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January 2004

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Good riddance barrow boy 

Greg Dyke, on resigning as Director General Of the BBC on 29 January 2004, sent an email to his staff which included the following-

In four years we’ve achieved a lot between us. I believe we’ve changed the place fundamentally and I hope that those changes will last beyond me. The BBC has always been a great organisation but I hope that, over the last four years, I’ve helped to make it a more human place where everyone who works here feels appreciated. If that’s anywhere near true I leave contented, if sad. Thank you all for the help and support you’ve given me. This might sound a bit schmaltzy but I really will miss you all.
To me, who have known the BBC a lot longer than Greg Dyke has, that does indeed sound schmaltzy - and worse.

Yesterday I heard Dyke say on the BBC Radio Four Today programme that the BBC would be right to broadcast a whistle blower’s statement criticising a person without any check on whether what he said was true. This showed Dyke was unfit for his office. It implied that Dr David Kelly was a whistleblower and that the BBC was right to broadcast without any check Andrew Gilligan’s untrue statement about what Kelly allegedly told him, namely that the Prime Minister had knowingly issued a false dossier about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Barrow boy Dyke was obviously not fit to be an office cleaner at the BBC, never mind Director General. I watched him on TV yesterday ignominiously bringing out from his home a tray of mugs of tea to hand to waiting journalists, no doubt in the hope that they would write more kindly about him. I thought that was just his level: tea boy. He made his name and fortune with a TV character named Roland Rat. How suitable that turned out to be.

His statement to the staff showed what Dyke’s aim for the great Corporation was. He wanted ‘everyone who works here’ to feel appreciated – whether they deserved to be appreciated or not. He wanted to be loved by his staff, and he succeeded in that. What he should have aimed for was to be respected by his staff – like his long gone, much regretted predecessor Sir John Reith.
FBBB61

Friday, January 30, 2004

It won't do Mr Lishman 

No, I refuse to cavil because Mr Lishman did not sign the letter personally (see yesterday’s blog). And I have not been able to think of an address term that is more acceptable from a complete stranger than ‘Dear friend’, which denigrates the nobility of true friendship. In the old days one would have said ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, but that is now regarded as too formal. Now we must have first names and friendship before we have even met. I know which I prefer.

I come to the gist of Mr Lishman’s letter. He justifies calling me an ‘older’ person rather than an ‘old’ person (which is truly what I am) on the following grounds-
The latter term has been found offensive by some people as it is felt that it implies a certain state of health; that a person is old and therefore not able to partake in activities, events etc. Many people who are in their, for example, seventies or eighties can be as healthy as someone in their forties and it is strongly felt that people should not be categorised by their age as we would not categorise people by the [sic] gender or race. In this way the term older has been used to avoid stereotyping people.
This is complete nonsense. Calling a person ‘old’ does nothing more than indicate that he or she has reached advanced years in life. It says nothing whatever about their quality of life, state of health or anything else. If the term has been found offensive by some prickly people then those people should have been told to go away and do something useful with their time instead of annoying sensible folk with silly and crotchety points that have no substance whatever. Instead of that they are in effect changing the English language with their irritating nonsense.

Then there is that statement that it is strongly felt that people should not be categorised by their age as we would not categorise people by gender or race. This too is the most absurd example of political correctness. There are males and females in this world. We are not going to abandon simple pronouns like he and she because they categorise people as one or the other. Similarly with race. It is not yet regarded even by extremists as improper to describe a person as French or African American.

As for stereotyping, it no more stereotypes people to call them old than it does to call them young. Can we please have an end of this idiocy?
FBBB60

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Reply from Mr Lishman 

Yesterday I set out a letter I sent to Gordon Lishman of Age Concern. Here is his reply.
Dear Mr Bennion,

I see you disliked us addressing you as ‘Dear Friend’; I am sorry for the annoyance this caused. Whilst we personalise the survey for delivery purposes, in order that we keep costs as low as possible we were unable to personalise the letter. If you could let us know of a term that you feel is more acceptable, we will certainly consider any suggestions.

With regards to Age Concern using the term ‘older’ rather than ‘old’, the latter term has been found offensive by some people as it is felt that it implies a certain state of health; that a person is old and therefore not able to partake in activities, events etc. Many people who are in their, for example, seventies or eighties can be as healthy as someone in their forties and it is strongly felt that people should not be categorised by their age as we would not categorise people by the gender or race. In this way the term older has been used to avoid stereotyping people.

I hope this explanation, has been helpful as to the reasons why we have used certain terminology in our appeals.

Once again, I am sorry for the annoyance and inconvenience caused this was certainly not our intention.

Yours sincerely,

Maggie Holmes

Pp Gordon Lishman
Director General
I did not reply to this letter. My thoughts on it will be given tomorrow.
FBBB59

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Say I'm growing old* 

In FBBB52 I wrote about the absurd fuss made by some Scottish doctors about a road sign that suggests old people tend to have things wrong with them, and to look hunched and frail. Now I am on a similar tack, the politically correct urge to say ‘older person’ rather than ‘old person’. Here I would like to pay a tribute to Mr Gordon Lishman OBE, Director General of Age Concern England. I recently wrote the following to Mr Lishman, who had sent me a letter appealing for funds-
I have received a circular letter from you (which I enclose) addressing me as ‘Dear Friend’. This is irritating as I am not your friend. So far as I am aware, we have never met.

Even more irritating is the fact that your letter refers in no less than seven places to ‘older people’. The word ‘older’ is a comparative adjective, referring to a person or thing that has been in existence longer than a named comparative. Thus a child of three is older than a child of two. There is no comparative named in your letter, so I am at a loss to know what you mean by an ‘older’ person. Older than what?

Of course I know that you mean an old person, but don’t like to say so. At the age of eighty-one I freely admit to being an old person. Why shouldn’t I? It’s the truth.

There is a tendency nowadays to avoid the truth for fear of hurting somebody’s feelings. This is pernicious, and I will have nothing to do with it. Therefore I shall not be responding to your appeal.
This was a thoroughly cranky letter, and Mr Lishman must be a busy man. I would not have been surprised if he had ignored my letter, but instead he sent a patient and courteous reply. I will give it in tomorrow’s blog.

*From Leigh Hunt’s poem Jenny Kissed Me.
FBBB58

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

What has this to do with dermatology? 

I wonder how many Times readers took seriously the article on farting by Sam Shuster, Emeritus Professor of Dermatology in the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (Review, 24 January 2004). It was presented po-faced (if I may put it that way), with all the paraphernalia of pseudo-scholarship. However the opening sentence is an indication of satirical intent: ‘I’ve not watched much television lately, so I’ve no idea how old civilisation is now considered to be’.

The professor solemnly suggests that, based on the alleged ‘fact’ that men fart more than women, there is evolving a new scientific discipline that might be called evolutionary psychosexual sociobiology (EPSSB). Could extreme fear have launched a fart from the primitive hunter-gatherer of sufficient intensity to delay, if not repel, an attack from a dangerous beast? And was the associated odour, no doubt developed for this purpose, on a par with the repulsive efficacy of the skunk? Intriguing questions. But bogus of course.

Sam gives a broad hint of his intention when he goes on to say that the fart is an item of humour, adding tongue in cheek, that awareness of its considerable importance to sexuality has only recently been recognised. He goes on-
Thus, in addition to pheromonal mechanisms, male fart frequency and intensity all contribute to the female’s evolutionary strategy of mate selection. Surprisingly, the role of the female fart has been far less well studied, although it is believed to induce a competitive male response.
Sam concludes by saying that reproducing the bonding effect of farting is less easy in experimental animals, and warns that there may be objections from animal rights supporters.

All jolly fun of course, but it prompts me to make a serious point. It is not farts that are significant but the gas that causes them (which Sam does not mention). The waste-products of the wonderful human digestive system are, naturally enough, in solid, liquid and gaseous forms. It makes as much sense to snigger at them as it would to snigger at the waste-products of any other process, whether natural and industrial. Schoolboys of all ages should wake up and realise this. Then there might be a merciful end to silly shit, piss and fart jokes, and the emeritus professor would have to find something else to write about.
FBBB57

Monday, January 26, 2004

A big surprise for Mark 

I watched a most moving TV programme on 22 January 2004. It was Motherland – a Genetic Journey (BBC2). 229 African Caribbean volunteers from all over Britain took part in a survey. The only criterion was that they had four grandparents of African Caribbean origin.

The BBC website tells us that modern humans, Homo sapiens, emerged little more than 100,000 years ago. There has been small opportunity for variation between humans to occur in this time. As a result, the genetic differences between people across the world are very slight – around 0.03%. While the amount of genetic variation between people does vary, each one of us, with the exception of identical twins, is genetically unique. This is why no two people look alike.

Examining differences in DNA can help us find out about our personal history. This is true for people of all races and backgrounds. The two most useful pieces of DNA used in this research are:
Mitochondrial DNA - we inherit this only from our mothers. It passes virtually unchanged from mother to child from generation to generation.
Y chromosome DNA - only men have a Y chromosome. Boys inherit their Y chromosome from their fathers. It passes almost unchanged from father to son through the generations.
All our other DNA is made up of a mixture from both parents. It is mixed up every generation in a process known as recombination, which makes it more complicated for looking at our ancestry.

To get a sample of someone's DNA you first need some of their cells. Each African-Caribbean volunteer in the BBC survey took a sample by rubbing a nylon brush on the inside of their cheek. A single cheek swab collects hundreds of cells. Each of these contains the DNA that makes up a complete set of human genes.

The results of this study have uncovered some striking details about the genetic ancestry of the British African Caribbean population as a whole. They have even pinpointed precise African ancestral roots for some of the volunteers.

The study reveals that, on average, one in four British African Caribbean men have a Y chromosome that traces back to Europe rather than Africa. As the Y chromosome is passed from father to son, this shows that one quarter of the volunteers' male ancestors were European. So, whether it was through rape or with consent, many white slave owners impregnated their African slaves.

Here, from the BBC website, is the story of just one of the volunteers seen in the TV programme. 24-year old Mark Anderson from South London calls himself Black British, but has never felt at home in Britain. He works in the music business for a black record label. Mark's dream was to discover that he descends from a line of great African chiefs, with his long-lost relatives waiting for him to reclaim his kingdom. More realistically, he thought he might find that his ancestors came from Ghana or Nigeria.

Mark was dumbfounded when he found out that his Y chromosome traced to Europe not Africa. ‘Until now I thought Europeans and their history had nothing to do with me’ he says. To his relief, scientists in Washington found that Mark's mitochondrial DNA does trace to Africa. It matches that of the Kanuri people of Eastern Niger, on the edge of the Sahara.

We were shown Mark meeting some Kanuri people. He felt that it was the most amazing day of his life, and this showed vividly in the programme. But, says the BBC website, he was forced to see a different side to the slave trade from that generally perceived. He discovered that the most likely reason for his ancestors’ capture and sale was that the Sultan of Zinder, a fellow Kanuri, acquired wealth and power by selling his own people into slavery.
FBBB56

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Man not included 

A headline in the Daily Mail (23 January 2004) shrieks ‘Lesbians and the Internet baby born into a storm’. Jaime Saphier, a security guard, gave birth to a boy on Tuesday, says the paper, and plans to bring him up with her 31-year old partner, Sarah Watkinson, described as a care worker. They bought the sperm through a website called ManNotIncluded.com for £1,500 (the Times says £1,285). The website paid the donor £40. There’s a nice little earner!

When last November Lady Hale was installed as the first woman ‘law lord’ she held a press conference (which would have appalled the old law lords of the past). At it she said she favours gay adoptions. In 1999 I criticised her colleague Lady Justice Butler-Sloss for also using a press conference to ventilate this particular opinion (149 New Law Journal 1699). I said-
In relation to children, the Family Division of the High Court is the custodian of the Crown’s ancient parens patriae jurisdiction. This humane doctrine has for centuries manifested the royal concern for the welfare of those subjects too young to fend for themselves. In recent legislation Parliament has supported this view, stating in various Acts that in making court orders the interest of the child must always be treated as paramount. Are the interests of the child being treated as paramount when two gay men are indulged in their wish to adopt a young boy?
One might say the same of two lesbians who are allowed to buy sperm in order to become the rather spurious ‘parents’ of a child fated to be brought up in a peculiar way nature never intended. In an interview, says the Times, Ms Saphier said she would be called Mummy and Sarah will be called Mum. Who is to be called Daddy? Why, no one. The person who is in fact Daddy will forever be absent from the scene, having walked away with his £40. Wasn’t there once a betrayal of Christ for forty pieces of silver?

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, called the birth of Ms Saphier’s child a triumph of adults’ rights over children’s rights. I can’t think of a juster way of putting it.
FBBB55

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I wash my hands of it 

I have resigned from the Institute of Ideas after a membership lasting ten days. The reason? Mainly that endemic fault of carelessness, particularly common among young people.

In Blog FBBB47 I mentioned that I watched Question Time on 15 January 2004, adding: ‘The admirable Claire Fox, who established the Institute of Ideas, explained to the dreadful Shirley Williams exactly what free speech means, and how you need to be able to offend people if you need to’. Next day I emailed Claire Fox saying ‘Warmest congratulations on your performance last night, especially on freedom of speech’. At the same time I sent off a letter joining her Institute of Ideas and sending the membership fee of £50. I carefully filled in an application form downloaded from the Institute’s website.

On 18 January Claire Fox sent me an email in reply. She dashed me by saying ‘I've looked at your website; not sure we would agree politically on too many idssues [sic], but perhaps you'd like to join the Institute of Ideas’. I already had of course. The literature gives no idea of what its politics are, if any. Why she should think I ought to join her Institute when she believes we disagree politically I don’t understand. Nor do I understand why she thinks that.

On 22 January I received my membership card from the Institute. It was made out to ‘Francis Bellion’, even though I had of course written ‘Bennion’ on the application form. The accompanying letter was entirely printed, except that at the beginning someone had written after the printed ‘Dear’ The words ‘Francis Bellion’.

Up with this I will not put. Evidently among the ideas held by the Institute there is lacking the idea that people are rather touchy about their name being got right. Especially what that name is well known (I have been in Who’s Who since 1968 - well before Claire Fox was born). Taking care over details is not among the Institute’s good qualities (if any). So I wash my hands of it.

I have asked for my £50 back. I will let you know if I get it.
FBBB54

Friday, January 23, 2004

Naming and shaming 

Among much that is lamentable today is the tendency to abbreviate forenames (I must not say Christian names). Noble names that have been proudly bestowed at christenings for centuries are crudely curtailed. Edward becomes Ed. Francis or Frances becomes the ugly Fran. And so on. Essentially, this is demeaning.

The lady who was the official Labour candidate for London until Ken Livingstone was restored to favour calls herself Nicky Gavron. What is this short for? Nicola? Nicole? (Incidentally I notice that in the BBC’s Question Time programme David Dimbleby has stopped referring to females in the audience as ‘women’ and gone back to the more courteous ‘lady’.)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown’s Chief Economic Adviser is known by the inelegant name of Ed Balls. Until recently the Governor of the Bank of England passed as Eddie George. The Dean of Gloucester signs himself Nick. Is he known by the choirboys as Old Nick (which used to be a nickname for the Devil)?

Some people even lumber themselves with forenames inviting ridicule, for example the radio playwright who calls himself Wally K Daly, the talkative TV presenter known as Gabby Logan, and the American so-called ethicist who writes for the Times as Randy Cohen.

Particularly bad are women who steal men’s names, such as Charlie Dimmock of the Ground Force team on TV.

What with Libby and Cubby and all the rest I shall be driven to despair. The other day somebody I had never seen before even called me Fran.

My bank manager signs himself Pete Bloggs.
FBBB53

Thursday, January 22, 2004

A silly waste of money 

My wife Mary and I have a combined age of 158 years. We are both fond of that warning traffic sign which depicts an obviously-devoted, hunched old couple tremulously crossing the road. We think of it as ‘our’ sign, and rejoice when we see it.

An article in the British Medical Association Journal (20 December 2003) presents a different view of this much-loved sign-
It portrays a silhouette of a man with a flexed posture using a cane and leading a kyphotic woman. The same sign is also used for frail, disabled, or blind people, even though many of these people are not old. The sign implies that osteopaenic vertebral collapse and the need for mobility aids are to be expected with physical disability as well as with advancing age.
Well aren’t they to be expected, in some people at least? They are certainly a clear indication of frailty, and the need for drivers to take care when old folk may be in the vicinity. In other words the sign serves its purpose, and does its job. What more can one ask? That is what the children who designed it thought, when they won a 1981 competition by designing it.

The authors of the article take a different view. They say elderly people should not be stigmatised as being impaired or inevitably disabled. Here is the dread voice of political correctness, sounding especially inappropriate in the mouths of doctors. It postulates that it is a stigma to be shown as having osteopaenic vertebral collapse, instead of that being just something some people happen to suffer from. The OED2 defines a stigma as ‘a mark of disgrace or infamy; a sign of severe censure or condemnation’. How ridiculous to use that term in this connection! The four doctors should be ashamed of themselves.

They should also be ashamed for wasting public time and money in an elaborate and futile research project to find out what road signs other countries use for this purpose. They discovered that of the 118 countries for which they obtained information (think of the expense that involved!), only 35 had a road traffic sign featuring one or more of the elderly, blind, deaf, or disabled categories. So what.

I feel strongly about this grotesque piece of research so I am publishing the names and positions of the doctors concerned. Write and tell them what you think.

Dr Richard P Gale, Department of Ophthalmology, York Hospital, York YO31 8HE.

Dr Christopher P Gale, Department of Cardiology, York Hospital, York YO31 8HE.

Dr T A Roper, Department of Medicine, The General Infirmary at Leeds, Leeds LS1 3EX.

Professor Graham P Mulley, Department of Elderly Medicine, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF
FBBB52

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Running away from class traitors 

Theodore Dalrymple is a hospital doctor who treats prison inmates. He tells us about it in a weekly column I always enjoy reading. It seems that his constant contact with these unfortunates has got him down. He says he is fed up with England and is emigrating to France (Daily Mail, 17 January 2004). Well I’m not sure that’s wise. Will he find it any better? My wife and I emigrated to Cyprus ten years ago. We lasted three years before deciding we liked our own country best.

Dalrymple finds Britain ‘brutalised’, and he has a point. He says that what is even more depressing is the refusal of our cultural and political elite to take any stand against ‘this brutish vulgarity’. Indeed, says he, they do everything in their power to flatter and reinforce it. That rings a bell.

Consider the class traitor the Hon Paul Foot and his liking for the thuggish TV star Ricky Tomlinson. Foot was brought up in a distinguished upper middle-class family. He is coy about where he went to school, but is an Oxford graduate. Yet early on he decided to ally himself wholeheartedly with the working class and blind himself to their failings. It is a striking example of the trahison des clercs which sorely afflicted our country in the last century, and still continues.

In the current Oldie Foot says in a review of Tomlinson’s shameless autobiography that the latter’s 1973 trial and conviction were ‘disgraceful’, that the charges were ‘trumped up’, and that the sentence of two years’ imprisonment was ‘savage’. As a barrister practising at the time I can say that none of this is true. It was the use of flying pickets by building workers, and later by miners, that was disgraceful. This involved the criminal use of coercive force on a large scale, and was rightly banned by Thatcherite legislation (not overturned in the years of subsequent Labour rule).

My final use for the sickbag relates to Foot’s appropriation of a moving stanza by A E Housman to decorate his disgusting Oldie piece. But is emigrating to France really the answer to this sort of rot in British society? Time will show Theodore Dalrymple whether he is right to run away. I don’t think he is.
FBBB51

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Poles and wires in Barnet 

I have been sent a leaflet asking me to donate money to a North-West London body called the Forum Against Intrusive Eruvs (FAIE). This discloses an extraordinary state of affairs.

What, you may enquire, is an eruv? Ask any Jew and he or she will tell you. Saturday, the day Jews call Shabbat (Sabbath), is a day set apart by Jewish law from the working week. Family time and spiritual pursuits are emphasised and weekday activities associated with work are prohibited. The Jewish religious code spells out the Shabbat restrictions. For example, carrying and pushing wheelchairs, prams and baby buggies are only permitted in homes, private gardens and community areas. How absurd!

An eruv artificially extends the permitted area, so that observants can behave like normal people and push their babies out into the world on Saturdays. The website says there are well over 200 eruvim in communities throughout the world and many more in Israel. (Examine that sentence for syntax!) Most major Jewish communities in North America have one, as do the communities in Antwerp, Gibraltar, Strasbourg, Venice, Johannesburg, Melbourne and Sydney. Well, fancy that!

The website says the North-West London eruv, situated in Barnet, enables many thousands of Jewish people living in the area to enjoy Shabbat to the full. It is especially helpful to families with young children who want to use a pram or baby buggy outside their home on Shabbat, and to people who use a wheelchair or walking frame. Others find it useful to be able to carry house keys, reading-glasses or books around. Fancy not being allowed to carry your spectacles wherever you go, just because it’s Saturday. Ridiculous!

Before the Barnet eruv was constructed, families with young children were home-bound each Shabbat, the website goes on. Many couples who had children too young to walk to synagogue could not attend a Shabbat service together, nor a kiddush or simcha. Poor them! Why in the 21st century in Barnet should anyone consider themselves bound so literally by rules for living framed in Old Testament times?

The FAIE leaflet says an eruv is a defined area within which rabbis have authorised non-observance of Sabbath prohibitions on carrying and pushing by orthodox Jews. It continues-
The 6.5 square miles of the North-West London eruv in the Borough of Barnet is defined by an 11-mile physical boundary comprising two elements: designated existing structures that include many blocks of houses, mostly within private land set back behind front gardens or patios; and poles-and wire symbolic eruv ‘gateways’ in all streets and pathways that intersect the existing structures of the boundary.
Planning permission was given for 37 of these poles-and-wire installations. The leaflet says they are offensive to the beliefs, ethics or dignity of non-believing residents, who want to get rid of them. Will I send them money to help in this?

I’ll think about it. Meanwhile I recall a man who wrote to a journal some years ago to say he was a Sabbath goy, who for a penny or two lighted fires and performed other chores forbidden to orthodox Jews on Saturday.

It’s a strange world, and there’s nowt so queer as folk – as they used to say in Yorkshire.
FBBB50

Monday, January 19, 2004

The big question on university top-up fees 

What follows leads up to a vital conundrum, which will be found at the end. I will call it the big question.

Under the Children Act 1989, section 4, the father and mother of a child may make a parental responsibility agreement relating to the child. This says: ‘We declare that we are the mother and father of the above child and we agree that the child's father shall have parental responsibility for the child (in addition to the mother having parental responsibility)’. By law the agreement comes to an end on the child’s 18th birthday.

What does ‘parental responsibility’ mean? It is defined in the 1989 Act in a formula too complex to be set out here. It began as ‘the parental rights and duties’, a concept I included for the first time when drafting the Children Act 1975. As is explained in my book STATUTORY INTERPRETATION the change is unsatisfactory on no less than five grounds. (1) The replacement definition comprises rights even though to include these within a definition of responsibility is necessarily misleading: responsibilities are not rights but their opposite, namely duties. (2) The replacement raises the question of what the legal rights etc of a parent are, since they may vary according to circumstances. (The previous definition carefully avoided this difficulty.) (3) By applying the old law relating to guardianship the replacement falls into the vice of archival drafting. (4) The 1989 Act reduces the utility of the definition by failing to make the replacement, as its predecessor had been, generally applicable as a free-standing legal term. (5) The change can be criticised as unnecessarily disturbing the law, particularly the useful case law that had accumulated around the former definition.

All that is a bit technical maybe. The point I want to stress is this. By law parental responsibility comes to an end on the child’s 18th birthday.

Now for the big question. Since by law parental responsibility comes to an end on the child’s 18th birthday why does the Education Secretary Charles Clarke currently insist that with university students (who are nearly all over 18) their parents who can afford it must pay the expenses of their university education? They are by law adults, and off their parents’ hands. Why does no one make this point? What’s going on here?
FBBB49

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Wog blog 

The year was 1978. Two Bank of England officials were drafting a letter which was to be circulated internationally. One printed the first draft, which he passed to his colleague for comment. It contained the phrase ‘in good standing’. The colleague wrote against this: ‘A bit of Bankese which might puzzle the odd wog?’ (London Times, 17 January 2004).

Last week the draft letter was put up on a large TV screen in the High Court at the hearing of an action in which the Bank of England is involved. There were gasps of horror. The Bank apologised. A spokesman (sorry, spokesperson) said the remark was totally unacceptable in 1978 and is totally acceptable now. If the official had used the racist term wog today he might well have been dismissed, added the spokesperson. (The Times said ‘spokesman’, but I know better.)

It was naughty to use the term wog, even privately to a colleague. The OED2 says the word is vulgarly offensive and repeats a 1942 verse by C Hollingworth about the King of Albania, which had just been invaded by the Italian army-
King Zog
Was considered a bit of a Wog
Until Mussolini quite recently
Behaved so indecently.
I have been brooding about the current runaway obsession with racism. For the past eighty years I have been relating one way or another with people of various races. From their behaviour as perceived by me over that lengthy period I have built up certain impressions about the typical qualities displayed by persons of each race. That sort of generalising is a natural, human thing to do. We all do it, about every aspect of our lives. It gives us that useful thing called experience, on which we rely heavily in our journey through this world.

Some anti-racist zealots would deprive us of this tool when it comes to dealings with persons of different races. I think they are mistaken, and shall go on resisting.
FBBB48

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Contravening the duty of sex-fulfilment 

On the Internet some American called RageBoy says: ‘So of course sex was always a big deal. I remember from when I was maybe about four years old my mother saying, “Just wait till sex rears its ugly head!” She really said stuff like that, all the time’. RageBoy stops, thinks a second, then adds: ‘Hell, I didn't even know what sex was back then. All I knew was that it had an ugly head’.

Sex was rearing that curious head it has all over the channels the night before last. I meant to watch on BBC Four the John Hurt version of Alan Clark’s Diaries, followed by a lecture on Byron. Plenty of sex in both of those, but I got sidetracked. I am always compelled to watch Question Time on BBC One (why do they schedule it for the same time as Newsnight – same audience surely?). There sex raised its head in a discussion of free speech á la Kilroy-Silk (see FBBB42). The admirable Claire Fox, who established the Institute of Ideas, explained to the dreadful Shirley Williams exactly what free speech means, and how you need to be able to offend people if you need to. In Denmark, she said, they even let pædophiles form an association to discuss the pros and cons of their favourite activity. The audience cheered.

What sidetracked me from Clark and Byron was the awesome Channel Four programme on celibacy Flesh and the Devil. I would call it gripping if that description were not wholly inadequate for this superb treatment of an agonising human predicament. In the Roman Catholic church celibacy is the renunciation of marriage, for the more perfect observance of chastity, by all those who receive the Sacrament of Orders in any of the higher grades. Candidates for orders are solemnly warned by the bishop at the beginning of the ceremony regarding the gravity of the obligation which they are incurring. He tells them-
You ought anxiously to consider again and again what sort of a burden this is which you are taking upon you of your own accord. Up to this you are free. You may still, if you choose, turn to the aims and desires of the world. But if you receive this order (of the subdiaconate) it will no longer be lawful to turn back from your purpose. You will be required to continue in the service of God, and with His assistance to observe chastity and to be bound for ever in the ministrations of the Altar, to serve who is to reign.
By stepping forward despite this warning, and by co-operating in the rest of the ordination service, the candidate is understood to bind himself by a vow of chastity and celibacy. He is henceforth unable to contract a valid marriage, and any serious transgression in the matter of this vow is not only a grievous sin in itself but incurs the additional guilt of sacrilege.

Flesh and the Devil vividly showed us the torments to which this can lead. My own position is set out in THE SEX CODE-
Because they contravene the duty of sex-fulfilment, enduring celibacy and chastity are undesirable in the way that any other failure to fulfil one's human potential is undesirable. This does not mean that young persons should be hurried into sexual experience before they are physically or emotionally ready.

FBBB47

Friday, January 16, 2004

A bad book of bad English 

I have just been sold a pup. Between You and I: a little book of bad English is a very little book indeed; but that is only part of my complaint. The author is James Cochrane, who we are told has worked in publishing since 1961. There is a foreword by John Humphreys. The publisher is Icon Books. Their website gives a solitary review: ‘Authoritative, funny and always completely correct’: Good Book Guide. That statement is unauthoritative, unfunny and incorrect.

The book is priced at £9.99. I bought it on the internet for a little less, but with a lot more in postage added on. As usual, Amazon supplied no details of the book. I hoped for the best, but got the worst. It is quarto size; otherwise A5 (the size you get when folding an A4 sheet in half). To make it seem more substantial than it is, the book is printed in double spacing. For no good reason each new item is started on the right-hand page, so we have eleven blank left-hand pages. The numbered pages total 126, so that reduces them to 115. Deduct the nine pages of the foreword and you are left with 106 pages by the author. Of these fifteen are printed less than half way down, so that reduces the author’s contribution to 99 A5 pages printed in double spacing with an average of seven or eight words in a full line. An average full page has about 22 lines, so the most you get is around 160 words on the page. So Mr Cochrane’s entire contribution comes to about 15,000 words. This may be right for a decent article. It is not right for a book.

Mr Cochrane’s work consists of 177 brief items on English grammar and usage. This compares badly with a rival book at the same price The Times Style and Usage Guide. This has around 4,000 items and runs to 192 quarto pages. It might not matter so much if Mr Cochrane’s items were gems of scholarship and acuity, but they are mostly jejune and anodyne. (For an example compare his treatment of begging the question with my Blog FBBB32.)

Mr Cochrane can be plain wrong. For example he says there is a rule that only must always be placed before the words it qualifies. But greater emphasis arises if it is placed after those words. For example ‘You should market a book only where it gives value for money’.
FBBB46

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Cross and cuffing statutes 

I was enraged when the absurd Lord Howe of Aberavon said on the BBC Radio Four Today programme on 23 December 2003 that we British have far too much legislation, and that on that aspect he is now ‘a repentant sinner’.

Howe is 77, so it is rather late in the day for him to make a proclamation of this sort. He should have seen the light well before now. As a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer he himself piled law upon law on the heads of the hapless British people. Well known in committee circles for his almost inaudible utterance, Howe inflicted considerable damage with words in statutory form.

With me, Howe’s comment touches a raw nerve. I became a parliamentary draftsman over fifty years ago because convinced of the importance of legislation to our society. Since then I have made many attempts, mostly unsuccessful, to improve the way legislation is presented to those who are bound by it, that is everybody. In 1989 I described some of these attempts in an article entitled ‘Statute Law Reform: is anybody listening?’ (133 Solicitors Journal (1989) 886). When it became obvious that nobody was listening I updated the article and republished it in 1993 (Clarity, 29 December). Still nothing.

The egregious Howe is a lawyer himself, so has no excuse for his lack of interest in statute law reform. He will defend himself by saying that in this respect he is no different from the vast majority of our legislators, but that is no excuse. Since World War Two our politicians have used legislation as a major vehicle of social change, and are constantly tinkering with the statute book. It is impossible for law students to do what they are supposed to do and learn the law because owing to the activities of politicians it is in a constant state of flux. But politicians will not do what they ought to do and make sure that the law that governs the citizen can be known by him or her.

It’s an old problem. Four hundred years ago King James I railed against what he called ‘cross and cuffing statutes’. They’re still with us.
FBBB45

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Whistle and I'll come to you 

I am interested in communication between persons, which takes many forms. I was astonished to learn that one form of communication consists of whistling like a bird. It is the Silbo Gomero language of La Gomera island, which has recently been in the news. Appropriately, the island is in Spain’s Canary Islands group off West Africa. According to Jeffrey Henning its whistling language has four vowels, four consonants and over four thousand words. In La Gomera's elementary schools 3,000 children are studying it 25 minutes a week, to save it from extinction. It is believed to go back more than 2,500 years, so is far older than English.

Juan Cabello is a silbador, as they are called (by analogy with troubador?). When he whistles he can be heard more than two miles away. A local expert, Dr Rivero, says the tones are whistled at different frequencies, using Spanish grammar. ‘If we spoke English here, we'd use an English structure for whistling’. Each phoneme has a whistled equivalent. Given the loss of jaw and lip movement by comparison with ordinary speech, phonetic distinctions are harder to produce. Hence a strong reliance on repetition and context, and a preference for phonemically-simple languages and for the communication of short, simple, routine messages.

Apparently there are many other ancient whistled languages around the world. They were developed where life was lived in the open air, for example by shepherds and goatherds. Communication over long distances was not possible by ordinary speech. Reportedly, some of the commonly-used silbo locutions have been picked up and repeated by birds. An anecdote found on the internet runs-
My brother was once hiking around Gomera with a friend. They ran out of drinking water and asked a local person for some. This person said she didn't have any (it was a very dry area) but her neighbour up the mountain could help. ‘I'll let her know you're coming’ she said, and whistled away. They walked up the mountain. My brother walked ahead and arrived first. When he got to the house, a stranger sitting there said: ‘Ah, there you are. The water's right around the corner there; but where is your friend?’
It all reminds me, just to bring us back to civilisation, of the M R James ghost story ‘Oh whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad’.
FBBB44

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Bennion on Google 2 

FBBB36 was the first of a series of Blogs in which I muse on the result of doing searches for my own name on Google. It’s called ego searching, but what the hell. We all have one.

This time I am featuring my book Professional Ethics: the consultant professions and their code. This book is not limited to my own profession of the law, but applies generally. It was written while I was chief executive of the RICS in 1965-68. There was a sudden attack from academia and elsewhere on the so-called restrictive practices of the professions. The book was written to provide ammunition for defending these practices.

In Britain the defence failed, and as a result the independence of the consultant professions has been undermined. My Google search shows however that the principles defended in my book still hold sway among lawyers elsewhere in the Commonwealth. It is pleasing that The Legal Ethics and Professional Conduct Handbook of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Association cites the book frequently (see http://www.nsbs.ns.ca/handbook/main.html).

I also found on Google details of Professional Conduct For Lawyers And Judges by Beverley G Smith, Professor (Emeritus), Faculty of Law, University of New Brunswick (see http://www.mlb.nb.ca/site/bookindex.htm). This also makes copious reference to my book. Professor Smith’s book is a second edition, the first having been an expanded and revised edition of Professional Conduct for Canadian Lawyers, published in 1989 by Butterworths. References in the text have been updated to incorporate recent cases and changes to professional conduct codes, including in particular, the Ontario Rules of Professional Conduct (2000) and the Newfoundland Code of Professional Conduct (1999).

Finally my book was cited in the September 2003 address entitled ‘Union or Professional Body?’ by Robert Benjamin, President of the New South Wales Law Society. He firmly said that his society is of course a professional body. He robustly added-
I am surprised when people outside the profession suggest that it is inappropriate for lawyers to regulate their own, as if we would be inclined to turn a blind eye to a fellow solicitor’s wrong-doing. Indeed, it is in our very best interest to protect the good name of our profession by being intolerant of those who would abuse it. We have as much an interest, if not a greater interest, in rigorous regulation as those outside the profession.
Well, so legal professional ethics as laid down by the profession itself are flourishing in Canada and Australia. Nowadays little is heard of them in Britain. Here, everything turns on what the Government tells us to do.
FBBB43

Monday, January 12, 2004

It's known as free speech 

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the CRE, did not respond to my Open Letter (FBBB14). Now he’s at it again. His official response to Robert Kilroy-Silk's notorious anti-Arab article in the Sunday Express for 4 January 2004 is-
This article is indisputably stupid and its main effect will be to give comfort to the weak-minded. However, given the extreme and violent terms in which Mr Kilroy Silk has expressed himself, there is a danger that this might incite some individuals to act against someone who they think is an Arab. More seriously, he is trivialising one of the most important and difficult areas of international relations facing the world today. Our lawyers have considered the column and, in the light of widespread concern, we are referring the article to the police to consider whether it might constitute an offence under the Public Order Act . . .
Well! How about that from a public servant paid by the taxpayer! Would ‘extreme and violent terms’ be the pot calling the kettle black, or what?

I have often been involved with anti-discrimination law. I was the assistant draftsman of the Race Relations Act that started it all in Britain (the chief draftsman was the late Sir Noel Hutton QC, who had the habit of referring to certain people as ‘tinted gentlemen’). I had misgivings about this form of social control then. They were deepened when I drafted the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

I was brought up in the school of hard knocks, where it was necessary to develop a thick skin early on. I was taught that sticks and stones might break my bones but words would never hurt me. What you learn early on, stays with you.

Just as Mr Phillips likes being abusive (weak-minded indeed!), so does Mr Kilroy-Silk. I have no time for it myself, but sua cuique voluptas (everyone to his pleasures). Myself I am with Voltaire: I detest what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.

The wisest comment I have seen on this affair was by Jonathan Aitken (Mail on Sunday 11 January 2004)-
[Kilroy-Silk] deserves a medal for a certain crazy-brave consistency when it comes to dropping his bricks. For as I can testify, the offensive remarks which have caused this weekend’s furore were first voiced by Kilroy not in democratic, free-speaking Britain but in undemocratic repressive Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
When a delegation of MPs visited Saudi Arabia in 1986 Mr Kilroy-Silk MP, one of the party, told his hosts at a welcoming dinner things like-
‘Your country has done absolutely nothing except sit on a lot of oil.’

‘ Your limb-chopping punishments are an obscenity, not a system of justice.’
Aitken says that after a stunned silence the Saudis debated with him, tore into his arguments, ridiculed some of them, agreed with others, and threw themselves into a passionate exchange of free and frank opinion.

It’s known as free speech, which we in Britain used to be rather proud of.
FBBB42

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Different ideas of guilt 

In FBBB13 I presumed to criticise the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks for justifying what he calls the guilt culture. I drew attention to my poem ‘Genetic Engineering’ and sent him a copy of the book containing it, Poemotions. The key stanza in the poem, which is very long, is-
Plunge it to the hilt
(unflinchingly, be bold!) -
it’s a killer now, that knife
turning, turning inwards,
killing to save life,
the parasite of old,
whose hated name is GUILT!
Now I have received a charming letter from Dr Sachs thanking me for what he is pleased to call ‘your splendid book of poems’, which he says he thoroughly enjoyed. Then Dr Sachs says-
You will surely understand that it is possible that we have different ideas of guilt. In the Jewish tradition, guilt is always accompanied by repentance and forgiveness. We dedicate our most solemn days of the year to forgiveness. Therefore we do not see guilt as something negative, a permanent stain on the soul, but on the contrary, as a prelude to learning and growing as people.
I am grateful for this helpful explanation. When Dr Sachs says ‘guilt is always accompanied by repentance’ he is referring to the observant Jew who is steeped in his or her religion and complies with its precepts. It reminds me of the cynical view that Roman Catholics do whatever they like day by day because they are confident their sins will all be washed out at confession.

My poem is not aimed at practising believers, who are in a minority in our society. It is about the rest of us who are often, from various causes, oppressed by feelings of guilt. We do not have the comfort of repentance and absolution. But like his Jewish flock, we do have what Dr Sachs calls ‘that still small voice that speaks to us of our guilt’.

Often, mistakenly conditioned, the still small voice speaks falsely. Oxford University Press has a four-year publishing project in progress which is re-examining the seven deadly sins. On lust the philosopher Professor Simon Blackburn, who is engaged in the project, says that ‘sexual desire is a life-affirming virtue and should no longer be considered a vice’ (Sunday Times, 11 January 2004). Of course it should not. I spelt out in The Sex Code the distinction between having sexual feeling (known as desire) and having a wish to gratify that feeling in an immoral way (known as lust). Simple desire is not lust, but many people have been conditioned to feel guilty about it.
FBBB41


Saturday, January 10, 2004

Class again 

I wrote about Jane Austen and the class system in FBBB21. Now I have just discovered a letter about class that I sent to the Spectator on Christmas Eve 1995 (not published)-
Just having called the ‘middle classes’ (her term) infuriating, Dot Wordsworth (16/23 December 1995) told us she doesn’t believe in class. What nonsense is this?

Not believing in transubstantiation or reincarnation might be credible. The existence of class in present British society is as well proved as that of envy, covetousness, or Wordsworthian poesy. Not to believe in it is a denial of the obvious.

As it happens, I myself belong to a class. It is that of literate, intelligent, moderate, benign, high-thinking persons who weigh every word and measure every sentiment. It is not the same class as that of characters depicted in Eastenders or Coronation Street. Privately, Dot Wordsworth would make a like claim.

So please let her stop pretending otherwise when on her public platform. It damages the class to which we both belong.
In the earlier blog I quoted Jane Austen’s remark of the upstart Coles: ‘Their love of society, and their new dining-room, prepared everybody for their keeping dinner-company’. A letter from David Russell of Winchester in the Times of 7 January 2004 reminds me that the first eight (nine?) words of this are an example of syllepsis. That, says Mr Russell, is to be distinguished from zeugma by the fact that with zeugma the connection is grammatically but not logically correct, whereas with syllepsis it is correct in both senses.

That said, I have to point out that Jane Austin is ambiguous here. It may be that the Coles’s love of their new dining-room prepared everybody for their keeping dinner-company, or it may have been that its mere existence did. The brace of commas perhaps suggests the latter sense, but meaning should not depend on punctuation.

Mr Russell gives a splendid example of syllepsis from the Flanders and Swann song 'Have Some Madeira M’dear': ‘When he asked “What in heaven?” she made no reply, up her mind, and a dash for the door’. I think this is a case for the Oxford comma so I have added one (after ‘mind’).

A friend whose identity I withhold (no name-dropping here) has just told me of a kindred word that I shall add to the repertoire. It is paronomasia, which the OED2 defines as a playing on words which sound alike.
FBBB40

Friday, January 09, 2004

Was Stalin a humanist? 

The hon. sec. of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association sent a round-robin email on 6 January 2004 which read-
‘Re the Bishop of St Alban’s [sic] insulting remarks about Humanism on Radio 4 which I posted a while ago, the BHA [British Humanist Association] has received the following response to its complaint: “Let me make it clear. I do respect ethical humanism - and if I suggested otherwise, I apologise. Equally, it was incorrect and unfortunate that in the pressure of the moment I bracketed together Stalin and humanism. I apologise for inferring [sic] that Stalin was a humanist.”’
Two grammatical errors in one short paragraph is enough to make one sic . [Prodnose: Don’t you mean are enough? No I don’t.]

The BHA thinks any reference to humanism necessarily relates to the philosophy the BHA espouses. This is not so. The predominant meaning of a ‘humanist’ is given by the OED (2nd edn) as ‘One of the scholars who, at the Revival of Learning in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, devoted themselves to the study of the language, literature, and antiquities of Rome, and afterwards of Greece; hence, applied to later disciples of the same culture.’ This is the meaning I, and many other people, grew up with.
FBBB39

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Why did it feel so good? 

In 1975 Father Dan Delaney invited 15-year old Rob Scarmodo to attend a Roman Catholic convention in San Antonio, Texas. When the boy arrived at the hotel he found he had not been allocated his own room, or even his own bed. Instead he was sent to Father Delaney’s room.
‘When I came into the hotel room’, says Rob, ‘there was only one bed. It struck me as strange, but the thought that something bad would happen wasn’t even in my mind. I was a young kid, naive, trusting . . . I never thought I would be in danger with a priest.’
In the night Rob woke to find Delaney, naked, leaning over and masturbating him. Frozen with shock, writes Sophie Roell (whose account in Times 2 for 6 January 2004 I am quoting from), Rob managed to get out of the room - but still cannot remember where he spent the rest of the night. The trauma resurfaced a quarter of a century later, whereupon Rob claimed compensation from the church and was awarded $250,000.

A commonplace story of wickedness, but I was struck by the following: ‘For Scamardo it was intensely confusing – partly because, while it wreaked havoc with his emotions, the physical sensation was pleasant . . . And that’s another point about sexual abuse; there’s pleasure involved in it. So for the victim the guilt and shame is [sic] mixed up – because if this is so bad, why did it feel so good?’.

It felt so good because 15-year old boys are more than ready for sexual experience: they desperately need it. I get very angry when society denies this, which is why I fought so hard against what is now the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (see 2.5.3 on my website).
FBBB38

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Cultural and grammatical 

I have received an email from Iftikhar Ahmad, whom I do not know. He says: ‘Father with strict Muslim beliefs murdered “bright, vibrant” teenager who planned to runaway with Christian boyfriend’. I note a grammatical point I will mention later. The substance of his email is a complaint about the way Muslim girls are educated in Britain.

Mr Ahmad says there are hundreds of state schools where Muslims are in the majority, and that the Government should designate them as Muslim community schools. In these the pupils would be educated by Muslim teachers in accordance with their needs and demands as prescribed by their Islamic religion.

On the BBC Radio Four Sunday programme (4 January 2004) a Muslim speaker said that for Muslims here British nationality is just a matter of travel documents, and that they owe no allegiance to the British state. Their duty is to their religion, he said, which is all-embracing. It governs every aspect of their lives, and leaves no room for conflicting duties arising from British citizenship.

What is one to make of all this? The zeitgeist insists that in England at least (though not it seems in Scotland, Ireland or Wales) society is multicultural rather than monocultural. It is generally assumed however that the particular ‘foreign’ culture of a person with overseas origins does not take over that person’s entire lifestyle, but that there will be room for some adoption of British ways. Being a Muslim does not seem to allow for this.

It is easier to deal with the grammatical point. To speak of a teenager ‘who planned to runaway with’ a boyfriend is to use a combination word in place of the required separate verb and adverb. The formation over years of the combination word ‘runaway’ is a fascinating instance of this common verbal process. I illustrate it from three OED examples.

1. An Act of 1547 says ‘The same Iustices . . . shall adiudge the loyterer and run away to be the said masters slaue for euer’.

2. A book of 1758 says ‘Half the gross wages of such run-aways from the ship, shall be deposited . . . in the Pay-office’.

3. A book of 1833 says ‘This lad is a notorious runaway: he has escaped three times’.
FBBB37

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Bennion on Google 1 

My ISP is AOL, which has just put at the top of its crowded Home Page a Google search facility. So, instead of getting on with using the internet for a proper purpose, when I go online (on line, on-line?) I am now sometimes distracted into trying my luck with a search for my own name. I get different results for ‘Francis Bennion’, ‘F A R Bennion’ and ‘F Bennion’, so have to use all three intermittently. There is also the problem of whether to select the whole world or just the UK for a search. That too produces different results.

This is the first of a series of Blogs in which I propose to muse on the results of doing these me-me-me searches. Often they throw up instances where someone has said something mistaken about me. Not infrequently the treatment is grossly inadequate. Once an international organisation published a serious libel on its message board, which was soon corrected when I protested. On the other hand there can be pleasing references.

Proceeding at random, the first reference I am going to mention concerns Freedom Under Law (FUL), which I set up in 1971. Its target was direct-action protesters, who take away people’s liberty in unlawful pursuit of their own controversial ends. We started with the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), whose interference with hunts is always unlawful whatever one may think of hunting with hounds. Elizabeth Stokes, of the School of Law at the University of East London, wrote an interesting thesis on the topic in 1996 (see http://www.uel.ac.uk/law/research/es_rps.htm).

In her thesis Ms Stokes made no reference to FUL. Her only reference to me was: ‘In 1971 F Bennion tried to persuade the Director of Public Prosecutions to charge the HSA Committee with “conspiracy to disrupt a lawful event”’. This was inadequate to say the least, but what can one do? It is strange that a lengthy academic investigation of this vexed topic should pay so little attention to the basic value of freedom under law.
FBBB36

Monday, January 05, 2004

Gong Show Part 5 

My final word on the Honours system is contained in a letter published in today’s London Times Debate:
‘We should not try to reform what is a rotten system. Instead we should abolish it.

[The honours system is rotten for the following reasons.] It caters to, and inflates, human vanity. It is used to obtain the services of civil servants, members of the Armed Forces and other state employees on the cheap, paying them less than they could get in the private sector. It degrades the Queen, who nominally [(but not really, except for a few)], awards the honours. It encourages a debased political system, where honours are awarded to pay off party hacks and party donors. It cheapens charity, encouraging people to do charitable work in the expectation of being honoured rather than for true philanthropic motives. [It distorts the behaviour of those who hope for honours, making them kow-tow and “keep their noses clean”.]

Instead of bestowing titles and letters after one’s name (to be used only for swank), we should borrow from a military tradition which does neither: mention in despatches. Let those who act beyond the call of duty be officially mentioned in the nation’s despatches. That would be honour enough.’
The Times left out the bits in square brackets.
FBBB35.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Stuttering Stuttaford 2 

I dealt in FBBB33 with grammatical aspects of Dr Stuttaford’s remark that
‘For some men, their genitalia is so much the core of their identities that once they notice the telltale symptoms of bladder obstruction, they greet the doctor with as much enthusiasm as a turkey would welcome the butcher.’
I now turn to the medical aspects. I consider that medically speaking this is a cruel and heartless remark, calculated to drive those it hits into clinical depression. To become aware of symptoms that one’s bladder is obstructed would upset anyone, man, woman or child. If the sufferer is a man, that inevitable distress has nothing whatever to do with his genitals being the core of his identity (whatever that is supposed to mean).

The remark rankles. It is a snide remark. Why do I find it so objectionable? Partly for the same reason I found Melanie Phillips’s article on sexuality objectionable in FBBB22: it reeks of sex-negativism. Inevitably to their owner the male genitals, worn as they are outside the body, are obvious and prominent (both physically and mentally) from puberty onwards. Presumably the irritating doctor has found this to be so even in the case of his own body. So why the foolish sneer?

I wouldn’t like to go near Dr Stuttaford for treatment if I had any waterworks problem.
FBBB34

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Stuttering Stuttaford 1 

Thomas Stuttaford, the newspaper doctor, makes a strange pronouncement (Times 2, 22 December 2003)-
‘For some men, their genitalia is so much the core of their identities that once they notice the telltale symptoms of bladder obstruction, they greet the doctor with as much enthusiasm as a turkey would welcome the butcher’.
There is a great deal wrong with this observation, both grammatically and medically. I start with the former aspect.

Genitalia is a plural word. Dr Stuttaford would realise this if he used the English form, which is genitals. So it should be ‘their genitalia are so much the core’. But then he would have grammatical trouble with ‘core’, as he already has with ‘identities’.

The word ‘telltale’ is otiose. A symptom, once noticed, is immediately, obviously telltale. That is the meaning of the word. The OED defines otiose as ‘having no practical function; idle, superfluous, useless’. In other words, tautologous. (A small prize for telling me what is grammatically wrong with that last sentence.)

The great Victorian judge Viscount Esher once said of an Act of Parliament ‘I have come to the conclusion that the Legislature intended in this case to be verbose and tautologous, and to say the same thing twice over’. Another word for it is pleonastic. The St James’s Gazette for 1 April 1881 argued that saying ‘Lake Windermere’ is pleonastic because ‘mere’ means lake.

To speak of turkeys welcoming butchers is to fall into the most dismal cliché. Here I will quote the Listener (8 November 1962): ‘Often it sufficed to let some pompous cliché-monger speak for himself'.

This blog is already too long. I will leave the medical aspects of Dr Stuttaford’s ill-judged remark till another time. Meanwhile you may like to read my poems ‘Genitalia’ and ‘Geneticals’.
FBBB33

Friday, January 02, 2004

Triple whammy 

The BBC Radio Four Today programme scored a triple grammatical whammy within a quarter of an hour on New Year’s Eve 2003. Robin Aitkin, reporting on the escaped prisoner Roderick McLean, spoke of ‘a fellow accomplice’ (pleonasm). Then he referred to something ‘begging several questions’ (misuse of metaphor). The third offence came from the editor of the Idler Tom Hodgkinson, who referred to crossing ‘far less barriers’ (wrong choice of adjective). He should have said ‘far fewer barriers’.

There is now frequent misuse of the metaphor ‘begging the question’. Nicholas Wapshott writes: ‘Each child abduction resulting from unsupervised visits to internet chat rooms or being allowed to stay out too late begs the question: where were the parents and why did they not know what their child was up to?’ (London Times 22 December 2003).

Properly, begging the question denotes the logical fallacy known as petitio principii, when in an argument the very thing is assumed which it is desired to prove. This was the fourth of Aristotle’s fallacies. For example, if the question being debated is why do two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, combine to form water, it is not a logical answer to say they combine because of their chemical affinity. The phrase ‘chemical affinity’ is only an abstract name for the observed fact that these two gases do in fact combine in the proportions noted by experiment. De Morgan gives another example:-
Porcelain says to Crockery, ‘I am better than you’. Crockery replies ‘I don’t see that’. ‘Why,’ says Porcelain, ‘am I not made of better clay?’ ‘How so?’ says Crockery. ‘Why,’ returns Porcelain, ‘my clay makes porcelain, and yours only makes crockery’.
Sometimes the term is used in other mistaken ways. For example in the London Times for 6 February 2003 W Hobman said that ‘to beg the question’ means to evade the question, which is not the case.

I wince every time I hear people say something begs a stated question, when what they mean is merely that it raises the question. I do a lot of wincing, as a valuable meaning slides from use and availability. The consolation is that it is still usually possible to detect from the context when the correct usage is being employed.
FBBB32

Thursday, January 01, 2004

My blogs in the New Year 

As it is the first day of a new year I thought I would take stock of this blog business and decide whether I ought to continue with it. I started a daily blog on 2 December 2003, and have managed to do 30 blogs so far. The word blog is an abbreviation of web log, or web diary. So far mine is a diary to the extent that each entry is linked to something happening around the time it is published, but mostly it is not a personal diary in the usual sense.

I have drawn up a list of the topics covered in my first 30 blogs. The thirteen topics dealt with in three or more of them, with the blog numbers, are-
Africa 1, 5, 7, 29
Books 21, 25, 27
Education 4, 8, 11, 20
English grammar 5, 7, 20, 23, 26, 30
Honours system (British) 1, 15, 19, 29
Law 9, 10, 16
Political correctness 8, 9, 12, 28
Politicians 6, 8, 10
Puffing my own books 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 22, 24
Racism 8, 14, 28
Religion 5, 13, 25
Sex 7, 18, 22
World politics 2, 6, 16

Puffing my own books wins hands down, which is not surprising. The honours system just happened to be prominent in the news during December 2003, and will not be covered so frequently over a longer period. Overall, using the topics of the first 30, I would describe my blogsite so far as follows.
This is the site of a British octogenarian Oxford-educated white male barrister writer who is naturally concentrating on the topics those nouns and adjectives suggest. He is conservative (with a small c) in outlook, and dislikes features of modern life such as political correctness. Yet he is radical where he has to be, particularly on sex. His writings show a keen interest in the English language, politics and law.
Well I think I’ll continue blogging on those lines. For as long as I feel inclined. And as long as I am allowed to.

Happy New Year!
FBBB31