Monday, August 31, 2009

BBC - Murdoch throws his agendas into the debate

James MurdochThere's been a lot of comment on James Murdoch's speech when, giving the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival on Friday, he criticised the "chilling land-grab" of the BBC website and called for the "abolition of the BBC licence fee, [and] the corporation's remit and governance to be drastically changed and brought back to basics".

I would broadly agree with Murdoch, while recognising that opposition to a powerful body can create strange bedfellows. He is the son of Rupert Murdoch, owner of the monolithic News Corporation that owns, among others, the Fox channel in the US and, in great Britain News International, comprising the newspapers The Times, the Sunday Times, The Sun and its Sunday version The News of the World - and their associated websites, which Murdoch pater complains he will have to start charging surfers for access.

For example, I agree with him when he questions why "a guide to night clubs in Mykonos is what the Government [which owns the BBC] needs to be doing", but I fear that team Murdoch are engaging in the Orwellian task of stirring up public resentment in order to topple their competitors and replace them on the top spot. Here's an example of text you can currently view for free on the News of the World, accessible through one click on the home-page, accompanying a picture special on Bob Geldof's daughters topless on the beach:
SAY hello to the Boob-town Brats - as Peaches and Pixie Geldof strip off and enjoy some topless fun on holiday...Peaches, 20, got a bit fruity while 18-year-old Pixie donned a snorkel kit (and not much else) to join in the fun...Best to not wear anything at all, eh Peaches?
Thankfully, the BBC website is a little more sedate, but BBC editorial policy continues to pursue the corporation's former Director General's feverish rush to make reparations for it being "hideously white, with the present Director General, Mark Thompson, delaring that "Islam should be treated more sensitively than Christianity" - I doubt whether Jerry Springer - the Opera will have a sequel detailing Mohammed's marriage to the nine-year-old Aisha. Not that I would be remotely interested, but I bet there would be much more reporting of the shockwaves as European Islamists hysterically rushed to protect groups which are perfectly able to protect themselves.

Dawn Airey - click to go to the Five websiteI prefer Dawn Airey's comments. She's the chief executive of commercial station Five, and envisaged a hypothetical scenario in which the BBC was to two TV stations and "a couple of radio stations", with a corresponding decrease in the licence fee and extra services on the website - like "view again" facilities being pay-per-view. (I should emphasise that she was talking about what the corporation could, not should, be.)

There's an opposing point of view that many BBC radio shows would never survive on commercial radio - like, on Radio 2, Nigel Ogden's show The Organist Entertains, for example. This is wrong. Theclassic FM - click to go to websitey would survive, just not on the same station; but if we've become used to channel-hopping with the TV, why can't we reconcile ourselves with radio-station hopping? (Although Classic FM is an excellent example of how a station devoted to preserving cultural treasures can survive perfectly well in the marketplace.)

There often comes a point at which somebody reveals the agenda fuelling their stance, and James Murdoch's moment was at the end of his speech, as Angela Andrews reports in the Telegraph:
He argued that the UK broadcasting sector is wrongly governed by "creationism" – the belief in a process managed by a single omniscient authority – and it needs to be more "evolutionary".

Creationism serves to create "unaccountable institutions", mentioning the BBC Trust, Channel 4 and Ofcom. Topical, he says, being the 150th anniversary of Darwin's On The Origin of Species.

"The creationist approach is similar to the industrial planning which went out of fashion in other sectors in the 1970s," he said, adding that this approach only serves to penalise the poor with "regressive taxes and policies – like the licence fee and digital switchover".
Francis Glaton, father of social Darwinism - click to read more about modern eugenics
Without wanting to get involved in the creationism versus evolution debate in science, it's easy to see why individuals at the top of their own particular trees are gratified by the thought that they have arrived there by a process of "survival of the fittest" - a phrase which Darwin never wrote down as it belonged to the iconography of the social Darwinism that so horrified him.

James Murdoch is there not because of the degree of his "fitness" but rather due to his father's fortune and influence - he's the boss's son - nothing wrong with that, but it's hardly a qualification of the sort of self-made man that Galton's admirers would envisage rising above the untermenschen. So how about a compromise - slim down the BBC to a rump and the licence fee accordingly, and ensure that News International can peddle its online tat to adults only?

thank you!

click to go to the full list of top 100 Conservative blogs on Iain Dale's DiaryThank you for putting Tales from a Draughty Old Fen at Number 77 in Total Politics' Political Blogs' Poll 2009-2010! This is down a bit from last year, but there was so much high-quality competition that I feel very lucky to have supporters enough to keep me there at all.

The icing on the cake was seeing Richard Normington's blog make it into the top 100. Richard's the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservative Party for Cambridge City, and I hope the increased awareness of what he's doing translates into increased votes for the Conservative Party in Cambridge in the next General Election, which must be held before next June!

in praise of betrayal

Billie HolidayI'm not proposing that betrayal in general be praised, merely that some instances of betrayal can have a decidedly therapeutic effect in a manner that I can only describe as praiseworthy.

Take Billie Holiday, for example. Various motives have been forwarded for her agent, Joe Glaser, turning her over to the police in 1947 because of her heroin habit, including a suggestion that she was a "trade" and the return was blind eyes dutifully turned to the cannabis habit of Louis Armstrong, another of Glaser's acts. But Holiday got clean in prison, and almost certainly lived a little longer to enrich our lives with her music - until liver-disease took her in 1959.

Winston Churchill in Quebec, 1943 - click to read his story at the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.  Thanks to the FDR Library for the pic.Winston Churchill entered Parliament as a Consrvative Party MP in 1900, and crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the Liberals in 1904 in protest, partly, at lack of rights for trade unionists; twenty years later, with experience as Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty under his belt, he rejoined the Conservatives His comment?Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat".

You can't get far in a discussion about betrayal without mentioning the Big One. DaJudas with black halo, detail from a stained window in St John the Baptist Church in Bruford - click to go to websitente has Judas being eternally chewed in one of Lucifer's three mouths (between Brutus and Cassius) in a circle of Hell named for him with the anti-Semitism that besmirched much of the times: Judecca. In his 1910 article for the Catholic Encyclopedia, William Knight shows how thinking had become more subtly nuanced over the centuries by mitigating the condemnation somewhat with the assertion that the whole episode is a mystery. However, although The Passion of the Christ treats Judas' betrayal and death in the manner of reportage, most film-makers attempting a life of Jesus can't resist exploring Judas' psychological motivation - from wanting the Sanhedrin to listen to him in Jesus of Nazareth to wishing to force his hand but ultimately being used almost as a patsy in the Time-Life film simply called Jesus. Whatever, Judas' course of action had a decidedly beneficial effect.

What I'm getting to is that, in the age of "compliance" that ensures boxes are ticked to assure managers that rules are adhered to, perhaps a little more betrayal of the therapeutic sort is called for.

a Great British hero: John WickFor example, earlier this year, former SAS officer John Wick found himself in the possession of evidence that some MPs were misleading the public as to their use of expenses - which, of course, comes from taxpayers' money. Even though he knew some of the casualties would be Conservatives (he is a fundraiser for the party), he put his country first and chose to pass the documents to the Daily Telegraph, finishing an article he wrote for the paper with "As a man who served Queen and country in the Armed Forces, I feel proud to have played my part in what the Telegraph rightly describes as 'a very British revolution'".

Not all whistleblowers are so fortunate, or perhaps as robust as a former Special Forces officer. For example, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker has sugested that the 2Victoria Climbié003 death of Dr David Kelly, who criticised the Government's "sexed-up" dossier on Iraq's nuclear capabilities, may have been murder; Greg Ocytko, former risk analyst for Halifax Bank of Sotland (HBOS), which collapsed spectacularly in 2008 in an implosion mirroring that of Lehman brothers, claims to have been forced from his job for making his disquiet known when he found fatal flaws in the bank's systems; and Nevres Kemal, who warned former head for Haringey Social Services Sharon Shoesmith that there was going to be another Victoria Climbié prior to the death of Peter Connelly (Baby P), suffered the fate of thorns in the side of authority since Socrates when she was investigated for abusing her daughter.

click to go to the Patients' Association homepageLast Thursday, the Patients' Association released a report called Patients...not numbers, people...not statistics about the "dreadful, neglectful, demeaning, painful and sometimes downright cruel treatment" that has been visited by nursing staff upon older people in NHS hospitals, including a report on Bella Bailey, whose daughtclick to go to the Cure the NHS homepageer kept a diary of the neglect with which her mother was tortured to her death in plain sight of the nursing station, and founded the pressure-group Cure the NHS to campaign for better care in the NHS.

Although members of the Patients' Association are not whistleblowers, bullying of such is so engrained within the NHS (and governmental departments generally) that the Association has been threatened with legal action by one hospital trust for revealing information about the 1-2% of patients (possibly up to a million nationally) who, for example, are left in their own excrement, have to have their toilets cleaned by relatives or are left to slake their thirst from vases.

Dame Christine Beasley - click to go to her Department of Health webpage Libby Purves reports that the reaction of Dame Christine Beasley, England's Chief Nursing Officer since 2004, has been to opine that nurses who refuse to report abusive colleagues are "as culpable as the person who did it". Although she recognises that reporting senior colleagues can be more dificult ("but that's no excuse"), she doesn't deal with a fact related to Bella Bailey: that on Dame Christine's shift Cynthia Bower, who failed to spot the Cynthia Bower - click to read moremassacre at Stafford General Hospital when she was chief executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, charged with checking standards are maintained, was promoted to the head post in the Care Quality Commission in April of this year - in charge of maintaining standards throughout the NHS. In a piece of staggering hypocrisy that she may come to have cause to regret quite soon, Bower told the Guardian upon her appointment that
It was not until the final months before her mother died that she understood how powerless people can feel when confronted by inadequate care.
I believe there's only one strategy through which Dame Christine can hold on to her integrity: to call for an amnesty for NHS staff who wish to report negligently poor care concomitantly with an investigation with the powers to interview staff at absolutely any level of authority, held by a body independent of the NHS and with safeguards in place to weed out vexatious complaints.

Or, on the other hand, she could let her reputation and those of the individuals below her and above her be eroded by the steady drip of therapeutic betrayals as the disgust becomes unbearable and the Great British Revolution rolls on.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tesco: single-issue activists in tatters

The Tesco Express (small store) has only been in Cambridge's Mill Road for three days, yet it's starting to feel as if it's been there forever. It's bright, airy and affordable, and the staff are friendly.

So what was all the trouble about?

Richardc Normington, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservative Party - click to go to website
Although resistance to Tesco's planning application for the store first came onto my radar last March, the cause of the confusion manipulated by a disaffected minority was summed up recently by Cambridge Conservative parliamentary candidate Richard Normington, who recently attended a planning meeting in the city convened to determine whether should the council enforce its own planning guidelines.
Why bother with rules if you do not plan on enforcing them? However, the City Council has overruled its own guidelines to the point that the council is treated with ridicule by many of those putting in applications. Did you know that two in every five appeals against the city are successful?
Indeed, in the planning meeting last March, "The recommendations from council officers and consultants in every case was that the Council should approve the proposed changes, usually with conditions. Arguments were backed up with reference to Central Government advice, history and the context of the Mill Road area in a 153-page agenda." All but one were refused.

The anti-TeDavid Howarth, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge City - click for webpagesco cmpaign has been backed up by the city's Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth, who was a witness to an assault on a 66-year-old woman collecting signatures for a petition in favour of Tesco's. To his merit he offered himself to the police as a witness; but although I realise MPs must immerse themselves in all aspects of life in their constituencies, I wonder why he was concentrating on keeping Tesco away from Mill Road while on the same thoroughfare you can buy cannabis seeds, second-hand firearms and hard core pornography, while elsewhere in the city there are problems with drug-taking, prostitution, benefit-ghettoes and drink-fuelled violence at chucking-out time. Tesco's, it seems, should be the least of his problems, and the whole situation reflects the risks of mixing with single-issue activists to the exclusion of people who are on the other side of that issue.David Howarth (far left) helping collect signatures for the No Mill Road Tesco campaign

There are those who say that Tesco's opening will herald shop closures and job losses. They will, of course, be proven right, because shops have been closing and jobs been lost for some time now - it's called a recession.

Something that may militate in Tesco's favour is the lack of an alcohol licence, in the context of accusations that the outlet - in reality a small shop among small shops - will become another source of cheap booze in an area plagued by problems related to the stuff. A dry Tesco's, I believe, will throw light onto the true source of inexpensive strong lagers and ciders whose brewers are well aware of their target market. They are sold in some of the very independent traders whom the No Mill Road Tesco Campaign affects to protect.

The campaign is, of course, in tatters, a fact recognised by judge Lord Carlisle of Berriew when he threw out Campaign member Richard Rippin's attempt to force a judicial review of the Council's decision-making process: "This application is in reality an attempt to revive the No Mill Road Tesco Campaign under the guise of a Judicial Review claim. It is a misuse of Judicial Review".

single-issue activism: anti-Tesco campaigners crowd out the opposition at a planning meetingOn Wednesday morning, Minora phoned me from outside Mill Road Tesco's to report that there were a few Campaign members outside the entrance, flanked by watchful police officers. While Campaign supporters had been quite vociferous when protesting in the Cambridge Folk Festival, these would only give a terse "I can't comment", presumably having been well-warned. It's a sign of the times that pragmatism has won out over ideologically-based censorship, and anybody who doesn't like Tesco's will be free to use any of the meny other shops in Mill Road. That's how free choice works.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the curious case of the compassionate politician

I come from what was called, in less politically days, a "cancer family". In fact, in one of the branches of my family tree - which included my Dad - the males tended to die young, so when I woke up alive on my 40th birthday the shock nearly killed me.

For me it's a good memento mori, but it seems that the Scottish Executive's Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, has leapt overexcitedly out of the bath with the realisation that death invariably terminates life. He shared this with the world in part of the statement wherein he justified the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, better known as the terrorist who blew up Maid Clipper of the Seas over the Scottish village of Lockerbie. There's a transcript of MacAskill's statement to an emergency session of the Scottish Executive on the Scotsman newspaper website and a video of the four-minute speech on the BBC site. The whole speech is worth listening to - if just for MacAskill's allegation that Megrahi's release is due to the actions of UK Secretary of State Jack Straw - but given my family history I was interested in this short segment:
Mr Al Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.
don't make it worse than it already is
Perhaps a theologian might make a case for death indeed being a sentence imposed for the sin of Adam, but Great Britain is not a theocracy, and Megrahi's prostate cancer is no more a judgement upon him - as vile as he may be - than Hurricane Katrina was upon the populations in its path, HIV upon its 40 million sufferers, or the prospect of death upon every member of the human race.

I think this clip of MacAskill speaking about compassion in the context of Megrahi is very informative:

The Justice Secretary of the Scottish Executive does mention justice as well as compassion/mercy, but justice seems to lose out to a compassion that is curiously lacking for the victims of Megrahi's outrage. I don't mean to say that mercy should be gagged, merely that MacAskill is arrogating to himself the power to work out the implications of any sentence the Higher Power may or may not have delivered upon Megrahi. The shockwaves have travelled as far as Israel, where cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen drew the following conclusion:

click to go to the Dry Bones blog and read the rest of the cartoon!

Staying in Israel, it's interesting to note that Corporal Gilad Shalit of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), who was abducted by Hamas militants on a raid from Palestinian territoryTweet-power: click to go to the Jewish Internet Defence Forum's tweet4shalit campaign and is being held in captivity (where the IDF promoted him in absentia to Sergeant) is being refused access to the International Red Cross, whereas Megrahi was never refused medical or other attention, and indeed had former South African premier Nelson Mandela as a prison visitor. While an exchange of 450 prisoners is being demanded for Shalit - who is the subject of a Twitter campaign (please click the pic to the right) - all that the Scottish administration and British Government asked was that Megrahi not be given a triumphal entry into Libya, which undertaking the latter's senior politicians gave then dismissed, adding insult to injury by flying the Scottish flag alongside the Libyan - prompting Middle East and terrorism expert Con Coughlin, writing for the Telegraph, to comment I cannot think of a more humiliating day for the Scottish people.

An appeal to the better instincts of politicians in reference to the health of prisoners seems to be literally a "get out of jaia postmodern solution to the jails overcrowding crisis?l free" card. First, in the UK, we had Ronnie Biggs, released from prison on compassionate grounds despite never having expressed remorse for the Great Train Robbery or compassion for the family of driver Jack Mills, who never worked again after being coshed with an iron bar until his death seven years afterwards. Bernie Madoff, no fool, is now telling his fellow inmates in prison at Butner, North Carolina, that he's "dying of cancer".

Perhaps members of the Scottish and Westminster parliaments should treat as a wake-up call the Boycott Scotland campaign, which is gaining a head of steam on a Facebook Group. I've joined this because the more pressure that is exerted to identify and punish guilty parties, the better. I don't relish the prospect of British businesses losing money, but neither do I want to see any more wrong-headed decisions release terrorists able to pass on the deadly skills that Megrahi obviously excels in. And an apology to cancer-sufferers and their families might not go amiss.

Related post: Lockerbie and the moral limits of diplomacy

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lockerbie and the moral limits of diplomacy

click to read Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's statement on the release of the Lockerbie bomber
Cardinal RIchelieu - click for a biography from the Open Door websiteDiplomacy is famously fickle, something best summed up by Cardinal Richelieu's apologia for raison d'état: "man is immortal, his salvation is hereafter; the state has no immortality, its salvation is now or never". And in that line I can accept that there needs to be a way back for a rogue state willing to turn its back on terrorism, especially if there are mutual benefits to be reaped - for example, business and security interests - and this may require certain things to be smoothed over.

The release of the man accused of bringing down a jumbo jet - Clipper Maid of the Seas, Pan Am Flight 103, on a journey from London to New York - on Lockerbie in the south of Scotland has understandably caused the release of more heat than light. So much so that an important fact is being missed in the gloom.

The Lockerbie Memorial: click for a roll-call of the victims of Flight 103On December 21 1988, I was living in Glasgow with my Mum. Returning from my shift, I didn't believe the news she greeted me with as I tried to get in the door; or rather, I thought she was describing the plot of one of the cheesy disaster movies she enjoyed in what, even so recently, was perhaps a more innocent time. Coming into the living room, it took a couple of minutes for me to realise that newsflash pictures of roads glutted with ambulances, most of which would return empty, were no fiction.

To cut a long story short, an arrest warrant was released for Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi in 1991; after being given into Scottish custody by Colonel Gaddafi in 1999, he was sentenced to 27 years' imprisonment in 2001 following a trial in the Netherlands. On 20 August 2009 - eight years later - he was released by the Scottish authorities on compassionate grounds, as he has prostate cancer.

The next day, the Telegraph reported on US President Barack Obama's fury at the move, and quoted him as saying that "We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this and we thought it was a mistake"; and commenting on the "curious silence" of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the paper's James Kirkup quoted Foreign Secretary David Milliband as saying that the situation was a matter for the Scottish government". Continuing the theme, Gaddafi filius, Saif Islam, has praised "the British and Scottish governments", and in a move that turned my stomach, Megrahi was welcomed back to Libya by ecstatic crowds waving Scottish flags.

The only high-profile personality not to buy into the suppression of this one important fact is Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who wrote in a letter to Gordon Brown:
David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party: click to read his letter to Gordon Brown in fullAs I said yesterday, I believe that the decision to release Megrahi was wrong. He was convicted of murdering 270 people, and I do not believe he deserved to be released on compassionate grounds, or returned to Libya.

The scenes of him receiving a rapturous welcome at Tripoli airport on his return will have distressed many people. I note that Colonel Gaddafi's son has now publicly thanked not just the Scottish authorities but the British Government for its stance, raising questions about the British Government's role.

You have not commented on the decision since it was announced yesterday. This morning your Foreign Secretary refused several requests to say what he thought of the Scottish Justice Secretary's decision.

The fact that the decision to release was taken by the Scottish Justice Secretary does not preclude you, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, from now expressing your opinion on a subject that is of great public concern, and which affects Britain's international reputation and our relations with our allies.
The italics are mine - illustrating Cameron's control of the dog that isn't barking here: despite the Scottish Executive's arrogating to itself the style "The Scottish Government", the Scottish Government remains where it has been since 1707 - in Westminster. The only change that Scottish devolution has made to the post of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is that the post-holder is now also known as Prime Minister of Scotland.

This is more than a minutia: Gordon Brown's senior people are colluding with Libyan authorities in attempting to devolve the blame for a diplomatic disaster onto the shoulders of subordinates - like Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond and his Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill - for whose conduct he is responsible.

Pope Urban VIIIMoral absolutes exist and limit what we can reasonably do, even in the sphere of diplomacy. What is quoted less often than Richelieu's dictum is Pope Urban VIII's reaction to his death in 1642: "if there is a God, the Cardinal de Richelieu will have much to answer for". Last December, Gordon Brown promised that he would "throw UK diplomatic power behind Ulster's IRA victims in their search for compensation from Libya" for Gaddafi's relentless support for the terrorist organisation with money and materièl. I am not aware of any statement rescinding this support.

As Prime Minister of Scotland (amongst other responsibilities) Gordon Brown owes an explanation to the people of Scotland, the US and the two-score other countries whose nationals died at Lockerbie as to why the only individual to be convicted of the atrocity has been sent to a hero's welcome, while his victims were denied even the luxury of dying in a prison bed.

And what of Richelieu? His power-plays arguably provided Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, with a political and diplomatic template in his struggle to unite the Teutonic states that the former had devoted his life to keeping apart. In a chilling secular endorsement of Urban's words, France was humiliatingly forced to recognise the birth of the Germanic Empire (the second Reich) in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and the rest is history.

The release of a convicted terrorist on any grounds apart from new evidence gives a discomforting message to terrorists worldwide that the members of the Scottish Executive and the British Government need to think about carefully. In an age where communications can cross continents in a second, who knows to what conflagration we will be led by the Prime Minister - skilled in neither raison d'ètat nor Realpolitik - turning his back not only on America but on his own people in Scotland and Northern Ireland in order to present Britain in surrender mode to, as Neville Chamberlain said, a faraway land of which we know little?

Related post: The curious case of the compassionate politician

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

top ten songs about legend

Woodstock posterElvis Aaron Presley: the king
There's two anniversaries falling around this time: the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock concert, and the 32nd of Elvis Presley's death. Woodstock and Presley have both gained a legendary status, and I thought I'd like to look at some music about matters of legend, whether they be fact, fiction or fantasy.

10 - Woodstock

The concert was conceived not in a commune but a boardroom - the "Aquarian Exposition" was, like many matters pertaining to the new age, a means of getting rich quick. Or at least that was the theory; in fact it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Its most celebrated troubadour, Joni Mitchell, wrote "we are stardust/we are golden/and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden..." Actually, she wasn't there. As the Telegraph's Mick Brown explains, she was waiting to be interviewed on the Dick Cavett show, and wrote the song while watching scenes from the concert on TV. Ian Matthews wasn't there either, but turned the song into high art and hit the #1 spot in the US in 1970:

9 - 1914 Christmas truce

The 1914 Christmas truce, started when Germans in their trenches at Flanders started singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) exemplifies a real-world happening that has passed into legendary status. In Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace we see the famous football game and hear the disquieting question he puts in the mouth of the two officers meeting in no-man's land: "Will the human race be run in a day?"

8 - Cinderella fellablonde bombshell: click to go to the Diana Dors Official Archive and Website

This is a reworking of the Cinderella myth by Adam and the Ants in which a male Cinders (Adam) is changed into Prince Charming by the fairy godmother. Mike Mansfield and the formic punkster, directing the video, played a blinder by casting Diana Dors in the latter role. She was a British version of Marylin Monroe, and her voluptuous figure perhaps caught the British imagination (aside from obvious reasons) in the 1950s due to rationing-fatigue. Look out for nods to Alice Cooper, Rudolph Valentino and Clint Eastwood's Man with no Name, among others.

7 - Beginnings

Scatterlings of Africa is Johnny Clegg's meditation on the beginning of our journey in a secular Eden, but he still wants us to think "who made us here and why - remember!" He sings of Olduvai, a gorge in Tanzania where naturalist Wilhelm Kattwinkel chanced upon ancient human remains, and a "personal space" he calls Phelamanga. He performs in the video with his reformed band, Juluka.

6 - Unicorns

click to go to the (unoficially) Peter S Beagle websiteIn the earliest instance of missing the boat, the unicorn was a fabled resident of the Garden of Eden which didn't quite make it to Noah's Ark. In his novel The Last Unicorn, however, Peter S Beagle envisions a unicorn in medieval times who embarks upon a journey to see if there are any other unicorns left. In the 1982 animated film the title song was written by Jimmy Webb and sung by America - the footage here is accompanied by Loreena McKenna's version of the song.

5 - In-a-gadda-da-vida

There are three versions of the Iron Butterfly classic's nomenclature: one that singer Doug Ingle got a little tiddled and slurred his words when trying to tell the drummer the song's name was In the Garden of Eden; another that drummer Ron Bushy's headphones were defective; and the third that Ingle, who wrote the song, didn't want to offend people with religious sensibilities. Anyhoo, I can't post the seventeen-minute version, so here's the standard single version played by the band in later years.

4 - Bringer of Joy

Manfred Mann nearly got into hot water with this prog rock adaptation of Jupiter - bringer of jollity, the fourth movement of Gustav Holst's Planets suite, because the suite was still in copyright. The composer's daughter Imogen, herself a composer and conductor, was originally opposed to a pop version of her father's music, but eventually relented on condition that Holst was listed on the credits. A devoted guardian of her father's work, she died in 1984 and was therefore spared the agony of hearing what mobile phone ringtones can do to good music.

3 - A Survivor from Warsaw

Would that all modern legend were occupied with joy. A Survivor from Warsaw is a cantata written by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, in which said survivor narrates the story of brutal Nazi guards rounding up a group of Jews; as the Sergeant becomes more abusive, the older men start singing Judaism's holiest prayer, the Shema, a curtailed version of which ends the piece.

2 - Did those feet...?

Fall of the Rebel Angels by Breughel - click to read Blake's poem, now known as 'Jerusalem'
Can there be truth in the legend that the young Jesus was shipwrecked while on a business voyage with Joseph of Arimathea to the tin mines in Cornwall, and visited the town of Glastonbury in South-West England? I don't know, I wasn't there. The legend is the kernel of the introduction to William Blake's epic poem Milton; originally called And did those feet in ancient time, it's now better known as the hymn Jerusalem, and with Sir Hubert Parry's 1916 score is an indispensible part of the Last Night of the Proms.

1 - An Elvis Trilogy

I remember the day when news of Elvis Presley's death broke, because my Mum, a huge fan, came into my room in tears to tell me. Over the following years our musical tastes would diverge somewhat, but we always agreed about the power of An American Trilogy, Mickey Newbury's arrangement of Dixie, All my Trials and Battle Hymn of the Republic. Listening to this, I can glimpse the garden far more clearly than through Joni Mitchell's proxy memoir. Enjoy.

Related posts: click here for more top ten songs about...

top ten songs

If you've found your way here, you've probably visited one of my posts with "top ten songs about...". Here's some more top ten songs, which I hope you enjoy.

Top Ten Songs about Summer

Top Ten Songs about Football

Top Ten Songs about Flying

Top Ten songs about England

Top ten songs about Women's Week

Top Ten Songs about Elvis

Top Ten Songs about New Year

Top Ten Songs about Xmas

Top ten songs about times and seasons

Top ten songs about thomas

Top ten songs about literature

Top ten songs about legend

Top ten songs about America

Top ten songs about ghost stories

Top ten songs about hope

Top ten songs about water

Top ten songs about places

Saturday, August 15, 2009

the British left meddles in a very American dilemma

we love the NHSPeople in the US are currently struggling with a dilemma about the future face of healthcare in their country. A lot of the arguments centre on Britain's National Health Service (NHS) with, for example, Katie Brickell, Brit bride who was told that she couldn't have smear tests until the age of 25 and who, now at that age, is dying of cervical cancer, saying she has been misrepresented in the US media debate over proposed "Obamacare" healthcare reforms.

What I think is being lost on both sides of the pond is that the NHS did not just spring fully-formed from the head of a Soviet-style committee, but rather is a femme d'une certaine âge whose first solid incarnation was as a propaganda weapon, when copies of the 1942 Beveridge report rained on leading German military/political figures' parades when dropped from bombers, because Nazis hadn't planned for the wellbeing of the Übermenschen nearly as well.

Visionary - William Beveridge: click to read problems with the implementaion of his visionThe NHS was conceived by William (later Lord) Beveridge as an essential part of the welfare state's architecture; a future Liberal MP, he was commissioned by wartime coalition leader Winston Churchill to fashion the country's social future, and this was made a reality by Clement Attlee's immediate postwar Labour government: it was a project that could be comfortably owned by people from across the political spectrum. One of the many things Beveridge realised that are now subject to mission-drift was that full employment would be essential to provide the tax returns that would fund the system, which was going to banish his five evil giants of want, ignorance, disease, squalour and ignorance.

Heaven knows that Americans looking over the sea at the NHS will see that there has been mission drift - I can see that even since I started training as a nurse in the 1980s. Then, there was a clear hierarchy of management - junior sister, senior sister, nursing officer, management board. Then, a way would have been found to give Katie Brickell her smear-test. Now, her request would have gone through so many oncological leads, champions and commissioners even before it hit a Byzantine yet burgeoning management system that it's a wonder they had time to give her one refusal, let alone three. Personally I don't agree that the NHS is socialised healthcare: rather, this is what happens when socialist masters get hold of what works and break it so they can take credit for struggling to to fix it.

There are many dangers of undertaking the journey towards universal health-care. I would like to highlight three.

1 - Healthcare "rights" are asserted that are no such thing.

The First Post's Alexander Cockburn asserts, rightly, that the great battles have already been won through, say, provision of clean water, better sanitation and the near-eradication of TB. So now we have "rights" being asserted which are in no way inalienable from the human condition. For example, I've seen the pain of women and couples who can't conceive, but to have children is, unfortunately, not a right. Neither is gender-changing surgery in the absence of being born with two sets of sexual organs. Nor is tattoo removal, which was at one point being prioritised by hospital trusts that had fallen behind in their targets prescribing how much time could lapse between GP referral and treatment.

2 - State-controlled healthcare is hostage to prevailing politically-correct ideologies.

Note I don't attack state funding here, but state control - which in the jealous eyes of socialism comes hand in hand with allocation of monies. For example, IVF treatment was once given only to heterosexual couples judged to have a strong commitment to each other, but now the liberal-socialist establishment is ticking two boxes at once by ensuring that same-sex couples have access to IVF, and that in the case of lesbians both guardians can be called "mother" because babies born through IVF treatment have no legal right to a father.

Otherwise, politicians' pet minorities can be prioritised above people with pressing needs. One example is travellers being allowed to skip doctors' queues in the South of England because they are judged to be "vulnerable"; another is an order that went Caroline Petrie - read her vow to continue offering spiritual comfort to her patients. Thanks to Jay Williams and the Telegraph for the pic.out to overworked nurses to turn Muslims' hospital beds to face Mecca three times a day (while a Christian nurse is suspended for offering to pray for a patient); yet again, in Britain the roughly 80,000 unfortunate enough to be living with HIV/AIDS benefit from the efforts of affluent, articulate activists, while roughly 600,000 individuals infected with Hepatitis C, often caught in similar ways, languished almost unrepresented until bean-counters realised the cost of treatment is going to be disastrous.

3 - Sinister governmental agendas can be inserted at will.

In the UK, nurses and doctors at present have the right to opt-out of performing or assisting at abortion procedures, but this right is constantly under threat as it is perceived to interfere with a woman's right to choose abortion, although a woman's right to choose to give birth is not generally considered a priority by NHS commissioners. Technically full-birth abortion is illegal here, but the London Evening Standard notes that in one year 66 babies survived abortion for up to ten hours, because "once born no medical help is offered". At the other end of life, an unofficial policy of involuntary euthanasia is visited upon people in a coma in hospitals, especially those with no visitors (volunteers can be a great source of information).

click to read Daniel Hannan's blog 'The NHS row - my final wordI hope the American people look at professionally-placed stories about the NHS with caution, because one of the agendas at play here is operated by the British left who, not realising that outside their groupthink people have things called opinions, are trying to manipulate the "Obamacare" debate in order to bounce British conservatives into saying that they are not totally happy with the NHS. One current example is a smear-attempt upon MEP Daniel Hannan (involving, among other things, half-truths being fed to US commentators about Katie Brickell's views on the NHS), who gave a thoughtful interview with US talkshow host Glenn Beck starting with the prevailing social views at the NHS's inception and going forward from there. For those who are interested - and this is a fascinating insight into the socialist mindset - Hannan is actually being punished for the "crime" of delivering the following rather brilliant speech to the European Parliament on March 24 this year in response to an address by Gordon Brown on Britain's performance during the financial crisis.

We Brits should not have the arrogance to assume that a shared language involves a shared culture - Britain and America are different countries with many shared values, but many more divergences involving geography, history and worldview, to name but three. At the end of the day, the American adult population - like the British - is composed chiefly of grown-ups, and they will choose what they choose to resolve this very American dilemma, either through Town-hall meetings or at the ballot-box.

Beveridge's five giants: a mammoth victim of mission drift - click to read the Archbishop of York's analysis of what goes wrong with Britain's Big Visions

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the passions of Kiri Te Kanawa

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa - click to go to the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation websiteEverybody's got their favourite performances of their favourite stars. Mine's is Dame Kiri as Mary Dee in Paul McCartney's and Carl Davis' 1991 Liverpool Oratorio. Before she walks offstage after a blazing row in the Crises movement, her spoken "I think you should know, you're going to have a baby" could turn Old Faithful to ice.

Having gotten from being an aspiring opera singer in Gisborne, New Zealand, to become the First Lady of Opera by a commitment to education and hard work, she's sung the spectrum of soprano - from Die Zauberflöte (her first stage role) to South Pacific and from Faust to the two voices of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, playing so many lauded rolls that it would take a whole post to list them.

Today the Telegraph's Stephen Adams announced that when the opera-singer plays her beloved part of the Marschallin in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier next April, it will be her last role.

teaching at the Solti Te Kanawa Accademia di Bel Canto - click to read more (in Italian) However, what she's doing is just as interesting as what she's done. As well as being the first visiting teacher at Georg Solti's Accademia di Bel Canto (in which she is now a partner), the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation identifies and nurtures operatic talent in New Zealand, and also prepares scholars for larger cities with long-established opera scenes. One of Te Kanawa's first protegées, Ana James, states
NZ is severely lacking in both language and vocal coaching...Many Australasian singers who I studied with in London and NY have already fallen of the radar.
Hving pointed to so-called "popera" stars like Kathryn Jenkins' and Hayley Westenra's reliance on microphones, Dame Kiri has insisted that the opera singers of the future need time to mature away from the demands of the "instant fame" culture of shows such as X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent. Paul Potts, winer of Britain's got talent 2007
I can see her point: there'll always be a place for somebody like Paul Potts, who finished his shift selling mobile phones then brought the house down on the latter show with his rendition of Nessun Dorma, but Susan Boyle's collapse from
nervous exhaustion after her shock loss on this year's series showed the risks of a process that is not nearly long enough to identify people whom it might harm more than help, whatever the outcome. Susan Boyle, runner-up in Britain's got Talent 2007

Heaven knows I met enough aspiring dancers using stimulants to control their weight as a drugs-worker, but Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation alumna Ana James indicates the same process is happening with opera-singers:
Ana James - click for biography
Now, opera companies want to cast slim healthy singers. I think this can only be a good thing as it is unhealthy to be over your ideal weight and not to take exercise in any case. However, at the other end of the spectrum, I know of several anorexic singers, which I am sure was unheard of 20 years ago! This is a very sad situation because it can and does affect the voice, as well as weakens the body and mind. As a soprano I feel huge pressure to stay slim,toned, fit, and look as good as possible at all times. There will always be a slimmer, better soprano out there ready to take a job!!! I work out at the gym, do pilates, yoga at least three times a week (when at home!) and I eat healthily (no carbohydrates after 5pm).
It would be sad to see the old adage that it ain't over till the fat lady sings become it's finished when the skeletal girl drops. I'm sure producers aren't looking for girls who are too hypoglycaemic to speak their own minds...are they?

Speaking one's own mind is something Te Kanawa has shown herself unafraid of doing. In 2003, she created a shockwave when she criticised welfare-dependency within the Māori culture from which she hails and about which she is as passionate as anything she devotes herself to. In a statement which isn't far from the reality on some housing estates I've lived in, she said,
I see too many people living on benefits... it just drives me mad. I've known someone, a Maori, who's been on a benefit for 37 years. Now what sort of pride is that?
Dame Kiri will be bringing three of her Future Stars of Opera to perform with the London Sinfonia on October 16 as part of the Tower (of London) Festival.

After which, the world will remain her oyster.

excerpt from TE Ao Hou - The New World - about Kiri Te Kanawa winning the Te Awamutu competition aged 19 in 1963 - click to read transcript

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

human rights: a done deal for some, torture for others

Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.

Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?'

In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

In this excerpt from the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, we can see how Jesus spoke to people in the idiom of their times. Some of the people in authority could be pretty cruel - it might be seen as a sine qua non of being in authority then. When Jesus spoke about a king who was prepared to send a servant to whom he'd previously been merciful to be tortured, his listeners would have recognised the scenario.

The subject of torture's in the news in the UK right now - two senior ministers in the Labour Government, Alan Johnson (Home Secretary) and David Miliband (Foreign Secretary) jointly published a piece in the Sunday Telegraph entitled We firmly oppose torture - but it is impossible to eradicate all risk. They wrote about how hard they work to ensure that British security services "do not collude in torture or mistreatment" of subjects who may have confessed to involvement in terror plots targeted at the West while being interrogated abroad.

Binyam Mohammed - click to read Joe Murphy's post for the Evening Standard
Caroline Gammell and Jon Swain explain the context - growing pressure to mount a judicial review into the treatment of Ethiopian citizen Binyam Mohamed, who left his job as a caretaker in London to travel to Afghanistan in order to kick a drug habit. Trying to re-enter Great Britain the next year with falsified documents, he was picked up in Pakistan, and ended up at the US Guantànamo Bay facility on Cuba in 2004, having been released earlier this year. Crucially, he claims that he was shunted through various countries en route under the US redition scheme, and was tortured because of material passed to US authorities by the British.

Mohamed's not a good witness even as regards his own story; the most consistent part is that he went to Afghanistan to get off drugs, and if you believe that then I'll send you prices for my cousin's drying-out house in the centre of Dublin. But the liberal-socialist establishment is getting set up to hang the British security services out to dry - presumably because they can't get hold of the American ones - and their key offence is that they perceive something in being British that is worth defending. Even the Labour chair of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, Kim Howells, has spoke of his worry "that these calls for judicial inquiries and so on are really treating the intelligence agencies as guilty until proven innocent and that's very, very dangerous for the security of this country".

But open up the subject of treating somebody as guilty until proven innocent and you open precisely the sort of can of worms when a Government has been doing this on purely ideological grounds for more than a decade.
Peter Connelly - Baby P - was found guilty of merely existing by his guardians and their lodger, and was tortured to death. Haringey Council, which had time and funds to translate its LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Service Directory into French and Somali, visited every so often but otherwise stood by and ignored classic signs of serious abuse that you can learn in a day-long child protection course - just as it had with Victoria Climbié.

Interestingly, Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisationalready excuses are being made for Peter Connelly's killers - read Damian Thompson's article; pic by the Metropolitan Police who say "By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes", has focussed extensively on the harrowing stories of...Binyam Mohamed, but - despite not confining itself to examining governments - did not devote one word to either Peter Connelly or Victoria Climbié. It will be interesting to see if the NGO devotes any interest to the "human rights" of Peter's mother and her boyfriend, Tracey Connelly and Steven Barker, to be free of victimisation should they be released from prison. (Should they survive the attentions of fellow prisoners eager to carry out the duty the state has deserted.)

organisations watching human rights: sometimes watching the wrong way?

Human rights: obviously the property of terrorism suspects with dodgy alibis, but not of the children living in "alternative" households. (Or of the victims of Charles Manson's "harem" - the three women who were his comrades-in-slaughter are preparing a case for parole "on compassionate grounds".)

Sir John Scarlett, head of MI6, has said that his organisation is "as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else", and I've got no cause to disbelieve him. But Telegraph columnist posits this case: Would we refuse to torture a terrorist who knew there was a nuclear bomb planted in London? I suppose there's times when it's just not enough to wear a bracelet that says "What would Jesus do?"

click to read Paul Hazelden's article on What Would Jesus Do?

Related post:Pilate's question remains unanswered

Saturday, August 8, 2009

all I want to do is shop at Tesco's

Maxima's brother Arietinum came to stay with us so that he could accompany his sister and nieces to the Cambridge Folk Festival. It was on from Thursday 30 July until Sunday 2 August; come the weekend I was free, but chose a chinwag over a beer with Professor Calculus, and afterwards to enjoy their tired but happy travellers' tales. I prefer my music at 33rpm.simpler days: his master's voice

I was interested to hear from them that on the first night there'd been a demonstration against the proposed Tesco's store in Cambridge's Mill Road - I guess some festival-goers just go loopy in the absence of mud. But what made me sit up was that the demonstration was contested by other festival-goers, who seemed to have had enough. The campaigners were told that people needed jobs; that the prices in Mill Road shops were too high unless you had the time and/or ability to walk the length of the thoroughfare; that, in the context of a road where you can buy second-hand firearms, hard-core pornography and drug-taking paraphernalia, a medium-sized Tesco's is not the end of the world.

I don't know how many counter-demonstrators there were, but possibly what was hanging on their mind was the assault of a 66-year old woman who was demonstrating in favour of Tesco in Mill Road in May of this year. The Cambridge News' Raymond Brown reports a Tesco official as advising pro-Tesco campaigners "not to put themselves at risk".

So I was interested today to be presented, in Mill Road after work, a leaflet saying that, among other things, there were no "planning decisions favouring Tesco". This is getting rather wearing, which I'm sure is the intended effect. Tesco's always had permission to open a store in Mill Road, what it lost was a request for a cashpoint machine, a refrigeration plant and signage.

The chain's small Mill Road branch is due to open on 26 August, thank God. I say this because then I will be able to choose between it and the Co-op, which at present doesn't have a competitor on the road. I don't object to, say, having no choice but to buy free-range eggs, as is the situation in the Co-op, but do their customers ever pause to think why the large-size eggs have blood on them? Personally, I have no choice, usually, other than buying eggs from caged hens at Tesco's; but, when Arietinum comes, we try to look virtuous and buy free-range eggs from the same place. The last time I looked, it was called choice.

I have to admit that I was wondering why there was an anti-Tesco group in the Folk Festival, which was sponosred by the Co-op. But it wouldn't surprise me if both the Co-op and Cambridge City Council were ignorant of No Mill Road Tesco's activities, because it is in the nature of these people to start battles and leave other people to fight them.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign is the latest group to inveigh against the chain, on the Mill Roadostensibly sensible ground that lorries supplying a store would cause blockages in Mill Road. As a seasoned cyclist who has to go through Mill Road (right) regularly, what do they expect? A small van stopping to supply, say, pornographic magazines to a smaller, more ideologically beautiful store can curdle a traffic-stream just as effectively as the behemoths that block the road as they struggle to park by the side of the Co-op. The thing is, the pic of a Tesco's that was published on a cycling website called, reporting on the Cycling Campaign's views, was presented as an Express - smaller store - while being nothing of the sort. This is the pic, which has since been removed from the site.

at the time of publishing this post, this is how the Cambridge Cycling Campaign is presenting a Tesco for Mill Road

I'm happy to shop beside those who come to Mill Road to buy, say, Bangladeshi clothes, or have a wig fitted, or read about the old gods. I'm at a loss as to how they think a Tesco's might affect them. I want to buy a paper, mince, some tatties and flowers for Maxima in the same place. If people who shop in shops which cater for the ethnic minorities which are welcome in Cambridge - or those who affect to speak for them - are unwilling to let me do this, then I can only question their commitment to diversity.

Once, on the only occasion when I attended the Cambridge Folk Festival, I went to see one of my favourite artists, Eddi Reader, in a side-tent. I was about ten feet from her, but couldn't hear her because Robert Plant's guitarist was amplified as if he were playing the only tune worth listening to. At the time, it exemplified for me the priorities of the British music industry. Reflecting further, I think I understand how people who would like a Tesco's on Mill Road feel.

it's just a shop

Related posts:

Normal Service will not shortly be resumed

A trip to Tesco's

Tesco: a different view always helps

A 45º-turn on battery farming