Tuesday, September 29, 2009
On October 23, 2007, Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick, bullied to distraction by the Simmons family in Barwell, Leicestershire, died when the mother turned her car into a funeral pyre.
Starting in November 1997, Mrs Pilkington kept a diary of the abuse heaped upon her by a gang of feral children which preyed upon their estate, the ringleaders being the offspring of Steven and Suzanne Simmons, the latter even now defending her murderous brood - Alex, Michael, Charlie and Ross - by saying the abuse was "nothing to kill yourself over".
Being a resident of a housing association where housing officers have threatened decent tenants with eviction over grass being allowed to grow too long while constructing flimsy excuses to keep a roof over the heads of the most abusive and sociopathic elements on the estate, I can see how this has happened: social(ist) concerns are full of support and excuses for people who have no respect for themselves and less for others, while viewing those who scratch a living on lower wages than benefits would allow with disdain.
It's not purely a New Labour phenomenon. In the mid-70s in Glasgow, the powers that be decided to move the most pathogenic families in the city into one street, having made the aprioristic conclusion that they'd be forced to play nice. The opposite happened, and honest, decent Glaswegians are still paying the price.
But Labour has made patronising society's enemies into high art. For example, Ian Wathey and Craig Faunch, homosexual foster carers for Wakefield (West Yorkshire) council, systematically abused children between 2003 and 2005. Social workers who reported concerns were told by managers that they were putting their careers in jeopardy.
Another case is that of a Cambridgeshire consultant I know who decided he could cure paedophilia and had a paedophile moved out of prison into a ward - next door to a primary school - where he tried to change the beast's tastes from child to adult pornography, thus ensuring that not only every child but every woman in the neighbourhood was at risk. I'm able to report that he was eventually returned to prison after staff protests grew so loud they could no longer be ignored.
This morning, the Telegraph's Andrew Porter reported Home Secretary Alan Johnson as saying that the Government has "coasted" on anti-social behaviour and that it "could be more 'consistent' in its application of measures against problem families". Full marks for Mr Johnson for contrition, which is often the refuge of the morally vacuous after the fact, but zero for being so unperspicacious that he hasn't noticed what's going on beneath his distant tower for 12 years. (Possibly he's only speaking on the issue because lawyer Richard Perks failed to persuade Coroner Olivia Davison from banning press reportage of the case.)
In his speech to the Labour Party Conference, which will be the last before the next election, Gordon Brown has announced he will bring in "family intervention projects" - which he first announced in 2006, and whose "success" the government's webpage on the subject was lauding last year. It's amazing how an impending election concentrates the mind.
The title in the afore-linked webpage says it all - "respect" - and indeed Johnson has referred to the Family Intervention Projects as "tough love". Personally, I've had enough of one-way love and respect for scum who are trying their hardest to destroy my way of life, and who indeed have destroyed the lives of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter.
It's perhaps time for some old-fashioned hate - hate for bullying, hate for thuggery and hate for skewed structures rewarding careerists who let these thrive virtually unchallenged in society. Johnson says we need the police to be able to identify victims - true, but Government needs to return to the police the means to react robustly towards antisocial behaviour, not reward its proponents with ASBOs and antisocial behaviour contracts. The reintroduction of the noose might also be rather therapeutic for society.
May God have mercy on the souls of Fiona Pilkington and Francecca Hardwick. And on ours, as we try to identify the means by which we can rid our decent society of its enemies.
The rumour has its genesis in a blog by John Ward, in a piece called "Establishment 'colluding in plight of sick man Brown'". It's gone through various columnists like John Barr's best beef, and culminated in Andrew Marr asking the Prime Minister, on his Sunday morning political show, if he was one of the many British people who "use prescription painkillers and pills to get through":
Ward states that "Before the arrival of Prozac derivatives, [MAOIs] were the first line of attack when dealing with severely depressed patients". I started training as a psychiatric nurse in Scotland shortly before Prozac was introduced, and MAOIs were very much a last resort then as now, only to be used when tricyclic antidepressants such as amittryptilene or lofepramine or, if necessary, antipsychotic medication had failed. Also, I can't find any mention in the prescriber's "bible", the British National Formulary, of MAOIs being used to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, another of Ward's claims.
MAOI stands for monoamine oxidase inhibitor. Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme found in various parts of the body that breaks down tyramine, a compound derived form an amino acid that acts to release neurotransmitters such as dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline ( a longer-acting version of adrenaline). So if production of monoamine oxidase is damped down, tyramine can accumulate in the body, facilitating the production of the above neurotransmitters, which somatimes can help somebody whose depression has been otherwise treatment-resistant to work towards recovery.
The reason MAOIs are prescribed with caution is that when somebody takes them along with food high in tyramine (remembering that there already high tyramine levels in the body) a hypertensive (high-blood-pressure) crisis can arise, which could lead to burst blood vessels - for example in the brain, causing a stroke. So foods high in tyramine must be avoided - the mnemonic we learnt was "nothing pickled, processed, fermented, salted or spoiled", although a whole host of foods must be avoided, not all of which fall easily under any mnemonic. This is what started the rumour - when a "senior civil servant" mentioned "the latest nonsense - a huge list of things [Brown] can't eat or drink because of the drugs he's on...most importantly, cheese and Chianti". Those are certainly foods I would avoid if I were on MAOIs, but also if I had, say, severe heartburn.
As Marr observed, Americans know all about their President's medical history - and, I have to say, when applying for a job I mention my illness in the main part of the form and not just the equal opportunities bit (so it's frustrating when I mention it and interview panels are surprised, indicating they haven't read past the front page of the form). But we don't have such a system here, and importing it would set the law of unintended consequences in motion just as surely as exporting the NHS to the US.
Revd Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans, wrote in Samaritans in the 80s that if depression approaching the point of suicidality were a bar to political power, the House of Commons' front benches would be somewhat emptier. Marr himself wrote of beleaguered Conservative Prime Minister Anthony Eden - of Suez Crisis fame - in 2007 (the year before Blair finally gave way to Brown): "By the time he finally got the top job halfway through the decade, he was physically depleted...like a racehorse who had been trained to win the Derby in 1938 but was not let out of the starting stalls until 1955".
Whether or not Brown is on antidepressants, what he is experiencing, sometimes at the hands of those around him, may be a consequence of the medicalisation of problems that do not fall within the sphere of medicine. Sometimes we all, as flawed human beings, experience problems that, as part of our personalities and not of a pathological process, take us to places we did no intend to go. Take Lord Peter Mandelson - he gave a rousing and even excellent speech at the Labour Party Conference yesterday, but that's the point: when its all about Peter, Peter presents no problems. But when he feels the attention draining away, he acts to bring the spotlight back upon himself, and seems not to care whether he is cast in a positive or negative light.
Is Gordon Brown fit to run the country? In my opinion, no. Not because of what may or may not be happening with his brain chemistry, but because of the wholesale dismal failure across the Labour Party in 12 years of misgovernment. That's what I'll be highlighting in the time before we eventually get a general election, not a poisoned chalice of an agenda which could lead our opponents to rumble about discrimination on the grounds of disability should the antidepressant angle play a substantial part in a Conservative victory.
And what made me sit up straight was that it was that most hard-boiled of political commentators, Iain Dale, who teased out the pertinent point amid the tough days to come: If Brown is ill he deserves our compassion, not our insults.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Labour as it exists now, whether or not you prefix the "New", is a neo-conservative project which sees humankind as something that can be perfected solely by that which arises from itself. As such, it sees its roots as being in the Enlightenment and is hence related to disastrous 20th century undertakings to improve the human race with faux-science and ideology. In his 2007 work Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia John Gray summarises how Tony Blair, one of New Labour's founding fathers in the last days of his premiership, saw the truth - not as an "everlasting torch" but in an entirely instrumental sense:
It is not so much that [Blair] is economical with the truth as that he lacks the normal unerstanding of it. For him truth is whatever serves the cause, and when he engages in what is commonly judged to be deception he is only anticipating the new world that he is helping to bring about...Blair's stance...must by ordinary standards be judged to be thoroughly dishonest, but it is clear he believes ordinary standards do not apply to him. Deception is justified if it advances human progress - and then it is not deception. Blair's untruths are not true lies. They are prophetic glimpses of the future course of history...The present political landscape is so littered with the detritus of the abuse of truth I have to focus down and pick three instances of lies, damn lies and deliberate misinformation fuelled by ideology.
While the Government sticks to the sort of abusive agenda which led to the NHS in Sheffied informing schoolchildren that an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away, its slavish adherence to its target of 50% of school-leavers joining university is resulting not in more educated school-leavers, but rather dumbed-down university courses to accomodate the increasing amount of kids who leave school functionally illiterate in spite of their crop of A-grades.
And while expulsion numbers are being massaged to give the impression that schools are taking care of bad behaviour, when a member of staff - like dinner lady Chloe Hill (right) of Great Tey Primary School in Essex complied with school policy to appraise a child's family of the egregious bullying of their daughter, the school acted after the manner of the Government when ordinary people tell a truth inconvenient to those more powerful than them, and fired her.
I accuse Labour of using the younger generation as a means of generating statistics that proves to ministers in their distant towers, and nobody else, that their Trotskyite onslaught of depressing, disempowering and dumbed-down policies passes for successful education.
When Baby P (Peter Connelly) was tortured to death by his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger in Haringey (the London borough which gave us the horrendous death of Victoria Climbié, social services there said more about themselves than they realised when a statement was released saying that too many people are expressing concerns about children being abused. In fact, in social services, the definition of a "child at risk" (as opposed to a "child in need") is a fluid one, depending on how many children in danger are on a social work department's boods.
When the children's charity Barnardo's advised that more children need to be taken into care, Ed Balls - Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families - replied on an ideological basis that chidren could be cared for best at home. Miss Climbié and Master Connelly might have disagreed had they had the chance. In a similar development, a women's refuge in Dorset is being closed down in Dorset because the quango in control of its funding, Supporting People in Dorset, considers that women at risk of having nine bells knocked out of them by their partners are best sared for when being supported to live at home (and its cheaper).
I accuse Labour of sacrificing women's and children's happiness, safety and sometimes even lives on the altar of ideological purity.
In many ways this is the big one, not because of the amount of servicepeople in Afghanistan and Iraq, but because Labour's ideological idées fixées are at their most pronounced here. Case in point: on Clive Anderson's Chat Show last week, hard-left MP Diane Abbott summarised the view of many Labour MPs (with some honourable exceptions) on our nuclear deterrant by saying all one needed to know about it was the similarity of nuclear missiles to "what a man has between his legs". 'Nuff said.
With the determination, inherited via the Campaign for nuclear Disarmament from early hard-left politicians like James Maxwell, subject of a biography by Gordon Brown, that most wars can be avoided by sitting round a table and having a meaningful discussion (and thank God when such a strategy can prevent war), ministers must be under a huge temptation to manage the narrative, after the manner in which Sir David Varney, writing on behalf of the Government, calls for a single source of truth. Just so, MoD press officer, John Salisbury-Baker, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after years of lying to the families of slain troops about the adequacy of snatch Land-Rovers.
I accuse the Government of putting British forces in more danger than necessary in order to produce a narrative in the public's minds that the War against Terror is unwinnable and troops should be brought home. Whether or not this happens, Labour is tampering with the evidence in the court of public opinion to create pressure that they will gladly bow to.
And so, as the Labour Party Conference begins in Brighton, it's worthwhile reminding ourselves that we've been here before, in 1978-9, when, then as now, Labour went out of control fiscally and the Tories had to sort things out in the form of applying traditional conservative remedies pragmatically to the problems of the day. It will be interesting to see how much substance appears in the brave speeches through the week as Gordon Brown struggles with the Blairite hydra while pretending to attack the Conservative Party, and how much rhetoric is merely Parthian shots fired by tired politicians determined to head for a quiet place to bury New Labour in opposition.
Should this happen, the Conservative party will be faced with the grim task of tearing down the veils suffocating truth - again.
Friday, September 25, 2009
In Great Britain we have major political conferences at the moment, therefore I've been watching what matters: Strictly Come Dancing.
The candidates have been strutting their stuff before the judges - Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Alesha Dixon.
There's been a bit of controversy about the choice of Ms Dixon replacing Arlene Philips as judge; I don't deny that the BBC is institutionally ageist - see the row that was ignited when newsreader Moira Stewart decided to jump before she was pushed.
The reason I mention this is that former judge Arlene Phillips (66) has been dropped from the show and replaced with the aforementioned Alesha, who won Strictly in 2007 and is now 30.
The thing is, there was a bit of a situation last year, with the candidature of veteran political reporter John Sergeant. Ms Philips turned up on the Steve Wright Show on BBC Radio 2 on Friday, 21 November 2008 and dragged John Sergeant's name through the mud, then turned up on Strictly the next evening and said that she had always supported him. I suspect that this is why Philips was replaced - she was untrustworthy.
And it's good to hear Dixon's comments on the dancers' progress, because she's a non-professional who's been through the mill of Strictly Come Dancing and as such speaks for those of us who don't know what it means to pull your hands in or pick your feet up. If Philips' removal were an excercise in ageism, why do we have the wonderful Linda Bellingham (top right), who at 61 years old moves with grace, beauty and dignity, as a contestant?
Everybody who watches Strictly has their favourite dancer, and mine's is John Sergeant's erstwhile partner - who now partners Welsh middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe - Kristina Rihanoff. The ice-haired Siberienne's narrative-filled choreography makes Strictly not only worth watching but essential viewing, and I hope she will be on our screens for many years hence.
At the end of the day, Strictly is entertainment, something that was lost when the judges were briefing against John Sergeant last year. It seems that head judge Len Goodman has had a talking to: last year he advised contestant Christine Bleakley to "whip off your knickers and swing them in the air", whereas now Bruce Forsyth opens the show pointedly with "Good evening ladies, gentlemen and children".
The coming months are going to be hard politically - at one point, Len Goodman compared the relationship between two contestants on their first dance to that between Gordon Brown and David Cameron. I hope we have programmes like Strictly Come Dancing and hosts like Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daley to remind us that, in the darkest days, it's not all quantitative easing and expenses scandals: there's nothing wrong with good, fun family viewing.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
There's a story simmering in the news about a trial, due in December, of two hoteliers - a married couple - who allegedly called Mohammed a "warlord" and the burqa (garment revealing only the eyes and hands) "bondage" while in conversation with a Muslim woman who called Jesus a "minor prophet".
Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang run the Bounty House Hotel in Liverpool where, according to the Telegraph's John Bingham, they became involved in a comversation with a Muslim woman dressed in a Burqa about the relative merits of Islam and Christianity. The couple, members of the Elim Pentecostal Church, are being represented by the Christian Institute, who have been involved in several high-profile cases involving people victimised for refusing to hide their Christianity at work.
Cranmer, stating that he has been contacted by a personal friend of the family, elaborates:
Mr and Mrs Vogelenzang say that when the Muslim woman in question realised they were Christians, she kept trying to provoke them and start arguments about religion. They were wary of her and kept trying to change the subject but were always measured in tone and reasonable in the defence of their faith. They deny that they were threatening, abusive or insulting. Then, on her final day in the hotel, the Muslim woman emerged from her room in a burkha and started ranting at them about their Christian beliefs in an abusive and insulting fashion.I am sure there will be much light and heat released in the run-up to the trial, and hope to release more of the former than the latter.
Mohammed was born in 570AD in Arabia and, following the death of his mother and father, Aminah and Abdullah, was brought up by his grandfather - Abdul Muttayib, custodian of the Ka'aba in Mecca, a repository for the gods of rival tribes who they would lay down their spears, notably during the uproarious and lucrative month of Ukaz.
After his grandfather died in 579, Mohammed was taken in by his uncle, trader Abu Talib. During the happiest period in his life, he helped with trading trips and eventually became caravan manager for Khadija, a wealthy woman whom he married in 595, the same year that, according to Syed Ameer Ali's 1891 Spirit of Islam, he formed the League of the Fuzûl, whose members bound themselves by an oath "to defend every individual, Meccan or stranger, free or slave, from any wrong or injustice to which he might be subjected in Meccan territories, and to obtain redress for him from the oppressor". (The Hilf-ul-Fuzûl was based on an older society with the same aims named for its four leaders, Fazl, Fazâl, Muffazzal and Fuzail).
After increasing periods of time spent in meditation, Mohammed had his first vision in 610, in which he claimed that he had been instructed to memorise and recite a series of verses by the angel Gabriel. He began to construct a system of peace, respect and toleration in the face of persecution from the Meccan authorities, who had much to lose should presently warring tribes no longer need to make peace and parties during Ukaz.
We're coming to the crucial point, at which I think a comparison with Jesus of Nazareth is germane.
Like Mohammed, Jesus is said to have spent much of his younger life without his (earthly) father, and to have faced increasing levels of persecution which culminated in his crucifixion.
Jesus faced other pressures, too, notably through temptation. I once heard Bryan Knell of Global Connections break these down into temptations at the hands of Satan in the desert, to make life a little easier for himself, make his ministry of revealing God easier and claim what was his by right the easy way. As if that weren't enough, he faced a similar temptation from his own family, and later the strain of fighting the temptation to escape his gruesome bodily destruction manifested in his addressing Peter as the Evil One when faced with his friend's horror at the revelation of what was going to befall his Master - and towards the end, he possibly showed that flight was on his mind at his arrest, only to face down the final temptation at the hand of his sneering enemies when anybody could have forgiven a dying tortured man for taking an easier way out.
Mohammed's life started turning sinister in 619, after a period of refuge in Ethiopia, with the deaths of both his uncle and his beloved wife Khadija. He'd been visited often by representatives of his followers in Medina, who promised to adore and venerate him as a prophet. Six visitors came from Medina to Mecca - whose authorities had posted guards to warn people off trying to speak to Mohammed - to try to persuade him to join them in 620; this rose to 12 in 621 and 75 in 622. In this year he succumbed to an ironic analogue of Christ's third temptation in the desert, upon which Islamic scholar and convert Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall commented in his introduction ot the Koran,
Till then he had been a preacher only. Thenceforth he was the ruler of a state, at first a very small one, which grew in ten years to the empire of Arabia.And his world of peace, toleration and respect went to pieces.
In 623 he married A'ishah, who was nine. A year later, the nomadic custom of the razzia, a (sometimes murderous) raid on one's enemy's possessions, became the jihad, military action of "believers" towards "unbelievers" with the Battle of Badr, then the Battle of Uhud in 625, both victories for the Muslims against the more numerous Meccans; then followed the massacre of a Jewish tribe called the Banu Qurayzah. In 629 Mohammed broke an uneasy truce with Mecca with the "Lesser Pilgrimage", and the next year took the city with 10,000 men and cleared the Ka'aba of its legions of idols, although Knell notes that there was "little bloodshed".
If, in considering whether Ben Vogelenzang called Mohammed a "warlord", the trial and the cloud of commentary surrounding it come to considering whether this is an insult or a fair description, I think the paragraph above will indicate that it will not be a walkover to persuade people that it is the former.
It would have been easy to conclude a short while ago that, given the discrimination of Christians noted by MPs, there would have been no consideration given to the Vogelenzangs being offended by Jesus being called a "minor prophet". But, while its not our consistencies but the way we resolve our contradictions that make us interesting, the Arabian prophet's contradictions are so irresolvable that I think the Government, like Muslims who wish to rescue their religion from madmen, will be retreating to a safe distance from the void at the centre of Islam called Mohammed. I won't be surprised if this case is thrown out, should it make court at all.
NB: thanks to Bryan Knell for his series of presentations "Walking with Muslims" at Spring Harvest 2009 for much of the factual information: conclusions and opinions are mine alone.
Update: the case against Mr and Mrs Voglelenzang's case was thrown out of court on Thursday, January 9, with the judge calling their accuser's evidence "inconsistent". Click here for more details.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Only a little time was wasted wondering if the ban was due to blogs about celebrity diets, bacheloroid recipes or the vicissitudes of a pair of pigs.
As it happens, it seems you don't need to do much more than get up in the morning to be blocked in China - which makes their admission of failure in the face of pornography all the stranger - but I would like to thank everybody who gave this Happy Yellow Dog of the Fens a bark loud enough to unsettle the Dragon.
Possibly related posts (manually selected):
Why is an English village's birthrate outstripping China's?
Christians in Xinjiang are suffering too
Fatal Misconception - the struggle to control world population
(NB the test above can time out - click here for the full version.)
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The first speaker was from the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, which is the only rape crisis service in the UK to have shut down due to funding issues then reopened, due to the dedication and hard work of several Cambridge women in making small amounts from local sources (like the Cambridge University RAG) before the Government instituted a million-pound fund in 2008 to stop any more Rape Crisis Centres from closing. This fund was re-established in 2009, enabling a a £33,000 grant from the Government Equalities Office Special Fund in the face of "indifference" from Cambridge City Council to a request for funding.
Although prepared to believe that we have a long way to go as regards taking rape seriously, I was still surprised to learn that 17% of women over 16 are estimated to experience some sort of sexual victimisation.
Every rape is reckoned to cost the state around £76,000 in physical and mental health care, police and courts, and the long-term effects of self-harming behaviour such as eating disorders and/or substance abuse. Yet the monies it has received, which will keep it open until April 2010, boil down to £2.50 per caller. A wish-list for CRCC would include a budget big enough to allow a face-to-face service, and possibly also a befriending scheme, including accompanying clients to courts.
The second speaker was from the Cambridgeshire Constabulary Domestic Violence Unit, and had some hard truths to tell us.
Cambridgeshire Constabulary receives reports of 11,000 domestic violence incidents per year - which is 27% of all violent offences - the scary bit being that, on average, a woman will have been at the wrong end of abuse 35 times before she picks up the phone (and 80% of domestic violence incidents comprise a woman being victimised by a male perpetrator, although the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre links to a website for male survivors of sexual abuse).
Every Police Force in England has a positive action policy on domestic violence: they will arrest an abuser found to be committing a criminal offence regardless of the victim's wishes, in order to lessen the likelihood of threats by the perpetrator.
An arrest will also be made if drugs are found on the premises; and although I am in favour of robust policing on drugs, in the area of domestic violence, including rape, one finds situations where women rely on drugs to block out the pain of what they are going through - possibly even being encouraged to do so. And sometimes it can be difficult to paint a picture of a habitual drug user in court with which a jury can feel sympathy. I felt I was bogged down in the quagmire of grey areas and hard decisions the police must be faced with every day.
Another difficult area can be attitudes to women who stay with their abusers; the speaker related asking one police officer who questioned why abused women didn't up and go, "how would you put your life in a bag to leave forever in five minutes?" The officer addressing us was an energetic advocate of continuing training and reminding of the force in general and specially trained officers in particular. As Cambridgeshire Constabulary Chief Constable Julie Spence said earlier this year, "whilst I cannot guarantee that there has never been a time in any police force when an individual claim was not treated seriously, I know of no police officer worthy of their position who would treat [an allegation of rape] with less than absolute gravity".
Going beyond the seminar, I was interested to look through the Government consultation paper of March this year, due to report back to its stakeholders imminently, Together we can end violence against women and girls, which referred to the many positive achievements which have taken place in the last
ten years, but stated early on that "Government alone cannot be the answer" to the questions we must ask about the continuing unacceptable rates of domestic violence in Britain.
But Government takes it on itself to provide answers; and in the case of the 32 rape crisis, survivors' and healing services to whom the Equalities Office Special Fund gave over £1,330,000 (€1,475,000/$2,175,000), thank God for it. London Mayor Boris Johnson looked to be leading the way in demonstrating the duty of councils to care for the most vulnerable in their areas by delivering on his manifesto commitment to increase the number of rape crisis centres in London, but unfortunately only two-thirds of the £2.23m in his manifesto commitment has been delivered. I can only hope for a rethink on this. Although the help given by these centres is and must be non-directional, it would be nice to see some Equalities Office monies going to charities who help women who wish to avoid abortion after rape, or deal with compounded trauma after abortion.
What I can't understand, though, is the disconnect sometimes apparent between promises and actions, even in this area that demands congruence between the two.
For example, the Dorset Echo's Miriam Phillips reports that a women's refuge is being closed by a quango called Supporting People on the basis that it doesn't also care for men, and women can be helped to live at home by outreach services. (The Cambridgeshire Constabulary website, like many other agencies, advises women on planning to leave.)
Alternatively, the ending violence consultation paper states, in a section called "next steps", that the government has taken a measure called the Gender Equality Duty (GED - one of 72 "Key achievements since 1997" listed in annex 3 of the documents) which "requires all public bodies in England, Wales and Scotland to take steps to promote equality of opportunity between women and men and eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment in all their functions". So, what was the Trades Union Conference that's just finished all about - did delegates representing the highly-unionised public sector perhaps get their priorities wrong?
Lastly, concerning Harriet Harman, who is among other roles the Minister for Women and Equality (and who, to her credit, is supporting the protests in Dorset against losing the women's refuge): while standing in for Gordon Brown during his holiday at the start of August, she spent more time defending ideological positions about the superiority of women to men (a concept I woulddn't argue about) that she never had time to dot i's and cross t's with Justice Minister Jack Straw and Home Secretary Alan Johnson on proposals to raise the percentage of successful prosecutions for rape.
What we need is governmental interference where it is warranted, for example keeping women's refuge open in the face of hypertrophied quangocracy or forcing councils to shoulder their responsibilities towards vulnerable people, and minimal interference with police in terms of targets, tickboxes and form-filling, so that they can do the jobs they so manifestly want to do, among which are preventing future domestic violence and rape by showing the perpetrators of these heinous acts that there are less and less places to hide.
When clashes of egos and agendas are at risk of turning everything around into a sticky mess, we must never lose sight the Dorset campaign's assertion that in the vast majority of domestic violence cases its "women and children first".
Related post: It's a dog's life...
Sunday, September 13, 2009
So when a friend presented us with Kate Mosse's Labyrinth and Sepulchre, I was a bit chary of reading them, as they seemed to intersect with the themes mentioned in the two works mentioned above.
When I finally read them, I wondered why I'd waited. They are engaging, intelligently written and, when you have to put one of Mosse's books down for the night, re-immersing yourself in it is a keenly-anticipated pleasure, without the whiff of self-harm that returning to Da Vinci or Blood and Grail creates.
Mosse's two books, I think, are deliberately provocative in returning to ground that had been desecrated by Brown and the three authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln.
In Sepulchre, for instance, at one point we find the modern heroes (each of her novels is set in both the past and present) in Rennes-le-Château, where the authors of the 1982 travesty allege that Fr Bérenger Saunière found evidence ("treasure") that Jesus had survived the crucifixion and had had a child by Mary Magdalen whose descendants founded the Merovingian line of French kings. In Sepulchre, we see a note on the parish board stating "you are the treasure of this Church" as the modern protagonists investigate the death of a 19th century woman seen in a photograph. The novel speculates on the origins of the Tarot as a means of spreading secret symbols, the existence of demons and the power of music to provoke powerful feelings - in particular the notes C, A, D and E (the nineteenth-century Carcassonne family is called la Cade), which sounds on my guitar like an A minor sustained fourth.
Mosse's first novel, Labyrinth, only just missed out on selling more than The Da Vinci Code in 2006 and again stalks the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail material - but, in a crucial difference from Brown's work, comes up with an entirely original masterpiece of historical fiction. The action is set in the Langue d'Oc, which was allied to Spain before it came under attack from the people of the Langue d'Ouïl who, named like the other after their word for "yes", laid the foundations for the land we know as France.
The pretext is the crusade against the Cathars, those who practice what came to be called the Albigensian Heresy of believing that the world and all it contains (including our bodies) are evil: essentially a form of Gnosticism. The Holy Blood/Holy Grail authors use the resulting massacre to heap self-righteous judgement upon an unrepentant Roman Catholic Church, but do not deal with the fact that the crusade occured pre-Reformation, and was therefore commissioned by the Church to which every extant Christian denomination traces its origins; also, if they had troubled themselves to consult the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia's treatment of the Albigensian Crusade, they would have read in the conclusion:
Ecclesiastical authority, after persuasion had failed, adopted a course of severe repression, which led at times to regrettable excess. Simon of Montfort intended well at first, but later used the pretext of religion to usurp the territory of the Counts of Toulouse. The death penalty was, indeed, inflicted too freely on the Albigenses, but it must be remembered that the penal code of the time was considerably more rigorous than oursThe Da Vinci Code was so slavishly based upon The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail that one of the characters is named Leigh Teabing, an anagram of Baigent following the unreconstructed first name of one of the other authors; the resulting court case against Brown did neither book any harm. Another example of this slavishness is that Brown has the Plantard family as one of the two (the other being Saint-Clair) surviving bloodlines of Jesus.
Pierre Plantard claimed to be a member of the ancient Priory of Sion, which he alleged protected documents relating to the Plantard and Saint-Clair bloodlines. In fact he founded the Priory himself - but claimed its descent from the Tribe of Benjamin, whereas the for the purposes of Holy Grail this had to be shifted to the House of David if Plantard were to be made out as the heir of Jesus. The earliest reference I am aware of claiming that Mary Magdalen's womb was the original Grail is in Aleister Crowley's 1944 companion-volume to his deck of Tarot cards, The Book of Thoth. Although this last work is not referenced in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, it's full of references to the Grail, therefore I think it's reasonable to assume that the authors used it to inform their writings.
In Labyrinth, on the other hand, we are presented with the fruits of meticulous sociological, military and linguistic research which provides an epic sweep culminating (but not ending) in the siege of Béziers, drawn so vividly that you feel you're there. There's a good reason for this: you get the same sense of the author having trod the ground written about in Mosse's novels as you do in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe corpus, because the level of their devotion to research is that they have walked the lands whereupon they write. Her characters, too, bear no relation to Brown's breathless thumbnail sketches; and her heroines are strong and passionate, no Fay Wrays screaming helplessly in the hands of fate.
If you want something that will pass empty hours in an airport, choose The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, The Da Vinci Code or indeed his new novel The Lost Symbol. Grand edifices of cod-history and wishful thinking held together by a thin mortar of paranoia, they will take your time and not much else.
If you want to be challenged, excited and counting the hours until you can pick your book up again, stick with Kate Mosse. You might even get an insight into the Grail.
The show was on the radio, which as far as I'm concerned is superior to the TV because we have a limited number of senses and the telly ties up two of them almost totally. But it was engaging, so much so that I put the Telegraph crossword down several times. That doesn't happen often.
This year's Proms in the Park opened with Strike up the Band by the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Martin Yates. They also backed Icelandic tenor Garđar Thór Cortes and modern forces' sweetheart Katherine Jenkins, who performed live for the first time her operatic rendering of Evenescence's Bring me to life, which was given its first airing by Wogan on his Breakfast Show last week. If you have a look at this clip of her singing Music of the Night at the 2006 Proms (sorry, Pam!), you'll understand why Terry announced after her spot "that shattered a few windows at the Dorchester!"
Wogan's hilarity in the face of spin, bombast and hyperbole is the reason why he's so popular, even among folk like me who view the BBC with suspicion. He triggered diplomatic complaints from Denmark when, presenting the Eurovision from that country in 2001, he referred to hosts Soren Pilmark and Natasja Crone-Back as "Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy", and his response to the swine-flu hysteria earlier this year was "pandemic - my granny!" Famously, when Northern Rock was nationalised after disappearing up its own bad debt he read out, on his show, an excerpt from Das Kapital in which Marx called for banks to be brought under state control.
The DJ has been referred to as one of the "untouchables" of the BBC, in that they don't dare get rid of him, no matter how politically incorrect he becomes, due to his audience figures - at the last count, eight million people tune in to his breakfast show every morning. So there was a sense of shock when he announced his retirement from Wake Up To Wogan last Wednesday; I felt I knew what it must have felt like to hear that the Beatles had split up.
And in true style in the Park, he lauded Martin Yates as "the only conductor who can play the spoons...Captain Corelli on his belly, and I won't tell you where he plays his Humperdinck...", and when the orchestra vacated the stage for Escala, announced that they'd just gone "for a quick fifteen pints". In his new book, he describes his "loyal, ever-offensive listeners" as "the gratuitously hurtful folk who declare that I'm very popular in hospitals because the listeners abed there are too weak to reach out and switch me off".
Proms in the Park goes for a lighter experience than is traditionally meted out in the Proms proper, but still Barry Manilow introduced his epic performance of Could it be magic with a section of Chopin's Prelude in C major whose chord structure inspired the music and shortly afterwards went into my favourite - Copacabana.
The last 45 minutes of the programme came from the Albert Hall, as we joined The Last Night of the Proms. I had planned to watch some of this on TV, but was frankly left rather cold by the thought of an Arnold overture with parts for vaccuum cleaners and floor-polishers, even if one of the latter was operated by David Attenborough. David Robertson, principal guest conductor for the night and musical director of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, apologised for the misunderstanding involving tea in Boston, then used it as an excuse to gently chide the promgoers for inserting a glottal stop in place of the final "T" in Land of Hope and Glory's last line, "God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet". We also had those other two mainstays that make the last night so wonderful, Jerusalem and Rule Britannia before God Save the Queen ended the night.
The warm embrace of their country by so many of its (and others') young people was both comforting and poignant in the light of a report by the University of London's Insititute of Education that showed 74% of teachers surveyed as applying words like "brainwashing" about patriotism; a description, notes Cranmer, that many don't apply to "secularism, sex, contraception, abortion, drugs, global warming, anti-capitalism, the glories of the EU, the wonders of the UN and a myriad of Marxist agendas."
The BBC has expressed its discomfort with the night's "Britishness" in the past. I'm not sure whether it's now reconciled itself to the country it serves, or if corporate heads have been temporarily focussed by the thought that the next Last Night may take place under a government that values that country and its people more than Labour's actions and pronouncements show that it does.
Whichever, I live in hope that Sir Terry's retirement won't be complete. We need the sheer common sense he ingeniously wraps in a surreal coating. And I'm always happy to listen to somebody grumpier than me.
Friday, September 11, 2009
On Twitter today, I came across a post by Isramom about Ronald John Hemenway, a US sailor who died eight years ago today.
Her post was part of Project 2,996, which aims to turn Stalin's dictum that the death of an individual is a tragedy while that of a multitude is a statistic on its head by having each victim remembered individually. I quote from her bio of the sailor and father of a young family:
The decision to join the Navy eventually led him to Italy where he met and married Marinell in March 1977.The majority of the 9/11 victims were, of course, Americans, but countries from Argentina to Venezuala also lost nationals (including 67 Brits).
Ronald and Marinella’s first child, Stefan, was born on November 6, 1998 and for the first time in his Navy career Ronald was sent out to sea for six months to refurbish the US La Salle. His previous sea duty was no longer than five weeks. He decided to seek a position that wouldn’t take him from his new family, and went to work at the Pentagon in March 2000 assigned to the Office of the Chief of Navy Operations. Ronald and Marinella’s second child, a daughter, Desiree was born on November 12, 2000.
On September 11, 2001, a Tuesday morning just before 10:00 a.m., a commercial jetliner struck the west side of the Pentagon. Ronald was officially declared missing. On September 17, 2001 a flag was flown over the United States Capitol at the request of Senator Sam Brownback in memory of Petty Officer Ronald J. Hemenway for his dedicated service in the United States Armed Forces. Ronald was honored with others lost at the Pentagon in a Memorial Service attended by President George W. Bush, held on October 11, 2001 at the Pentagon River Parade Field. A Christian Memorial Service in memory of Ronald was held at Hope Lutheran Church in Shawnee, Kansas, on January 12, 2002. The flag that was flown at the Capitol building was presented to the Hemenway family and raised at a ceremony on Bob and Shirley’s property in Shawnee.
It's not long been 9/11 in the Draughty Old Fen, and I know this will be a day of remembering and prayer for the dead and for those left behind: loved ones, of course, but in a sense everybody now alive has been left behind by the acts of terrorists whose names are now curses. Peace and safety have fled and will not be back for some time.
Remembering, too, of what happened and who did it. Who did it in the sense that it wasn't Seventh-Day Adventists, but also remembering that not every Muslim was at the joystick, and that moderate Muslims need to be given the space in which to reclaim their religion from madmen.
And remembering that some things are objectively right or wrong. For example, John Gray argues in his curiously-named Black Mass - Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia that Osama Bin Laden's goal was never anything other than supplanting the House of Saud. Personally, I don't think that when we face our Creator he'll be in the mood to discuss deconstructionalist ethics.
Please take some time to remember. To whisper a prayer, certainly; to wear a black armband if you wish; to arrange a minute's silence if you can.
But most of all, please remember.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
It sounds like a songbird facing extinction, but it's actually a high-quality street magazine produced by homeless and formerly homeless people, and it's just as threatened.
The Willow Walker began in 2002 under the editorship of Alexander Masters, who would later write Stuart: a Life Backwards, which was filmed by the BBC, starring Black Hawk Down's Tom Hardy. It's named after the English Churches Housing Group's hostel in the city's Willow Walk. Towards the end of his tenure, Masters started an occasional series of sketches of people who were homeless or living in hostels in The Guardian.
Kirsten Lavers, the present editor, took over in 2005. One of the accomplished artist's many achievements as an empowerer of people was a scheme in the city's Arbury Park whereby residents made their own signs for unmarked streets.
Kirsten acted as an amplifier to help present and formerly homeless people make their voices heard. She was involved in the inception of Homeless Truths show on 209 Radio, the only one in the world to be produced and presented by homeless, ex-homeless and vulnerably housed people. There was, of course the critically lauded double CD Both Sides of the Tracks, which showcased the sheer talent waiting to be mined in the street community. And it's doubtful whether Cambridge Link Up, a business run by homeless and formerly homeless people, would have gotten off the ground without the Willow Walker, with Kirsten's genius for building people up and her burning ambition for others to do better at the centre.
People have moved closer to or even into permanent housing through the Willow Walker and related services; they have learnt new skills - including that of daring to value oneself again - and moved into employment; and there had been plans to employ a homeless person to assist with the production of the 2000 issues which, most quarters, go to councils, homess people, and the services which those who are homeless and/or roofless access.
So I was dumbfounded to learn that Kirsten has been given her redundancy notice because Church Housing Trust, the fundraising arm of the English Churches Housing Group, has decided that the magazine's activities are in conflict with its Christian ethos, and is no longer raising monies for the project's annual £15,000 running costs, although the ECHG's Graham Haynes is trying his damnedest to source sponsorship.
I'm sure this move, which will keep media theologians in beer-money for years, is the last thing that is needed in the present economic crisis, when nationalised and state-subsidised banks are repossessing homes faster than they did before they asked the state for help. Former ITN reporter Ed Mitchell, who earned £100,000 before he landed on the streets, remarked in 2007 that "There is a tsunami of bad debt about to hit this economy...Pandora's box has been opened." His prophecy has been realised, and now is not the time to be breaking up the lifeboats to feed the boilers.
Here's a link to the Willow Walker's entire archive - make your own mind up about its ethos. If you think Jesus might have approved - and He seems to have posited Salvation as being a matter of what we do as much as what we say - please use the ECHG's contact details to tell them about it respectfully.
If you live in or near Cambridgeshire and can offer Graham Haynes information supporting the value of the Willow Walker to projects and clients, please email him on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click to read Chris Havergal's article Voice of Homeless could be Silenced for the Cambridge News
Click to read Alexander Master's series on homelessness in the Guardian:
Eating Langoustine in Scotland
The English Patent
And on Tales from a Draughty Old Fen:
Homeless not hopeless
Catching Street Voices
Both Sides of the Tracks
Sunday, September 6, 2009
So I had a look through the OpenSourceShakespeare Online Concordance and the best guess that I could make is that the song is a meditation on Sonnet I:
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light'st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
But I'd be interested in knowing what you think. So, here goes!
10 - Shakespeare?
The Dooleys were a family band who started out in 1967, and once remarked that it took 10 years' hard work to make it as an overnight success. Here's the aforementioned hit, which made no. 11 in the UK charts in 1978.
9 - Captains Courageous
Milva has been a recording legend in Italy since the early 1960s and is nicknamed after her birthplace as "the panther of Goro". This is her tribute to Captains Corageous, the story of a boy who falls of a steamer and is rescued by a fishing boat, written by Rudyard Kipling and starring Spencer Tracy in the film version. The clip goes a bit funny in the first few seconds but is good thereafter.
8 - Lorca
The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, although apolitical, was executed in 1936 by Leftists - some think because of his homosexuality. His body is soon to be exhumed with the others who share the mass grave in a national attempt to "unblock" memories about the Civil War that some would prefer to remain blocked. Here's Leonatd Cohen's interpretation of Lorca's Pequeño vals vienés - Take this Waltz.
7 - CS Lewis
Brooke Fraser is a New Zealand artist who sings songs with a Christian theme and has championed childrens' causes in Rwanda, Tanzania and the Phillipines. Here she reflects on the themes of CS Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: "If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy/I can only conclude that I was not made for here/If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary..." This is CS Lewis Song, from 2008:
6 - The Taming of the Shrew
How could I only have one mention of Shakespeare, and that a questionable one? Kiss me Kate is a play-within-a-play, the play within being the above-mentioned. Here, the former ladies' man Petruchio (Howard Keel) regrets forgetting the adage that you should be careful what you wish for - which in his case was his wife's dowry. (But it ends well - honest!) Lyrics are by Cole Porter, with André Previn helping out with the arrangement.
5 - God is dead?
Thankfully, God outlived His obituary as written by Friedrich Nietzsche in the words above minus the questionmark, which I inserted because sometimes it's just cool to be post-ironic. The obituary appeared several times through Nietsche's works, which originally appealed across the political spectrum. He died in 1900, his mental state exacerbated by syphilis. The Nazis, having appropriated his legacy with the help of his sister, Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, built a monument to him in 1938 even as they planned the annihilation of the Jewish populations of Europe.
I shunned this piece for a long time because I thought it was by Wagner, who was much taken with Nietzshe's writings and again influenced Hitler. It is of course the Einleitung (Introduction) from Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss - named after one of Nietzshe's works - and the clip is from Jacques Perrin's documentary Winged Migration.
4 - La Ronde
Reigen was a 1900 play by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler which scandalised society for decades afterwards, being about pairings between unrelated characters - first meets second, then second meets third, then third meets fourth, and on until last meets first in a working-out of Aristotle's theory of the circular nature of generation and decay which acts as an allegory of the manner in which syphilis travels through all levels of society and not just the lower classes - hence, ostensibly, the outrage, which was actually on antisemitic grounds.
La Ronde (the roundabout) was the title of Max Ophüls' 1950 interpretation of the play in French; although later versions could be quite pornographic, Ophüls, like other film-makers of his generation, trusted his adult audience to be able to guess what was being alluded to. In the clip Anton Walbrook, playing the narrator, sets Simone Signoret as the Prostitute off from the fairground roundabout and at 2:37 breaks avuncularly into Tournez, tournez, mes personnages - the last word means "actors", but I think it would be fair to translate the phrase as "around you go, my archetypes!".
3 - Exodus
Two books for one here - the song Exodus was Leon Uris' 1958 novelisation of the postwar founding of the state of Israel, and the clip pays tribute to various actors who have portrayed characters - notably Moses - in film versions of the story of the Exodus from Egypt taken from the Hebrew Testament book of the same name.
2 - Trees
Trees by (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer was the first poem my Mum learnt at school. I love the conclusion - Poems are made by fools like me/but only God can make a tree. Here it's sung by Arthur Tracy - "The Street Singer" - one of the artists she listened to as a child.
1 - Wannabe a writer?
There are several theories going around about the inspiration for this song. In an interview with the BBC about 7 years ago, Paul McCartney said he'd just read an interview in the paper with Martin Amis, who said he wanted to be published so eagerly that he'd write for nothing. But Martin Amis' first novel was in 1973, so I wonder if McCartney had meant to say Kingsley...it's been a heavy old journey; relax and enjoy the song!
Related posts: click here for more top ten songs about...
The rhythms of lives