Sunday, December 24, 2006

Snuggery 2: light a small candle

Oh dear ! The Rev, Snuggs would be proud of this one. Children will not be allowed to hold candles at Christingle services, because there might be accidents. Of course, we can't allow for the possibility that like the generations before them they might learn that fire is a good servant but a bad master. That would involve two things we must never do - learn by experience and pass on the wisdom of the past. Snuff it out, says Snuggs.

Malo periculosam libertatem quam tranquilem servitutidinem

Dog Latin, quoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in a footnote to The Social Contract as the motto of the Margrave of Posnania (whoever he was). I prefer a dangerous liberty to a tranquil slavery - should be the motto of the Manifesto Club . These people have come together to sound the gong for liberty. I have just read their manifesto and it's excellent. They say they have no political affiliation but their manifesto reads like pure Liberalism, unlike shamefully the various and voluminous vacillations of the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We regret any inconvenience caused

The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire is clearly a fan of the Quandary Phase of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in which Arthur Dent treks miles to see God's final message to his creation, which turns out to be - you guessed it - "We regret any inconvenience caused." Marvin the paranoid android wasn't impressed. Nor was I when the Glos Top Cop responded thus to the House of Lords decision that holding 120 anti-Iraq war protestors on coaches near RAF Fairford breached their right to protest peacefully (Please note unsplit infinitive).

You may remember that the police turned the coaches around and sent them back to London. The protestors were not allowed to disembark even to relieve themselves.

The Chief Constable gave a non-apology apology, saying that his officers acted in good faith, on intelligence received - perhaps they expected the protestors to become violent in 45 minutes !
He also pointed out that other courts (i.e. High Court, Court of Appeal) had reached the opposite conclusion to the Lords. I suppose next time a Gloucestershire bobby is in trouble with the Chief Constable, he can argue that he acted in good faith and his sergeant and his inspector agreed with him.

Liberals need fathers: a plea for shared parenting

An open letter to the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Work and Pensions
on the government's white paper on child support

I still believe that the fundamental flaw in the current system, which the proposed reforms do little or nothing to address, is the complete absence of any idea of shared parenting.

The usual pattern for a newly divorced father is that he loses his property and his daily contact with his children. He is then told that he will be allowed to see them once a fortnight, unless his ex-wife blocks contact in which case he faces a long, expensive and usually futile chase through the courts. Then comes the coup de grace. Nothing that he spends on his children in future will count as child support. All that will count is the money which he pays directly to his ex-wife or via the CSA (or its successor). There will of course be no check on how the ex-wife spends the money. If when he gets to see his children they turn up inadequately clothed or underfed, any money he spends to clothe or feed them will not count, unless they spend at least 100 nights a year with him (unlikely given standard contact arrangements). If he pays himself for a school trip or books or anything, it will not count. Please excuse the gender-specific language but it describes the vast majority of cases.

The frequently quoted figures of fathers owing child support do not only refer to the feckless and irresponsible but also to all those fathers whose support for their children does not count. In my own case, my limited income forces me to choose between actual support for my children and the payment of notional and disputed arrears of assessed child support. The CSA acknowledges my choice but pursues me for money which I believe I should not have to pay. At present I can challenge their assessments, their mysterious and opaque calculations and their undisclosed errors. The measures proposed in the White Paper would allow the new agency to determine the level of assessment and to enforce it without any recourse to the courts. The new agency may be able to remove passports and driving licences or impose curfews (enforceable by tagging ?) . Will these powers also not require a court hearing ? These sanctions exceed those applied to minor criminals, who at least have the luxury of a trial. All these sanctions can be easily applied to fathers who remain in contact with their children. It will be much harder to apply them to fathers who have abandoned all such contact, of whom we can expect there will therefore be many more.

I appreciate that you and most MPs will be primarily concerned with enforcement. I maintain than effective compliance depends upon fair and reasonable assessment. The party, under the guidance of Annette Brookes, has already rejected the principle of shared parenting in residence and contact arrangements (both in parliament and at conference). If we only focus on enforcement of child support paid to the mother, we will confirm that Liberal Democrats see the role of fathers only as providing money, without any guarantee that it is spent on the children. Please give consideration to a model which gives fathers a full share in the care of their children, including spending money directly on them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mingismo - a neologism

Watching Blair and Cameron at the dispatch box yesterday, the word machismo came to mind. What then to describe Ming Campbell's fence-sitting, a word to describe sounding firm whilst not actually dealing with the substantial arguments on either side of the argument, you know, running with the fox and hunting with the hounds, that sort of thing.

Ah yes ! Mingismo

If this is New Liberalism, give me the old kind any day.

Run out or stumped ? Trident and Ashes

What a dreadful week !

On Monday, Tony Blair announces that he wants to spend £20m (Do I hear 30 ? Do I hear 35 ?) and Ming Campbell comes up with the Liberal Democrat Housemaid's Baby (more later). On Tuesday England throws away a test match.

The arguments about Trident are not as complex as they appear. For once I agree with Tony Blair - in the end it comes down to political judgement - in his speech on Monday. Killing millions of innocent civilians is wrong. Poisoning the environment for generations is wrong. Using nuclear weapons is wrong. Saying that you will keep but never use them but the enemy must believe you might is either a lie or not a deterrent; it's a balmy contradiction. Saying Trident is independent when it depends upon American technology and goodwill and cannot be maintained for more than 18 months without their co-operation is a lie. Saying we need it to protect ourselves from the unknown and the unlikely whilst keeping our armed forces overstretched and under-equipped is like insuring your house for very high premiums against a tsunami in Chard, whilst not locking the door or repairing the fence (which I need to do).

Ming's response was rightly jeered in the Commons as sitting on the fence. I prefer the old Punch cartoon of the housemaid who is going to be sacked for having a baby and says, "But it's a very small baby !" It's right that there's no need to make a decision yet but postponing it until 2014 won't change the arguments. The future will still be uncertain and the use of nuclear weapons will still be wrong.

And England will still have lost the Ashes.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Men ( and women ) of straw

What is it about the National Union of Students that it turns out such awful presidents ? Consider: Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, David Aaronavich, Sue Slipman, Lorna Fitzgibbons (spellings are all provisional) or perhaps you'd rather not.

We all have our cross to bear, or even bare

As a lifelong convinced and devout atheist, I will defend to the death the right of people whom Richard Dawkins calls deluded, i.e. believers, to wear what they like in private and at work, if it doesn't stop them from doing their jobs. I imagine, for example, that a Sikh's headgear makes it difficult to head a ball in football or to model new hairstyles or to wear a fighter-pilot's helmet, but otherwise I can see no problem. Certainly British Airways are making utter fools of themselves by demanding that a stewardess does not wear a cross or at least bare a cross (they say it's all right if you can't see it !)

Liberalism has its roots in freedom of religious belief and worship. Like many Liberals I would prefer a separation of church and state, but the French who don't understand liberalism, have taken separation to mean that children cannot wear religious symbols at school. This idea has surprisingly only occurred to them since large numbers of Muslim children started attending French state schools. Before that, the Ministere de l'Education hadn't notice dthat crosses were religious symbols.

Jack Straw's offence is worse, far worse. He objects to Muslim women wearing the Hijab when they come to his surgery. He said it made him uncomfortable. Liberal MP Jo Swinson's response was spot on. She said it was her job to make her constituents comfortable when they bring their problems to her.

Meanwhile I defy any dirigist, Blairite or Gaullist, attempt to prevent me wearing my holey dressing-gown during my devotions between 10.00 and 11.15 am on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm glad you asked me that question

I have just heard Labour MP Derek Wyatt on Radio 4's PM. Asked if politicians should be concerned that one man (Rupert Murdoch or anyone) could control Sky, ITV and ITN as well as several British newspapers, Wyatt replied, "That's a hard question". Well here's a harder one. Why has that species of invertebrates known as the Parliamentary Labour Party supported a government so totally in thrall to Murdoch and failed to legislate to prevent concentration of media ownership ? Wyatt also argued that it was perfectly reasonable for Blair and Brown to see Murdoch whenever he granted them an audience. He defended the Murdoch press, saying that it was neutral. His definition of neutrality was that the Murdoch press did not criticise Brown or Blair. This is some new meaning of the word neutral I had not come across before.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What, no gruntles ?

I had always imagined that gruntles were something that no gentleman should be without, possibly an obscure component of mediaeval armour like the bit covering the elbows or perhaps something to put on your escutcheon.

Imagine then my disappointment on looking up disgruntled in my Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (The photographically reduced one which needs a magnifying glass).

v trans To put into sulky dissatisfaction or ill-humour: to chagrin, disgust. (from DIS + GRUNTLE)
sb 1. The snout of a pig, or other animal 2. A little grunt
v 1. To utter a little or a low grunt 2. To grumble, murmur, complain

Of course disgruntled may mean having had your snout or your little grunt removed, but I suspect it's a false negative meaning induced to grunt, grumble, murmur or complain.

All in all, I prefer my imagined derivation.

A little learning

If you haven't already, go out now and buy Conn and Hal Iggulden's "The Dangerous Book for Boys". It's like a selection of the best articles from all the Eagle Annuals, with the occasional contemporary comment. It contains all the information that the national curriculum denies to our children: The Laws of Cricket, Grammar, Knots, how to build a treehouse or make a bow and arrow or hunt and cook a rabbit, Morse Code, other codes and ciphers, secret ink, history including Thermopylae, Hastings,Waterloo, Balaclava, Nelson, Scott, coin tricks, dog tricks, astronomy, marbles, common British trees, to name but a few. Eat your heart out Margaret Hodge and the rest of Blairite blather, bullshit, balderdash and bollocks !

Two quotations from the book:

You may already have noticed that girls are quite different from you... as a general rule, girls do not get quite as excited by the use of urine as a secret ink as boys do.

The British Empire:
[The idea of liberty] ... remains the most distinctive feature of the Empire... I do not mean to claim that all British Imperialists were liberals: some were very far from it. But what is striking about the history of the Empire is that whenever the British were behaving despotically , there was almost always a liberal critique of that behaviour from within British society". Macaulay and Mill, you are not forgotten.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

You can keep a good fascist down

As I watched a DVD of Goodnight Sweetheart, in which Gary Sparrow time-travels between the 1980s and the Second World War, the credits rolled passed and the name of the costume-designer caught my eye - Diana Moseley ! Surely, they hadn't asked Oswald Mosley's widow and Mitford sister Diana to design the costumes. Looking back on the series, I could recall no-one dressed in a black shirt. In any case she spent most of the war interned, so her knowledge of current fashions would have been limited. Nevertheless, I looked forward to posting "You can't keep a good fascist down" until I checked. If unlike me and Dr.Watson who merely see, you have followed Sherlock Holmes' practice and observed, you will already have spotted that the British fascist couple had no "e" in the middle unlike costume designer Moseley, who as far as I know has no fascist tendencies.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Snuggery 1: Huggery

I owe the term snuggery to my old friend Jonathan Calder. Some time ago he drew attention to the activities and excuses of the Rev Snuggs who cut down a tree in the churchyard because (a) elderly parishioners might trip over the roots, (b) children might climb and fall out of it and (c) paedophiles might hide in it. This post is snuggery 1 because I fear there will be more.

The latest candidate for a snuggery award is headmaster John Saunders of Warneford School, Highworth, Wiltshire who told his pupils they were not allowed to kiss, hold hands or hug. Does this come under health and safety or moral education ? Does it cover purely sexual behaviour or does it include comfort and compassion, congratulation and condolence ? At my son's college there are rules for pupils up to 18 and others for 18 plus. My son is 17 and was annoyed (but not at all inhibited) by the rule that no sexual activity is permitted anywhere on the premises for under-18s. We checked the rules for 18 plus and found no such restriction.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ancient Greek lavatories

Oh dear ! The psychologists flushed with enthusiasm have , at their convenience, added to the immense chain of modern phobias. They have invented a new one, a fear of entering public toilets and of course it needs a new word. With devastating originality they have coined (for not spending a penny) the name toiletophobia. Clearly they have taken the advice I once saw in the lavatory at Brussels airport to "eschew obfuscation". It's also the wrong term since the poor cross-legged toiletophobes do not fear lavatories in general but only public ones. Perhaps cottage-o-phobia would answer.

It occurred to me that there should be an appropriate ancient Greek stem to attach to phobia. Modern Greeks, not having the benefit of the advice of Nancy Mitford, use a form of the French toilette. Online ancient Greek dictionaries are no help, usually being based on the New Testament. Neither there nor in Homer is there mention of anything which translates as toilet or lavatory. If there is, the lexicographers are shy and do not mention it. I would be grateful if any chance blog reader can supply the ancient Greek for lavatory or better still public lavatory if the Attic world ever saw such a thing.