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Saturday, 22 March 2014

George Osborne, Another Feckless Chancellor

Mr Osborne will one day inherit and become Sir George Osborne Bt. His Legacy is likely to be even more Public Debt than he started with. Such are our feckless Chancellors of the Exchequer.

While Sir George enjoys his retirement, it will fall to our children and grandchildren to Service the Debt. Their taxes will pay the Interest which will fund other people's life styles - Sir George's in all probability.

That's because the Debt is not Borrowing to finance Projects which will yield a long term economic benefit and which will thus and eventually pay for themselves. No, it's not for roads or railways or nuclear power stations or High Tech Science parks. Nope, it's to pay for failed Wars and failed IT projects (where we are talking Billions not Millions). It's to pay for incompetence and maladmininstration of the kind which the National Audit Office routinely reports (which is why it will soon be abolished). It's to pay for electoral bribes, most of which are aimed at people over 50.

What should Young People do in response to the situation they will quite soon inherit?

At the moment, they play little or no part in British political life - understandably. They are the people least likely to vote. But if they are inclined to change their minds I suggest that what they need is their own political party and at the heart of its appeal this simple policy:


Yes, simply say, We are not going to pay the Debts our Parents and Grandparents and their feckless Chancellors (Brown, Osborne) burdened us with. They made no serious attempt to reduce it or pay it off themselves - that would have implied an all-round 30% increase in the taxes they were paying and No Way would they do that. No, they dumped it all on the shoulders of their children and grandchildren. Well, tough, It's Not Our Problem.

If the Debt can be liquidated by some rip-roaring Inflation, that would be one way out. But a straight repudiation is cleaner. If it cuts us out from International Capital Markets - the Big Bogey which will be waved at us -  that's fine: we aren't going to borrow from them anyway!

Since Referenda are in vogue, I suggest someone organises one for all British 16 to 25 year olds with a simple Question:

If you got the chance, would you vote for a political party which pledges to repudiate all Public Debt inherited from the period up to 2015?

That would, at the very least, provide a shot across the bows of politicians in the run-up to the 2015 General Election.

Monday, 17 March 2014

John Cornwell's The Dark Box and the Protection of Children from Abuse

In many countries now, adults are quite well protected in law against some common forms of psychological intimidation – for example, racist and homophobic taunting and bullying. That is a good thing. Of course, some adults will prefer to deal with such matters themselves, if at all possible, rather than call on the police to help them – and that is also a good thing.

Children are less well protected. I had this thought reading John Cornwell’s The Dark Box, which is a history of the Roman Catholic Church’s requirement for the faithful to make individual, private confessions to a priest. Cornwell highlights in his narrative the decision of Pius X – the first of several Nasty Popes in the 20th century – to lower the age at which First Confession is expected to six or seven from the previous threshold of puberty. That decision paved the way for decades in which young children were abused in the Confessional, either emotionally or sexually or both. John Cornwell (a practising Catholic) documents the case.

Of course, such abuse was not confined to the Confessional. Catholic orphanages, reformatories and schools found many other opportunities to abuse and often enough ruined lives or even drove children to eventual suicide as teenagers or adults. This has been extensively documented in the republic of Ireland.

It occurred to me that such is our fear of organised Religions – which seek to hide their crimes behind the screen of Freedom of Religion – that we don’t have on our statute books laws to curb their distinctive forms of psychological intimidation. I can make the point clear by suggesting some laws:

(1)   It should be a criminal offence to tell a child that he or she is destined (or risks being destined) to Eternal Damnation. 
(2)   It should be a criminal offence to tell a child that he or she is fundamentally Evil
(3)   It should be a criminal offence to tell a child that he or she is possessed by Demons or the Devil

All these crimes would carry heavier penalties the younger the child victim.

All these crimes should be regarded as more serious if they occur as part of institutionalised hatred, fear or loathing of children. The young child is vulnerable to psychological intimidation in one-to-one contexts; even more so are they vulnerable in an institution where everyone (or almost everyone) is determined to undermine their confidence or self-esteem. Seeking to put the Fear of God into a young child should be an offence, no doubt about it.

Think about it. If adults deserve protection, then so too – and perhaps more so – do children.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Advanced or Advance?- A Lesson in English Grammar

Drive along an English road and you will soon see a sign giving you “Advanced Warning” of forthcoming roadworks. We do lots of roadworks and advanced warning is always given.

I try not to be a pedant but I smile. When you give warning in advance that something is going to happen, you give an Advance Warning not an Advanced one.

Part of the explanation of the error lies in sound similarity: say “advance warning” quickly and it sounds more or less the same as “advanced warning”. But this coincidence does not explain why the makers of road signs have picked “Advanced” rather than the grammatically correct “Advance” for their signs. Since the sounds are more or less the same, why pick the wrong one when it comes to spelling?

I think there must be a chain of association to other uses of “Advanced”. For example, in England, school students take exams called “Ordinary Levels” when they are about 16 and more difficult – more advanced – exams when they are 18. The latter exams are called “Advanced Levels”. These are not Levels in advance of something, but Levels which are more advanced than something else, namely Ordinary Levels.

By analogy, an Advanced Warning would be a warning more advanced than some other kind of warning – for example, an Advance Warning. That is not the kind of warning road sign makers are giving you. But they have very often seen the words "Advanced Level" in print - they are a regular newspaper topic and, in addition, sign makers' children may well bring home bits of paper about Advanced Level courses. The sign makers then just go with the flow of words they have read in quite other contexts.

I suspect that in time, “advanced warning” will take over from the grammatically correct “advance warning”, just as we now refute things when in fact we reject them and you just have to live with it. 

Here, for example, is the 11th March 2014 front page of the Financial Times – normally pedantic about English grammar:

“…the wealthy would find ways around the proposed tax grab, especially now they have had so much advanced warning …”

I suppose that is one of the problems when you are of advanced years – you see these things coming in advance.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Law of Succession: Bad Pope Benedict, Good Pope Francis

Molti anni fa - many years ago - the anthropologist, Edmund Leach, trying to introduce to English readers the structuralist ideas of Claude Lévi Strauss, playfully suggested that the Binary operation of the human mind ensures that in English history - as taught to children - Good Kings are succeeded by Bad Kings and Bad Kings by Good Kings. Some allowance has to be made for the fact that the English law of succession allows for women to become Kings but it does not fundamentally alter the way the human mind works.

As a result, we already know that Good King Elizabeth will be succeeded by Bad King Charles and that Bad King Charles will make way for Good King William. As a further consequence - since the English, lacking any democratic spirit,  like to settle matters for future generations not yet born - we know that Good King William will be succeeded by Bad King George.

It works for Popes too. Bad Pope Benedict - mean, prissy, reactionary - has been succeeded by Good Pope Francis - generous, indulgent, progressive - but with the unfortunate consequence that Pope Francis will be succeeded by a Bad Pope who will promptly undo all his good work.

In this case, the Nasty Party within the Catholic Church - the money launderers, the Inquisitors, the theologians, the Americans - is already plotting its return to power - of that, you can be sure. And so it is just not the way the human mind works which will bring about the next Bad Pope. It is Bad People who believe in their Divine Right to pull the puppet strings.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


Vulnerableyoungwomen is a word used in the English legal system by police, prosecuting lawyers and judges. It’s also used by members of the Anti Sex League and stands in contrast to a single word, Men. The latter names an animal category of heavy breathing predators whose prey of choice is, of course, vulnerableyoungwomen.  But help is at hand! The Anti Sex League will rescue the vulnerableyoungwomen and hand the Men over to the judicial system.

Right now, British politicians are also talking about vulnerableyoungwomen. Perhaps they want to show that they can think about categories other than ordinaryhardworkingfamilies.

No one is going to start talking about vulnerablemiddle-agedwomen who go on package holidays to the Caribbean where every waiter is a Latin lover in disguise. No one wants to Rescue them. It’s just too embarrassing. They’re not young.

Nor is anyone going to talk about vulnerableyoungmen since we might then end up talking about predatory homosexuals and that would be homophobic. Fortunately, heterophobic discourse is quite politically correct.

We aren’t going to hear much about self-confidentyoungwomen either, since they don’t need rescuing and more importantly risk spoiling the game. Some of them are even known to despise the Anti Sex League.

The more serious problem is this. The casual, sexist rhetoric of vulnerableyoungwomen combined with the rhetorical over-extension of terms like trafficking and coercion results in a failure to address – using legislation ready-to-hand – the very real exploitation of specific groups of women, not necessarily large in number, but very much in need of the protection and help which the law and support services can provide.  

It is labour-intensive work. Unfortunately, most of our police officers are currently investigating elderly male celebrities alleged to have put their hands up  girls' skirts forty years ago.

It is unromantic work, too. Seriously exploited women may not be easy to work with. They may refuse help. They may not even be photogenic  - which is a pity because the  Anti Sex League would really like some photo ops. with pretty young girls they have Rescued.

The rhetoric is a distraction. Vulnerableyoungwomen is a tired and thoughtless expression.

Politicians should be pressing the police not to turn up stories the newspapers will slaver over (and pay back-handers for) but to work, patiently and probingly, at the difficult cases where women are trapped against their will in situations - many and varied - which are mentally and physically damaging. Hard work, unromantic work, frustrating work. No easy headlines.  No votes to be won.