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

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Let's get to work saving the West

 

This video of a discussion between two American professors is educational not only on the important question of feminism, but also on the general decline of intellectual discourse in the West. They explain why American universities have become, as Dinesh d'Souza put it; 
islands of repression in a sea of freedom

Much of what they say is relevant to the current storm on social media in the wake of Brexit. I suggest it may partly account for the division between "educated" and "uneducated" in the referendum vote. I would love to see a breakdown of the Remain vote (but no academic will research it and no productive person would waste the time or money) between what Americans call "liberal arts" graduates and those from harder disciplines such as STEM, law and accountancy. Most of our "education", particularly since Blair forced up the numbers attending "uni" (as those on whom it was wasted always call it)  is actively damaging to its victims' intelligence. They come out stupider than they went in.

It's well worth listening to Paglia's explanation of the shallowness of current teaching; of how everything is explained in the context of very recent history. Students in the last twenty years have had little or no exposure to the full story of humanity's development and in particular to the history of ideas. Most great minds in history (particularly of course the odious "DWEMs" or "Dead White European Males") would be denied a platform in a modern "seat of learning". Paradoxically they see the West; imperfect but still undoubtedly the most advanced, liberal and tolerant group of human civilisations and the only place where their childishness would be tolerated – as the heart of all darkness.
"In comparison", as Hoff Sommers puts it, "to what?!"
Paglia is also fascinating on how the new wave of "intersectional" feminism is almost Victorian in its prudish denial of the darker side of human nature. Whereas her generation grew up in the context of World War II, the Holocaust, Soviet tyranny etc. the "snowflake generation" has convinced itself that modern university campuses – factually among the safest places on Earth – are as dangerous as war zones. Yes, ladies and gentleman, it's hilariously stupid. But it won't be so funny when they show up in your offices, shops and factories and accuse you of running a "rape culture" because young male employees try to ask their female counterparts out.
 
Faculty across the West has served up what Hoff Summers calls "warmed over Marxism" to convince our young people, for example, that what they call gender and I call sex is a "social construct". That we are all born bisexual and guided by a malformed society into one sexual orientation or the other. That – and here's the rub – if the programming can be changed so can mankind. That the whole world can be turned – all gods forbid – into a "safe space."
 
They joke at one point in the conversation that a famous third wave feminist should sue Yale for mal-education but I think they have a serious point. The greatest expense of my life was to pay for the Misses Paine to be taught by "warmed over Marxists" that everything I hold most dear is vile. I have faith in their abilities to see through it. They read widely, thank God. I believe in the power of their first-rate minds but what of their weaker brothers and sisters? Many will simply keep regurgitating warmed over Marxism as they lack the critical faculties ever to question what they were taught. Modern education is not designed to develop those faculties. Quite the contrary.
 
We over-forties are discovering this week what it's like to be set upon by the snowflake generation's famous "cry bullies". We were educated more robustly to begin with and have years of life experience. We know what a real problem feels like and therefore find it rather amusing. But we need to pay attention. The way some young people are speaking of their elders – particularly those of us who are WEMs without the decency to add the D – tells you a lot about what their warmed-over Marxist teachers have been telling them behind closed doors. They really do see themselves as new humans, on a higher plane to us. Their contempt for the lumpen-proletariat of course, is old cold Marxism. The people in the deprived regions of Britain where I grew up are well aware of that and voted accordingly.
 
Britain's move toward political independence (economic independence being, of course, a myth unless you have the North Korean model in mind) is an opportunity to build a better country. But it doesn't guarantee it. This video demonstrates that our North American brethren have many of the same problems without the malign influence of the Énarque elitists of Europe and their funding of the West's educationalist enemies.
 
Rather than simply rejoicing in the lamentations of our enemies (hard to resist right now) we need to move with intent towards their shrillest wailing. Not to laugh in their faces but listen, mark and use the data. We should trace the thinking of these intellectually spoiled children back to its hostile source in our universities. We must ensure that the enemies of the West are no longer allowed to go unchallenged there. For so long as there are publicly-funded institutions of learning, they must provide a balanced education. All points of view must be represented, but no ideology must be allowed to do agitprop on the taxpayers' dime.
 
Hoff Sommers refers to the "key commandment" of education she has followed in teaching philosophy;
Thou shalt teach both sides of the argument
That commandment should be a condition precedent to any public funding in education. The British state should no longer fund courses in what Paglia calls "micro-fields" – gender studies and the like. She calls for a reduction by 60% in such courses and a return to the core curriculum. I don't see a need to specify a percentage. People can study what they like in a free society, but at their own family's expense or with funding from philanthropists.
 
The referendum result shows the peoples contempt for these warmed-over Marxist elites. Freedom's enemies are self-identifying themselves everywhere by their furious reaction to our impertinence. Take their names.

An assault on the English Language

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: Moving the goalposts on malnutrition.

If you don't disapprove of something that annoys them, the new puritans of the Left will redefine it. Their objective seems to be to warp the language until it's scarcely possible to discuss anything except upon their terms. Redefining "poverty" in relative terms, for example, has meant that nothing but communism could ever eliminate it. We couldn't be sold communism. We didn't think income equality very just. But we can hardly approve of poverty and now every policy proposed that doesn't tend to the misery of communism promotes it! 

We were not overly keen upon mass immigration and wondered with the irritating practicality of people who have to work for a living and manage limited budgets about its impact on overloaded public services and infrastructure. But immigrants tended to be from other cultures and of varying skin tones and so an interest in the topic was redefined as racism and effectively made taboo. 

As Chris Snowden explains in the linked article the SJWs of public health are now seeking to redefine malnutrition in such an absurd way that the over fed of the First World will now be no less malnourished than the hungry of the Third World. It sounds ridiculous now of course but discourse in the economic fairyland of the public sector where money grows on other peoples trees doesn't need to be logical. Once the term has been defined to their satisfaction, those of us distracted by the ever increasing need to work to fund their parasitical lives will hear nothing but that malnutrition is rising and needs more taxes to be fixed. 

They are a cancer. The metaphor is particularly apt in that here is no safe amount of cancer to be left in a system if it is to be healthy and survive.


Of circular firing squads

The Left Chose Islam Over Gays. Now 100 People Are Dead Or Maimed In Orlando - Breitbart.

The undeniable failure of the USSR, the introduction of free markets in the PRC and their "betrayal" by the workers who flocked to Thatcher for cheap houses and BT shares in the UK put the authoritarians of the Left in a tough position in the closing years of the 20th Century.
 
They could of course have abandoned their Leftism and accepted that free markets work. This would involve them acknowledging the death, oppression and poverty they had inflicted during that century's long experiment during which more than half of mankind lived at some point under their rule. Worse, it would involve them getting proper jobs and accepting the verdict of the market on their economic value. This was not appealing to people whose ideology had in truth arisen from varying combinations of laziness, stupidity and envy.
 
It was slightly more attractive for them to stick to their ideological guns. One Russian communist told me, when guiding me around the Kremlin when I lived in Moscow, that the Left had to accept that history had not been allowed to run the inevitable course predicted by Karl Marx. As she said 
Russia and China were still feudal societies and their revolutions came too soon. We will now have to wait for them to go through their capitalist and monopoly capitalist stages before we can have a socialist revolution followed by true communism. Next time, we will get it right.

This is admirably consistent, but still involves all living socialists going back to proper jobs for the foreseeable future. It's no more attractive for them than the first option, except that they can dream of a "better future" for their grandchildren as they work as Moscow tourist guides or whatever.

So they went with their third choice instead. They abandoned (at least for now) the idea of "class war"; though they do still like a nostalgic rant when confronted with non-socialist Etonians. Instead they focussed on generating social conflict by identifying "oppressed groups" and setting them against their "oppressors". Wimmin vs The Patriarchy. Black and Minority ethnics vs Racists. Muslims vs Islamophobes. LGBT people vs Homophobes and cis supremacists. Greens vs anyone who doesn't want to live in the Stone Age. Even, despite the historical internationalism of the Left (and the unfortunate outcomes of National Socialism when it was tried in Germany) Scots and Welsh Nationalists – all leftists – against the English. 
 
Identity politics had arrived and a game of victimhood poker began. Soon it became apparent that there were some real contradictions among the artificial ones they were fomenting to justify a powerful State – headed by them – to do "social justice". The Left in Britain had long depended upon the Scots to prop up their minority position in England, for example, and yet lost control of their votes by pandering to their nationalism. Being Scottish (and Socialist) trumped just being Socialist. Feminists like Germaine Greer took understandable exception to arrivistes in the trans community who tried to join her victim group rather than running their own. Most insanely of all, as Milo Yiannopolous points out in the linked article;

Liberals: the problem with putting Muslims at the top of your victimhood hierarchy is that THEY WANT TO KILL EVERYONE ELSE ON THE LIST

Nothing could be more ridiculous than a leftist campaign group called "LGBT against Islamophobia". And yet the group was formed. If we capitalists wanted to (and why should we play their stupid game?) it would be hard to be vile enough to persuade forces so divided to unite in the face of our "threat"!

The old Left, with which I grew up in the one-party North and at my redbrick university, was famous for its splittism, as beautifully satirised in Monty Python's "Life of Brian". The People's Front of Judea was far more likely to fight the Judean People's Front than any actual Romans. The Left hated each other so intensely that they sometimes forgot to hate the wealth generators upon whom they all plotted to live as parasites. This characteristic seems to have re-emerged in cultural Marxism as the victim groups proliferated.

The Orlando killer drew a terrible hand in victimhood poker. It seems he was a homosexual raised in a Muslim family. They would have thought him fit only for death had they known. Had he killed himself in his sexual and religious torment, I would have felt very sorry for him. Had he become a happy gay atheist, Christian or Hindu, I would have smiled for him. But he chose to redeem himself by killing others and must now go down in history as one of the worst of us. Not to be vindictive, at this moment I rather wish there was an Allah or Jehovah to give him the justice he escaped. Now that we know he was a regular patron of the gay club where he went amok and a user of Grindr and similar apps, it seems even more disgusting that Snowflake Owen Jones is still more concerned with ranking the relevant victim categories correctly than with the actual horror of innocent lives lost.

I was serious in what I wrote yesterday. It's really not enough to say "Aha! I told you so!" when discussing this awful story. The Left must address Milo's point. The NRA, as the representatives of responsible gun owners, must come forward with licensing schemes that ensure crazies can't get or keep guns or ammunition. The US Government must actually enforce the licensing regime they have. It seems bizarre that the Orlando killer could have been twice investigated by the FBI and yet retain his "G Licence" as an approved security worker, contracted to the government. G4S, the British multinational that employed him (as it once employed the late Mrs Paine's father - a former military and civilian policeman) must review its HR procedures for armed employees.

There are lots of practical lessons to be learned that can save lives in future. They will involve listening to each other calmly as adults, rather than just yelling the usual abuse. In the case of the Left's factions, they will involve listening to each other and realising just how crazy they all sound.


Don't blame the millennials, blame their teachers

Trigger warning: This post is full of generational generalisations. 

I don't share the general pessimism of my age group about the millennial generation. The Misses Paine are millenials. They are serious intellectuals, hard-working women who want to make a contribution to the world they live in and generally fine human beings. So are all their friends that I have had the pleasure to meet. I would go so far as to say that the millennials I know (admittedly a sample limited by my daughters' excellent taste and my former profession) are more sober, hard-working and serious than I was at their age.

In the wake of 2008, many millennials are having a much tougher time than the late Mrs Paine and I did at the beginning of our working lives. We walked, debt-free, out of university straight into employment. We earned enough to leave our parents' homes and pay our frugal way. We were able to marry at 23, rent a crappy flat for a couple of years and buy our first modest home. Neither of us were unemployed until we chose to be. We worked hard, took things seriously and struggled at times, but our lives look golden in retrospect compared to the struggles of the average millennial.

Nor do I join the Daily Mail and today The Times on reviewing this report (actually about post-millennials currently at university but I suspect reflecting similar beliefs), in fearing for them ideologically. They are not a political bloc any more than our generation was. They are socially liberal but they are also sceptical of politicians' promises to fix their economic problems. Some go so far as to criticise previous generations for having voted themselves unfunded benefits, incurring massive government debts now dumped on them. They are right. They have been screwed.

To the extent that they have scarily illiberal ideas, I think the interesting question is why? Based on my daughters' experiences at British universities, I blame lecturers of my generation. We may have won the debate in 1970s student politics about "No platform for fascists and racists" on a pure free speech argument. But then most of us on the winning side went into productive work and many of the "no platform" losers went into academia. They have indoctrinated subsequent students to the point where only 27% of them (and only 22% of women) believe that "Universities should never limit free speech".

Screenshot 2016-05-23 09.38.01

Some of this is simple confusion about the difference between good laws and good manners. Laws should only prohibit real harms, which do not include hurt feelings. I might ban from my circle of friends someone who went off on a racist or anti-Semitic rant, but I would not call the police. Universities can make their own rules, just like me at my dinner table. But the consequences are very different because they are rather more important fora for intellectual debate.

If students are not prepared to confront the ideas they dislike in the comfort and relative safety of a university lecture hall, how are they going to deal with them in the real world? And what, whisper it softly, if some of the ideas they hate turn out to be right?

Leftists have divided society into a hierarchy of victim groups entitled to dismiss the views of their supposed oppressors. But in the tradition mocked in "Life of Brian" when the Judean Peoples Front fought the Peoples Front of Judea, they have also allowed their zealotry to divide them in frankly hilarious ways.

Feminists like Germaine Greer are now banned from campuses because of remarks like her infamous "transphobic" observation that;

Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress doesn't make you a ******* woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a ******* cocker spaniel.

An interesting phenomenon in this context is the emergence of the "licensed dissident." The only people who can easily challenge illiberal views are those from the Left's pantheon of the oppressed who as Milo Yiannopoulos puts it, "go off the ideological reservation". Hence the importance of his "Dangerous Faggot Tour" of American campuses in which he systematically "triggers" the "spoilt brat rich kid social justice warriors" and exposes their idiocy by posting videos of their screaming on YouTube.

 

My favourite of his videos is this one of a panel at UMass with Steven Crowder and Christina Hoff Sommers. I particularly enjoyed her summary of "gender studies"

It's ideology pretending to be scholarship. It's propaganda pretending to be fact.

Milo is even more amusingly forthright on that topic and more seriously says in the course of the discussion;

The violence is coming not from the right but from the left and it is informed and justified in the minds of activists by this zealotry.

Yes, I see millennials behaving as absurdly as my leftist contemporaries but I also see them arguing against such absurdities with great verve and skill. I also hope that soon the effects of 2008 will be behind them so they can start to earn properly and pay more taxes. Nothing produces economic liberals faster than excessive tax. So, once again, and perhaps to my own surprise I am on the side of optimism.


Harriet Harman is being treated unfairly

Cranmer on Labour's paedophile problem

I agree with Harriet Harman that she is being smeared, but I struggle to feel as sorry for her as I should. She who lives by the sword shall, with a bit of luck approximating to karmic justice, perish by it. It is simply delicious that a women who has worked so tirelessly to undermine liberty and the rule of law is now in need of both. She doesn't seem as keen on 'the court of public opinion' now that she faces 'trial' herself.

Harman was one of the puritanical Left's Witchfinders in the scandal surrounding the allegations of under-age sex (but not paedophilia in his case) involving Jimmy Savile and other 1970s celebrities. Yet as in-house lawyer at that time to the National Council of Civil Liberties (now Liberty) she saw no need to advise her client that it was a problem to have the Paedophile Information Exchange as an affiliate. Indeed she seems to have worked on some of the outrageous papers supporting some of PIE's positions that NCCL published at the time. One might wonder how a newly-qualified solicitor found herself in such a role, but that's another issue. NCCL was pretty much a captive of the Labour Party and young Harman was already firmly on the left, where ideology always takes priority over talent or expertise.

Mysteriously she won't accept that her failure to give such advice was a mistake. I didn't qualify until 1982, so she is senior to me in our profession but I would certainly have acted differently in her place. Nor do I know any colleagues of that vintage who would not. I don't think the sexual mores of Britain changed very much between the mid 1970s and the early 1980s, but that's irrelevant according to Ms Harman. She has loudly insisted - when it suited her political position - that they haven't changed in forty years. 

That's hypocritical nonsense of course. We are talking of the era of The Little Red Schoolbook; an era of profound sexual upheaval. I still have my copy somewhere; a relic of my time as a teenage leftist in Harman's era at NCCL.

Not even the Daily Mail mentions now that PIE originated as a special interest group of Outright Scotland or that it merged with Paedophile Action for Liberation (itself an NCCL affiliate before the merger) - an offshoot of the South London branch of the Gay Liberation Front. It's not too surprising (if you are not an hypocrite who refuses to acknowledge that times change) that paedophiles, gay and straight, should have latched onto the gay movement's campaign to normalise what were then 'alternative' sexualities. Nor should a non-hypocrite seek to smear the gay movement for its failure - in those heady, underfunded, radical days, to differentiate as precisely between 'correct' and 'incorrect' attitudes as it now expects of others. It had not yet won the victory that now allows it to demonise those who fail to keep up with its ever-changing thought-crimes.

It really was a different world, in short, and the currently rather prudish Left have been foolish to intensify their attacks on the Catholic Church and Savile's showbiz circles by saying that it wasn't. As His Grace points out in the linked post;

The thing is, Pope Benedict XVI spent much of his pontificate issuing profuse expressions of remorse and repentance on behalf of his church for the heinous acts of paedophile priests and the post-conciliar hierarchical conspiracy of cover-up. And the BBC is still apologising over its 1970s "groupie" culture of misogynistic permissiveness and predatory paedophilia. Both institutions are horrified and appalled - 40 years on - that they did nothing to protect so many vulnerable victims over such a long period. But at least the perpetrators are now being held to account - one of them even post mortem.

These institutional apologies have not protected either, of course, from the relentless smears of the Left. Yet, for all their failings, neither the Catholic Church nor the BBC ever sought to justify the misconduct or, still less as the NCCL did, to argue that it should be normalised. 

Conservative commentators are reacting to this story in a generally gentle and seemly way. Iain Dale is taking the Milliband line. The Spectator is magnanimously pointing out that 

There is no continuity of between the positions Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt adopted in the 1980s and their thought today. In office, Harman led a group of Labour women politicians who worked to make the law friendlier towards rape victims. Hewitt, Harman and Harman’s husband Jack Dromey (who was at the NCCL at the time) have not campaigned to reduce the age of consent to 14 or 12, or to abolish it.

I am glad that the non-Left is being reasonable and refusing to make the kind of vicious demands for intemperate action that characterise 'righteous' leftists when they taste the blood of political opponents. It does them great credit and I hope voters notice. That said, the Daily Mail has really done no more than pick up Harman's and Dromey's own discarded grenades of hypocrisy and political dishonesty and lob them back into their trench.


Get Well Soon, Tony Benn

BBC News - Tony Benn seriously ill in hospital.

I rather like Tony Benn. He's a glorious English eccentric. He's an aristocrat whose attempts at working class affectation are so weak as to be hilarious. His patrician affection for the working class is, however, never in doubt. Say what you like about him, he did not use working people as fuel for his own career, unlike so many in his party (including some who were working men once). He is sincere in his stupidity. He believed he was doing good.
 
His instinctive emotional reaction is that of the better sort of country squire. Like many of his generation (including many far cleverer than him) he was drawn by the easy, wrong answers of Marxism. Still I have no doubt that - unlike many of his political successors - he has his heart in the right place.
 
He has been the political weathervane of many. My father told me years ago "I am not much interested in politics, but if Tony Benn's against it, I'm for it". That has guided many better than more studious approaches, except perhaps on the subject of the European Community. Benn was against continued membership at the time of the only referendum we were ever allowed, which convinced many Common Market-sceptics to vote the wrong way. Including me, a naif exercising my ballot for the first time.
 
I find it hard to believe any current socialist is a good person, given the 20th Century's unequivocal demonstration of the consequences of that vicious doctrine. Either they will its vile ends, are too stupid to understand them or are hucksters playing on its appeal to the weak and envious.
 
I make an exception for Benn. He's not very bright. He could talk for England in the Talking Olympics but he doesn't listen very well. His thoughts are in ruts so deep he can no longer see over the sides. But despite his continued willing of ends that would kill, impoverish and oppress, I am still fond of the guy.
 
I wish you a speedy recovery, poor misguided Tony. You have had a good run, but still I hope you live to see what a fool you have been. For someone with such a muscular conscience that will be, even if it's only in your final moments, all the hell you deserve.

The aspidistra has crash landed

Miss Paine the Younger made me the perceptive gift of this book. I read Orwell's books and many of his essays at school, but knew nothing until now about the man himself. So influential were his words on my young mind that Shelden's biography explains me almost as much as his subject.

Orwell is one of few famous socialists I could have liked. There are many I know in everyday life and am not such a bigot as to discard, but I hold influential men to higher standards.

Those acquainted only with 1984 or Animal Farm might not even think of him now as a Socialist. Both books parody Soviet Communism with which most British Socialists (with reservations varying inversely with their immorality) sympathised. So, in fact did Orwell. 

I think that if the USSR were conquered by some foreign country the working class everywhere would lose heart, for the time being at least, and the ordinary stupid capitalists would be encouraged ... I want the existence of democratic Socialism in the West to exert a regenerative influence upon Russia.

He thought the Russian Revolution good, but that it had been hijacked by the power hungry. He was sage enough to realise those are the very people likely to lead revolutions but naive enough to imagine

that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job

How could an intelligent man harbour such a fantasy? Any chucking 'the masses' did would be at the suggestion of leaders out to replace the revolution's victors! Surely any fool could see they would not only be nastier and more cunning but at least as power-hungry? Socialism, whether achieved by revolution or democracy, requires enormous state power. Such power will attract the scum of the Earth. That's not a bug, it's a feature.

The most interesting passages, scattered through the book, deal with Orwell's romantic imaginings of a democratic Socialist England, somehow untinged by authoritarianism. His biographer writes that

The England that Orwell declares his loyalty to is a place where tyranny cannot easily establish a foothold because of the deep commitment to what he calls 'private liberty', by which he means 'the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above'.

He loved freedom as much as the fieriest modern Libertarian but, economic illiterate that he was, failed to see that the only alternative to incentive is force. He imagined a society in which no-one could earn more than ten times than the lowest paid, but gave no thought for the violence required to prevent them earning more or seize their surplus. Not only did he think men had only to be shown what was right in order to do it, he ludicrously imagined that, in a free society, all would meekly accept a single view of 'what was right'. He romantically imagined

... a specifically English Socialist movement, one that appeals to the English character, and is not tainted by Marxism which was a German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to England. His Socialism would not be 'doctrinaire, nor even logical', and would leave 'anachronisms and loose ends everywhere' - the lion and the unicorn will still be resplendent on the soldiers' cap buttons, the old judge will still wear 'his ridiculous horsehair wig.'

In his day successful Socialism was perhaps, if your understanding of economics was sufficiently limited, vaguely plausible. He probably expected the industries nationalised in 1946, for example, to perform much better under state control. There is no such excuse for Labourites today.

Most of all, he and his generation failed to grasp that if the state is player rather than referee in the national game, it will soon no longer be 'cricket'. Pretty much everything he hoped for was achieved by post-Orwellian Labour governments, with disastrous economic consequences. In the process "the English character" he so admired has been profoundly damaged.

Part of me, liking this well-meaning corduroyed buffoon of a provincial schoolmaster as I do, is glad he didn't live to see what nonsense it all was. Part of me wishes he had not died so young so that he could have satirised it with all his skill. 


If I had a hammer

 

...I would be hammering The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the BBC for bombarding me with nonsense about the late Pete Seeger's 'idealism'. Even his ideological chums over at the New Republic acknowledge he had been a Stalinist stooge.

He and his musical colleagues sang anti-war songs in 1939-41 because, in the Soviet Union, Stalin had decided that an alliance with the Nazis was a good idea; and the order to support Stalin had gone out to every Communist Party in the world; and Pete Seeger was, in those days, a good Communist. And so, he picked up his banjo and leaned into the microphone, and his vocal warblings and his banjo plunks were exactly what Stalin wanted to hear from Pete Seeger.

"In those days" Really?! In an interview in 1995 he said;

I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.

Of course he backed off a little in his enthusiasm for Uncle Joe Stalin. Gosh darn it, he even wrote a song;

I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe
He ruled with an iron hand
He put an end to the dreams
Of so many in every land
He had a chance to make
A brand new start for the human race
Instead he set it back
Right in the same nasty place
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast)
I got the Big Joe Blues
(Do this job, no questions asked)
I got the Big Joe Blues . . .

That was in 2007 so Seeger may have been the last to notice that Stalin "ruled with an iron hand". I was living in Russia at the time and - trust me - the news had been out there for a while. He may also have underestimated his ex-idol's achievements. The world before Stalin may have been a "nasty place", but the world after was not "the same nasty place". The nastiness bar had been raised. Maybe, if you are inclined to see totalitarian power as a chance to make "a brand new start", it's best not to look to you for moral judgement?

Mark Steyn, before Seeger's death, commented drily on Seeger's propensity to be on the side of anyone at war with America at the time, but to recant later.

I can't wait for his anti-Osama album circa 2078

Mr Steyn also pointed me to the concise dismissial of Pete Seeger by James Lileks;

"'If I Had A Hammer'? Well, what's stopping you? Go to the hardware store; they're about a buck-ninety, tops."

That's rather Tom Lehrer's point in the video above, of course; "Ready. Aim. Sing".

I also found a highly-critical article by one of Seeger's fellow-leftists;

Who the hell was Pete? He came from a distinguished family of musicians and academics afflicted with self-conscious class-consciousness; his father, Charles Louis Seeger, although from an old Puritan patrician line, joined the radical Industrial Workers of the World in the 1930s, a form of ostentatiously slumming solidarity that predicted much about his son's future. Pete was a professional musician from a young age, Harvard dropout, assistant to folk archivist Alan Lomax, and dedicated political activist. He knew everything about folk music, except what it is.

No rebel then, our Pete. He was as in mindless a thrall to his parents' ideology as the most conventional Tory of the Shires.

The biggest smile I got from the Seeger tributes today was at the Leftist New York Times leaping to his defence by claiming that he had criticised Stalin “at least as early” as 1993. It rather reminded me of the moment a Russian colleague was asked by a client to whom he had complained of "Western exaggeration" about Stalin how many he thought he had killed. When he answered "no more than a couple of hundred thousand", the client paused meaningfully before saying "so that's OK then?"

Trust me, I know idealism when I see it - not least because I am old enough to be painfully self-aware. Idealism was far down the list of Pete Seeger's problems - some way below his lousy voice, poor musicianship and spoiled rich kid leftism. Tom Lehrer was, if anything, far too kind.


How far are we from the bottom of this slippery slope?

Child taken from womb by social services - Telegraph.

A pregnant Italian has a panic attack while on a training course in Britain organised by her employers. Her unborn daughter is ripped untimely from her womb by Essex Social Services. She is first put into care and then given up for adoption in Britain. All this is sanctioned by the Court of Protection despite the mother's court appearance in a stabilised condition at which she "impressed" the judge. Maybe it's because I am an ex-lawyer but the most sinister words to me are
she was deemed to have had no "capacity" to instruct lawyers
I have never heard of a fellow human more in need of a specialist lawyer than her. Anna Raccoon, a great campaigning blogger now lost to us often told horrifying tales of the secretive Court of Protection. Having spent my career as a business lawyer, I found them hard to believe. My own experience of our courts was of the bumbling, pompous, self-regarding inefficiency one must expect of any state monopoly, but never of malice or cruelty.
 
Is our law so dumb it can't infer a woman about to be assaulted in this manner might want a lawyer? Could one not have been appointed on that assumption? When back on her meds and able to appear sensibly in court, did our laws really give the state the power to take her child away permanently on the basis she 'might' have a relapse? After all, every mother 'might' develop a mental illness. Even an adoptive one hand-picked for compliance with state norms. 
 
Can anyone really disagree with her lawyers' mild assertion that 
...even if the council had been acting in the woman’s best interests, officials should have consulted her family beforehand and also involved Italian social services, who would be better-placed to look after the child.
For that matter, her family might have been better-placed to look after the child. Nowadays that doesn't even seem to occur to our servants turned masters. Our social services didn't even contact them. If there is a family member willing to accept responsibility, the involvement of social services should end. They need (if they are needed at all) to be reduced to the status of an emergency service, not regarded - as they now seem to be in Soviet Britain - as the default guardians of every child.
 
What kind of employer does this poor woman have that management even allowed social services to get near her? Why didn't they get her back to her family and the doctor treating her condition in Italy? If that was impracticable, did they feel no moral obligation to get her a British doctor who could sort out her meds? If that was impracticable, why did they not get her a lawyer? I think they should be named because I want to boycott them.
 
The victim of this miscarriage of British justice is bi-polar, but living normally with the aid of her meds. It could happen to any of us. Mental illness doesn't mean you cease to exist as a person. It doesn't mean you cease to have rights. It doesn't mean you cease to love your children. It doesn't mean you won't have a long life of grief if your baby is taken from you against your will and put forever beyond your reach. It does means you need protection, which is why the "Court of Protection" has that name. Sadly it seems to be a Newspeak name, if ever there was one.
 
A friend having shared some of his divorce paperwork with me recently I begin to fear that our Family Courts are worse than merely incompetent. Another friend, a judge specialising in immigration matters, told me her court was packed with leftists under the last government and that she was subjected to compulsory indoctrination. Still, I am reluctant to accept that any part of our judicial system is this heartlessly, brutally statist. I need to believe in the independence and neutrality of judges for without the Rule of Law we are lost. I could not expend so much effort on blogging if I had no hope.
 
One final, relatively minor, thought. Our society pretends to go to enormous lengths to respect and protect different cultures. How come this child can be denied her Italian heritage?
 

Thought-Crime or mere Expatitis?

I often wonder how different my view of today's Britain would be if I had not lived abroad for 20 years. Expats often find it hard to resettle in their home country. Sometimes they are not "comparing apples with apples" when reviewing their life in a low-wage country against that in the capital-intensive UK. I went to a retirement party this week at a law firm where I was a partner until 1997. I had not seen some of the people there since before I left the UK in 1992, and almost none of them since I changed firms while abroad. So they were an interesting 'control group' for this question.

Most were initially surprised by my comments about changes in the UK during my absence. The changes had crept up on them over time and had not struck them so forcefully. When they thought about them however, they agreed they didn't like them much. They did not like 'political correctness' and felt particularly uncomfortable with its translation into law.

Someone recalled that twenty or so years ago, the firm's first-ever Muslim partner had asked an Orthodox Jewish job applicant how he would handle closing an urgent deal on a Friday with sunset approaching. The applicant did not get the job and complained - ludicrously - that this then predominantly Jewish firm was anti-semitic. The management had responded by issuing a grovelling apology and taking the Muslim partner off the recruitment panel.

No law was broken at the time. Indeed many of the Jewish partners asked similar questions when recruiting and were both surprised and disappointed by the firm's response. Today HR would have a fit if a partner asked such a question, just as they would if one asked a female applicant of child-bearing age how she intended to fit her career around any plans for a family. There would almost certainly be a claim under equality legislation.

The high proportion of Jewish and female partners in those long-ago days rather suggested there were acceptable answers to be given to these now-taboo questions. An Orthodox Jew might propose to involve a Gentile or less Orthodox colleague in his deal in order to cover for holy days. A female lawyer might say she had a house-husband or other family support, planned to hire a nanny or intended to give priority to child-rearing over competing for partnership. Or she might say she wasn't interested in having children so the issue didn't arise.

Now that the question cannot be asked, the temptation (though no-one would ever admit it) is to assume the worst-possible reply. This cannot be to the candidate's advantage. No-one believes a Jewish, Muslim or female lawyer is intrinsically inferior, so the only question is how to respect their different needs without compromising client service. That requires an honest and open discussion on both sides; now no longer permitted. It's a similar unintended outcome to that created by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. As offenders are legally-entitled to lie about their convictions (and employers are not allowed to check) HR departments everywhere bin any CV that has gaps that might represent time spent in prison.

Honesty really is the best policy. The best way to deal with concerns about race or sex prejudice is to give its 'victims' every chance to show - as I am absolutely certain is true - that it is not a useful guide to performance. I worked in jurisdictions with no such legal restrictions and honestly never asked myself any question about a candidate that did not go directly to the issue of better service to clients. Because that's what I cared about - and what was in the best interests of my business.

There was one person present at the party who strongly disagreed with my views. He denied there had been any chilling of free speech. He was entirely happy with the Equalities Act and with all changes in employment law. Nor had he any problem with the discriminatory concept of 'hate crime.' He felt just as free as ever he had and said I was making 'a ridiculous fuss'. It was a happy occasion so (I am gradually learning to fit in) I passed it off lightly.

When he had moved on, someone commented wryly that this scion of an illustrious legal dynasty (a leading City firm bears his family name) must mainly read his Guardian on the deck of his yacht. Apparently he now spends much of his time cruising the Aegean. It's odd that the Toynbee-ite rich have the most left-wing views, isn't it? But then in this paradoxical country of ours, nothing is as one would expect. The main health problem of our poor is obesity and the main problem of our rich is befuddled Marxism.

Engels and Marx - longtime expatriates in England - never predicted that.