Monthly list of
Sunday, February 29, 2004
Mr Toad takes the road
Kenneth Grahame’s Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows is
the paradigm of the foolish, vain motorist. Some wise words were uttered
about our present-day Mr Toads in a Times leader on 28 February
As a culture, we react with horror to rail crashes while accepting
the far higher number of motoring casualties as a price worth paying.
There is an inherent casualness in our driving culture – we are aware
of the benefits, but have never properly factored in the responsibility
that accompanies the potential danger posed by the automobile.
On 19 March 1998 the Daily Express
published the following from
me as its Letter of the Day.
As a driver myself, I was astonished to read [16 March] that
the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) approves use by drivers of hands-free
telephones. Edmund King, their head of campaigns, says the RAC will
resist any moves to limit this. All I can say is, God help us all! It
should be a serious criminal offence to use a telephone when driving
- whether hand-held or hands-free. To employ a large part of one’s brain
to converse with another person on the telephone is to use only a small
part in attending to the road. This is suicidal, if not murderous.
I have been driving for sixty years without one criminal conviction.
My mileage is nearing a million. The conclusion from all that experience
is simple. When driving, you need both hands on the wheel and both
ears fully attentive to the sounds of the road. At the wheel, I do
not even listen to the radio or cassette player. If I did I might
miss an ambulance, fire or police siren. I might fail to hear an urgent
horn or cry of warning. I switch off from my passengers’ conversations
among themselves, and insist they do not chat to me. I have only one
thing on my mind when I drive, and that is the job in hand. The car
is a killer machine, and the licensed driver is its trusted controller.
Let’s remember that, whatever foolishness the RAC put out.
The reaction to this was I suppose predictable. On 20 March 1998 I sent
a follow-up letter which the Daily Express
did not publish.
Ageism is defined as mindless prejudice against old people
just because they are old. The reactions to my letter of 19 March (about
the need to concentrate when driving) illustrate this. Absurd assumptions
were made just because I admitted having been an (unconvicted) driver
for 60 years. Perhaps more disturbing than the vice of ageism is driver
megalomania, also manifested in that reaction. No wonder thousands are
still killed and injured on our roads every year, if this is the general
attitude to the need for drivers to concentrate.
Twenty-five-year old James Gosnold [Letters 20 March] does condescend
to accept that ‘a degree of concentration’ is required, but makes
it clear in his innocence that he thinks this is far less than 100%.
Your columnist Martin Samuel [20 March] parades fantasies about my
wearing a hat when driving, proceeding at 21 mph oblivious to the
tailback behind me, and so forth. Quite a good joke if you sit on
In fact I do not wear a hat when driving my BMW series 3 convertible,
and am careful to keep up with the flow of traffic. The concentration
I spoke of means I know at all times exactly what is going on behind
me as well as in front. The world out there is unpredictable, and
needs 100% attention.
Saturday, February 28, 2004
The blame for slavery
In a Times
letter today Miss Mary Ellen Synon
writes from leafy Hampshire with sickening inevitability: ‘Slavery was a
shame shared by all the colonies, and by Britain . . .’ What she should
have written was: ‘Slavery was a shame shared by all the colonies, and by
Britain, and by the African chiefs who sold their people into slavery in
the first place . . .’ (See Blog FBBB56
What is more, while the British mended their ways nearly two centuries
ago, the African chiefs are still at it. I take from my files part of
an unpublished article I wrote in 1999.
A report from Robin Lodge in Nairobi (Times, 9 July
1999) reveals that a United Nations agency has accused a Christian human
rights group of encouraging the slave trade in southern Sudan by handing
over $100,000 (£64,000) to Arab traders to buy the freedom of more than
2,000 slaves. Julianna Lindsey, a spokeswoman for the United Nations
Children’s Fund operation Lifeline Sudan, said that while she appreciated
the benefits to the individuals concerned there were fears that paying
money to redeem slaves could serve only to support the market. ‘The
issue is the same whether it is 500 or 2,000 slaves’ she said. ‘Money
in Southern Sudan is very attractive and the people involved in the
trade will use that’. Her remarks followed the announcement by Christian
Solidarity International, an organisation based in Switzerland, that
it had paid Arab middlemen the equivalent of $50 a head to obtain the
freedom of 2,035 slaves in a seven-day trip to southern Sudan - bringing
the number of slaves it has redeemed to more than 11,000 since 1995.
Perhaps that will help to educate Miss Mary Ellen Synon, and dissuade
her from the common feeling of many young Britons that they want to dish
the dirt on their own country and forget all about the rest.
Friday, February 27, 2004
The language of command
It is now politically incorrect to use the language
of command. This even applies to the most commanding entity in our constitution,
the Queen in Parliament.
Formerly if there was to be say a new Supreme Court the Act would say
in commanding tones ‘There shall be a Supreme Court’. Today’s equivalent
is illustrated by the Constitutional Reform Bill introduced into the House
of Lords on 24 February 2004. This chattily says ‘There is to be a Supreme
Court of the United Kingdom’, rather as one might say ‘there is to be
a thunderstorm, so they say’.
When God was creating the Universe He said, according to the Book of Genesis, ‘Let
there be light’ and there was light. He went on to say ‘Let there be a
firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from
the waters’. He used the same language each time He continued the creation
process. We might follow suit, except that that too is the now forbidden
language of command.
I wonder if, in Mr Tony Blair’s New Model Army, the Sergeant Major says
softly to the squad of recruits: ‘There is to be a forming of fours’.
Saturday, February 21, 2004
The Government have taken up a new human rights term:
sexual autonomy. OED2 defines autonomy as ‘liberty to follow one’s will,
personal freedom’. It is good that we should have that liberty officially
acknowledged in the sexual field, but does the acceptance go far enough?
I suggest not.
Oliver Phillips of the University of Westminster points out on the Internet
that the July 2000 Home Office review of sex offences Setting the
, a prelude to last year’s Sexual Offences Act (SOA), is
explicitly premised on an attempt to achieve a just balance between the
twin concepts of sexual autonomy and protection of the vulnerable. He
says it is arguable that this is a more effective basis for defining sexual
offences and protecting physical integrity than was previously the case,
adding a note of warning.
But achieving this balance requires the successful negotiation
of the tension that must exist between autonomy and protection and raises
the difficult question of how one defines these in relation to sex,
desire and pleasure. Sex and desire are both inherently relational,
so how does one go about defining sexual autonomy? How can we claim
a sexual autonomy that is not inevitably contingent on socio-economic,
gendered relationships? Furthermore, is there not something ironic in
relying on the State to preserve autonomy, particularly in the most
intimate context of relationships and desire? Does an increasing espousal
and articulation of autonomy simply provide the frame for an ever more
normative web of state regulation?
Good question. We can glean some answers from an official follow-up to
the SOA issued on 12 February by the Sentencing Advisory Panel. In this
consultation paper the Panel say that violation of the victim’s sexual
autonomy is the most serious form of harm caused by sexual offences and
is inherent in all the non-consensual offences under the SOA, adding it
may also be present in cases where the victim is coerced or exploited
into taking part in sexual activity (for example, in cases of familial
abuse and abuse of trust) and in commercial exploitation offences such
as ‘trafficking’. The seriousness of the violation may depend on a number
of factors, including especially the nature of the sexual behaviour. The
fact that offences involving sexual penetration are more serious than
non-penetrative assaults is reflected in the higher maximum penalty.
The Panel say discussion now needs to be broadened to consider whether
the new sentencing guidelines for offences under the SOA should distinguish
between penile penetration of the genital organs and penile penetration
of the mouth and also whether they should distinguish between penile penetration
and penetration with another part of the body or an object. The Panel
have provisionally concluded that it is impossible to say that any one
of these forms of offending is inherently a more serious violation of
the victim’s sexual autonomy than another.
The SOA offence of causing a person to engage in sexual activity without
consent covers situations where, for example, a victim is forced to carry
out a sexual act involving their own person, such as self-masturbation,
or to engage in sexual activity with a third party, or to engage in sexual
activity with the offender (for example, where a woman forces a man to
penetrate her, which in Setting the Boundaries
was regarded as ‘a
serious assault on the man’s sexual autonomy’). The panel say the two
main factors determining the seriousness of an offence of causing or inciting
sexual activity without consent are ‘the nature of the sexual activity
(as an indication of the degree of harm caused to the victim through the
violation of his or her sexual autonomy) and the level of the offender’s
culpability, which will be higher when the victim is forced to engage
in sexual activity with the offender or with another victim than in cases
where there is no sexual contact between the victim and offender or anyone
In the case of the SOA offence of inducement, threat or deception to procure
sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder the Panel say the
level of inducement, threat or deception used is irrelevant, as a person
with a mental disorder will be susceptible to very low level threats,
bribes etc. ‘Their sexual autonomy is easily overborne by a manipulating
The missing factor in all this is the aspect of sexual autonomy that resides
not in the right not to be invaded by others but in the right positively
to fulfil one’s sexuality through one’s own initiatory actions. Here young
people and those with mental disability are particularly deprived.
This is my 82nd daily Blog without a break. I shall
now take a few days off.
Friday, February 20, 2004
More Police stroppiness
I am writing again about what I call Police stroppiness
towards respectable middle class people who pay their wages. In previous
Blogs I have described the following-
· Cambridgeshire Police being stroppy towards Professor Stephen
Hawking over injuries they suspect to have been inflicted on him by
his wife (FBBB68).
North Wales Police impudently questioning BBC Director-General Greg
Dyke about Anne Robinson’s anti-Welsh rant (FBBB69).
North Wales Police being stroppy to Felicity Elphick, prospective Conservative
candidate for the European Parliament (FBBB69).
Cheshire Police presuming to question the Lord Bishop of Chester about
obviously harmless remarks made by him concerning medical help for homosexuals
I am now going to add to that list by mentioning the disgraceful way the
Cambridgeshire Police treated Robin Page last summer.
Page is the founder and honorary director of the Countryside Restoration
Trust, which rejects intensive, industrialized farming and the practices
which have turned so much of our English countryside into featureless
and soulless prairies. It warns against globalisation and of the damage
which this is doing to our small farmers, small shopkeepers and the quality
of the food we eat. He used to feature on the very popular BBV TV programme ‘One
Man and his Dog’. I will describe his encounter with the Cambridgeshire
Police in his own words.
My apparent crime was that I had told a crowd of several thousand
at a country fair at Frampton on Severn that country people should have
the same rights and protection under the law as other minority groups
in multicultural Britain. Free speech? Dream on. I had started my speech
by saying ‘If there is a black, vegetarian, Muslim, asylum-seeking,
one-legged, lesbian lorry driver present, then you may be offended at
what I am going to say, as I want the same rights that you have got
already’. Nearly all the crowd laughed and clapped. (Right Now!/Jan/Feb
Edward Canfield (Steadfast Magazine
, Issue 9) continues the story.
Two police officers came to Robin’s home, arrested him, took
him to Cambridge police station and threw him in a cell. The officers
would not tell Robin what he was supposed to have said that justified
such drastic and oppressive action. As Robin writes in the Right
Now! article: ‘How quickly a free country can slide into the habits
of a police state and how simple it is to intimidate and harass those
of us who object’.
Canfield says it is ironic that the behaviour of the police, and of whoever
in the government was behind their action, fully justifies the comments
which Page had made originally in a comical or satirical fashion. Their
behaviour, he adds, does indeed prove that a countryside campaigner and
an Englishman no longer possesses the right to free speech which we once
took for granted and which other groups and individuals in our society
still do possess.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
A luxury we can't afford
Can we still have what we are accustomed to think of
as impeccable fair trials when the person tried is a suspected terrorist
suicide bomber? The Times
published the following letter from me
on 13 February 2004-
The letter signed by members of the Bar (7 February) refers
to three fair trial principles: a public hearing by an impartial judge
and jury of one’s peers, proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and
the right to know the case against one. As another member of the Bar
(of 53 years’ standing) I would point out that impeccable fair trial
standards can be preserved only in a peaceful, ordered society. Where
national safety is gravely threatened, these civilised standards may
unfortunately need to be lowered. I recall that this happened with Regulation
18b in World War Two, which allowed enemy aliens to be locked up without
trial. We felt it essential to do this for our own safety.
A new situation has now developed with the emergence of determined
terrorists prepared to sacrifice their own lives. Parliament, the
symbol of our democratic freedom, is currently disfigured by ugly
concrete barriers designed to stop their approach. Mr Jonathan Rule
(letter, 4 February), says it is ‘frightening’ that, under [the Home
Secretary] Mr Blunkett’s plans to get a conviction of a suspected
terrorist the person deciding will need only to conclude ‘I think
he did it’. Most law-abiding citizens think it far more frightening
to have their lives threatened by suicide bombers.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs,
supported this argument in a speech to the Law Society on 17 February
(reported Daily Mail
, 18 February). He said the country’s safety
comes before a terror suspect’s human rights, and that there are ‘no options
we should refuse to consider’. He added-
Lives are at stake. The safety of the people is the first
concern of any Government.
Mr Richard Fleet responded to my letter with the following (Times
February), which raises the essential issue in a stark way-
Mr Bennion comments, rightly, that law-abiding citizens think
it frightening to have their lives threatened by suicide bombers. However,
one of the prices we pay for a civilised society is the protection afforded
to persons suspected of crime. There is a rule of thumb that it is better
for ten guilty persons to go free than for one innocent person to be
falsely convicted, and I believe we depart from this principle at our
This contradicts my contention that impeccable fair trial standards can
be preserved only in a peaceful, ordered society. Who is right? The fact
is that in a desperate situation no society can afford kid gloves or it
will go under. Is our present situation desperate enough for this to apply?
The supposed rule of thumb Mr Fleet cites is not truly that. In real life
no such ten-to-one bargain is actually on offer. If the authorities had
arrested ten people they suspected of genuinely plotting suicide attacks,
the public would rightly expect those very dangerous people to be held
in custody while the danger subsists, trial or no trial. There should
be effective checks on the genuineness of the information, but a public
trial establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt may well be a luxury
the state cannot realistically afford.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Let’s have some literacy here
I'm sorry to have to return to the dreaded subject
of edspeak (see FBBB20
but it is unavoidable if I am to do my duty. The education of the nation’s
children is in the hands of people who are unable to use the English language,
and it is an alarming situation.
Yesterday a Government department calling itself the DfES (Department
for Education and Skills) published what it called the Interim Report
of the Working Group on 14-19 Reform. It was masterminded by Mike Tomlinson,
formerly HM Chief Inspector of Schools. I obtained an eight-page official
summary which is so full of impenetrable jargon as to be meaningless to
one not trained and steeped in edspeak. In yesterday’s Newsnight
Paxman also confessed himself baffled by the language of the report
What, for a start, is ‘14-19 Reform’? Wouldn’t this be more than a trifle
elliptical? Well yes it would. The full version, if they could be bothered,
might be something on the lines of ‘Reform of the system of state education
of pupils aged between 14 and 19’. This wouldn’t do for Mr Tomlinson and
his colleagues however. The term ‘pupil’ is anathema to them, as is ‘student’.
The word they use throughout the report is ‘learner’. No doubt when the
final report comes out it will recommend the wearing of L-plates, as with
I could not begin to tell you what the interim report recommends, because
to me its language is impenetrable. That is scarcely surprising because
the language of its ‘remit’ (formerly known as terms of reference) is
impenetrable. The Working Group were asked to make proposals to achieve
three things. The first was ‘strengthened structure and content of full-time
vocational programmes’. Next these must require an ‘overall amount of
assessment manageable for learners and teachers alike’. The final requirement
was ‘a unified framework of qualifications that stretches the performance
of learners, motivates progression, and recognises different levels of
achievement’. Meaningless, windy, waffle would be a kind description of
The report calls for ‘the opportunity to combine different types of leaning’ [sic
It requires pupils (I refuse to say learners) to acquire ‘transferable
skills’ without saying what these are supposed to be. A person with a
skill can only transfer it by teaching it to a pupil. Even then the teacher
does not really ‘transfer’ the skill, because this of course remains with
him or her after the lessons are finished.
Another atrocious piece of grammar in this document is the following: ‘Some
Higher Education (HE) complain that young people leave education and training
without [necessary knowledge and skills]’. The ellipsis here is gaping.
Presumably what is meant is ‘Some teachers in Higher Education (HE) complain
. . .’ Why couldn't they add the necessary two words?
The report says its recommendations will provide ‘a flexible ladder of
progression’. This is a confused metaphor of alarming proportions. Anyone
who tries to climb a flexible ladder is likely to find themselves quickly
thrown to the ground. The sloppy language continues with references to ‘MAs’ (who
turn out to be not Masters of Arts but Modern Apprenticeships) and ‘pre-16
learners’ and ‘post-16 learners’, which of course (unintentionally) leaves
out learners who are actually 16.
The report ends by telling us that between February and May 2004 the Working
Party will be engaging with a range of partners and stakeholders. The
true stakeholders here are the unfortunate ‘learners’ who will have to
suffer the results of this process, but I don’t think that is what they
mean here. I don’t know what they mean, because they do not deign to tell
us who ‘stakeholders’ are meant to be.
The Working Party sign off by admitting that their proposals will cause
another bout of upheaval. However they promise to try to ensure that the
upheaval is not ‘excessive’. Long-suffering teachers will have a wry smile
I had my forebodings when yesterday morning I heard Mike Tomlinson try
to explain his proposals on the BBC Radio Four Today
I wasn’t reassured when I heard him say he hoped they would result in ‘less
examinations’. It’s fewer
Mr Tomlinson, not less. Can we please
have some literacy here. After all it’s supposed to be about education.
Well isn’t it?
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
A mystery plaque
I call it Lovers Lane, though its real name is Blackall
Road. For me it is now Exeter’s most romantic street. It goes along the
edge of a deep chasm through which runs what was once called the London
and South-Western Railway, and has Exeter Prison at one end. Not perhaps
where you would look for romance, but that can pop up anywhere.
There is a low brick wall along that side of the road. Attached to it,
about a metre from the ground, I spotted yesterday a small bronze quadrangular
plaque. I guess it was commissioned and illicitly attached by some besotted
young man, for I can’t imagine a sober municipal corporation authorising
it. The wording on the plaque is-
I don’t like text in art
but walking along this road
holding the hand of a girl I loved
was the happiest I’ve ever been.
No date. No name. In conjecturing how the little bronze plaque came to
be there, your imagination is as good as mine (if not better).
I don’t think there is anything further to add at the moment, but I have
hopes that someone who knows more might spread that knowledge and tell
me about it.
Monday, February 16, 2004
A clarion call
Roger Scruton has written a new book, The Need
. Judging by an article in the Sunday Times
15 February 2004 based on the book, many of his themes have already appeared
in these Blogs. He argues that the secular nation state is necessary for
democracy and the rule of law. Opposed to it is the theocratic whole-life
dominion of the Islamic creed. This leaves no room for the state to govern
because under it the imam governs totally, applying tenets of a religion
which presumes to rule every aspect of its adherents’ lives.
The article begins with France, obviously with British parallels in mind.
In France a law has just been passed forbidding the wearing of religious
symbols by state school pupils. This is directed at the hijab worn by
Muslim girls. The function of French state schools, applying the principle
, is to produce French citizens. The hijab is at odds
Muslims in France, says Scruton, have brought back anti-Semitism – unknown
there since before World War Two. They are disloyal to their new French
nationality, for their loyalty is to Islam and the fight against secularism.
Scruton goes on-
The French story could be told of the other nation states
of Europe. The secular order of the nation state is under threat. Freedom
of speech is disappearing and the ordinary citizens of European states
are deeply anxious about the long-term consequences.
In Britain the gravest feature is the enemy within. The response of our
elite is not to affirm national identity but to repudiate it. This is
reinforced by the ‘traitorous clerks’ in the media. [The reference is
to the trahison des clercs
– see FBBB51
Scruton says that this repudiation of nationality by the elite has been
a persistent voice in the European culture since the war, and is one of
the factors that have made it so difficult to discuss immigration rationally
and constructively. The nation state is also under attack by the European
Union, with its new-found crimes such as xenophobia. In our country this
was formerly no more than a tolerated state of mind.
Prescient voices have long been uttering such warnings. In 1992 Clifford
Longley, then religious correspondent of the Times
, said the
introduction of state-funded Muslim schools was being resisted because
they would not support values which the community shared, or at least
esteemed, and were not thought to be a contribution to the public good.
Adding that Muslims ‘want the schools to be cultural ghettos in which
they can protect their children from the influences of Western civilisation’,
he said that these views had to be tacit ‘because it is not “politically
correct” to say so’ (Times
, 11 January 1992).
Sunday, February 15, 2004
A daily dose of the Bible
I am on Day 49 of The Cambridge Daily Reading Bible
The language is everyday modern English, with only occasional faint reminders
of King James. This indicates that it means business, and must be taken
seriously as today-speak (even though there are many obvious absurdities).
The old tales, learnt in childhood Sunday School, are in modern dress stripped
of most of their mystique. They become even less convincing.
With the Old Testament section I am still in the Book of Genesis, interspersed
with Psalms and Proverbs. Here the absurdities are plentiful. It is strange
how some being called ‘the Lord’ interferes freely in everyday life, giving
his orders person to person and usually being obeyed. At the start he
is called God.
God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was a formless void and
darkness covered the face of the deep, while a mighty wind swept over
the face of the waters. It’s not much of an explanation. The waters were
already in position when the process of creation began. How did they get
God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’.
To whom did he say it? There was at that moment no one there. What likeness
would that be, since the image apparently embodied both sexes? We now
know what the empty face of the planet Mars looks like. How could God
have been talking to himself in such a landscape?
Later the first human creature is referred to as ‘the man’. The Lord God
takes one of his ribs, which he makes into a woman to be ‘a helper as
his partner’. The man ‘named his wife Eve’. The Lord God obligingly made
garments out of skins for the two of them, thereby confirming that animals
were created for the use of mankind.
The story continues. Eve gives birth to Cain, then Abel. Cain kills Abel.
Then the Lord says to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ Cain says he
does not know, cheekily adding ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ We meet Methusaleh,
who lived for precisely 969 years. His grandson Noah made a wooden ark
of rescue when the Lord came to regret having made humankind and decided
to annihilate them because of their wickedness. The Lord tells Noah to
put pairs of animals and birds, one of each sex, in the ark so that they
and their progeny would be saved from destruction. Then the Lord brings
the destroying flood over the earth.
Later the Lord makes a covenant with Noah never to do it again; and in
future to put up with whatever mankind decides to do. We are told the
names of the descendants of Noah. After many generations they build a
city, with a tower. What happened then?
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. The
Lord came down to see the city and the tower [the Tower of Babel] .
. . And the Lord said ‘. . . let us go down and confuse their language
there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech’.
What on earth was the point of that? We are not told. I shall not continue
trying to describe what the Book of Genesis tells us. But I shall go on
reading it, a little bit at a time, day by day, in amazed fascination.
It founded great religions which are still with us.
The other daily fare so far has been New Testament extracts from the Gospel
[meaning ‘good news’] according to St Mark. It makes a remarkable contrast,
and is much more realistic. For that reason it is more convincing, but
it still leaves many questions unanswered.
I remember that the Roman Catholic Church used to withhold the Holy Scriptures
from the laity because they needed the reader to be learned if they were
to be understood. How wise that now seems.
Saturday, February 14, 2004
Not the way to do it
I have received another email from Iftikhar Ahmad of
the London School of Islamics (for the first see FBBB37
It is again full of unverified assertions.
Iftikhar Ahmad says the West as it exists today is the product of Islamic
science, civilisation, culture and learning. He alleges that one of the
teacher’s unions, ATL, regards Muslim schools as Osama bin Laden Academies.
The ATL is the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Its website says
it is a professional association and trade union representing over 160,000
teachers, lecturers and education support staff in England, Wales and
Northern Ireland. ATL members work in both the maintained and independent
sectors – from early years through to further education – and include
all those directly involved in the delivery of education to pupils and
Any Muslim teacher or lecturer can join ATL. Among its official objects
is ‘to promote the equality of opportunity and treatment of its members’.
So what does Iftikhar Ahmad mean by saying, without verifying reference,
that ATL regards Muslim schools as Osama bin Laden Academies?
The ATL includes on its website the fact that all educational institutions
(including itself) must comply with new specific orders on racial equality
imposed by the Home Secretary on 3 December 2001. It reminds people in
education that the Race Relations Acts place a general duty on schools
and other public authorities to-
eliminate unlawful racial discrimination
promote equality of opportunity
promote good race relations between people of different racial groups.
I hold no brief for ATL. My own educational body is the Professional Association
of Teachers (PAT), which I helped to found and of which I was the first
national chairman. But I believe in fair play, and so come to the aid
of ATL against what appears to be a wholly unfounded libel.
The London School of Islamics says it wants to remove prejudice in Britain
against Muslims. For an Islamic body to hurl unverified accusations against
respectable British institutions is not the way to go about doing that.
Friday, February 13, 2004
As bad as I feared
The Blairite demolition of the British constitution
continued with the publication on 10 February of a report of the House of
Commons Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs. This followed the Government's
announcement last summer of proposals for a new Supreme Court and a new
Judicial Appointments Commission and for the abolition of the office of
Lord Chancellor. I responded to that immediately with the following letter
in the Times
of 14 June-
If we abolish the office of Lord Chancellor we shall deprive
the unwritten British constitution of one of its most brilliant and
useful features. It is unsatisfactory to have a complete separation
of powers between judiciary, executive and legislature, because this
does not allow for the settling of disagreements between them. The British
genius has been to evolve, over the centuries, a Cabinet office, that
of Lord Chancellor, which allows its holder to intercede at the centre
and put forward and defend the views of the judiciary at the heart of
government. This is of inestimable value constitutionally. Those who
consider this office an anomaly, and want to get rid of it, do not understand
its nature. I fear that applies to many of the so-called ‘reforms’ instituted
by Mr Blair.
This letter attracted considerable support, but was of course ignored
by the wrecking crew. I do not include in that pejorative term the Select
Committee mentioned above, whose report says some wise things. It points
out that a major part of the role of the Lord Chancellor is the protection
of the judiciary from political pressure and goes on-
The way in which these fundamental proposals were announced,
as a part of a Cabinet reshuffle and therefore without consultation
or advice, has created anxieties amongst the senior members of the judiciary
among others, and was felt by some supporters of the changes to have
been unhelpful in presenting the case in favour of them. These are not
simple matters on which to legislate.
How true! As for the Supreme Court, the committee point out that the present
system for appeals works. The arguments for change are mainly about perception
(as to which see FBBB10
Because of delays, say the committee, the new court might have to sit
in the House of Lords. ‘However, this would result in the same people
doing the same job, in the same place (possibly with the same staff).’
The committee point out that the new Judicial Appointments Commission
will be a more expensive way of doing what is done now. They conclude
that the proposed changes consequent on the redistribution of responsibilities
and proposed abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor are being bundled
together and dealt with over a very short timescale as a single reform. ‘This
is unwieldy and, in the case of some of the proposals, precipitate.’ The
committee conclude that the consultation process has been too short and
the legislative timetable is too restrictive to deal with changes which
are so far reaching in their effects.
It is all turning out just as badly as I feared.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
The truth about Kelly
I have been reading the House of Lords debate on 4
February concerning Lord Hutton’s report on the death of Dr David Kelly.
I myself took an extreme view about the behaviour of the BBC, sending the
following letter to the Times
on 1 February (which was not published).
I suggest that the time has come for the Government to advise
Her Majesty to revoke the royal charter establishing the British Broadcasting
Corporation. It is no longer appropriate for this country to have a
state broadcasting organization. It should be left to the free market
to provide a variety of TV and radio outlets each advancing its own
point of view. I make this suggestion because the BBC now work on the
assumption that patriotism is no longer a factor in our national life.
On 8 July last year you published a letter in which I said-
When I was serving as an RAF pilot in the Second World
War it was not expected that the BBC would be impartial as between
Churchill and Hitler. Why in the Iraq war do they think it right
to be impartial as between Blair and Saddam Hussein?
The BBC never answered this. In his letter to the Prime Minister of
21 March last year, revealed in yesterday’s Sunday Times,
Mr Greg Dyke insisted that the BBC’s coverage of the Iraq war (and
presumably any other war in which this country is engaged) must be ‘balanced’,
by which he clearly meant impartial, rather than aimed at supporting
the British war effort in which our troops are engaged. This stance
is inappropriate for the state broadcasting organization. The massive
support for Greg Dyke shown by the BBC staff shows that its personnel
would not support an abandonment of its stance of impartiality as
between this country’s enemies and its Government. Therefore it is
time for it to be disbanded.
Lord Birt, the BBC Director-General before Greg Dyke, spoke in the House
of Lords debate. He said he was deeply troubled to see an institution
he so revered suffer the worst setback in its history. He added that at
the root of this crisis was a slipshod piece of journalism by Andrew Gilligan,
and went on-
Let us be clear: it was not ‘mostly right’ [as Gilligan claimed].The
central thrust of the story was unfounded . . . the BBC’s treatment
of the story was deeply unsatisfactory. Faced with a tip-off on a contentious
matter, experienced journalists test their sources rigorously. They
proceed with watchful scepticism, scrutinising the emerging information
from every angle. Through further inquiry, they build up their knowledge.
They put the allegations to those involved. Painstakingly, they build
up the fullest possible picture . . . One reason why this did not happen
is that the programme itself [the Today programme] failed to
exercise due editorial scrutiny over its reporter. Moreover, when grave
allegations are to be made—and especially when there is a risk of libel—the
programme's senior editorial staff need to bring into play the organisation's
best editorial and legal minds. That did not happen either . . . Rather,
we had blind defence and sophistry. We heard the story being supported
on the grounds that it was sufficient to report a source, provided that
the source was reported accurately, whether or not the story was true.
Lord Desai, who followed Birt, put his finger on the crux of the matter.
Mr Gilligan shopped his witness. When Dr Kelly realised that,
he responded as anyone would when told that he was the source of a story.
He felt exposed and humiliated. In my view, that is why he committed
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
How dry do you like your Martini?
When asked by a kind friend the other day how dry I
liked my Martini I replied that the question does not interest me. It has
not interested me since the day in August 2003 when for medical reasons
I gave up alcohol. Before that it would have interested me a good deal,
just as it did Dorothy Parker. She said-
I like to drink Martinis:
Two at the very most.
Three, and I’m under the table;
Four, and I’m under the host.
The cocktail was a potent potation of our recently lost civilisation,
a that word comes from ‘civility’ - a concept scarcely recognised in Blairite
Britain. Cocktails go back a long way. OED2 gives an 1806 reference: ‘cock
, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind,
sugar, water, and bitters’. Not far out, even today. Myself I would substitute
gin for ‘spirits of any kind’. Some would allow vodka.
A drenched Robert Benchley said ‘I must get out of these wet clothes and
into a dry Martini’. James Bond wanted his cocktails shaken not stirred.
Not a bad principle to follow, though some would allow exceptions. There
is more to it than that however. In the 1920s and 1930s, particularly
in the United States following the end of Prohibition, it was considered
that a gentleman should be expert in mixing cocktails for his guests.
This even applied to Presidents of that country. A gratified Noel Coward
humbly put on record that, on joining Franklin D. Roosevelt for cocktails
in his study, he found that the great man skilfully mixed him a Martini
without showing the slightest contempt for his lowly origin.
The essence of the recently lost art of cocktail mixing and tippling is
that one does not merely look for the powerful hit of raw alcohol. The
drinker is also prepared to bring to the raised glass and heightened spirit
a sophisticated knowledge of the true nature of gin, and an awareness
and appreciation of its subtleties. It does have subtleties, though entertainment
must come first. Gin has within its essence many subtle flavours. That
partly accounts for what I call the dry Martini syndrome. It is usually
accepted that a dry Martini consists of a very large proportion of gin
and a very small proportion of dry Martini or similar vermouth. Here lies
the problem. Not only does gin consist of complex, carefully adjusted,
ingredients; but vermouth does too.
Allesandro Martini and Luigi Rossi founded their famous vermouth company
in Turin in 1863. For many years they printed on their labels an account
of the wondrous mixes within their bottle of ‘extra dry’ Martini. Successors
have ceased to enlighten their public in this way. That does not apply
to the French Noilly Prat, another celebrated mixer and marketer of vermouth
essences. On their bottles they claim a foundation date of 1813 and still
say that their vermouth is mainly based on the ageing in oak, in the open
air, of the Picpoul and Clairette white wines, followed by the blending
and infusing with them of twenty different herbs. Mark that.
Mark also that from its earliest days London dry gin has been flavoured
with a dozen or more different botanicals (as the cognoscenti call them).
Juniper berries are the best known, but we also have the dried skins of
bitter and sweet oranges and lemons, almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise,
fennel, and other spices. Those who worship the dry Martini, or used to,
are or were persons of taste and discernment. Possibly without knowing
very much about it, they are or were uneasy at the thought that gin (carefully
composed of a scrupulously measured variety of ingredients) should in
their favourite drink be promiscuously mixed with uncertain quantities
of vermouth equally so composed (but of course in a different way and
with different ingredients). The result of these scruples was the ultra-dry
The tale began when at the Red Lion on Duke of York Street near St James’s
Palace in London the barman began coating a cocktail glass with vermouth
before adding the gin. At Yale University in the United States students
went further and substituted for vermouth a dash of bitters. On that famous
train the Twentieth Century Limited, running from New York to Chicago,
passengers celebrated, to quote a contemporary account, ‘the red carpet
laid across the platform, the obsequious coloured porters in their white
coats, the deep armchair in the club car, and the superlatively dry, dry
Martini before dinner’.
Ernest Hemingway named his very very dry Martini the Montgomery, with
the ratio of gin to vermouth being 15:1. This arose because the British
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was reputed to have said he would only
attack his German opposite number the desert fox Rommel if the odds in
Montgomery’s favour, in terms of military forces, had reached fifteen
to one. Hemingway’s novel Across the River and into the Trees
the following order by a Colonel Cantwell to the waiter in Harry’s Bar.
‘Two very dry Martinis. Montgomerys. Fifteen to one.’
The waiter, who had been in the desert, smiled and was gone.
The ultimate nature of the ultra-dry Martini is shown by the story of
the Texan who told the bartender how he wanted his Martini mixed. ‘Half
fill the shaker with ice’, he said. ‘Then top it up with gin’. His only
other instruction was that before replacing the lid (prior to shaking)
the bartender should whisper into the shaker the words ‘Dry Vermouth’.
The bartender carried out this manoeuvre to the best of his ability, and
then poured out a drink. The Texan took a sip, pondered a moment, then
Ah, I have many memories of the dry Martini. Memories of it are all I’ve
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Now the Cheshire Police are at it
Arising out of my attacks on police impertinence in FBBB28
attention has now been drawn to a further example, that of the Cheshire
Police in presuming to question the Lord Bishop of Chester about obviously
harmless remarks made by him concerning medical help for homosexuals. The
BBC website reports that the Bishop said-
Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves.
I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not
set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject, that’s in the
area of psychiatric health . . . All the sociological evidence is that
children fare better when raised in a traditional home by a man and
a woman who have committed themselves to life-long marriage.
This was reported in the Chester Chronicle
and someone was foolish
enough to complain to the police about it. As a result they questioned
the Bishop, then consulted the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ‘at length’ (as
a police statement stressed). In the end they were satisfied that no criminal
offence had been committed. I should think so too. That should have been
clear from the start.
So far as the police are concerned, there seems to be little left of free
speech in this country. Quite obviously the Bishop’s remark was a reasonable,
even helpful, comment on a notoriously difficult problem. The police and
CPS really should not waste their time and resources on troubling innocent
people just because some idiot complains. That is not what we pay the
police to do, and they really must behave better.
Monday, February 09, 2004
Religious idiocies 3
said that 'agnostic' was the name demanded by the Victorian Professor T.
H. Huxley for those who disclaimed atheism and believed with him in an unknown
and unknowable God. Atheism on the other hand is the faith of those who
firmly believe there really is no God of any description (it must be a matter
of faith, for that proposition certainly cannot be proved).
Around 25 years ago I wrote for an atheist journal The Freethinker
which used to describe itself as ‘Freethought and Humanist Weekly’. Now
it is a monthly
describing itself as ‘Secular Humanist monthly
founded by G W Foote in 1881’. Is atheistic freethought in decline? (Despite
its open-minded name, the journal does not really welcome people who do
not call themselves atheists. Being an agnostic, I was merely tolerated.)
The editor in my day was Bill McIlroy, an Ulsterman strongly committed
to the atheistic cause. He made me uncomfortable with the crudity of his
anti-religious fervour, so I stopped writing for the journal. The present
editor is Barry Duke, who lived in South Africa in his youth. In his column
in the current issue he writes about a 19th century incident on the Cannibal
Islands, now known as Fiji.
I learnt the facts from the Internet. In 1867 a Methodist missionary Thomas
Baker was clubbed to death and eaten on the island of Nabutautau. The
200 islanders believe that has caused the population to suffer ever since.
The village still has no school, no medical facilities and no roads. So
they recently held a Christian service and traditional Fijian apology
ceremony, which they believe was the only thing that could absolve them
of the crime of their ancestors and free them from the resulting curse.
Ten descendants of Thomas Baker, joined by Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia
Qarase, made the trek to attend the ceremony. Starting shortly after daybreak,
it began in a circle of tents erected on a space of cleared land in the
middle of the village with traditional kava drinking rituals. Fifteen
stages later, it culminated in ‘the symbolic cutting of the chain of curse
and bondage’ by the Baker family’s release of balloons. For the locals
the highlight was a play performed by village youths and led by local
chief and pentecostalist pastor Thomas Baravilala, during which he carried
an axe he claimed was used to murder Baker.
Some locals say the island has been cursed more, since the killing, by
its treatment by fellow Fijians. Every request to government for help
has been rebuffed. Barry Duke’s comment is that there was absolutely no
reason for the villagers to apologise for the murder and eating of Thomas
Of course, he had it coming to him. He was, after all, intent
on destroying their culture and beliefs and supplanting them with his
own pernicious brand of superstition . . . Alas, his death did not serve
as a warning to other missionaries, who continued peddling their dangerous
myths among non-Christians throughout the world, and in the process
destroyed societies who would have been better off without their silly,
Barry Duke evidently thinks the islanders would have done better to remain
cannibals, which must be nonsense. The Freethinker
crude anti-religious approach, which apart from denying its emancipated
title is surely counter-productive.
Sunday, February 08, 2004
More on the North Wales Police
I promised in FBBB67
return to the attack on the North Wales Police, which I began in FBBB28
There is plenty of material.
I start now with how they questioned Greg Dyke about Anne Robinson's 2002
anti-Welsh rant. Anne upset some Welsh people when she told Paul Merton
on Room 101: ‘The Welsh are always so pleased with themselves. I've never
taken to them. What are they for?’ The BBC website says police officers
from the North Wales Police with nothing better to do travelled to London
to question BBC chief Greg Dyke about this remark. They took a copy of
the Race Relations Act with them and were studying it on the trip. Later
the notorious Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, wrote to Greg Dyke explaining
that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to take the matter to court. I
wonder what that little piece of nonsense cost the taxpayer.
I turn to a piece in the Welsh Daily Post
for 13 August 2003.
It is by Ed James, and is headed 'North Wales Police is a laughing stock'.
An anonymous police constable claimed his colleagues are fed up with being
branded a national disgrace, adding that media coverage of the controversial
police chief Richard Brunstrom has exposed frontline staff to abuse.
People think we are a joke because of all the publicity. Almost
every time we attend an incident we're getting complaints and abuse.
It's natural for people to have a go at us. We turn up to burglaries
where law-abiding people have had their homes broken into and they tell
us 'You caught us speeding but you won't catch the people who did this'.
James adds that Mr Brunstrom has sparked controversy for his tough anti-speeding
campaign, his calls for drugs to be legalised and his politically correct
On 8 August 2003 the Wrexham Evening Leader
published a letter
by Elfed Wynn Roberts, a former Assistant Chief Constable of North Wales
Police, and holder of the Queen's Police Medal for distinguished service
in the Police Force. He said-
I am deeply saddened after serving 30 years with great pride
in the North Wales Police to hear many serving and retired officers
express deep shame at the decline in performance and also in officers'
personal appearance standards since Mr Brunstrom's appointment as Chief
Constable. North Wales Police performance always stood high among that
of leading forces in the country. Just look at it now; lower burglary
detection rates in rural North Wales than metropolitan Manchester and
London; serving officers complaining of the creation of a planet of
extreme political correctness; a force obsessed with speeding motorists
whilst failing miserably to bring dishonest and threatening criminals
to justice. It's time for Mr Brunstrom to suppress his natural inclination
to court publicity and to get a grip on the really important police
performance and public perception issues before the lack of public confidence
in him seriously damages the fine reputation the North Wales Police
has enjoyed over so many years.
Finally I have been given a copy of a letter sent on 5 January 2004 by
Chief Superintendent G Anwyl of the North Wales Police to Felicity Elphick,
prospective Conservative candidate for the European Parliament. It concerned
an incident at a public meeting in Llandudno about the treatment of drivers
by North Wales Police. Mr Anwyl complained that Mrs Elphick told a police
spokesman ‘You’re not dealing with the people of Caia Park here, these
are middle class business people’. This referred to the troubled Caia
Park estate in Wrexham. It is the largest local authority housing estate
ever to be built in Wales and consists of some 3,000 properties housing
around 14,000 people. Formerly it was patriotically called Queen’s Park.
I do not know what ‘Caia’ means.
In his letter Mr Anwyl is very rude indeed about Mrs Elphick’s harmless
remark. Here is a brief extract.
It is my considered view that your brief intervention to what
was an open debate on Policing was at best grossly offensive and highly
discriminatory. At worst it could be described as having sinister racial
undertones . . . In the event of further similar inflammatory conduct
you can be assured of a swift Police response.
This is the most disgraceful letter I have ever seen addressed by a senior
police officer to a member of the public. It merits the severest disciplinary
action, and I shall endeavour to see that it gets it.
Saturday, February 07, 2004
More on the right to be let alone
I wrote in FBBB65
the right to be let alone (or left alone – same thing). By coincidence Mick
Hume was writing on that theme in yesterday’s Times
. He told of
the strange case of the injuries inflicted on the severely disabled physicist
Professor Stephen Hawking. Apparently the Cambridgeshire Police suspect
that the professor’s wife is inflicting the injuries. The professor contradicts
this, saying that he and his wife love each other very much and request
respect for their privacy. The police on the other hand seem to think the
Hawkings are guilty of obstructing the police in the execution of their
duty when the Hawkings try to gather evidence to defend Mrs Hawking. Mick
We hear a lot about the right to privacy when it comes to
photographing celebrities, or trying to get trivial information from
official agencies. Yet real privacy – the liberty to be left alone to
sort out one’s life – can be deemed a problem, and those defending it
accused of ‘outrageously’ obstructing the law.
I wrote about the North Wales police in FBBB28
Now Chief Constable Brunstrom is at it again. He said on the BBC Wales
programme Dragon’s Eye
that heroin should be legalized, adding
that it is perfectly possible to lead a normal life for a full life span
while addicted to it. Quite rightly a spokesman for the Association of
Chief Police Officers (ACPO) rebuked the officious Brunstrom, saying that
it is not the role of the police service to advocate measures which require
expert medical and scientific opinion. Nor, one might add, is it the job
of policemen to push for drastic changes in the law.
I shall be saying more about Mr Brunstrom and the North Wales police later.
Friday, February 06, 2004
Bennion on Google 4
Googling today for references to myself I came across
the American academic website http://wings.buffalo.edu/law/bclc/bclrarticles/5(1)/Roberts.pdf.pdf
This contains the following-
Commentators, too, were broadly in favor of the enterprise,
and impressed by the Code team’s achievements. Bennion’s evaluation
could speak for many: ‘That a criminal code of the right kind is much
needed there can be no doubt. That the SPTL Committee have got the project
off to a good start is equally certain’. It was inevitable that points
of detail would be criticized, and rightly on some counts. But there
were also grumbles of a more general and far-reaching nature. Bennion,
for one, proceeded to inquire: Is it right that a body like the Law
Commission, entrusted by Parliament with an important statutory duty,
should as it were palm it off on a small body of unpaid academic lawyers,
however eminent and devoted? Should not a thorough preliminary enquiry
be conducted as to the nature of the various codification techniques
used by other countries, and the degree of success or failure they have
I had found an article by the British academic Professor Paul Roberts.
The Nottingham University website tells me that since 1995 he has been
a consultant to our Law Commission’s project on consent and criminal liability,
and contributed to their paper LCCP No. 139 Consent in the
(1995). His quotation was from my 1986 article ‘The
Technique of Codification’
. The Law Commission had asked the Society
of Public Teachers of Law (SPTL) to help it perform its statutory duty
of drafting a Criminal Code. I was, and am still, a member of the SPTL,
which recently changed its name to the Society of Legal Scholars. I did
not however take part in its work on the Criminal Code.
It affects us all that our criminal law should be in neat and tidy form. It is nearly
fifty years since I helped the late Sir Noël Hutton to draft the Act which set up the
Law Commission. We were both keen to ensure that codification was among the functions
conferred on the new body, and this was done. The result has been a disaster; and very
little codification has been achieved. Why?
This is not the place to go into detail on the answer to that question. The article by Professor Roberts
tells part of the story. Another of my articles, ‘The
Law Commission’s Criminal Law Bill: No Way to Draft a Code’,
tells another part. To sum up the
answer in a few words I would say the following.
A Criminal Code is highly desirable. It is difficult to draft successfully because
it is very technical and needs to cover a wide field. Governments do not like the idea
of legislating it because this takes up a good deal of parliamentary time without pleasing
the mass of electors. MPs, as it goes through Parliament, will insist on wrecking its
careful formulations by amendments of substance, often ill-judged. The judges are lukewarm
because a code reduces their power to make law. The civil servants are cool because
it hands control to the lawyers. The academics ruin it by endless disagreements on
technical points. Even the drafters have historically shown themselves indifferent
Other countries overcome these problems but we British cannot. I really don’t know
Thursday, February 05, 2004
Inter arma leges silent
Some very stupid things are written in newspapers,
even the respected London Times
. Yesterday’s issue had a goodly
crop on the main editorial pages.
Magnus Linklater wrote a facile pack of nonsense about the language of
the law, fully justifying his opening statement that he gave up reading
law at university because it made his brain hurt. He criticised our legislative
language by reference to an Act of 1952 and a criticism by Thomas Jefferson
(1743-1826). Doesn’t he realise that time marches on and legislative language
Just above Linklater on the page, Alice Miles was equally inept. On his
recent six-day trip to India and Pakistan the Home Secretary Mr David
Blunkett said he wants new anti-terrorism laws to make it easier to convict
British terror suspects. This would mean lowering the criminal standard
of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) to the civil one (balance of probabilities),
keeping sensitive evidence from defendants, and secret trials before vetted
judges. Alice Miles foolishly says of all this-
Marvellous stuff. A Blunkett ban on justice. The punters will
love it, especially once they realise that it will mostly apply to Muslims.
On the opposite page a reader, Mr Jonathan Rule, says it is ‘frightening’ that
to get a conviction of a suspected terrorist the person deciding will
need only to conclude ‘I think he did it’, and that the defendant’s lawyer
will have to be chosen from a list vetted by the Crown Prosecution Service
(an independent body, incidentally).
Most law-abiding citizens think it far more frightening to be threatened
by suicide bombers. The Houses of Parliament are now disfigured by ugly
concrete barriers designed to stop their approach. Mr Rule attacks the
Blunkett proposals as a reduction in our human rights. What about the
human right not to be murdered by Al Queda thugs?
It needs to be recognised that impeccable fair trial standards can be
preserved only in a peaceful, ordered society. Where anarchy and murderous
force threaten to take over, these civilised standards may unfortunately
need to be lowered. This happened with Regulation 18b in World War Two.
One recalls the old maxim Inter arma leges silent
(when the army
takes over civil law ceases).
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
The right to be let alone
The year was 1928. In the United States, Prohibition
was in full swing and Roy Olmstead was a suspected bootlegger. Without judicial
approval, federal agents installed wiretaps in the basement of Olmstead's
building (where he maintained an office) and in the streets near his home.
Olmstead was convicted with evidence obtained from the wiretaps. In subsequent
judicial proceedings it was said that the case was about ‘the most comprehensive
of rights and the right most valued by civilized men, namely the right to
be let alone’. This dictum was cited in Bowers v Hardwick 478
US 186, 199, a 1986 case concerning the right to commit sodomy in one’s
bedroom with a willing adult partner.
In FBBB7 I pointed out that anal intercourse is not confined to some gays
but is also practised by some heterosexuals. Bowers v Hardwick was
concerned with the fact that in 1964 the US state of Georgia widened its
criminal law so as to reach heterosexual as well as homosexual sodomy,
defining sodomy as committed when a person performs or submits to any
sexual act involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus
of another. The US Supreme Court held that this statute did not infringe
the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution
because that did not confer any fundamental [sic] right on homosexuals
to engage in consensual sodomy.
So in that respect the Supreme Court held that the right to be let alone
did not extend to this particular activity. Reading the case started me
thinking. Would it not be a splendid thing if the leader of the Conservative
Party in Britain, Mr Michael Howard, made it party policy to restore to
the full our right to be let alone?
We can scarcely expect Mr Blair to do that with his party. Nor do I have
much faith that the Liberal Democrats might do it.
Tuesday, February 03, 2004
Religious idiocy 2
reported that the Home Secretary David Blunkett is calling on British parents
to teach their children respect for all religious groups. How can anyone
have respect for a religious group that organizes the ridiculous system
of poles and wires I reported on in FBBB50
Now we have another religious idiocy, the throwing of pebbles at pillars
in a place called Mina during the Muslim pilgrimage known as the Haj. An
Islamic website instructs pilgrims as follows.
When you reach Mina, you should begin with throwing seven
pebbles, each of which should be a little larger than a chick-pea, consecutively
at Jamrah Al-‘Aqabah; you may pick these stones up from wherever you
want. Upon throwing each pebble, pronounce the Takbeer (i.e., Allahu
Akbar – Allah is the Greatest) and know that the wisdom behind this
is to establish the remembrance of Allah and His glorification. Do not
believe that you are throwing at the devils as is commonly believed
by some, rather you throw pebbles at certain stones in certain places,
solely to glorify Allah and follow the conduct of the Prophet.
This is a very dangerous idiocy. The Times
for 2 February 2004
says that in 1990 1,426 pilgrims were trampled to death during the stone-throwing
ceremony. In 1997 343 were killed when fire consumed 70,000 tents at Mina.
In 2001 35 died in a stampede. In 2003 14 were crushed to death. This
year, when around two million people have been performing the Haj, there
have just been at least 244 deaths at the Mina stoning. Iyad bin Amin
Madani, the minister in control (?) of the event said there were more
than 400 metres of people pushing in the same direction. He added: ‘all
the preparations are always made, but we don’t always know God’s intentions’.
Doesn’t it demean the whole idea of God to suppose that He would wish
such lethal nonsense to be conducted in order ‘to establish His remembrance
and glorification?’ Indeed do such words have any meaning?
Monday, February 02, 2004
Bennion on Google 3
This is the third Blog where I report the results of
trawling Google for references to my books or myself. The previous two were FBBB36
(Freedom Under Law)
This one is concerned with my book THE
BLIGHT OF BLAIRISM.
Ann Lyon is a lecturer in the Department of Law at the University of Wales
Swansea, with a particular interest in constitutional law and constitutional
history. Her website tells us that she cannot remember a time when she was
not interested in history, particularly mediaeval history. She asked for ‘a
history book’ for her seventh birthday - and got one. She read history at
Newcastle University and went on to an MA at York and an MPhil at Durham
before training as a solicitor, finally moving into academic law in 1993.
She has published in various academic journals on matters relating to the
monarchy, including a critique of the 1999 Demos report on ‘Modernising
the Monarchy’, and on military law, and is currently completing a one-volume
constitutional history, designed primarily for law students but intended
to be of general interest.
I was intrigued to learn that Ann was a member of the Territorial Army from
1978 to 1984, and has the distinction of being only the second woman to
serve with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers - the first was an enterprising
eighteenth century lady named Phoebe Hessle who disguised herself as a man.
Outside academic life Ann is writing a novel about Richard III, and enjoys
hill-walking, photography, listening to classical music, and curling up
with a good book.
Ann seems to think she curled up with a good book when she picked THE
BLIGHT OF BLAIRISM.
I found her views on this political essay set
out at http://www.baronage.co.uk/2003b/blairism.pdf
She says that those who shrink instinctively from weighty legal works and
self-important lawyers will be relieved to find that the book is light in
tone and not a book likely to be recommended by academic lawyers to their
students ‘except (by this academic lawyer at least) as a tool for encouraging
students to think’. She adds-
It is a book to be dipped into and enjoyed, preferably over
a glass of wine or gin and tonic [there’s my girl!], but at the same time
it carries a serious message. Recommended not only to anti-Blairites,
but also to those Blairites (alas, they seem to be thin on the ground),
who might be persuaded to think again.
Sunday, February 01, 2004
Babu English triumphs
The sort of English that is spoken by Indians in India
was once unkindly known as Babu English. The OED2 describes this as the
ornate and somewhat unidiomatic English of an Indian who has learnt the
language principally from books. Arthur Mayhew, author of The Education
The [Indian] matriculate’s mastery of English, despite all
the ridicule unjustly bestowed on Babu English, is far more complete
and practical than that shown by the normally intelligent and industrious
English boy at the same stage.
Mayhew, a scholar of Winchester and New College and an Oxford Double First,
spent twenty years in the Indian Educational Service before going on to
become a beak at Eton. He would have been intrigued at the current call
centre revolution whereby Indians in India are doing, at a tenth of the
wage, jobs which until very recently were done by English in England.
In the Times
for 30 January 2004 Michael Binyon describes what
The Indian caller could not have been more polite. ‘I am sorry
to disturb you. My name is Alfred and I am calling about an unpaid account
. . .’ It was 10 pm in India but only 4.30 pm in Britain. In the airy,
well-lit call centre automatic diallers were calling up all parts of
Britain. ‘May I enquire the nature of your business?’ There is a guffaw
at the British end. ‘It’s drinking. This is a pub’.
In another part of the Times
on the same day Ben Macintyre discusses
the same topic. He gives us some telltale dialogue from Salman Rushdie: ‘Proper
London itself, Bigben, Nelsoncolumn, Lord’s tavern Bloodytower Queen .
. .' He quotes a character in Hanif Kureishi’s novel The Black Album
gave us the language, but it is only we who know how to use it’.
It is humbling for the British, but they still shout irritable obscenities
at the polite, well-behaved and slightly shocked call centre staff in