Monday, August 31, 2009

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.

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