THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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A chance encounter

One meets so many interesting people when travelling. On my flight today I fell into conversation with my neighbour, who works for a German chemical company and is responsible for its Irish, UK and Russian operations.

He told me he was flying to Dublin. When I mildly remarked it was a city that I liked, he went into an blogworthy rant about how he used to like it (he has lived in Ireland for 30 years) but that it had been ruined in the past decade by its transport planners. "Ireland has employment quotas for the disabled", he told me, "and the city of Dublin must have exceeded them, judging by the numbers of the mentally-handicapped it employs." He then regaled me with a richly comic account of their various botched efforts to improve the city's communications.

Naturally, we discussed the relationship between Ireland and England. He had been won over to the Irish side of that sad story, which gave me the chance to rehearse some of the arguments in a series of posts I am working on about patriotism and nationalism. He shocked me with his account of a British squaddie at a checkpoint during the Troubles, carelessly poking his rifle through the car window and leaving it pointed, finger on trigger, at the head of  his then two year-old daughter. As a former professional soldier himself, he was unimpressed. I could only apologise. He charitably said you couldn't judge an army by the failings of an individual soldier (though he gave several other eye-witness accounts of sub-optimal performance by British soldiers). Frankly I would have expected far better of our guys.

In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, he came up with a more radical version of one of my ideas. I have often thought the trend toward "outsourcing" could usefully be extended to the UK's prison service. I estimate that we could (easily) save 75% of the costs of our prisons by having a Russian contractor run them for us in Siberia. There, they would provide useful jobs. The environment is, shall we say, naturally conducive to security (i.e. if the prisoners decide to make a run for it, so what?) As for tending to their reformation and reintegrating them into society, I am sure the excellent (and strictly-disciplined) system of state education in Russia would be ready to make a few extra million roubles for their education and training.

My new friend's version was rather more aggressive. He suggested that all the nations of the EU should pay the Russians half a million Euros per long-term prisoner on terms that they would ship them to Siberia, provide them with warm clothes, a tent, a knife, a handgun, five bullets and then abandon them. "Within two hundred years," he said "Russia would have solved her demographic problem and Europe would have a new  civilisation."

Well, it's a thought.

Rather than leave you with that one however, let me tell you one of his extensive collection of Soviet-era jokes, learned from colleagues at his Russian factories.

Aleksei and Sergei were walking by the Neva river. "Aleksei," said Sergei, "do you remember when we stormed the Winter Palace?" Aleksei said he did. "Do you remember all those wonderful speeches by the Bolshevik leaders, Aleksei?" Aleksei smiled and said he did. "And do you remember those tablets they gave us in the Red Army so that we wouldn't want to be with women?" "Yes," said Aleksei, "I remember". "Well," said Sergei, "I think they are finally working."

Have a good weekend.

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