THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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January 2008

A walk in Moscow

Dsc_0038 Yesterday, Mrs Paine and I ran an errand in town and then walked through Red Square in the afternoon dusk to our favourite place to eat and drink. I took a few photos with my Christmas present to myself and I thought you might like to see them. The building is the GUM department store, which Mrs Paine's mother (then an ardent leftist on a "friendship tour" of Moscow) remembers seeing "stocked" with cardboard cut-outs of non-existent products. Now it is not only well-stocked, but also beautifully illuminated for the Russian Orthodox Christmas and the New Year.

Dsc_0040The statue is, of course, mankind's greatest foe to date (although Al Gore seems keen to give him a run for his money). Near Red Square stands this effigy of the German charlie whose bizarre and now (except in Britain) discredited ideas led to the deaths of tens of millions, the imprisonment of tens of millions more and the impoverishment of hundreds of millions in the Twentieth Century. Marx has few friends in Russia these days, but his statue remains because he was so much part of the history of the Soviet Union, which whether or not is is to be regretted, is certainly not to be denied.

Dsc_0034 My favourite is the impressionistic street scene accidentally created by my unsteady handling of my new toy.

Trusted Advisor or snitch?

Crop0001 When I joined the legal profession more than 20 years ago, we were trained to regard even a client's most trivial secret as a sacred trust. So seriously did we take it that we could not even name someone as our client without his or her permission. I have always upheld this standard. I have never even told my wife about the things I learn at work; fascinating though they often are.

Of late, however, British lawyers have joined the secret police. Under the Proceeds of Crime Act,2002 for example, we are obliged to file "Suspicious Activity Reports" (SARs) to SOCA, which is Britain's nearest functional equivalent to the FBI. Why do I say "secret police?" Because we are not allowed to tell the client that we have filed (or plan to file) a SAR. If asked directly, the legislation effectively requires us to lie. I was never comfortable with the fact that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, 1974 sanctioned a lie. Yet I have lived long enough to see a statute make lying mandatory. O tempora, o mores.

How can a client rely on an advisor who is under an obligation (on pain of serious punishment) to betray his confidence? How can a lawyer advise a client who is afraid to discuss actions he fears may be criminal, if he is under a duty to report his suspicions that the client has already overstepped the mark? So much for the special nature of the lawyer/client relationship.

Not that your lawyer is your only problem. Your accountant, tax advisor and many others you may think you can trust with your private business are just as likely to denounce you. Only 14% of non-banking sector denunciations are made by solicitors. So far has the legal profession slipped from its high ideals, however, that its own journal, The Law Gazette, boasts that "Solicitors lead way on fraud reporting" (see my reproduction of the cover of the 29 November 2007 edition - click to enlarge)

The most likely person to snitch, however, is your banker. This government sees the banks as key agents in law enforcement and has as much respect for the banker/customer relationship as for the formerly sacred one between lawyer and client (i.e. none at all).

Secret denunciations were of course a major tool of State repression (and personal vengeance) in the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. I ask again. If Labour is not building a police state, why does so much of its legislation give that impression?

Welcome back, Dr Crippen

Link: NHS Blog Doctor: A Fresh Start.

The NHS Blog Doctor, who was so much missed during his blog break that rumours of his death circulated, is back. Welcome, sir. He's off to a fine fresh start with the linked post:

Last Saturday, we had a re-union dinner of a group of doctors who have kept in touch since medical school. Some GPs, some consultants, and even a well known medical politician. You would have heard of him. All long-standing friends and all, over the last two years, a constant source of inside-track information. They have been missing their opportunity to vent their spleen through Dr Crippen.

And then, one of those wine-induced dinner-party epiphanies. The Paediatric Professor ... said,

    “You know, if I were suddenly taken ill, I would be terrified to be admitted to a British NHS Hospital.”

We went round the table. Each and every one of the ten doctors present felt the same.

It is time to start again.

Hear hear. Britain's Soviet healthcare system is a national disgrace. Which politician will have the nerve to say so though?

How do ants know what to do?

Link: TED | Talks | Deborah Gordon: How do ants know what to do? (video).

Ted_logoOne of the best things on the internet is's collection of short films of talks to TED Conferences. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Speakers are expected to give "the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes)".

I am amazed how people can dedicate their lives to tiny areas of study and in awe of how humanity (somehow) knits all that knowledge together in order to progress. This talk is a perfect example. This lady, a professor at Stanford, has spent 20 years digging in the Arizona desert to study ant colonies. Ants do not live as directed, managed communities. Their "queen" mates once, orgiastically, and spends 15-20 years laying eggs fertilised by that one collection of sperm. In a sense the colony is "hers" (she gives birth to every member; it begins with her and ends when she dies) but it seems she plays no part in directing it.

Ants have no leaders. Ants have no managers. The Bible was right (Proverbs 6:6 - 6:8)

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise. Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler provideth her meat in the Summer and gathereth her food in the harvest.

Yet ants somehow allocate tasks between them logically, and switch tasks according to the colony's need. Professor Gordon's question is "how?" and she applies what she learns to the study of human organisations. She has discovered that (as the TED site summarises it) the "...long evolution of the ant colony has resulted in a system driven by accident, adaptation and the chaos and "noise" of unconscious communication..."

Interestingly, while the Bible is right about the anarchism of the ant, it is wrong about its industry. Half of the ants are idle or (as Professor Gordon puts it, "in reserve") [No doubt New Labour will soon redesignate the unemployed and faux-sick "economically inactive" as "reserve workers".] Even more interestingly, colonies become collectively more sophisticated in their responses to events as they grow. Yet ants (other than queens) only live for one year. This is nothing to do, as she says, with "older, wiser ants."

This may have nothing to do with any of the topics usually covered here. Or maybe it does. In any event, it made me think. And there are enough good talks to be found at the site to forgive TED for having been where the liberty-destroying slideshow that grew into "An Inconvenient Truth" apparently first saw the light of day.

Burning our money: Pay Crunch

Link: Burning our money: Pay Crunch.

As I head back to Eastern Europe energised for a new year of invisible exports on behalf of the City of London, I was amused to read Wat Tyler's summary of Britain's current situation. He wittily explains my current sense of political deja vu. While his 1970's fashion references (which made me wince at the memory of being thus clad) will go over the heads of the blogosphere's younger readers, I urge you to read the whole thing.

It is finally becoming apparent to all (as it was apparent to those with grey hairs from the outset) that the only thing "New" about "New Labour" is the slick professionalism with which its leaders lie. As Tyler observes:

Paywise, public sector workers have done well under Labour. Just as they always do. But just as always, once the money's gone, they're the first to feel the pain.

As taxpayers we can only sit and grind our teeth. Once again, a Labour government has blown a shedload of money on hiking public sector pay. And once again, it's ended with most of the public sector deeply demotivated and ready to strike.

Quite. The Labour leopard never really changed its spots, it just put on a Bill Clinton wig and faked his disarming smile.

Frappr Maps

This is  new site to me, but it looks useful. You can make maps and locate people or places on them for information. Then you can embed them in your blog. This example is of members of Second Life who have decided to identify themselves and their Real Life location. I am sure my more tech minded readers can think of better uses. I am pondering whether to create a Blogpower members map for the Blogpower Express. Any other suggested uses?


Best Blogpower Blog Post of 2007

Link: Blogpower: Call for Nominations for Best Blog Post of 2007 by BP members.

TrophyJMB over at Nobody Important is organising a round up of the best Blogpower posts of 2007. If you are a Blogpower member, head over to the linked post to get the details. I have spent a little time this morning running through my posts last year to see if I have one I can modestly submit. So far, these are the candidates (in no particular order):

Questions of conscience (why forcing religious adoption agencies to cater to gays is wrong)

Social Justice -v- Justice (why it is wrong to apply social criteria to educational selection)

How English am I? (a reflection on Matt Sinclair's thoughtful criticisms of one of my posts)

What can we hope to achieve? (the concluding part of a three-part post entitled "What is the point of blogging?")

Show of Hands at the Royal Albert Hall (a controversial review of a folk concert's audience)

Edukashun, Edookayshen, Education (a comment on the grammar school controversy)

Ban Koran like Mein Kampf, says Dutch MP (a piece about freedom of speech)

We pay to have an underclass (comments from life on the effects of "social policy")

"Fear of prejudice" let gay carers abuse boys (the new British aristocrats of Labour's client groups)

The Jean Charles memorial blog round up (the Menezes story, as seen by other bloggers)

Any views?

Why must those people spoil everything?

180pxtardisI missed the Christmas Day "Doctor Who" because I was in New York. I am enough of a Whovian for that to hurt, but I was able to catch the repeat. Sadly, that hurt too. Russell T. Davies claims to be a fan, but he has no compunction about littering the show with political points.

The Doctor (as libertarian an anti-authority figure as ever didn't live) scowled at Davies' predictably odious capitalist characters, one of whom was a cowardly cad intent on self-preservation and the other of whom was prepared to kill every living creature on Earth to settle a boardroom feud. I have encountered all sorts of no goods in my business life, but I can't say this is a representative picture.

On the other hand, all Davies' working class characters (of course) are good honest folk with stout hearts This was sometimes, but I have to say not invariably, the case among those proletarians with whom I grew up. Of course, his black proletarians have even stouter hearts, the particular example in the Christmas show reminding me of Boxer from Animal Farm.

I looked forward to watching the Divine Miss Minogue perform. For the first time in her life, she disappointed me. After showing her devotion to diversity by pity-flirting with an implausibly ugly alien, her character made haste to lay down her life for the Doctor, having fallen in love with him on such short acquaintance as to cast severe doubt on her judgment.

How did the man get such a reputation as a writer from such cardboard portrayals? Might it be because his cardboard portrayals satisfy the requirements of the Leftist Establishment? Might his position as the 15th most powerful man in the UK media be based on a sort of sucking-up? Or is he actually as thick as his thin characterisations and richly-bearded 19th Century politics might suggest?

As the closing titles ran, my wife commented wrily, "Right, peasants, now you know what to think." Precisely.

Davies is the sort of Leftist who rarely fails to mention his comprehensive school when interviewed, giving it its full title so as to avoid any suspicion of having been educated. He wears his working-class background as a badge of honour when, logically, that is just as stupid as a Lord being proud of his Norman ancestry. He is so keen to fit the mould of British Leftism that one wonders if even his constantly-mentioned sexuality is genuine. Perhaps his gay partner is a new kind of beard?

Whatever the truth, the insufferably smug Davies, while he is to be praised for reviving Doctor Who,  has gone on almost completely to spoil it with his rancid agitprop. If I could give him his own Tardis, I would. Provided I could rig it to break down on the edge of a black hole.