Chile's apparently quite stringent building code.

The Re-incarceration Of Jon Venables

As unsatisfactory as it might be, or might seem to be, Venables has been granted lifetime anonymity. Accordingly, it might have been better for all concerned if news of his re-incarceration had not been reported.
It is difficult to see what 'public interest' is served by this news. The media's interest in dredging up scandal and salacious news stories is served, for sure. The authoritarian tendencies of our current government, desperate to get one over on the European Court of Human Rights which dictated that this prisoner be released in the first place, are well-served, and Alan Johnson seems prepared to stoop to the cheapest populism to serve them. But any actual 'public interest'? I'm not so sure.
Even if Venables murders again, his anonymity is guaranteed. For better or worse, that's the end of the story.

Flat Tax - Good For You, Not For Me

As I think I've said elsewhere, any attempt to introduce a flat tax in the UK, or indeed any meaningful tax reform, would be likely to be thwarted by the enormous lobbying power of those who make their livings providing tax advice - the solicitors and accountants.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Steven

Steven Purcell, once quite a good friend for my part, has resigned as Leader of Glasgow City Council due to ill-health.
He has my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

The Extent Of Conservative Desperation

It will be a bad day in Tory HQ when the thought of throwing Ashcroft to the wolves may be being entertained; which it will be if an investigation into his affairs is begun. Unless, of course, the plan is for him to be appointed Business Secretary in a Tory government at some point.
After all, if Mandelson can return to government after having had to resign over a mortgage application, what's a little lack of clarity over your tax affairs between friends?

The Television Licence Fee

Watching 'Newsnight' last night, I was astonished by the violence with which Kelvin McKenzie, former Murdoch editor, former promoter of topless darts contests, and perhaps now mere private citizen, attacked the licence fee.
I have a suggesion for this debate - instead of either abolishing it, and thus killing the BBC, or restricting it, why not link it to income? People on Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance and Incapacity Benefit would watch free, people on minimum wage would pay £1.00 per month, and so forth on a sliding scale up to people earning in excess of, say, £500,000 per year paying £100.00 per month. To my mind, this would be both socially equitable, and likely to result in greater revenues.
As imperfect as it is, the BBC has to stand, lest the Sky fall down upon it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Assisted Suicide Nationalism

Margo MacDonald, a lifelong Scottish nationalist, has criticised the English DPP's recent guidelines on 'assisted suicide', describing them as 'neither clear nor equitable'.
The need to keep her happy - possibly a full time job in itself - maybe wasn't at the front of Keir Starmer's mind when he put pen to paper. On the other hand, as a lifelong Scottish nationalist, I would have thought that MacDonald would regard the English guidelines as an English matter, and not one upon which she would feel the need to comment - unless she has abandoned Scottish nationalism in favour of Nationalism For People Who Want To Put Down Like Lame Horses, 'Wha's Like Us?' mutating into 'We're All In The Same Boat'.

IQ And Religion

There seems to be a trend in IQ science towards saying that smart people end up atheists.
Those whom John C. Wright reports as describing themselves as 'brights' are really just incarnation of the group of characters whom CS Lewis created as 'clevers' in 'The Pilgrim's Regress'. The intellectual narrowness produced by watching test tubes spin round all day long, or by trying to understand bad philosophy, or, in the case of PZ Myers, looking down a microscope, or, in the case of Richard Dawkins, trying to work out why one chicken eats before another, is such that they might just not get the irony.
To paraphrase Chesterton, the poet never goes mad trying to get his head into the heavens, while the logician goes mad trying to get the heavens into his head. To paraphrase Chesterton again, one of the best arguments against the printed word has been the amount of bad philosophy written in Germany since Guttenberg cranked up the gizmo.

Revisiting Protectionism For Banks

An apparent volte-face by the IMF regarding the application of capital controls (bad yesterday, not so bad today) reminds me not only that they can be useful in stemming the phenomenon of 'capital flight', one that would never affect the UK, but also that in the absence of trade and employment protections for national producers and workers they are nothing but protectionism for banks.

Lord Taxcroft

Tax - it's good for you, but not for me.
One of the best things about being Caesar is that when you're rendering to Caesar, you get to set the rate.
The appearance of this story could be indicative of just how desperate the Conservatives are. We live in hope.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Let Them Drink Whisky

In a post of 28th November 2009 entitled 'The Cochabamba Samba In Coatbridge', I suggested that an independent Scotland would be run with such a staggering degree of financial incompetence that it would be compelled to privatise the water supply.
Well, lo and behold - The Tartanissimo's minions have been holding talks with Macquarie, during which 'the sale of Scottish Water was discussed'.
Robbing the poor to pay the rich, and plotting to take their water, the one thing they have in abundance, from them for a few coins - so Tartan Tory, so very Scotch.
"...actual liberty was a stranger here ... our Scottish heroes of old savour a little of the Poles at present: they fought for liberty and independency, not to their country, but to the crown and the grandees." -
"By the Union with England, the middling and inferior ranks of people in Scotland gained a compleat deliverance from the power of an aristocracy which had always oppressed them - "
Adam Smith, 'The Wealth of Nations', V.iii.89 (Oxford, 1976), P.944.

Some Thoughts On The Nature Of Patriotic Duty

David Cameron has said that he considers it to be his 'patriotic duty' to defeat Gordon Brown.
In the past, Cameron has not felt it to be his patriotic duty to provide a straight answer when asked, in so many words, whether he had ever contravened the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. He has not felt it to be his patriotic duty to volunteer to serve in wars he has helped enable.
For him, the gaining of power is a patriotic duty. It might be silly to think this, but his use of that phrase makes one wonders just how readily Cameron would be prepared to accept electoral defeat; and if not, just what steps he and those behind him would be prepared to take.
This is not our grandfathers' Conservative Party we're dealing with.