Thursday, March 25, 2004

2004.113 A canard perpetuated 

I hereby make an award for the stupidest journalistic remark of 2004 (so far). The Times has acquired a brand new columnist for its T2 tabloid-sized insert. His name is Robbie Millen, and his first puerile effort appeared today under the heading Proud, passionate and pointless. The last word was certainly appropriate. Judging by the accompanying drawing of Robbie’s head, he is aged about fifteen. His style of writing corresponds. Why does he have to call himself something as silly and childish as Robbie? Why can’t he use his grown-up name, which I assume is Robert? Well obviously because he isn’t grown up. (I wrote about this sort of nonsense in FBBB53.)

Robbie’s award-winning foolish remark is: ‘In 2000, Britain’s best universities were snobbily snubbing children from state schools (remember Laura Spence?)’. Well certainly I remember Laura Spence. I remember that she was conspicuously not snubbed by Oxford’s Magdalen College. I also remember that Gordon Brown attracted infamy by falsely suggesting that she had been. I wrote about it in my weekly In Parliament column, and also in my book The Blight of Blairism. Let me rehearse the story for the benefit of Master Robbie and those who employ him.

The House of Lords debated higher education on 14 June 2000. They considered what to do about Government Ministers who play around in this area for crude political reasons The problem was perceived to centre on Gordon Brown’s prevarications concerning the comprehensive school pupil Laura Spence. Lord Skidelsky referred to the Chancellor’s ‘recent clumsy attempt to make a class-war issue of the Oxford selection system’. Ken Baker, former Conservative education secretary, spoke of Gordon Brown’s ‘infamous’ attack on Baker’s old Oxford college, adding as respects the President of Magdalen’s wining and dining of this man to explain to him what Oxford was doing to widen participation in its courses: ‘if you invite the Chancellor to dinner, remember that he bites the hand that feeds!’ Lord Baker went on: ‘He got his facts hopelessly mangled. Of the five students accepted at Magdalen, two came from state schools and three from ethnic minorities.’ That was all the college had room for. Which of them did Brown suggest should have been discarded in favour of Miss Spence, who had not even taken her A-levels?

The then Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Jenkins, weighed in about what he called Chancellor Brown’s ‘little blitzkreig on Oxford’. He identified the historical event which Brown’s attack most closely resembled as Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution in China. This, said the other Chancellor, was designed to achieve not any practical result but just to stir things up for political purposes, to spread unease and to create damage - which took a lot of repairing. Lord Jenkins added: ‘Mr Brown’s diatribe was born of prejudice out of ignorance. Nearly every fact he adduced was false’.

The Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords said there must be no question of governments, or agents of government, deciding which individuals should or should not be admitted to particular universities. Baroness Young said Gordon Brown’s attack was ‘extraordinary and intemperate’. It was ‘utterly disgraceful’ to use a young girl in this way. Oxford, said she, will not lower its standards, and should not be ashamed to be élite. ‘We surely do not want third-rate institutions of any kind.’

Baroness James of Holland Park (the novelist P D James) agreed that the Laura Spence affair was a scandal, though not in the sense Mr Brown intended. She added-
‘We have to assume that rational men intend the natural results of their actions. This means that the Chancellor, to propitiate those members of his party who require regular skirmishes of the class war to satisfy their passion for social indignation, and perhaps to pursue some private ambition, deliberately insulted one of the world’s greatest universities, slandered a distinguished academic, and, perhaps most serious of all, put back, perhaps for years, the patient work of Oxford in persuading young people from the state system that Oxford welcomes them and that they can be happy there.’
Winding up for the Conservatives, Baroness Blatch said that Baroness (Tessa) Blackstone, who was later to wind up for the Government, must say precisely why Mr Brown described what happened at Magdalen College as a scandal. She went on to give details showing why it was in no way a scandal, ending: ‘Finally, does the Minister believe that Magdalen College did discriminate unfairly against Laura Spence? If not, the college should receive an apology. Does the noble Baroness think that they will receive one?’ In fact the ignoble Baroness failed even to mention the Laura Spence affair or Magdalen College in her rambling and waffling winding up speech.

The depressing thing, as proved by the wet-behind-the ears schoolboy Robbie Millen, is that after four years Gordon Brown’s wicked lie is found to have stuck. People are repeating it as the truth. Respectable newspapers are perpetuating it. It has shamefully entered folklore. Future historians will cite Times 2, 25 March 2004, as evidence of its truth.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

2004.112 Opera for the deaf 

Sign-language-assisted performances of opera for the deaf, says Sir Max Hastings (Spectator, 20 March 2004), are a travesty of political correctness. Opera for the deaf, what is this? One can no more have opera for the deaf than one can have piano playing for the armless or soccer for the legless. Opera is a matter of sound, glorious sound. That is what it is all about, its be-all and end-all. What have the deaf to do with it. Has Sir Max gone crazy?

No, I find Sir Max has not gone crazy. He is railing against something that is actually going on. If you doubt me visit (I don’t know where the ‘spit’ comes from, unless it signifies that these people are spitting in the face of the public.) There you will find that the English National Opera (ENO) are offering a ‘signed’ performance of Puccini’s opera Tosca on 1 April 2004. At first I thought this was an April Fool spoof, then I noticed that the ENO are also giving a ‘signed’ performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute on 6 April. The Royal Opera House (ROH) are giving a ‘signed’ performance of Tosca on 17 June, and so it goes on.

What is a ‘signed’ performance of an opera? Why it is one where an extraneous person stands at the side of the stage throughout a performance by singers and orchestra players and endeavours to indicate by flapping their hands what is going on. This for the benefit of persons in the audience, likely to be comparatively very few, who cannot hear a note! Crazy or what? If it had happened in her time, one can imagine what Beachcomber’s celebrated diva Emilia Rustiguzzi would have written about it in her memoirs Forty Years of Uproar. For ordinary opera goers it must be a frightful nuisance to have this distraction going on all through a performance they have paid dearly for the privilege of attending.

Sir Max has been corresponding with the ROH about it. He was told: ‘We willingly offer this facility, but it is in any case a requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act, and we could be prosecuted if a disabled patron felt discriminated against because we chose to ignore his needs’. As a barrister I am happy to assure my readers that this is simply not true. The law may be an ass in some respects, but it has not yet become as asinine as this.

Monday, March 22, 2004

2004.111 The Vandal of Downing street 

I once had my hair ruffled in the Mansion House by the late Mervyn Stockwood, then Bishop of Southwark. The year was 1970. I was chairing a charity dinner and he was standing on my right making a speech as guest of honour (the Lord Mayor of London was sitting on my left). I was fashionably slim, with freshly washed abundant long hair. I was wearing a brand-new mulberry dinner jacket, with matching velvet bow tie. The bachelor Bishop got rather carried away as he sang my praises for having founded the charity in question. I managed to retain a straight face. In fact I was rather pleased, despite hearing one or two suppressed titters.

I was reminded of all this when today I read an article by that same Mervyn Stockwood in the March 1942 issue of Horizon. At that time he had not yet been enthroned, being merely an up and coming parish priest at Bristol. The subject of his article was Social Reconstruction after the War. Reading it around sixty years later made me realise the folly of making drastic political plans for the future.

Stockwood was quite sure that Socialism, if not Communism, would be the answer to all Britain’s post-War ills. He told his readers that ‘one of the ablest men in the country’, the sainted Frederick Temple (then Archbishop of York), had recently ‘nailed the red flag to the ecclesiastical mast’. A conference Temple had summoned called for the abolition of private ownership of land and the means of production, and condemned ‘the spiritual degradation which results from the wage system’. Stockwood, approving this proposal, advocated the drawing up of a People’s Charter of which the first object would be to abolish capitalism and replace it with a system under which the resources of the earth would be used as God’s gifts to the whole human race.

There was much detail in Stockwood’s confident plan, which we can now see was windy rubbish. Yet in his desire to pull down established features of our constitution he was very sure of himself. Who does that you remind you of? Let me quote the Daily Mail leader for 20 March 2004 headed ‘The Vandal of Downing Street’: Prime Minister Blair ‘can’t contemplate an ancient tradition or a great institution without wanting to tear it down’. That echoes what I wrote in The Blight of Blairism.

Will people in sixty years time think Blair was any more right in 2004 than Stockwood had been in 1942? I doubt it.

Friday, March 19, 2004

2004.110 The right to be let alone 3 

I wrote in FBBB65 and 68 about the right to be let alone. Now here we are again, this time in Nevada. The United States Supreme Court has announced that on 22 March 2004 it will hear oral arguments in a Nevada case that will determine whether or not states can criminally punish persons who refuse to identify themselves to the police. People in Britain will watch with interest. What America does today Britain will do tomorrow.

In Hiibel v District Court, the nation’s highest court will decide for the first time whether it is unconstitutional for police officers investigating a crime to arrest persons who refuse to identify themselves believing they’ve done nothing wrong. Larry Hiibel, a cowboy from the goldmining and ranching town of Winnemucca at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was arrested by a Humboldt County deputy sheriff after he refused to identify himself when asked. The deputy was investigating a bystander’s claim that he had seen a man striking a female passenger in a pickup truck. Hiibel was found standing outside a pickup in which his daughter was a passenger. When the deputy asked Hiibel to identify himself, he said he would cooperate but that he would not provide identification because he did not believe he had done anything wrong. The deputy said he thought Hiibel might be intoxicated, but he was never charged with drink-driving.

Hiibel was convicted under a state law of resisting an officer for refusing to turn over his ID. In a split decision, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the conviction. The majority found the individual’s constitutional right to privacy was outweighed by officer and community safety, expressing concern that terrorists could escape detection if officers don’t have probable cause to arrest. The dissent, led by then Chief Justice Deborah Agosti, stated that ‘the right to wander freely and anonymously, if we so choose, is a fundamental right of privacy in a democratic society.’ The dissent would have overturned the law as an invasion of privacy, noting that it is a person’s conduct, not their name, that is potentially dangerous. The dissent urged that, precisely because of the threat of terrorism, now more than ever it is important vigilantly to protect and safeguard the constitution and personal liberties.

‘We can’t yield to a climate of paranoia,’ said Robert E Dolan, the attorney who will be arguing Mr Hiibel’s case. ‘Many people have died protecting our freedoms and if we allow our civil liberties to be undermined by fear of terrorism, then their deaths will have been in vain.’ This is not true; the answer is to defeat terrorism. Meanwhile one might convincingly say that it is precisely because of the threat of terrorism that it is now more than ever important for innocent citizens to be prepared to identify themselves.

The Ninth Circuit federal appeals court recently found the same statute unconstitutional in a civil case. Law enforcement officers in Nevada thus find themselves in a quandary. If they arrest someone for refusing to identify themselves, the conviction will stick in state court but they can be successfully sued in federal court for violating that person’s civil rights. Other jurisdictions are split on the issue as well. As the law now stands, in some jurisdictions, a person under a shadow of suspicion, who has not committed any crime, can be approached by the police, do absolutely nothing, and yet be arrested, convicted, and thrown in jail. Other jurisdictions have said that this violates the constitution.

The US Supreme Court agreed to take Mr Hiibel’s case in part because of the split of authority. Court filings by attorneys acting for him argue that the law violates the constitutional right against self-incrimination. They also argue that it violates the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. ‘It is inimical to a free society that mere silence can lead to imprisonment,’ they wrote. The state argues that a person’s name is not entitled to privacy protection, and that any right of privacy is outweighed by the public interest in crime prevention and effective law enforcement. It also says that giving one’s name is neither incriminating nor testimonial, but neutral.

The argument is delicately balanced. What will the decision be?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

2004.109 Woolf in sheep's clothing 

When in FBBB91 I remarked that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, had been patronisingly referred to by his Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, as a ‘cheerful chappie’ I was unaware that two days earlier Lord Woolf had uttered no less than 355 words in the chamber of the House of Lords in a vain attempt to convince their Lordships that he did not really mean what he said. The speech could only have been delivered in the gilt and red leather, red carpeted, surroundings of London’s Gilbertian House of Lords. It is so odd that I give it in full.
An advantage of addressing your Lordships in person is that it avoids being quoted out of context. I believe this happened last week, and, as a result, an unfortunate impression was created that I personally intended to be discourteous to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I can assure the Lord Chancellor that no discourtesy was intended, but I apologise if offence was caused.

What happened can be seen from the full text of my Cambridge lecture. In the course of my speech I referred to that mythical legal figure ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’. I suggested that he might not take seriously my concerns about having a single person performing both the roles of a Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, since, after all, that, ‘engagingly friendly and cheerful chappie’, appeared quite happy performing both roles.

I hope that it is not inappropriate to describe my noble and learned friend as ‘engagingly friendly and cheerful’. This may or may not be a description that all Lord Chancellors would have had applied to them. However, I confess that it reflects my opinion of the present Lord Chancellor.

The rub is the use of the colloquial word ‘chappie’. It betrays a degree of undue familiarity when used of a person holding a high office of state. If I had not been attributing the words to the man on the Clapham omnibus—in a vain attempt to inject a lighter note into a speech out of sympathy for my audience—I would not have used it. However, now that I have explained, I hope it will be accepted that I intended no disrespect.

On reflection, I suspect that I should also apologise to the venerable gentleman on the Clapham omnibus, who I now appreciate would never use the word ‘chappie’.

I also apologise to your Lordships for raising the subject. However, my use of the word ‘chappie’ has over the past few days—to my horror—been treated by a number of commentators as indicating that the country is in a state of crisis, and I thought that your Lordships should see the context.
I do not know whether I am one of the commentators to whom he refers, but I certainly did not take his words out of context. The words were not uttered impromptu, but contained in a prepared text circulated in advance. As is normally my practice when possible, I quoted them straight from that official text. In full, they were as follows. (Lord Woolf was talking about the Government’s proposals for a new Supreme Court.)
Apart from the scale of the change, what is the importance of the proposals? To a non-lawyer they may not seem to be of particular significance. What is the difference between a Lord Chancellor and a Secretary of State, the man on the Clapham Omnibus could, with reason, ask. After all, that engagingly friendly and cheerful chappie, Lord Falconer, seems to be quite happy playing both roles.
As often happens when people try to dig themselves out of a hole, Lord Woolf merely made matters worse. Obviously he was not, as he claims, ‘attributing the words to the man on the Clapham omnibus’. Quite clearly they were his own words. If they really did betray a degree of undue familiarity then it was Lord Woolf in his own person who was being familiar.

Myself I would say the words showed humanity rather than familiarity. They seemed to indicate that the stuffed shirt in the horsehair wig was human after all, an impression instantly dispelled by the ponderous, faintly dishonest, explanation given at inordinate length on the floor of the House of Lords.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

2004.108 Hiroshima mon amour 

Mass murder is the description attached by Henry Laycock to the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima. In a letter in today’s London Times this man, writing from the Department of Philosophy, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, equates that act by President Truman to the Madrid bombing earlier this month which killed 200 innocent civilians and injured more than 1,000. The latter attack, he says, was ‘brilliantly successful’ because it seems to have effected a change of government in Spain. He goes on-
Historically mass murder – the deliberate killing of civilians – has chiefly been an instrument of state policy. The examples are sadly legion; perhaps the most dramatic in living memory is the nuclear destruction of Japanese cities. It is of course not easy for governments to acknowledge such parallels; but unless and until this takes place, a fully coherent and credible denunciation of such acts of murder is simply impossible.
What are those weasel words supposed to mean? Apparently President Bush is being advised from a Canadian philosophy department to acknowledge a parallel between Madrid 2004 and Hiroshima 1945. What is supposed to be the nature of that parallel? That they were both acts of ‘mass murder’? Apparently, but this would be wholly untrue. Hiroshima was not mass murder, but a justified act of war which had the effect of saving an incalculable number of lives on the Allied side. Mine was probably one of them; hence my personal revulsion at the obnoxious Laycock doctrine.

I know nothing of Mr Laycock except what he writes in today’s Times. Judging from that I would guess he is the sort of person George Orwell criticised at the time of the London blitz (Horizon August 1941)-
What has kept England on its feet during the past year? Partly, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism . . . For the last twenty years the main object of English leftwing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded we might be watching SS-men patrolling the London streets at this moment.
The people whom Orwell characterised as ‘leftwing intellectuals’ are not confined to England. They have continued to crop up all over the place; now apparently in Canada. They have been described in various terms, such as bien-pensants, bleeding-hearts liberals, clercs engaged in trahison, and otherwise. Their common feature is that they do dirt on their own side, while always overlooking the blemishes of the other side. In other words they foul their own nest.

These traitorous clerks love Hiroshima because they think it gives them a stick to beat their own side with. They overlook and never mention the hundreds of lives lost when the Japanese committed the atrocity of Pearl Harbor, the thousands killed by Japanese brutality and torture in the jungle and elsewhere. The civilians of Hiroshima paid the price for the iniquities of their own government and their own armed forces. In the last resort civilians, even including children, always must pay that price. They cannot free themselves from responsibility for the official acts of those who act in their name.

I end by reproducing a letter of mine which was published in the Oxford Mail on 7 August 1987.
I notice the season has again come round when peace groups stencil human shadows on public pavements in memory of people instantly vapourized at Hiroshima. This carries me back more than forty years to my own humble role at that time. A Royal Air Force pilot aged 22, I was nervously awaiting posting to a jungle station in Malaya. By treacherously attacking the fleet of a friendly nation at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had brought the United States into the war on our side. It seemed courteous for us to regard the Japanese as our enemies also. Besides, their forces were attacking British bases in Singapore and elsewhere. The trouble was, the Japanese did not fight sensibly. Like the Iranian Revolutionary Guards today, they had the Kamikaze (or suicidal) outlook. This we young Britons did not share, being anxious to get back home in one piece and belatedly begin living our lives.

I will always remember that astonishing moment of relief when I heard on the radio that the Allies possessed the hitherto unsuspected atom bomb. I saw at once that it meant release from the nagging fear of Japanese butchery in the Malayan jungle. Instead of dragging on as we expected for years, with the loss of millions more lives, the war with Japan was over. Compared with the savage treatment handed out to their enemies by the Japanese, the instant vaporisation of a comparatively few Japanese civilians struck me and many others at that time as a just alternative. It still does.

The people of any country must accept responsibility for the misdoings of their rulers. For the victims of Hiroshima the blame lies on the treacherous and barbaric Japanese Government of the day and nowhere else. So I shall not be decorating public pavements with the peace groups. I have my own vivid memory of what peace means.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

2004.107 Bring on the clowns 

We have all written things we later regretted. Here is an example I have just come across. On 19 March 2000 the Sunday Times News Review published an interview by Eleanor Mills with Bernie Ecclestone, the billionaire Formula One motor racing boss. She wrote-
Bernie's latest political crusade is to back Jeffrey Archer to run as an independent candidate for mayor of London. I look a little aghast at this. Archer has, after all, been expelled from the Tory party – ‘The who?’ asks Bernie - for bringing it into disrepute. ‘So what?’ says Bernie. ‘We’ve got to campaign for Jeffrey to be mayor. He would sort out the traffic problems. He would do a bloody good job, he’s a good manager, I’m right behind him. I’m very sincere about that. I think he would have a good chance if he stood now. I will back him to stand. I’ve talked to him. He comes over well. He would have got in 100% without all this other nonsense - and it is nonsense in the end’.
That ‘nonsense’ landed Lord Archer in gaol for a spell. We shall now never know what sort of London Mayor he would have made.

In a later interview with Mark Hollingsworth for Punch (5 July 2002) Eccclestone said that Tony Blair apologised for his handling of the affair of Ecclestone’s one million pound donation to New Labour. Ecclestone was furious at the prime minister for publicly disclosing the donation at all and breaking his word. ‘I was hung out to dry’ he said. ‘It was third-rate behaviour by a bunch of clowns’.

Takes one to know one.

Monday, March 15, 2004

2004.106 The truth about Peter Hain 

The Guardian is a respectable newspaper, so why did it publish a blatant lie about Peter Hain? So far as I know, Kevin Toolis is a respectable journalist. Why then did he compose this blatant lie?

The lie was published in February 2001, but I have only just found it on the Internet. A lie is still a lie, even though it is three years old. As it concerns a matter over which I suffered much, both financially and otherwise, I shall expose it in this blog. It runs as follows-
Twice, [Peter Hain] has ended up on trial at the Old Bailey: once, in 1972, on trumped-up conspiracy charges, and the second four years later on equally dubious but serious bank robbery charges. And twice, after determined legal struggles, he was found not guilty.
This lie appeared in an interview by Kevin Toolis with Peter Hain published in the Guardian on 10 February 2001. It is untrue that the 1972 trial of Peter Hain was on ‘trumped-up’ charges. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘trumped-up’ as got up or devised in an unscrupulous way; forged, fabricated, invented. The Old Bailey does not spend ten days trying someone on such a charge. It is defamatory of me, as the prosecutor in that case, to publish this false allegation.

It is also untrue that Hain was found not guilty in this prosecution. On the contrary he was found guilty, convicted and fined. When he appealed against the conviction in 1973 three judges of the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal with costs. As reported in the Daily Telegraph of October 23 1973, the court said his conviction was ‘fully justified’. Lord Justice Roskill said Mr Hain had not elected to give evidence, adding ‘He gave no explanation of his part over the incidents with which he was charged’.

The story of my successful prosecution of Peter Hain is on my website (see 2002(08)). It includes a description of how, at the funeral of a convicted terrorist in 1965, the young Peter Hain read an oration. In his interview, Toolis says this about that incident-
The Hains had always opposed the use of violence - which was taken up by the ANC in the early 60s - but members of their political circle joined a small white terrorist group, the Armed Resistance Movement (ARM), that planted bombs. ARM was an amateurish affair, but one bomb exploded at Johannesburg station in July 1964 and killed two passers-by. A family friend, John Harris, 25, was arrested, tortured and confessed to the crime. Harris's wife, Ann, and their young son, David, went to live with the Hains in the run-up to the trial. All pleas for clemency were rejected, and Harris was sentenced to death and hanged at dawn on April 1, 1965. Because his parents were banned from speaking in public, Peter, then 15 and dressed in his school uniform, was conscripted to read Harris's funeral oration that morning. It was his first political speech. Within the hour, he was back at school.
I believe that part of Toolis’s report was accurate.

Friday, March 12, 2004

2004.105 Look here, that's not funny 

The Tory MP Ann Winterton entered the House of Commons in the same 1983 election as my old friend Gerald Howarth. She has twice been in trouble over her sense of humour.

In May 2002 Ann was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet after making an obscure joke in an after-dinner speech to the Congleton Rugby Union club in Cheshire. The joke was about a Pakistani being thrown from a train because Pakistanis were ‘ten-a-penny’ in Britain. Gerald Hartup, the director of Liberty and Law, a pressure group, wrote to Nigel Burgess, the Cheshire Chief Constable, asking him to liaise with the Commission for Racial Equality and make a report to the Crown Prosecution Service about this so-called ‘joke’.

In February 2004 Ann was sacked from the Parliamentary Party by Conservative Leader Michael Howard after making a joke at a private dinner about two sharks. One said to the other: ‘I’m tired of tuna; shall we swim to Morecambe and grab a Chinese?’ This referred to the fact that recently twenty Chinese immigrant workers had been drowned in Morecambe Bay while gathering cockles. Asked to apologise, Ann declined. She said that if anyone should apologise it should be the Labour MP who leaked the story.

What are we to make of all this? Gerald Hartup, who had a long and successful previous career running the Freedom Association (I kid you not) said of the earlier incident-
Mrs Winterton’s joke was not only offensive but bound to have been seen as threatening by people of Asian origin. Such jokes, especially if made by politicians, falsely legitimise the hostility felt towards ethnic minorities by disturbed racist hooligans. They can and do make the lives of some Asians miserable and their physical safety problematic. (The Independent, 15 May 2002.)
Was he right? Not according to Professor Christie Davies, described as Britain’s leading academic expert on jokes. He ends his little book The Right to Joke (Social Affairs Unit, 2004) with these words-
The account given here of jokes suppressed and of jokes that survive the suppression is part of a general story of how the ideology of liberal egalitarianism held by those with power over words and symbols has come to pervade our culture to the point where even those who reject it do not publicly question it. Because those who hold it are powerful, they are able to contend that this contested ideology constitutes the accepted morality of the society. Those who acknowledge yet sneak around its prohibitions by telling jokes are always on the edge of being censored . . . It is time to say to [the censors], ‘Enough! We see what you are about. We know that jokes are important to us and of no consequence to anyone else and we will have the jokes we want and on our terms whether you like them or not’.


Thursday, March 11, 2004

2004.104 How emotions shape our actions 

I am quite strong on the importance of emotions, of which it has been said that we don’t have them, they have us. E. M. Forster mysteriously wrote that the artist aims at the truth, and succeeds if he raises the emotions while the orator aims at raising the emotions, and succeeds if he does so. Robert Graves called poetry the transformation into symbolism of some disturbingly emotional crisis in the poet’s mind, whether dominated by delight or pain. That prompted me to call my lifetime collection Poemotions.

Being in command of one’s emotions is nowadays called emotional literacy. There is indeed a Campaign for Emotional Literacy, which passes under the unenlightening title Antidote. The word literacy, formed as an antithesis to illiteracy, literally means the quality or state of being literate, especially having the ability to read and write. However OED2 allows a transferred meaning equivalent to competence in the matter referred to, citing as an example the phrase ‘economic literacy’.

Antidote defines emotional literacy as the practice of thinking individually and collectively about how emotions shape our actions, and of using emotional understanding to enrich our thinking. I think that’s a bit narrow, and would substitute: the ability to understand how emotions shape our actions, and to use that understanding to improve our own behaviour and our relations with others.

Antidote have recently produced The Emotional Literacy Handbook. I was asked to review it by the Professional Association of Teachers, of which I was the first national chairman nearly forty years ago. The tone of the book is set by a quotation from Michael West and Malcolm Patterson of the LSE-
It is the management of their human needs, the release of their creativity, the coordination of their efforts and the creation of cooperative and effective communities which determine the productivity of organisations.
The book opens with the statement that in 1997, when Antidote held its first conference on emotional literacy, few were familiar with the term and even fewer recognised in it the seeds of an effective strategy for enabling schools to promote learning, community and wellbeing.

The book contains useful guidance for enabling schools to reduce stress and conflict among pupils (or ‘learners’ as we must now call them – see FBBB79). It emphasises the valuable contribution that can be made by pupils taking the lead in tackling disputes and resolving conflicts. The solutions children work out among themselves, under suitable guidance, are always likely to command their widest assent and be most successful.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

2004.103 A hole in the Cabinet 

Tony Blair’s Government is currently proving pretty clueless when it comes to acting with awareness of the legal framework within which they operate. Not surprising when you consider they have thoughtlessly sacrificed the one state official who kept them on the right lines in Cabinet discussions. I refer of course to the Lord Chancellor.

Until the present one Charlie Falconer, patronisingly referred to by his Lord Chief Justice as a “cheerful chappie”, Lord Chancellors in modern times have invariably been lawyers of high ability and distinction. They have been fully capable of keeping their Cabinet colleagues from falling into error about the legal position of the Government. That no longer applies.

This was illustrated on 8 March when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury Ruth Kelly suggested in the Commons that the Blair Government need accept no responsibility for regulatory failure over the Equitable Life disaster because it happened in the time of a Conservative government. In the same Commons debate it was left to the veteran Labour MP Harry Barnes to point out the true position-
Governments are a seamless whole as far the public are concerned . . . That needs to be taken into account in connection with the Equitable Life policyholders, and we may have some responsibility to deal with their problems.
In law there is one continuing government, known as Her Majesty’s Government, who are advised and assisted by Her Majesty’s Civil Service. Ms Kelly’s confusion may be due to a remark cited by Libby Purves in the Times of 9 April-
We have Sir Andrew Turnbull, head of the Civil Service, pleasing his masters by startlingly telling a parliamentary committee that civil servants are not ‘servants of the Crown’ at all, but of the elected Government of the day.
We shall next have the Labour Government disowning a treaty because it was made by a previous administration. Now there is no proper Lord Chancellor, who is to keep Mr Blair’s government in line with the law? Harry Barnes can’t always be around.

Friday, March 05, 2004

2004.102 Lost Horizon 1 

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self. Thus said Cyril Connolly (1903-1974). He founded and edited the literary monthly Horizon, which was published from 1939 to 1950. Today I received a box containing around eighty copies of various dates. Why have I bought these at a cost of £230? I will tell you.

I was seventeen when Horizon began to come out. I was unaware of that fact at the time, being busy preparing to enlist in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, which I did later in that year. As an unheeding callow youth I would not in any case have been numbered among its readers, though I did have vague ambitions to become a writer after the war was over.

I later came to admire Connolly. There was something devil-may-care about him, as shown by the above quotation. It appealed to me, and still does. I liked his style, as revealed in his only novel The Rock Pool. I liked the way he listed his clubs in Who’s Who: White's, Pratt's, Beefsteak. It was a link that he went to my old Oxford college Balliol.

There is more to it than that. I have long felt that reading old copies of Horizon would recall to me my youth, and those war years I managed to live through. Though a literary magazine, Horizon was bound to bring back the times in which it was produced. I looked forward to reading my copies as though they had just come out; and enjoying Connolly’s editorial touch.

The earliest of my copies is dated January 1941. I started with that. In his editorial Connolly writes about war poets, who he says are only peace poets who have assimilated the material of war. Peter Cromwell writes on wartime propaganda, saying we need to adopt the methods of the advertisers against the Nazis. There are poems by Alun Lewis, Louis MacNeice and Dylan Thomas. Peter Quennell writes on Byron in Venice. Someone unknown to me reviews at length ‘Mr Auden’s new volume of poems’. Alun Lewis’s poem begins-
All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on muddy ground.
Think I’m going to enjoy this. Money well spent, I’d say. Tell you more later.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

2004.101 Specious embellishments and fantastic novelties 

The judiciary, through the mouth of the Lord Chief Justice of England And Wales Lord Woolf, have hit out against Mr Blair’s dismantling of the constitution. In a speech yesterday which annoyed the Home Secretary Mr Blunkett, Lord Woolf levelled sweeping charges against the Labour Government.
Our ability to manage very well, thank you, without one of those written constitutions which we so generously drafted for our former colonies, was probably assisted by the fact that, as Dr Robert Stevens points out, with the exception of the 17th century, ‘traditionally the growth of the English Constitution has been organic, the rate of change glacial’. By contrast, during the lifetime of this Government, prior to 12 June 2003, there had been already a torrent of constitutional changes. Let me remind you: the removal of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords, devolution, the incorporation into domestic law of the European Convention on Human Rights and the creation of a unified courts administration.
On 12 June 2003 came the dramatic announcement (by press release) that the office of Lord Chancellor had been summarily abolished. This was followed next day by an equally summary announcement that it had not been abolished after all, because it had been discovered that abolition could not be achieved in that way. Lord Woolf sardonically commented on that travesty of sound government.

The trouble is, as Sir William Blackstone remarked 250 years ago, that our legislators are ill-educated in the law they busily rearrange with such enthusiasm. This is illustrated by a fatuous remark uttered in the House of Commons yesterday by Lady Harmon MP. When MPs protested about the proposed renaming of the Crown Prosecution Service as the Public Prosecution Service she remarked that the same change had been effected in Northern Ireland two years ago ‘and the sun, moon and stars didn’t fall out of the sky’. This amounts to saying that it simply does not matter what constitutional changes our legislators fancy making, which could not be more wrong. It matters very much to the wellbeing of our citizens.

I mentioned Sir William Blackstone. He was an Oxford professor who wrote a book, Commentaries on the Laws of England, which went through innumerable editions during the next 150 years not only in England but in the United States and elsewhere. The following words from that famous book could have been written today.
The mischiefs that have arisen to the public from inconsiderate alterations in our laws, are too obvious to be called in question . . . The common law of England has fared like other venerable edifices of antiquity, which rash and inexperienced workmen have ventured to new-dress and refine, with all the rage of modern improvement. Hence frequently its symmetry has been destroyed, its proportions distorted, and its majestic simplicity exchanged for specious embellishments and fantastic novelties.


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

2004.100 Anal enlightenment 

It has always seemed to me that one of a person’s chief duties is to respect and take care of his or her body. It’s obvious really. That is the one true possession we have. We live in it and out of it every day of our lives. So we had better look after it.

That is why occasionally in these blogs I have criticized the practice of anal intercourse, whether engaged in by a heterosexual or homosexual couple. In two previous blogs (FBBB33 and 34) I was rude about Dr Thomas Stuttaford, the newspaper doctor. Now, in The Oldie for March 2004, he redeems himself with a useful article on the bowel. Here is an extract.
One of the most amazing human devices is the anal mechanism, but it never receives a mention in prayers, sermons or even conversation. The anal passage recognises the different sensations rectal distension produces depending on whether it has been caused by a collection of wind or faeces. If only by wind, the sphincter opens so that, unbeknown to the person, it is allowed to escape, while any fluids are retained. If the flatus [i.e. gas] collects too quickly, or is excessive, the conscious mind becomes aware of this, so that it is usually possible to release it in a socially acceptable way. At other times the anal pads, collections of vascular tissue guarding the sphincter, together with the normal tension of the anal sphincter muscles, keep the rectal contents from escaping.
I often talk about the wonderful human digestive system, and this is one aspect of it. Obvious harm can be done to the delicate anal mechanism by subjecting it to the insertion of an erect penis. Sometimes more substantial objects are thrust past the sphincter, for example the clenched fist (in so-called fist-fucking). The current Private Eye (Eye 1101) has a report from the University Medical Centre at Leiden in the Netherlands. People have resorted to this with such objects stuck in the rectum as fruit, vegetables, bottles, billiard balls, light bulbs, paperweights, Barbie dolls, church candles and screwdrivers. The report ends with the following-
Our most recent case involved a fourteen-year-old boy, who was reported to the casualty department with a full can of kumquat juice wedged right up his anus. The doctors in casualty could not remove it, so he had to be put under anaesthetic and taken to the operating theatre, where the can was drained of its contents, squashed with a clamp, then removed. When he regained consciousness, all the embarrassed boy would tell us was ‘I’m going through a difficult experimental phase’.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

2004.099 Media impudence defied 

Broadcasting, newspapers, journals – nowadays collectively known as the media - have a reputation for arrogance. This simply means that the journalists working in the media collectively have a reputation for arrogance, and it is well deserved. Nowhere has this unattractive trait been more conspicuously displayed than in the case of the Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon. Since the days leading up to the Iraq war he has been mercilessly pilloried by those who fancy themselves our masters.

The avowed object of this treatment has been to remove Mr Hoon from office. I do not say to get him removed from office, which would be more realistic. These people think they have such power that they can in effect remove him all by themselves. They want to do this because most of them are opposed to the Iraq war, and Mr Hoon has been a key figure in fighting that war.

The Times has been a leading activist in this shoddy campaign. It has published a constant drip of anti-Hoon propaganda. Its clever cartoonist Peter Brookes has constantly smeared the Defence Secretary in his distinctively repulsive manner. Its parliamentary sketch writers have shown him no mercy. Here is a typical example from Ann Treneman in today’s Times.
Geoff Hoon came to the Commons yesterday to gloat at the fact that he still exists. Technically, of course, that was not his purpose. Technically, he came to answer Defence Questions. But the chances of this happening were remote. After all, Mr Hoon has never knowingly answered any question, and these days he likes to use public appearances to advertise the fact that he has not been fired. And really, why not? Mr Hoon’s survival is a noteworthy achievement and no one would deny that he fully deserves the accolades he is now receiving as the leader of the political branch of the Gloria Gaynor I will Survive club. (Can a medal be far behind?)
There is more of this childish rudeness to one of Her Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State, but I have quoted enough to expose this rubbish for what it is – a disgrace to the columns of what was once a great newspaper.

The statement that Mr Hoon’s survival is a noteworthy achievement refers to the fact that the media has been baulked of its prey. To his credit, Mr Blair has not yielded to its foolish baying. The impudent media decree that Mr Hoon must go has been icily ignored by the one man who truly has the power to implement it. And quite right too.

It is a small matter for rejoicing among those who still believe in parliamentary democracy rather than rule by the unelected media.

Monday, March 01, 2004

2004.098 In Limerick's fair city 

Today’s Times is rather hard on my wife Mary’s home town Limerick, saying it has the reputation of being ‘a violent and impoverished city’. The item recalls the so-called Limerick pogrom of 1904, when a Limerick priest denounced the city’s small number of Jews from the pulpit as ‘rapacious usurers’ and they were driven out.

I have made many visits to Limerick since I met and married Mary in 1977. It is neither violent nor impoverished today, though it may have been both in the past – just like London or Birmingham. It seems that the Times is too much influenced by Frank McCourt’s vivid account of his poverty-stricken childhood in the best-selling memoir Angela’s Ashes. Things there are very different today.

During World War Two the director of Ireland’s National Museum was an Austrian named Adolf Mahr, who was also head of the Irish Nazi Party. A letter sent last month by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Paris to the Irish President alleged that Mahr was a friend of the German wife of John Hunt, who established the Hunt Museum in Limerick seven years ago. It said that the Hunts exploited this friendship to associate with ‘notorious dealers in art looted by the Nazis’ and through them obtained works which were later in the Hunt Museum. Some of these, it is alleged, were bought by, or are on loan to, the National Museum of Ireland and the National Gallery of Ireland.

The Wiesenthal Centre, which campaigns for the restoration of wealth stolen from Jews by the Nazis, said last night that ‘the case should be used as an opportunity for Ireland to examine its neutrality during the second World War and the murkier aspects of its relationship with Hitler’s Germany’.

A commission of inquiry headed by the retired judge Donal Barrington has been set up to investigate. His is a well-known name in Limerick. Many sick people have been treated in Barrington’s Hospital on George’s Quay in the city. You can buy a photograph of it on the Internet from McCourt’s Limerick Shop, who will also supply you with an Angela’s Ashes figurine.

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