THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Previous month:
January 2008
Next month:
March 2008

February 2008

Hypocritical fools

Link: Government backs down over plastic bags | Politics |

You have to laugh at the hypocrisy and idiocy of our rulers. What Mrs Paine and I don't understand is why it's better for retailers to charge for plastic bags than to provide paper ones, like those wicked un-Green Americans that the Left so hate? Will all retailers who introduce charges for plastic bags reduce the prices on  their goods so as to achieve the same net cost to their customers? If not, what is so virtuous about them increasing profits on a moral pretext? Are they not simply emulating those governments who find global warming a very convenient "truth" when it comes to raising taxes?

Useful Idiots

Link: UK Parliament - Early Day Motions By Details.

Everyone who signed this early day motion is unfit to be a member of a free parliament. Everyone who voted for these wretches is unfit to be a citizen of a free country. Other bloggers are calling for them to be hanged. I understand their outrage, but - as yet - stupidity is not a criminal offence in Britain. Indeed, judging by the outpourings of our political classes and our media, it seems more likely to be made compulsory than to be criminalised.

I cannot say I would grieve much to see these despicable people swinging from a rope tied to a lamp post. I fear I might even smile at the sight. I am too much of a libertarian to urge it though. They are free men and women (no thanks to their own efforts) and have a perfect right to be stupid. However you also have a perfect right (if one of them is your MP) to set them straight. Here is a useful website that will help you do it with minimal effort. The links above will provide plenty of useful material for your letter.

If you are a consituent of one of these fellow-travelling useful idiots, you can also make a point of letting all of your friends and neighbours know. Most represent constituencies which would elect a gerbil wearing a Labour rosette. Some constituencies actually have. However, many also have new constituents from Eastern Europe who understand precisely the nature of the Castro regime. I lived 11 years in Poland. I suspect that if you let your Polish neighbours know about their MP's dictator-idolatry, the effects will be striking. As EU members they are all entitled to register to vote. It would be great if the sons and daughters of the victims of communism could help us rout its remaining sympathisers in Britain.

Abducted, abused... survived

Link: Abducted, abused... survived - Times Online.

All reason is suspended when dealing with child abduction and paedophilia. I have commented before about society's much greater concern for abducted blonde girls than others, for example. I did not want to set the hares of racism and sexism running, but it is evident that the media gets better viewing figures by exploiting the parents of such girls than by exploiting the parents of other abductees.

These are dreadful crimes and perpetrators deserve no sympathy. If you cannot satisfy your sexual desires with a consenting adult or inanimate object, I am afraid you are condemned to chaste frustration. Sexual urges are very powerful; they often find expression in bizarre ways. Yet no civilised society can accept them as an excuse.

The perpetrators of many other crimes, however, as their actions are not the subject of such a powerful taboo, are able to win sympathy by passing themselves off as victims of "society" or their upbringing rather than of their own selfish urges. Theodore Dalrymple's excellent book Life at the Bottom; the Worldview that makes the Underclass says more than I ever can about the Guardianisation of criminals and their skillful use of psychobabble to put social workers and judges on their side. I merely observe, from limited personal experience as a defence lawyer in my youth, that criminals invariably describe their actions in the passive voice as something unfortunate that happened to them. I have been suspicious of anyone using the passive voice ever since.

I remember one whingeing rogue saying to me "Oh, Mr Paine I was doing so well; keeping out of trouble - and then this happened." The "this" in question was being apprehended on the roof of an electrical goods store with his socks on his hands. [British criminals know that carrying gloves can, in our mild climate, be considered going equipped for burglary, so - before DNA evidence - they used their socks to avoid leaving fingerprints]. My sorry task was to plead mitigation for this waste of space. I did it to the best of my youthful ability, but confess that I was delighted by the scorn in the magistrates eyes as I did so. I guess I was not cut out for the noble and important profession of criminal advocacy, which is perhaps as well as I could not really afford to live on what it pays.

Those who undermine personal responsibility, which is the foundation of civilisation, should (oh feeble, hopeless word, "should") answer one day for the damage they do. A rational society would treat all perpetrators of serious violence with the same unremitting hatred and contempt it feels for paedophiles. Even those who commit property crimes, forcing honest folk to work longer and harder to pay for security devices, higher insurance premiums and replacements for their goods, should be despised not pitied. A rational society would hold everyone accountable for their own actions, unless legally insane (a much tougher definition than the clinical one).

Those who speak of "causes of crime;" those Guardianistas who see criminals as victims and find excuses for them should at least be intellectually consistent. Either they must also see paedophiles as helpless victims of their natural urges, more to be pitied than condemned, or they must condemn all others whom they now tend to excuse, exonerate or even celebrate. My view may seem hard, but it troubles my conscience much less than it would to hold theirs. My harsh view is also mitigated by a classical liberal preparedness to allow paedophiles (and all others whose sexual urges cannot be expressed in real life) to have access to CGI pornography or other outlets that do not involve the abuse of children, however repulsive I might personally find it. My expressing that view gave rise to one of the most intelligent debates in comments that I have ever stimulated (at the risk of associating this blog unfairly with the issue).

This particular story is refreshing, because the girls in question, despite all advice and guidance from busybodies and other grief-leeches, showed traditional English common sense and practicality. They have refused to have their lives defined by one horrible experience and I admire them for it. Yes, a terrible thing happened to them at the hands of a criminal, yet a moment's rational thought reveals that - against all "expert" advice - they have made the sensible choice.

Our sentimental, afternoon-tv, society finds that choice strange. A commenter at The Times site says she cannot conceive how the girls can think they derived benefits from their terrible experience. Of course they did. Many have learned about themselves and others, discovered new strengths, found true friends from terrible experiences. The happiest man I ever knew was left for dead at 16 on a First World War battlefield. He spent the rest of his war burying every young friend of his generation at a military cemetery in France. He could have succumbed to self-pity and lived a miserable life. He could have suffered from "survivor guilt." He chose instead to learn that life is a gift that can be lost at any moment and resolved to live every moment as if it were his last. He was a superb human being, largely because of that choice. When I feel sorry for myself, I remember him to try to put my problems in context.

There is nothing weird about the fact that these girls found the therapy imposed on them after their ordeal as bad as the assaults themselves. Therapy can help some people, sometimes. For those strong enough, with the support of family and friends,  to put bad experiences behind them and move on it can be a pointless reliving of horror. With that in mind, I wonder why they consented to be the subject of a documentary that can only revive their victim status?

I won't be able, from Russia, to watch The Girls Who Were Found Alive (Channel 4, Thursday, February 28, 9pm) and I am not sure that I would want to. I can only admire the spirit of those who refuse to let criminals set the agenda by making their victim status permanent.

American Vertigo, by Bernhard-Henri Lévy

200pxalexis_de_tocquevilleBhl I have just finished reading American Vertigo by Bernhard-Henri Lévy, the philosopher and writer whom I heard speak in Paris earlier this month. It made an interesting contrast with the similar (and yet very different) collection of reportage by Ryszard Kapuscinski I read immediately before it.

Levy is famous for rejecting Marxism, but is of the broad anti-capitalist left. Like me, he was a Maoist in his youth (to both our shames). However, he lacks leftist prejudices. In consequence, even when he infuriates me, he does it in a way which makes me reconsider the ossified thinking of my middle age and fret for my youthful (post-Maoist) flexibility of thought. He seems, like many in Europe, to be clambering over the rubble of Socialism to find an ideological position which will give the same mother’s-milk comfort as Marx’s discredited doctrine; the same “one size fits all” answer for which fools have craved and which knaves have peddled since humanity first formed a thought.

He is too intelligent simply to adopt another idol, now that the old one has been proved a fake to all but the most simple-minded. Not for him (at least not yet) the cretinous simplicities of Green thought as a new justification for total state power. Yet, for example when writing of Hurricane Katrina, (which happened on his American journey) he has an instinctive preference for centralisation; observing that the levées maintained or certified by the Federal Government were the ones that held the longest (as if that spoke for superiority of all central power, rather than for the rottenness of a particular local government).

His original idea was to write a book which would be a modern version of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Toward the end, he confesses that, growing up in a France where “...the last word in fashionable thought was Mao Tse-tung,” he had considered de Tocqueville second-rate.

Time of course, would change. With the collapse of grand political theories, the decline of the materialist visions of the world and their rigid, simple mechanisms, the need, above all, to reflect on the failure of socialism, on the desirability of the idea of revolution itself, and on the possibilities of democratic renewal, French intellectual attitudes would change and grow closer to a form of thinking that was to break our sterile deadlock with the inheritors of the ideas of Auguste Comte and Karl Marx

He carried de Tocqueville’s book on the journey and believes he saw confirmed, in modern American reality, many of the “extraordinarily far-sighted” insights of his precursor.

The triumph - which in his time hadn’t fully played out - of equality over liberty. The tyranny of the majority, which he  [de Tocqueville] was the first to point out and which isn’t any less fierce than other forms of dictatorship

Perhaps the passage that resonated most with me, however, was one which caused me to doubt my dream for a freer life there, in retirement, than I can hope for in my almost-lost England. Levy believes he saw, in “malls, mega-churches and leagues of virtue” the social tendency which his precursor observed;

...risks turning into a dictatorship whose immense, protective power, as ‘absolute’ as it is ‘meticulous,’ as ‘ordered’ as it is ‘provident and kindly disposed,’ ‘seeks only to keep them in perpetual childhood’ and eventually removes from them even ‘the bother of thinking’ and  ‘the troubles of life’

Perhaps Levy worries too much. Those of us who have seen modern states and churches in action in a number of countries can only smile at the idea of their being “meticulous” or “provident.”

At the end of the book, Levy compares himself to Kerouac (whose On the Road is one of my favourite books). In doing so he, again, displays characteristics which differentiate him from his most comfortable ideological companions. As one who loves the motor car above all other creations of Man (even, pace DK and Mr Jobs, the Macintosh) I smiled broadly to read the following passage;

While flying in an airplane abolishes time and distance, while it puts you in immediate touch with a point of arrival that is never really foreshadowed, while the train itself is, in Proust’s words, a ‘magical’ vehicle that transports you as though by enchantment, with almost no effort or gradation, from Paris to Florence and elsewhere, this journey, this long enduring journey by car, this ground-level journey that spares you nothing of the tectonics of space and hence of time, allows the traveller to experience a mode of the finite that alone can allow him to come to terms with the finitude of landscapes and faces ... Finally by playing remorselessly on this yearning for freedom that, in most modern modes of travel, lingers only as an improbable memory, this kind of journey has the additional merit of offering a reminiscence, a kind of condensation, of the great founding myths of the American nation; land promised and refused, lines of escape, shimmering horizons, the wall of the Pacific, the American dream - the last chance in this world to have even a whiff of the rite-of-passage experience that for centuries was the discovery, by each individual, of America.

Cars are liberty on wheels and one should never trust a man who doesn’t love them. Levy may have made me doubt that I can find my freedom in modern America, but that passage reinforced my dream of spending my retirement exploring its vastness in a delightful little coupé or convertible, with a camera and a MacBook on the back seat to record (and probably blog) my adventures.

I came to love France (rather than just her comestibles, which I cannot remember not loving) by my annual holiday drive to the Cote d’Azur. No-one ever learned to love a country by flying over it or riding its public transport. Levy, for all his criticisms, clearly loves the America he came to know by riding what Kerouac called “the white line in the holy road”. His criticisms should be listened to all the more respectfully for coming from a loving heart that laughs at those people, so well-represented in the blogosphere, namely;

...the monomaniacs who, when war is ravaging Darfur, when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are dying of hunger in Sri Lanka or Niger, when the neo-Talibans are humiliating the women of their Afghan villages, when the Pakistani Islamic fundamentalists prefer to burn women alive and call it a crime of honour, when the incompetent and corrupt leaders of the poorest countries bleed their own people dry and sacrifice them for their mediocre interests - when confronted with all this, can do nothing but repeat, like mindless machines: ‘blame the United States!’

This is a great book. BHL is no de Tocqueville, but I commend it to you. For a less friendly review, you might like to read this one, by Garrison Keillor, who - missing the point as comprehensively as I miss the point of his humour - concludes petulantly;

Thanks for coming. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. For your next book, tell us about those riots in France, the cars burning in the suburbs of Paris. What was that all about? Were fat people involved?

That may be the first time Keillor has made me laugh.

The Second Life of Blogpower

LimoncelloHelmofruthie_001During the run-up to the Blogpower Awards ceremony last year, many of our bloggers visited Second Life, the virtual world where the ceremony was held.

A couple of the visitors from that time are still regulars. However only Bag of Bag's Rants (a fellow-traveller, rather than a Blogpower member) has anything like the enthusiasm for SL that I have.

Of the others involved in the awards, Ruthie is still an occasional visitor, as is Ian Grey (aka Delicolor).

Lady_ellee_001At that time, I began a tradition of naming my various SL vessels after the female members of Blogpower. So we have a "steampunk" airship called the SS Ruthie (see picture of my avatar at the helm), a Zeppelin called The Lady Ellee and - stateliest of all - a 120 metre long airship liner called the AL Limoncello, after Welshcakes of that ilk. Currently in refit, the Limoncello houses my art gallery in Second Life and her large ballroom was the venue for our party after the 2007 awards ceremony.

Uss_highamAll vessels are usually female as any fool knows, but there is also a spacecraft named for Blogpower's well-loved founder, now sadly no longer a member. Here is the USS Higham in all its glory.

The new Blogpower Common Room (BCR) is on one deck of a new spacecraft, until now un-named. Bearing the above in mind, I have decided to name her in honour of enthusiastic Blogpowerer JMB of Nobody Important. As she is from Vancouver, I have named the craft the USS Vancouver, and the nameplate fixed high on the stern (click picture to enlarge) proudly declares that she has "JMB/Blogpower Hyperdrive." Jmb_nameplateI have two more vessels to name. Both are spaceships.

I am open to suggestions as to female Blogpower members to be honoured (in the comments please).  Suggested designs for the nameplates (emailed as jpeg files to the email address in the sidebar) would also be welcome.