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

Luke's Blog: An idea

Link: Luke's Blog: An idea.

CretinMany bloggers are keen to improve their traffic. Few would consider public resignation from the human race as a stratagem to achieve it. Luke Akehurst appears to be one of those few. How else to explain his amazing "idea?"

The idea is perfectly emblematic of the current state of the New Labour project. While still Campbellian in its amorality, it lacks political judgement. I am linking to him not so much for you to read his disgusting "idea," as to revel in the ferocity of the comments - from Left, Right and Centre - and in the lameness of his comments in reply.

Like New Labour itself, Luke has lost touch both with reality and with his humanity.


David Davis resigns

Link: Shadow Home Secretary David Davis resigns to force by-election - Times Online.

Free_man_2Labour can counter David Davis's gesture by simply not running a candidate. We shall see how his political gambit plays out but, whatever the outcome, we must respect what he says.  It is worrying that the Times suggests David Cameron might not have had his party vote against the Government yesterday, had Davis not threatened to resign. I hope it is not true.

Yesterday's debate focussed on 42 days, but the number is irrelevant. Detention of suspects without trial is wrong. The police should arrest no-one unless they have reasonable evidence. When I was practising criminal law, they had 48 hours to question a suspect before bringing a charge. That was plenty of time, if they had done their job.

The British blogosphere today is full of mock eulogies for Liberty. She is still not yet dead, but has been in a coma since the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was passed. I started this blog because of that Act, and things have merely gone from bad to worse. Who am I to criticise Davis for futile gestures? In the end, a man must do what he thinks is best to advance the cause of liberty. Whether we think his tactics are right, we should all applaud Mr. Davis's principled stand.


Polly Toynbee; deftly bypassing reality

Link: Polly Toynbee: Cameron deftly bypasses the hard politics of the family | Comment is free | The Guardian.

TbwHow can a supposedly intelligent person defy logic her whole life? Here is La Toynbee on the subject of Conservatives and their sacred cow, "the family." Quite reasonably, she points out that this is not a uniquely conservative construct. Even Lefties want stable relationships apparently and, as she says, (alarming image) a Socialist good fairy's preferred gift to a child would be a loving family. After this brief holiday in reality, however, Britain's most barking-mad woman is soon off to la-la land again.

"The reason the left is instinctively suspicious of Conservative praise for the family is because it always sounds like a deliberate distraction from the real cause of social malaise - the wealth gap that dislocates society. It's easier to call for stronger families than to confront the true reason why some countries do well socially and why we do badly."

How can she assert this with so straight a face? If she knows any history, she knows a more accurate (though no less wild) generalisation would be that families in Britain were more stable when the country was poorer. If she knows any geography, she knows that - far from poverty correlating to family breakdown - richer countries tend to have less stable families. It almost seems that the luxury the world's poor most long for is divorce.

The working-class families among whom I grew up did not farm babies for subsidies. A car was a rare luxury. Plasma TVs and Nintendo wiis were unheard of. They lived from wage packet to wage packet and ate less well as pay day approached. They invariably supported themselves by work. That may perhaps be why they were known as "working-class." Why that title is now reserved for the economically-inactive is a question for another day. As it the question of whether the name of "the Labour Party" now breaches trading standards.

I have lived in one rich country and two poor countries. Family is undoubtedly much stronger in the poor ones. Humans seem generally to respond quite logically to a need to stick together. Remove that need, and they respond in other (no doubt equally rational) ways. I make no case for poverty of course. However, while it's easy for a well-off person (unless she makes a living writing for the Guardian) to say so, I don't think there's much correlation between wealth and happiness . As a late friend of my family used to say when I was young, "Money doesn't make you happy, it just allows you to be miserable in comfort".

People generally seem happier with the prospect, rather than the fact, of material success. I would go so far as to say that something to strive for is the secret of happiness, and that it matters very little what that something is, or from where, socially or economically, you begin your strivings.

Endless repetition of the claim that inequality is the source of all evil does not make it right. Endless unchallenged repetition, however - as demagogues everywhere know - may lead fools to accept it as fact.


The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid

Link: Amazon.co.uk: The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Mohsin Hamid: Books.

FundamentalistMy wife recommended this book to me. There was a time I recommended books to her, but the other demands of my life have now made her my literary pathfinder. It has lain for some months on the "to read" pile that reproaches me nightly as I take to my bed. I picked it up today to take out to my solitary Sunday lunch (we are separated for some weeks by the renewed prickliness of the Russian authorities about renewing foreign residents' visas). I read it all with such relish that I cannot remember what I ate.

It has been a long time since a book so impressed me. The writing is sparse and melodic. There is a gentle, seductive rhythm to it. It is set in the present day. It is one side of the Pakistani narrator's conversation with an unknown American in a cafe in Lahore. The American's identity and intentions are unknown.

I will not spoil it for you  by revealing the story. I will only say I have never read better prose and that I am torn between admiration, respect and envy. This is an important book. Don't be put off by that. It gave me an insight that is not always easy for a Westerner of my ilk to find. Even if you only usually read non-fiction, or if your reading of fiction does not normally run to "literature", I commend it to you. The author's "voice" is beautifully distinctive and you will learn much that you will be wiser, safer and perhaps even better, for knowing.


Delicious schadenfreude

FistLink: Labour Party could be bankrupt in three weeks - Telegraph.

As anyone could have predicted, the unions are demanding obedience in return for bailing Labour out. Much as the pleasing symmetry of the party being financially as well as ideologically bankrupt might appeal to many of its victims, it is not going to happen. Labour will prostitute itself to the brothers as it always has. I had to smile at this quote from an unnamed "union official" though;

"The leaders of the big unions do not want to cut themselves off and cast themselves into the wilderness. But they are struggling to contain revolts among their members who ask: what is this government doing in return for the money we give?"

That, brother, is a question all taxpayers could ask. Not least about money corruptly kicked back to the unions.


On the virtual red carpet

Rentals_adOn July 1st, 2007 Blogpower hosted a virtual awards ceremony in Second Life. The idea was to present trophies to the bloggers who had won Blogpower Awards in such serious categories as "Best Britblogger" or "Best North American Blogger" as well as in less serious ones such as "Best Ranter". The "sky box" where it all took place has long gone. I have since bought most of the region where it was and have redeveloped it as a lakeside park on the ground and a sci-fi city in the sky.

However I recorded the location where the innovative ceremony took place and have built a laws-of-physics defying memorial there. Visitors to the Blogpower Common Room may visit by clicking on the teleporter for a menu and selecting "Memorial" as their destination. Those who remember dancing at the post-awards party may be pleased to know that the Airship "Limoncello" which contained the ballroom and bar is still there. It now houses the Limoncello Art Gallery, which contains both a permanent collection of Real Life and Second Life art and changing displays in 12 small galleries I provide free to artists working in SL. "Art Gallery" is the option on the teleporter which will take you there. "Ballroom" will take you to the awards party venue, which is now available for hire for SL events and has since been used, for example, for weddings. Yes, people get married in SL. Weird, isn't it?

Blogpower_memorial_001The awards themselves were a lot of fun. The ceremony, while nerve-wracking to organise (given Second Life's tendency to crash at crucial moments), was entertaining too. We had a lot of interesting conversations in the run-up period, while bloggers planning to take part were practising their Second Life skills. As far as I know, there are no plans to organise Blogpower Awards again. Perhaps, when such meetings in virtual worlds become commonplace, some bloggers will remember with amusement their clumsy moments as pioneers.


Longer detention is about saving the public

Link: Longer detention is about saving the public - Telegraph.

The author of the linked piece was until recently head of Scotland Yard's "counter terrorism command." Carefully selecting a case in which his suspicions had proved to be true (how many times were they wrong, I wonder), he dramatically recounts how his officers had to pull all-nighters in order to assemble evidence against a suspected terrorist within a then 14 day limit.

There was not a shred of evidence against them. The intelligence was clear - that he and his gang were planning attacks in this country, but there was no evidence that could be used in court.

There was plenty of evidence you see. Just none that "could be used in court". That didn't stop our intrepid protector;

The decision was made to arrest them, and they were promptly rounded up in London and Blackburn.

Clarke is proud that he ordered the arrest of a fellow-citizen with "no shred of evidence." He has no concern that his instincts could have been wrong.

What should he have done? Police officers in happier lands (such as Britain used to be) can only hold suspects for 48 hours without charge. They would assign some officers to watch the suspects (and intervene if necessary) while others conducted an investigation to substantiate their suspicions with a shred or two of evidence. Clarke argues that while at liberty, the suspects might have committed a crime. How very true. So might he. Based on intelligence gleaned from his own article, he is likely at any time to make an unlawful arrest, for example. Shall we bang him up to pre-empt that?

If arresting people on "no shred of evidence" was his way of doing his job, then it is no wonder that half of the people detained under anti-terrorist powers are eventually released without charge. I am amazed that those people do not all sue  for wrongful arrest. No doubt they are all too busy rebuilding lives shattered by cavalier police action. How many of us would still have a job to go back to if detained for 42 days as a suspected terrorist, albeit with "no shred of evidence" against us? Especially in a climate of fear created by politicised policemen and policified politicians who imply in their every public statement that they know who the terrorists are, but are prevented from dealing with them by stupid rules? Those same "stupid rules" which have kept us free men for centuries.

The hypocrisy of the man is breathtaking;

...we have to brace ourselves for another deluge of politicised comment on the proposal to extend the time terrorist suspects can be held.

He argues that we should trust him to arrest us on "no shred of evidence" because he was once right in his guesses. He urges a change in the law to allow him to hold us for longer while he look for those irritating shreds of evidence to which fuddy-duddy judges are so unaccountably attached. At the behest of his political masters, he makes a political demand inconsistent with our deepest conceptions of who we are as a nation. Yet if we dare to question it, we are making "politicised comments." If I were a swearblogger,  I could tell Mr. Clarke precisely what to do with this argument. I might well suggest that he use a red hot poker to assist him in the process.

His sophistry continues relentlessly;

When I was asked, in 2005, by the home affairs select committee how many terrorists I had been obliged to let go through lack of time to investigate, I inwardly despaired. It was the wrong question. We should look forward, not back. The fact that we have been able to convict more than 60 terrorists in the last year or so is irrelevant.

Were I a person to form suspicions on "no shred of evidence", I might wonder at the use of the Labour Party's slogan for the last election here. After all he is publicly supporting Gordon Brown's latest attempt at political machismo. However, I have no shred of evidence to convict him of being New Labour. Nor have I any powers to detain him for interrogation about his suspected membership of a gang which presents a greater threat to our liberties than Al-Qaida, so let's move on.

The argument has boiled down to this: is the perceived infringement of freedom proposed by the Bill so serious that to legislate on a precautionary basis cannot be justified? This is a serious question, but finding the answer has been made difficult by the intrusion of party politics and an entire barrel of red herrings.

If I find myself in a cell in Paddington Green police station, falsely accused of a terrorist offence on the say-so of a man like Clarke, then any infringement of my freedom will be a mere perception. I shall try to remember that.



A luvvie laments

Link: Britons are puritans and philistines, laments Sir Peter Hall - Telegraph.

Comedy_tragedy_masksSeeing Sir Peter's productions in my youth made me the theatre lover I am today. He and Trevor Nunn are national treasures; every bit as much as the great actors of the last generation Hall lauds in the linked article as  "bloody good." It is too much to hope that an arts person who has largely lived on public subsidy should be other than a Labour luvvie, but it is highly encouraging that even he has noticed his favoured party's tendency to subvert all public expenditure to political ends;

"The idea that the Arts Council is a body that should operate at arm's length from the   government has long gone. The Arts Council now belongs to the government."

and its fundamental dishonesty;

"I   am sick of the fact that the political establishment is concerned with soundbites and announcements. The Government has concerned itself with announcing reforms, rather than implementing them. It's all wonderful PR as long as you don't look at what they said three months earlier. It's a hateful climate of spin. It's lies, basically."

If Sir Peter is, as reported, thinking of abstaining at the next election, then Labour should really consider not contesting it at all. I wonder if his political thinking will ever move so far as to consider whether public subsidy of the arts (and not just because of the risk of their being politically subverted) is really a good thing?

When I hear theatrical types asserting that public money is essential to their art, I always remember that their god was a successful theatrical businessman who wrote and staged his plays for money. He was so English a genius (can you imagine this of Goethe?) that he actually retired when he had made enough money to achieve his modest goal of setting himself up in his home town as a local gent. As far as we know, he only set pen to paper again to write his will. He died of a chill after walking home in the rain from meeting his old theatrical mates at the pub. I am sure I would have delighted to be in that company, but am not at all sure I would want to spend an evening with his successors.

If they emulated his lack of pretension and his commercial nous, perhaps modern luvvies might also hope to reach such a wide audience as Shakespeare did, while neither begging for handouts nor compromising artistic standards?