THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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January 2009

The Reader

I read and enjoyed Bernhard Schlink's novel The Reader when it was first published in English. I was reluctant to see the film adaptation, as I always am when I like the book. A movie can hardly improve on any but the shortest and lightest of novels, so the risk of disappointment is not usually worth taking. Nor were the reviews encouraging. Those I read had ranged from "high-gloss preposterousness" (Mike McCahill in the Telegraph), through "cold, cerebral work" (can't help but devalue the horror of the crimes of National SocialismThereader

The reviews tell you more about modern Britain than about the film. Ms Ide, for example, misses the point in exactly the way I would have guessed. The recent focus on 20th Century history in British schools has left a cheap, shallow, impression of Nazism (and, by implication the Germans who gave birth to it) as uniquely evil. As a senior, intelligent colleague said to me recently (with terrifying complacency) "a police state couldn't happen here, we are too nice." So, I wanted to cry out, are the Germans "nice". So are the Chinese and so are the Russians. So, I imagine (though I have no personal experience) are the Albanians, the North Koreans and the Cubans. Every human has the potential for good and evil. So it does not "devalue the horror" to show (as the movie does) how a lowly citizen could be drawn into wickedness. Quite the opposite, in fact. If such horror could happen in the most civilised country in Europe, it could most certainly happen here - or anywhere else.

As the afternoon-TV sentimentalism of modern British culture disgusts me, "cold" and "cerebral" are actually encouraging words in a film review. They suggest the movie might actually be "a thinker," rather than the usual cheap tug on the heart-strings. As for "high-gloss" and "preposterous", these must be discounted for British puritanism. As it turned out, they were plain wrong anyway. McCahill must must have mixed up his reviewing notes, as The Reader is anything but either.

Mrs P. wanted to see the movie today. I reasoned that looking at Kate Winslet's naked form could be no hardship, so (though I wanted to see Defiance) I agreed. I am glad I did. Forget the sneering reviews. It is a wonderful film. The screenplay is a spare, elegant and atmospheric adaptation of the book and a fine piece of writing in its own right. The direction moves the story along unhurriedly, but economically. There are several rock-solid performances, not least from dependable Ralph Fiennes (whom I saw recently on stage as Oedipus), but most notably from Miss Winslet. She is the real acting deal. I hope this movie will launch a long career as a serious actress, even after men stop going to her films on the "no hardship" basis I did today.


Using your money to exclude you

Public money used to stop public having a greater say in policing - Telegraph.

Don't ask whose money it is. Our public officials certainly don't think it's ours. Listening to "The World at One" as I drove along the M56 today, I heard Yvette Cooper, Labour's current irritant-in chief, talk about "an injection of government money into the economy." Where did she think that "government money" came from? And if it was not in the economy before, where was it, why and can we have a tour of those caves please?

To the extent the government has cash in its coffers, it belongs to that minority of people from whom it was extracted by force. If Cooper was thinking of money the government plans to print quantitatively ease, then that's a dilution of the value of the money not yet taken by force. And if she meant money the government plans to borrow in our name, it's our grandchildrens' money, as yet unearned. Whichever it is, it's not government money. The government is merely supposed to supervise its prudent application to public purposes on our behalf.

If the obnoxious Ms Cooper knew whose money it was, she would not cause offence every time she carries the bucket behind Alistair Darling's horse (while he carries the bucket behind Gordon Brown's) - to use Paxo's charming (and, of course, entirely unbiased) imagery when speaking of George Osborne and David Cameron the other evening.

As for campaigning with public money to have the public excluded from decision-making, it's a wonderful little metaphor for life under Labour. The British state now has a  beastly life all of its own and we are merely parasites in its fur. Why do Police Authorities even need an association, anyway? What benefit has the public ever derived from this particular use of its funds? If a public movement grew up to demand that the association be disbanded, would the APA listen to the public's concerns or just use our money to oppose that too? I suspect it would do the latter and with no more of a qualm than a sense of irony.


Half of schoolchildren bullied (if bullying defined as rudeness)

Ofsted: Half of schoolchildren bullied - Telegraph.

Can we reclaim our language from these idiots please? Did they ever go to school themselves? If "verbal abuse" is bullying, then the amazing thing is that half of the pupils were not bullied. Indeed, I am now worried about them. Had they no friends close enough to take the mickey? Were they so bland that neither thugs nor wits noticed them? How are they going to survive if they are not hardened in their youth?

When I was in school, we had a word for the sort of chaps who now "work" for Ofsted.


Why I support Israel

Israel acts because the world won't defend it | Daniel Finkelstein - Times Online.

If you feel Israel is at fault (and it's hard to find any other view in the MSM in Britain) I would refer you to Daniel Finkelstein's excellent piece today in The Times. He references the meeting at Camp David in 2000, when an Israeli offer brokered by President Clinton should have finally ended this conflict and seen Clinton go down in history for something more than his creative use of Havanas. It didn't because the Palestinians and their sponsors don't want peace. They will settle for nothing less than the annihilation of Israel. If you don't believe me, read Hamas's Charter and Google President Ahmadinejad's utterances on the subject. As Finkelstein says;

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

That is why, though I was suspended from my school for selling the Free Palestine newspaper at its gates as a 16 year old, I stopped supporting the Palestinians long ag. I lost all remaining sympathy with them when they celebrated 9/11 in the streets. That is why I have made clear my support for Israel, the IDF and its operation Cast Lead. That is why I think, like the kindly teacher in Finkelstein's anecdote, many well-intentioned Brits should revisit their views on this subject.


Why the police disappoint

Ruralshire Policing Pledge « POLICE INSPECTOR BLOG.

Inspector Gadget writes the best public service blog, bar none. Today he explains the real reasons why the police sometimes disappoint their "customers":

  1. You are mad and are asking us to communicate with your deceased grandmother or fight Cybermen in your garden. (true story)
  2. You are attention seeking and you want us to bring up your kids, sort out your love-life and ‘do’ your ex-partner for texting you.
  3. You expect everything to be solved in 40 minutes with no real evidence and all criminals to confess in interview. (like on the telly)
  4. You are a sensible law-abiding citizen who has a genuine need and are waiting for us to deal with 1-3 above.

Spot on, I suspect. A policeman's lot is not a happy one. The saddest thing about Inspector G's very entertaining writing is how little he clearly has to do with category 4, to which most of us belong.

I cannot recommend his blog enough. It's often funny, sometimes sad and always self-evidently honest. Reading it, as a civil libertarian for whom (thanks to their political masters) the police are often in the firing line, keeps me in touch with the realities of their vital and often under-rated work. It stops me seeing them as the enemies of liberty they so often seem. Every so often his superiors have a go at Inspector G. about his blog. In truth, he does them more good than their entire PR budget.


Waiting for the One

Comment Central - Times Online - WBLG: Should Israel talk to Hamas?.

Danny Finkelstein concisely makes the key points. What he sadly (and inaccurately) calls "liberal opinion"  is asking Israel to "make peace" with people who will not be satisfied (at present) with anything less than its annihilation. The government of a democratic state could not achieve a mandate to accept that, even it if wanted to. Israel's military objective is not the annihilation of the Palestinians. It is to soften them up, so that they will make peace. It is not an easy objective, as the history of the region has shown, but it is achievable, given time and courage.

The Palestinians' worst enemy is not Israel. It is the rest of the Muslim world that has left them twisting in the wind for so long. The Iranians and the Arabs prevent a peace settlement because they don't accept Israel's right to exist. Yet they are no longer willing (after repeated military humiliations) to put their armies into the field to conquer it. Hence a pathetic nation reduced to using its women and children as weapons, as its wealthy and well-armed "supporters" cheer them on from a safe distance. Someone should give the Muslim leaders a copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War. The wise old Chinese general would explain to them that - even if you have the courage (as they do not) to deploy your armies - it is a mistake to set a war goal that involves  your enemy's destruction. You need to leave him an exit so he has the possibility to retreat, building him a golden bridge if necessary so he is not forced to turn and fight.

The feminist, pro-gay, secular left in Britain (i.e. Danny's "liberal opinion") is now siding unequivocally with misogynist, homophobic religious fanatics. I can understand (all too well) why Neanderthal elements of the socially-conservative blogosphere are anti-Israel, but what is the left's excuse? 

Perhaps Israel has simply become too closely associated with their real enemy, the United States of America? It is amusing to watch the leftist British media breathlessly anticipate, in this context, the coming of "the One." I suspect they are in for a disappointment. President-elect Obama is the most left-wing leader the United States is ever likely to have. As his un-American policies are put into practice, I predict a wave of revulsion will sweep him from office after a single term. Until then, however, he will support Israel as his party requires. How will the left handle that? Will they just ignore it, as they are now conveniently ignoring Tony Blair's comprehensive failure as a peace envoy? When you are a pretty, charming bearer of the left's grim standard, it seems that much may be forgiven you. Nonetheless, the ideological contortions will be fun to watch.


New Labour cracking the whip

New Labour cracking the whip over extreme porn « Harpymarx.

The relentless invasion of our private life by this government continues. Labour knows no ethical limits to state power, because it believes the state itself  to be an ethical force. Its simple minded equation is that "more government = more virtue." You don't have to share the classical liberal view of the state as a necessary evil to realise that this is dangerously naieve.

Harpymarx (a new blogger to me, found through the current Britblog Roundup) goes into detail in the linked post about the government's new measures against pornography. The dangers of these are multiplied when you connect the dots with other legislative innovations. This particular proposed new crime is based on "possession" of pornographic images. I am sorry to shock my more delicate readers but all "possession" offences are subject to the risk that the offending material will be "planted."

Am I alone in fearing that police powers to hack into our computers will ensure a 100% conviction rate of the state's enemies? If they have access to our hard drives, they can place there whatever illegal images or documents they please. Since Labour's voters (and not a few from other parties) share their simplistic faith in the essential goodness of all who take the Queen's shilling, where are we then?

Be polite to any policemen you know. You might like to start considering donations to police charities and little gifts at Christmas etc. If you have any friends who grew up in a former Warsaw Pact country, ask their advice on how to maintain a friendly relationship with law enforcement officials of an all-powerful state. Your days of insisting on what few of your rights remain may soon be over.


Portrait of a lady

 Thatcher finds a permanent home at No 10: First look at the £100,000 portrait Brown ordered as a lasting tribute | Mail Online.

Margaret

The only time in my life when I felt that there was some chance of reversing Britain's decline was when Margaret Thatcher was in power. As a student politician at the time, I was one of the first people to call himself a Thatcherite. For working class people, she was a breath of fresh air. She did not believe in the magic power of politicians to make things right. She did not believe that manufactured money (not backed by real production) could be used to wash away national cares. She removed the tyranny of the trade union closed shop. The oligarchs of Labour are still protesting years later, but people who worked under such conditions still remember her kindly for it.

She was hated by the left, understandably. An anonymous left-wing MP is quoted as saying, ludicrously;

Maggie Thatcher is the devil incarnate to many of our supporters who remember how she destroyed the unions and put our people on the dole. Gordon Brown may have forgotten that. Some of us haven’t.

So what? No politician NOT hated by the left is worthy of respect. More tellingly, she was hated by the Tory grandees who were the reason working class people had never before felt comfortable in the Conservative Party. Her success was a working-class phenomenon. She was practical, commonsensical and honest. We felt comfortable with her. They did not. She was always "that bloody woman" to them. I left the party when they betrayed her, as they had longed to do since she was elected leader.

In the end, she failed. Not because she was a bad woman (she is a very good one). Not because she lacked the energy or the ability (she clearly didn't). Not because she was betrayed (though she was). She failed because she did not attack the leftist establishment in British education. There is no excuse for that. She was highly-educated herself, believed in the importance of education and had been an Education Minister. She must have known how riddled Britain's schools and colleges are with leftists. I think she simply underestimated the weakness of her fellow man. She was such a force of nature that she simply would not have understood that lesser humans might be unduly influenced. So while, briefly, entrepreneurship and personal responsibility became sexy again, the universities continued to indoctrinate future teachers and media types. Not only does that mean today's young voters have never heard a good word about Margaret Thatcher. It means they have heard very few good words about free enterprise, liberty and responsibility.

So why does Gordon Brown purport to admire her? I am sure in his heart he feels as strongly as his colleague quoted above. He certainly shares none of her values. He will not find it odd that a £100,000 portrait paid for by the taxpayer is described (by a newspaper which should know better) as his "personal tribute," because he does not adequately distinguish between the public purse and his own. If he admires her at all, it is for her character and charisma; qualities he lacks. He is attempting to associate himself with her strength and (more deviously) to continue the triangulation of natural Conservative voters. He is signalling, even as he conducts himself like every Labour leader ever, that he is somehow different and may be trusted. The opinion polls suggest the trick still works, so why would he stop using it?


Thousands throw shoes in London. I send pizza.

Thousands throw shoes at Downing Street in protest against Israeli action in Gaza - Telegraph.

I am in London with my family to see Oedipus at the National Theatre. A window of our hotel was smashed by the pro-Palestinian rabble for no particular reason. As I watched them from my room, I felt whatever is the precise opposite of solidarity. So I sent a month's supply of pizza to an Israel Defence Force patrol. If you would also like to nourish those hunting down Hamas, the link is here.

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