Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Abolition Of Legal Aid In Scotland

It's with some relief that one can take a break from writing something about Scotland that doesn't involve either condoms or football referees, and get back to one's usual pastime of knocking the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government'.
The Tartanissimo has decreed that sheriffs will no longer have the power to grant Legal Aid in solemn criminal cases, this power now reverting exclusively to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. My own recollections of dealing with that body mainly involve feeling a very strong sense of frustration, my imagination conjuring up an image of banks of semi-literate 16-year old clerkessess, upon whom the enormous power of determining whether those with rights would be able to exercise them had been bestowed indiscriminately and without accountability.
I am sure that the SLAB under which the hopes of justice held by a generation of Scots has been buried is managed as efficiently as it can be. It owes its existence, and the consequent pay and perks of those who work within it, to the ideologically driven, power mad philosophies of the Thatcher government - SLAB could almost be an avatar of that government's centralising tendency, a tendency criticised so thoroughly by writers as diverse as Norman Davies and Simon Jenkins. There was nothing wrong with the pre-SLAB Legal Aid system; but it was administered by solicitors, those who used it, and as such it had to go.
And the last remnant of that system has now gone, and, from what I can see, for no reason other than spite and the desire to ingather power. Unlike what might sometimes have been the case in some local Legal Aid boards, the sheriffs have never had a financial stake in the success or failure of the Legal Aid system. Their wages get paid regardless of whether the accused has Legal Aid or not. However, in solemn cases they were able to determine whether a grant of Legal Aid was in the interests of justice. According to the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government', they aren't to be trusted with that decision any more.
The SNP do seem like such shits sometimes.

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Tories And Booze

These buggers really don't like the idea of low income people having a good time, do they?

Bloody ultras.


The Media Priorities Of The Catholic Church In Scotland

His Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O' Brien has put his name to an angry letter about climate change.
This is all well and good, but Scotland's Catholics have still to hear what he has to say about condoms, a subject on which the climate has changed dramatically over the past 10 days.
Or not. Maybe. Move along now! Nothing to see here! We have always been at war with Eastasia! We have never been at war with Eurasia!

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The Manuals

On this thread, I asked the question,
"(W)hy can't it be licit in order to keep a faithful, orthodox Catholic married person out of the divorce court when their spouses don't share the same degree of religious belief? In this scenario, is it more preferable for a Catholic to be divorced than to use a condom?"
This was the reply I received, from a student of theology -
"It can be. Prior to Vatican II, there were detailed manuals for priests hearing confession that dealt with all sorts of acts. They were very much in agreement about the following: If a Catholic woman sincerely wanted to follow the Church's teaching, but her husband (Catholic or otherwise) insisted on using condoms, and after trying for a long time to persuade him she concluded that he could not be persuaded, then it was licit for her to consent to sex with contraception. The reasoning was that the only other option was refusing to ever have sex with her husband, and this was more harmful to the marriage than the alternative. "
Do please read the whole thing yourself. If what has been stated as correct, then it would seem to be preferable for a sacramentally inferred state to be broken than to have to face the consequences of its conferment. This does just not compute.


Uncle Vince Is Toast

I give him a week.



Julian Assange

While Assange, the pronunciation of the first three letters of whose surname is phonetically clear while that of the last four is not, may have done public understanding of the Royal Family some service by publishing cables suggesting that HRH The Duke of York might not have the firmest grasp of the concepts of law and the rule of law, on the whole I really do fear for the chap's equilibrium.
It is always easy to shout 'Open government!' and 'Accountability!' in societies where government is both relatively open and accountable. I'd love to see how he would fare if he tried to publish Chinese diplomatic cables. Maybe he knows better than to frustrate his chances of living to a ripe old age. If that is the case, the public might perhaps, and perhaps not without good cause, be entitled to suspect him of cowardice.
From what one reads in the newspapers and sees on television, it seems not unreasonable to believe that Assange is a pain in the assange who is on a mission to frustrate the world's most powerful nation's diplomatic efforts. That the USA sometimes, perhaps even often, does bad things is a suggestion that I have often made on this blog. However, while it exists it has a right to be treated in the same way as any other nation, its communications entitled to the same privacy as those of North Korea or Zimbabwe. That there may be those in the USA who do not agree with that should not provide grounds for glorifying the ego of an Australian nerd. For when his memoirs come to be written, I'd be very surprised to read that his actions were motivated by love of truth, freedom, open government and democracy. My money would be on his prime motivation being the greater glory of Julian Assange.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Ever Falling Media IQ Of The Religious, Part III - The Thoughts Of Peter Kearney

As I wrote a few days ago, I have no desire to be the world's greatest moral theologian, nor do I believe I'm really under any duty to be. I do not need to be an aeronautical engineer in order to take a flight on an aeroplane, as I know that someone who's been examined to a high standard has done this work for me. Similarly, I don't need to be able to write computer programs in order to use 'Blogger', as I know that some smart person has already done the heavy lifting for me.
It is for this reason that I feel no real need to study moral theology in my own time, as I know that the clergy who lead and guide me in matters of faith and morals have been trained in this subject to their bishops' satisfaction.
However, the recent nature of the Pope's pronouncements on condom use have caused a number of disturbing questions to bubble to the top of my brain, and I expect I might not be alone in being disturbed. We have been told that, despite what the Pope has said about the use of the condom by an HIV infected male prostitute in order to prevent his clients from infection perhaps being the first step towards moral responsibility, the absolute prohibition in the use of condoms by married couples remains unaltered. These married couples will no doubt include some, perhaps many, where one spouse has a higher degree of religious faith than the other. In such marriages, the question of contraception can produce tensions. Now, there's something about what's happened about this week that affects marriages in this situation which, to my mind, should be addressed by those in charge of Holy Church as a matter of urgency; the question that needs to be answered is whether, given that couples in this situation cannot use the condom in order to maintain the peace of their homes, our Church might consider it to be preferable for marriages to break down and for a divorce to be sought rather than for condoms to be used.
I don't imagine it would be, and sincerely hope it isn't, but the problem is that my profoundly defective catechesis doesn't provide me with an immediate and credible answer. Which is more important, the preservation of a sacramental state, or the preservation of the rules applying to what should happen after it's been conferred? It is very sad for a person who wishes to be orthodox to have to ask these questions on the Internet. However, the bishops of Scotland have been silent on the issue. I would hope they don't consider it to be too trivial for discussion.
On the other hand, the Catholic Church in Scotland did score a significant victory in the final days of last week, the dismissal of Hugh Dallas and a number of other officials from the Scottish Football Association. If 'The Guardian' is to be believed, a confidentiality agreement, that most pernicious of legal confections invented for no purpose other than to enable evil to conduct business as usual, is in place. This is most unfortunate, for this is one of those situations where the public could do with a good lack of confidentiality on the part of all parties.
The email that Mr. Dallas is alleged to have sent was in poor taste. If he sent it, he has displayed a lack of judgment, a quality essential in a referee. Sadly, the lack of judgment displayed by a fellow referee who has admitted to lying about a contested penalty decision has been the root cause of this weekend's referees' strike. A while back, Matt Taibbi drew some flak for describing Goldman Sachs as 'a giant vampire squid wrapped round the face of humanity'. Mr. Taibbi was presumably speaking without much knowledge of society in the west of Scotland; if he has even heard of us, he would know that we've got two of them already, one called Celtic, the other Rangers. It was quite disgusting to hear the sound coming from Celtic Park yesterday, and to realise that all the good wee Celtic fans whose public narrative is that they're descendants of poor Irish Catholic migrants were enjoying an entertainment that could only be provided with the help of scab labour. This became even more disgusting when I recalled that Dr. John Reid, Celtic's chairman, was once a prominent Labour politician.
I have no idea whether Mr. Dallas bears any personal animus towards either Catholicism in general or the Catholic Church in particular. If that is the case, one can only imagine just how that opinion might have been shaped by having been struck on the head by a coin thrown at him by a Celtic supporter, albeit one from Coventry, at Celtic Park 11 years ago. Perhaps some of the 'sturm und drang' directed at Mr. Dallas by Peter Kearney of the Scottish Catholic Media Office might have been leavened if he had remembered that Mr. Dallas had been physically injured by a supporter of a football team, albeit one operated by a very slick public limited company, which at times seems to be more closely identified with Catholicism in the west of Scotland than is the Catholic Church itself.
Prior to playing Tommy Lee Jones to Hugh Dallas's Harrison Ford, Mr. Kearney's most high profile public pronouncement had been what in my opinion was a buffoonish outburst on the subject of the 'Hokey Cokey'. This was an example of media mismanagement as crass as the handling of the Pope's announcement last weekend, its only saving grace being that its subject matter was far less serious. It raised grave questions in my mind over his fitness for office, if only because he achieved nothing from it apart from holding Holy Church up to ridicule.
Mr. Kearney has published what is, in my opinion, a very self-serving editorial in today's Scottish edition of 'The Sunday Times' ('It's time to cut out the poison of sectarianism'). He writes of how he complained to the chief executive of the SFA, asking for 'urgency and transparency to be brought to bear' on its investigation of The Crimes Of Hugh Raskolnikov Dallas. I'm sure that he'll be as disappointed as I am to learn that a confidentiality agreement might be in effect, if only because if it's true, then any hope of transparency has just gone down the toilet. Worthily, he then goes on to complain about sectarianism.
Yet a terrible thought worthy of the most fraught conspiracy theorist occurred to me while reading it. If someone were faced with two options, one involving the hard work of explaining just what the Pope meant when he seemed to turn 40 years of Catholic teaching on its head, the other involving trying to deflect attention away from that by shouting 'Sectarianism!' about an already old story in the sure and certain knowledge that complaints about sectarianism from the Catholic Church and its officials in the west of Scotland will always be reported, which would they choose?
That, of course, is a question fit for a moral theologian. I'm not suggesting for a moment that Mr. Kearney and his superiors mounted this offensive as a means of deflecting public attention away from the previous remarks of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. I have no evidence for that. I find it impossible to believe that any responsible Catholic of good character would seek to direct the enquiring faithful's attention away from serious questions of faith and morals with a base appeal to historic grievance and ersatz communal victimhood. However, I have to confess that I find the timing of this development puzzling.
If Mr. Dallas has signed a confidentiality agreement, then I would have to think it unlikely that he would seek to bring the matter of his dismissal before an employment tribunal. This means, of course, that Mr. Kearney might be spared the ordeal of being cross-examined by Mr. Dallas's lawyers on why he, a person who has no public role in the administration of football in Scotland, took it upon himself to complain to Mr. Dallas's employers about a matter unrelated to football refereeing. That that encounter might not take place is, in itself, probably not a bad thing.
We could all do with a rest from sectarianism, proven, alleged or perhaps even non-existent, for a while. And after all, aren't we the ones who've been enjoined to turn the other cheek?


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Ever Falling Media IQ Of The Religious, Part I - In Scotland, When Catholics Are Confused, The Catholic Church Talks About Football Referees

I hope that Mark Shea, that finest of Catholic writers who's always in my prayers, understands that my adoption and adaptation of his tagline 'The Ever Falling Religious IQ Of The Media' is not a go at him, but it is the best available shorthand I can think of for describing the communications mess that our Church has found itself in over the past 96 hours; in my opinion a completely avoidable one, and one unwittingly engineered by its Pope.
What has staggered me, really floored me, about this is that it has exposed the depth of some Catholics' capacities for what seems to me to be groupthink. They all might be very much more well informed than me, in which case good luck to them, but at times it's been like watching the bit in the first 'Jurassic Park' movie where Sam Neill and the two children are walking across a meadow. Neill sees a group of dinosaurs all moving in one direction, and murmurs 'They're flocking'. The dinosaurs wheel towards them as one, and one of the children shouts 'They're flocking this way!'
Much has been made of how the Pope's comments were mispronunciated from German to Italian to English. Although I will fully admit to bearing a typically tedious, typically British node of gratitude that I don't speak German as my first language in the cultural background radiation of my psyche, I have nothing for or against the German language personally. I am told that it's a language of particularly deep richness, culture and subtlety, which perhaps explains why so many clerics like speaking it. On the other hand, it's also the language of men such as Liebniz, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, which maybe goes to show that you can talk crap in even the most beautiful of languages; and anyway, the best way for anyone, whether he be a pope or a pauper, to avoid causing confusion in any language is to stay silent.
What has got under my skin about this is that at bottom, I want to believe like a child. I want Heaven for my family and myself, but I have no desire to be the greatest theologian in the graveyard. I want my Church to tell me what is right and what is wrong, so that I can go out and use a God given skill with words to defend that position against the atheists and secularists to whom this change in such a previously firm position presents such an inviting open goal. Over the past few days, a teaching that was simple to understand but difficult to practice has become both difficult to understand and difficult to practice. I find this state of affairs, this introduction of unpredictability into the previously very predictable, to be very uncomfortable.
And in times of upset and unpredictability like this, I want to be pointed in the right direction by a Churchman - of which more in a moment.
My upset at this might stem from having received a defective catechesis. As a result of the religious formation I received in both state and private Catholic schools in the West of Scotland, I left that system knowing little of the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Nicene Creed, Transubstantiation, the Mystery of the Eucharist, the Resurrection, or the beatific vision. I did, however, know that I shouldn't ever use condoms; and I suspect I might not be the only product of that system in the same intellectual position. As a former pupil of St. Aloysius College, Glasgow's Jesuit school, it is entirely without irony that one can quote the president of the Aloysian Association, writing in 'The Flourish', the Archdiocese of Glasgow's monthly newspaper, on the 150th anniversary of the school's founding in October 2009, that '(t)he Jesuits saw their mission (to be) to produce an educated middle class from amongst the thousands of Catholics in the Glasgow area'.
If this was indeed their mission, history has shown it to have been one accomplished with an astonishing degree of success. One measure of it might be that in 1859, there were plenty of Jesuits in Glasgow but no Catholic middle class; in contrast, by 2009 Glasgow had a large and flourishing Catholic middle class, and very few Jesuits. Going somewhere in order to create a 'middle class' inevitably involves exposing your charges to materialism. It should come as no surprise if some of them later become materialistic. Some of the most assimilated Calvinists I've ever met have been Catholics.
But enough of what the Jesuits didn't do for their fees in days gone by. Thank God for God, that's all I can say. As I wrote a little while back, in times of crisis for the Church, such as this one, which is a bloody great crisis with the word 'Crisis' written over every visible surface of it, it would be nice to see a churchman leading from the front, firmly providing direction on simple matters such as what is the right way and the wrong way to behave. Thus far, I am unaware of any Scottish Catholic bishop having done that. It's not been 'The Silence Of The Lambs'; it's been The Silence Of The Shepherds.
He might already have done so, in which case I apologise, but I would have thought it appropriate for Keith Patrick Cardinal O' Brien, Scotland's most senior Catholic clergyman, to have stepped into the fray to clarify not only the nature of the Pope's original statement, but also of his clarification (see the post directly below for what I think of that particular morass). I intend no personal disrespect, but in the recent past Cardinal O' Brien hasn't been backward about coming forward when adding his name to a petition in support of the Lockerbie bomber, a convict whose abandonment of his appeal constitutes admission of his guilt. While the Lockerbie case was a horrible episode in Scottish history, it doesn't really have the same relevance, is really very less relevant, to the Scottish public's understanding of the Catholic Church's teaching on sexual morality as the Pope being translated as saying that it's OK for rent boys to use condoms. In Scotland, that's an area that is directly within Cardinal O'Brien's sphere of authority. It would be comforting to see him out front and centre, explaining the Pope's meaning to souls whose consciences have been disturbed by this, such as mine.
One of the most unattractive aspects of indulging in groupthink is that you're all so busy mentally flocking in the one direction in pursuit of abstruse dogmae that nobody's keeping an eye out for the simple answers that might be at the end of your noses. There's been a lot of complaint from the groupthink elements within the Catholic Church that the Pope's comments have been misrepresented. That might be true; however, one has to ask just what the Catholic Church is doing to dispel the misunderstandings to which such misrepresentations give rise. It is unreasonable to complain that you're being misrepresented when you aren't doing anything to correct it. Where are the bishops? Why aren't they on TV, aggressively defending our Church from misrepresentations? Have they gone into hibernation for the winter? Have they all retreated into their palaces like Galapagos tortoises into their shells, hoping and believing that it'll all soon blow over and that the question of condom morality can be safely revisited in the 27th Century? If that's what they think, that's not going to happen. This is too huge a change in direction to be addressed with the patronising, metronomic response that 'The Church thinks in terms of centuries'. Sadly, while the Church might think in terms of centuries, marriages don't last that long. More of them might have broken up over Catholic teaching on condom use than the bishops might like to imagine.
However, even when the Catholic Church cannot bring itself to comment upon a development which challenges what every Catholic in Scotland has been taught to believe, there is one area of Scottish public life of such gravity, such importance, that time and energy can always be devoted to commenting upon it. That activity is football.
Being a football referee is an odd hobby. The tendency of referees to dress in black and impose discipline on athletic young men suggests to me that the Christian Brothers of a harsher, less enlightened era might have lost more than a few vocations to the beautiful game. The psychological stranglehold, the deathgrip, that football exercises over Scotland will hopefully be broken by the imminent referees' strike. In a mad, Kafkaesque kind of way, wildcat industrial action by the last recognised authority figures in a nation in love with authority for its own sake will hopefully produce a collective public nervous breakdown as a result of which both Scotland and the Scots can be made anew.
However, on the day the Pope turned decades, if not centuries, of teaching on its head, a doctrinal bicycle kick if ever there was one, it is utterly dispiriting to see that the only mention of the Catholic Church on the BBC in Scotland yesterday related to the alleged emailing habits of a retired football referee. This is so piddling that 'de minimis' doesn't begin to cover it.
The Catholics of Scotland deserve better than this. The Catholics of everywhere deserve better than this.


The Ever Falling Media IQ Of The Religious, Part II - Undermining Your Own Missionary Efforts

The angle of the sudden downward spiral in my understanding of Holy Church's teaching on the use of condoms grew sickeningly steep today when I read that a clarification of the Pope's declaration had been published. I would like someone in authority in our Church to know that the easiest way of accessing this clarification was to enter the name of the Pope's spokesman into Google beside the words 'male prostitute', a most distasteful way of getting information about your Church's teachings, whatever they might actually be at this point in time.
Father Federico Lombardi is quoted this -
"I asked the Pope personally (blogger's note - possibly very tentatively, while concealing his alarm) if there was a serious distinction in the choice of male instead of female and he said 'no'," he said.

"That is, the point is it (the use of a condom) should be a first step towards responsibility in being aware of the risk of the life of the other person one has relations with," Lombardi said.

"If it is a man, a woman or a transsexual who does it, we are always at the same point, which is the first step in responsibly avoiding passing on a grave risk to the other."
My only thought on this is that this seems to undermine just about everything that our Church has been saying for at least the past 30 years to those people in sub-Saharan Africa whose communities have been decimated by AIDS, a horrible disease to which innocent people can be exposed and which just might, just might have been kept in check a little by the use of condoms. If there was a moral case for the use of condoms in 1980, whether as 'the lesser of two evils' or some other such casuistry, it should have been presented in 1980, not in 2010 and tens of thousands of corpses later.
If I am confused by this change of direction, then I can only imagine how those pious Africans who have driven down all those bush tracks, canoed down those rivers and endured all those bumpy and very dangerous rides on decrepit cargo planes, in order to do Rome's work and tell their fellow Africans that condoms were bad must be feeling. To undermine your own missionary work, to challenge the understanding of new Christians who have accepted what you have previously presented to them as an absolute truth, as today's 'clarification' might have done, would really be quite an achievement.


The Boomtown Rats

It is ironic to think that Ireland's economy should have been tanked by a property bubble inflated by a small band of Irishmen from a generation of Irishmen that grew up listening to a small Irish band called 'The Boomtown Rats'.
Boomtown rats, indeed. Those Irish newspapers we receive seem to show Finbarr, Clodagh and the rest of the TIMs (Those Irish who Matter) still partying like it's 1999; or 1920, in Omsk under the White government. If this episode teaches us nothing else, it's that Sir Bob Geldof was only ever the smallest boomtown rat in the sewer.


Sunday, November 21, 2010


So, let's see if I've got this right.
It can be licit to use the male prophylactic when engaged in immoral activity; but it remains illicit to use it when engaged in moral activity.
That really clears things up, doesn't it? We have always been at war with Eurasia! We have never been at war with Eastasia! Got that?
His Holiness Pope Benedict's XVI's ruminations on the doings of rent boys might have generated from a holy life of prayer and study, but they give little comfort to some Catholic family men who wish to be orthodox while also supporting families within economies designed to ensure that workers receive wages less than those upon which it's possible to support a family by one's sole efforts.
Having been sexually aware for nearly 30 years now, and having been told by my Church for all of that time that the old rubber sock is an intrinsic evil and an absolute no-no at all times and under all circumstances, it is to say the least disappointing to find out today that there may be exceptions to the rule, exceptions for which you - inevitably - don't qualify. You're a man who sells sex to other men? That's all right, you get a pass. You try hard to follow the rules, to the extent of putting obstacles in the path of your marriage and disrupting the peace of your home? To the back of the bus with you. And shut up while you're about it.
This is, in my opinion, a not unreasonable assessment of the changes to Catholic doctrine which seem to have been announced today, albeit in a rather irregular and ad hoc way. Oh, the CLOACA (Corps of Legally Orthodox Approved Catholic Apologists) has been out in force, with the sainted Father John Zuhlsdorf taking a break from posting pictures of his dinners and his bird table to get the herd back on to the reservation. Such is the natural reaction of the lesser spotted Catholic ultra when confronted with anything that deviates from their own rather backward philosophies of throne and altar.
Casual readers of this post might just get the impression that I'm more than a little angry about this - and they'd be right, on a number of different levels. We can forget all the 'mays' and 'mights' contained in the Pope's interview. That's just lawyerly shit, verbal cement you use to keep your sentences together when you're trying to keep your intellectual integrity while also trying to fly whatever kite takes your fancy. It is astonishing that such ass-covering language is used when the group under discussion is noted for its disinclination to follow suit.
I'll tell you who I'm angry for. I'm angry for all of those people who have felt compelled to lead unnatural, less than fully human lives in states of denial, in what the late Servant of God Fulton Sheen described as 'brother and sister marriages', becoming sexually inactive long before they probably had to, because they felt they had to do so in order to remain orthodox, and because nobody told them any differently.
I'm angry because this presents an open goal to the atheists and secularists I have spent my own time opposing. That's been my choice, but it's irritating when the institution you defend on your own account seems to cut the legs from under you.
But most of all, I'm angry for those orthodox, God fearing, God loving, Catholic married men who have lived all their lives with the stench of sin in their nostrils as they've made love to their wives. Some of these men might read today's reports and think that if it's good enough for the rent boys, it's good enough for them.
While one wouldn't necessarily agree with them, it would be very hard to blame them if they did.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grey Wolves

And so Lord Young of Graffham displayed our government's ultra right-wing character by announcing, in the depths of a recession, that people have never had it so good.
These ultras, these grey wolves, infest the Conservative Party. Iain Duncan Smith's another one. People say he's a nice guy - I see no evidence of it, either from his pronouncements or his initiatives.
Wherever in the world you are, your local ultra right-wing always possesses a very strong sense of class solidarity, while demanding that you have none. They are the last Marxists. They consider themselves to be at war with the rest of us, that their function is to rule while ours is to serve. I would not trust the Conservative Party not to turn the guns on the British people if it suited their purposes.

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Being A Good Neighbour to Ireland

I guess that will mean cancelling every benefit in Ireland's limited welfare state.


A Short Thought On The Acquittal Of Sergeant Mark Andrews

If by some miracle he survives his disciplinaries and remains in the police service, hopefully his superiors will have the lid screwed on to Sergeant Andrews so tight that the most productive service he'll be able to offer is teaching road safety to Primary 1's.
By the time he's done, he'll have been through more courses than Egon Ronay.


The Owl And The Pussycat

While the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler is obviously a great comfort to their families, one would hope that if the transitional government of Somalia has paid a ransom for them, when both it and the Somali people could find very many more practical uses for the money, the Chandlers will immediately set their minds to the task of paying it back in full; come hell or high water, so to speak.
Just as one had limited sympathy for those British people who ended up caught in the path of Hurricane Katrina - after all, what right-thinking person goes on holiday to a hurricane zone at the height of the hurricane season? - one can only really have limited sympathy for people who take a pleasure cruise into waters that they either knew or ought to have known were infested by pirates.


Monday, November 15, 2010

'Political Innovation Scotland'

This was the title of the event I attended in Edinburgh on the 13th, organised by Mick Fealty and Paul Evans of 'Slugger O' Toole'. It was an extremely interesting and stimulating day, marred only by having to leave a little earlier than anticipated in order to accomodate my brain biochemistry.
Actually, I did pretty well on that score on the day, given that I'd been on the road since 06.30 and was spending some hours in the company of a lot of brand new faces. I even managed to string together a few sentences in intelligible English, descending into palilalic burbling only once, and that near the end of the day.
Many very interesting points were raised throughout, particularly at the plenary session. I might be wrong, but I couldn't but help get the vibe that perhaps some participants still have a slightly mystical view of blogs, blogging and their potential to effect change. Being firmly of the view that a blog is only ever as powerful or effective as the person who writes it, I have to put myself foursquare behind James MacKenzie, of the 'Two Doctors' and 'Better Nation' blogs, who remarked, with admirable frankness, that the potential of blogging to be a driver of change can be overstated.
It was also very interesting to hear Mick describe the depth of penetration that 'Slugger' has achieved, on its own Northern Ireland patch, amongst Stormont MLA's, despite having a readership very much smaller than the audience of any radio show. It immediately occurred to me that there is a very good reason why that should be the case - it's because ratings figures for radio shows are absolutely no measure of whether they are being listened to, while one must make a conscious choice to read a blog. You can turn the radio on and off whenever you like, but the investment of time required to turn on a PC, wait for it to crank up, etc., in my opinion makes you very much more likely to be selective about those blogs and websites you engage with regularly. If, as Mick says, over 90% of MLA's are reading his blog then that's an outstanding tribute to his reputation as an observer of, and commentator upon, Ulster's public life. When you've got that sort of reputation, who needs to be on the radio?
All in all, a thoroughly interesting day, and my apologies to those very many interesting people who said interesting things I'm afraid I don't have time to quote, and my thanks to Mick and Paul for inviting me. They are holding a similar event in Belfast on 20th November - if you're over there, attend it if you can.
But you'll probably already have read about it on 'Slugger O' Toole'.


Saturday, November 13, 2010


Some weeks ago, I wrote a post about Pat Kane. Although what he had said on 'The Review Show' had enraged me, what I wrote was just rude.
Earlier today, I heard him speak at an event in Edinburgh, about which I'll blog soon. However, it occured to me that while I might not agree with what seems to be Mr. Kane's brand of intellectualism, and while I most certainly do not agree with what seem to be his views on the clergy, the man is flesh and blood, and entitled to the same degree of respect as the rest of humanity. Sometimes it takes a long, long time for the penny to drop, and in this case the original post was yet another of those lapses in Christian charity to which I am uncomfortably prone.
So it has gone, with my apologies for any hurt it might have caused.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Short Thought On The Free Trade In Ideas

The coalition government's plans for 'free schools' comes from Sweden.

A policy on care has been borrowed from Japan.

The measures on accountability announced last week seem to originate in the United States.

This is terrifying, for it indicates an unwillingness on our government's part to think for itself; indeed, it might suggest an inability to formulate any type of rational thought other than that found in the kind of extremely small, ultra right-wing circles our government's leaders seem to move in.

Case in point - The Chingford Slaphead wants long term benefit claimants to be sent out to sweep leaves, or to clean the public lavatories with cotton buds, for a pound an hour. Whatever is proposed, it will be intended to be as demeaning and humiliating as possible for those doing it. All good grist for the right-wing mill thus far - but will the Disability Discrimination Act apply to this scheme? What about those who can't do manual labour? Will they have their benefits cut anyway?


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Sunday, November 07, 2010


I haven't had much time to blog recently, but the title of this post struck me as being appropriate for a Hollywood musical comedy about the life of John Wayne Gacy, the notorious serial killer of young men.
It is unlikely that such a movie would ever be made, of course; which makes the recent release of 'Burke and Hare', a jolly romp about those two laugh-a-minute serial killing scumbags who terrorised Edinburgh 200 years ago, all the more surprising.
It's been billed as a return to the grand tradition of Ealing comedy. One of Ealing's most famous efforts was, of course, 'Kind Hearts and Coronets', the principal protagonist of which was a serial killer. 'Kind Hearts', was, of course, markedly different from 'Burke and Hare', in that it was fiction from start to finish. 'Burke and Hare' tries to find comedy in all too real life violent death, suffered at the hands of evil men in the wynds and vennels of Scotland's capital city. It may have happened a very long time ago, but it still happened, and it's grossly disrespectful to those who died at the hands of Burke and Hare to make money from it or try to get a laugh out of it.
In the title roles, it stars Andy Serkis, who always puts on a good turn, and Simon Pegg, who, in my opinion, doesn't. Mr. Pegg might care to consider how well a movie comedy about the lives of Fred and Rosemary West might be received in his own home town of Gloucester. He might then understand how some Scots might be just a little put out by a comedy about the murder of Scots. I'm sure that not all of us will be, but hopefully he will exercise a little more discernment when picking his projects in the future. And I would love to see how the scriptwriters deal with what was the pivotal moment in the criminal careers of Burke and Hare, when Hare turned King's Evidence on Burke to save his own neck. They might be doing it with a Bollywood dance number. When you're making comedies about serial killers, it's not a matter of 'anything goes'; everything has already been and went.
However, 'Burke and Hare' does have at least one unique distinction among serial killer comedies; John Landis, its director, was once charged with manslaughter himself. Although acquitted, he was done for violating the State of California's child labour laws. Yes, folks, you did read that correctly - child labour laws. Those children to whom Landis owed duties of care were unable to speak to the harm his breach of those duties caused them, for they were, at that point, dead. I'm sure he's a brilliant director.
Coming to a theatre near you - 'The Hillside Stranglers - The Hollywood Years!' And if you believe that, you'll believe anything.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

David Davis And The Right To Strike

There are very few occasions when one should be grateful for David Cameron's leadership of the Conservative Party, but this is one of them.
It's unfortunate if travellers and holidaymakers are inconvenienced by striking airport workers. On the other hand, they could take their holidays at home.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Voting By Prisoners

I turned off 'Question Time' even faster than usual last night, just after St. Shami Chakrabarti seemed to state that the public is protected from violent criminals by their incarceration, but not by denying them the vote.
My own opinion of this lady is one I have long expressed, namely that she is an over-honoured, if extremely telegenic, minor public policy celebrity who did the cause of civil liberties no good by seeming to go to ground when those of Jon Venables, one of the country's most vulnerable prisoners, were being trampled over by that gutter element of the British press which itself most properly belongs behind bars - but with that statement last night, she excelled herself. It was either turn off the TV or put my foot through the screen at that point, so I do hope that some other panellist, or some member of the audience, pointed out to her that the public requires to be protected from enfranchised prisoners; if only because their possession of the franchise would give them the ability to influence penal policy. A well-known aphorism referring to the role of lunatics in the management of asylums springs to mind.
Duh, Shami. Duh.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Ramblings Of King Tampon The First

HRH The Prince of Wales, the only heir to the British throne to have been caught expressing a desire to be transformed into a sanitary towel, has a book coming out. Co-written with Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly, it's entitled 'Harmony: A New Way of Looking at the World'.
Richard Girling savaged it in last week's 'Sunday Times'. King Tampon apparently thinks we should eat less meat, as Girling says '(f)or health reasons in this age of obesity and heart disease'. I hope King Tampon doesn't either make or seek to make any money from selling meat raised on his estates. And speaking of meat, I'll have mine well done, with onion rings and ketchup, thanks.
However, King Tampon is also apparently worried about population growth, wondering whether "it is not time we came to a view that balances the traditional attitude to the sacred nature of life on the one hand with, on the other, those teachings within each of the sacred traditions that urge humankind to keep within Nature's benevolence and bounty".
If I didn't know better, I'd think that was a very nice way of saying 'It's the needle in the arm for you, vermin, so shut up and die and then the real people will be able get back to enjoying the place'. But of course I know better.
It's not often that one misses the ecclesiastical administration of Tampon's old antagonist, the late Thomas Joseph Cardinal Winning, sometime Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow - in my experience, His Eminence could both uplift and jar in equal measure, sometimes in the same breath - but it's a pity he's not around now right now, because TJ, God rest his soul, would have ripped Tampon any number of new orifices for that one.
And he'd be quite right to do so. My interpretation of that quote is that Tampon wants organised religion -the typically foggy use of foggy, soggy expressions such as 'sacred traditions' indicates a lack of clarity about the nature of religion from someone who's going to be the head of their own church one day - to provide a theological fig leaf for population control. If that were to be the case, then sadly it would indicate that King Tampon's views on religion are identical to those of his relation King Henry VIII, that it's there to help underpin your policies and justify the pursuit of your goals. One can only thank God that we are now a constitutional monarchy. Being beheaded on the orders of an absolute monarch who talks to his plants would just be embarrassing.
Lest I be carted off to the Tower, I am, of course, kidding - sort of. When the time comes for him to ascend the throne, I will give my King the allegiance he deserves. I hope that time is a long way off yet, because I think that HRH The Prince of Wales is neither a fit nor proper person to be King. He is way too shopsoiled, and gobby with it. Having only ever led a life of conspicuous consumption, it is rank bad manners for him to prey on others' good manners by lecturing them about their lifestyles, or about how much carbon they use, or about what they should or shouldn't be eating, or about whether or not they should be breeding. Let us hope he makes a good fist of being King, and adheres to his Coronation Oath; although that might be asking too much, given the trouble he had with his first set of marriage vows.

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