Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This sort of thing isn't unique to the Nasty Mail, either. 

Theories about what caused last month's outbreak of extreme naughtiness are many and varied: from the usual suspect like Poverty, Unmarried Mothers, Grand Theft Auto, The Secret Elders of Frankfurt and Rap Music to more outre suggesstions like Jamaican Dialect and (my personal favourite) the Introduction of Decimal Currency in 1972. Liz Jones is, as ever, beyond parody:

But the problem started when the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Gap commandeered hip-hop clothing and sold it back to young people. The style became self-perpetuating and, to be honest, it rotted young people’s brains. Look at the footage of the young people rioting in London and Birmingham and so on, and it’s like looking at a commercial for American Apparel. Sloppy clothes lead to sloppy minds. The biggest disservice fashion superbrands have done is to relax a generation, for huge profit, and not equip them for the real world. Just as drawstring trousers never emit the warning sign that you might be getting fat, so sportswear means you will never be smart, disciplined or employable.

But I was rather more creeped out by a piece in the Guardian, yes, the Guardian which interviewed parents and yoof leaders in the ruffer parts of London after Teh Riotz to try to find out What Went Wrong and What Should Be Done About It.` The people who spoke to the Guardian feature writer were all of one voice. The reason that the younger generation had risen up as one a set fire to things was, yes, "discipline".

Parents are fearful about how they chastise their children.....

Stirling wondered whether weakened parental authority might have something to do with it.....

London's mayor said adults and teachers needed to be given back the right to impose authority.....

Stirling....believes parents have become afraid to discipline their own children....

....Teachers are scared to punish children.

Chris (who did not want to give her surname) said she felt under pressure not to discipline her children

People here will call social services if they hear you disciplining your children.

It's all very well trying to be liberal, but parents need to be given back their right to parent.

Who are these people who call social services if you make your child sit on the naughty step for five minutes? What do we suppose would happen if a child told Childline that dad had said "No Simpsons for a week because you poured the pepper over your kid sister's head?" What sound does being banned from youth club or losing your allowance make?

Most politicians are reluctant to say that the majority of their voters are child abusers and therefore take the line that the occasional very light blow is a tool which some responsible parents use responsibly. But these people weren't talking about tools or techniques or parenting styles or light blows. No-one appeared to be saying "It's inconvenient that I am no longer allowed to slap Johnny lightly on the wrist, and have to use Time Out instead". They appeared to take it for granted that "discipline" was synonymous with "hitting" and now that parents were not allowed to hit their children, it followed that they were not allowed to "discipline", or "punish" or "impose authority" or indeed "parent" at all.

Except that, er, it hasn't. Some people think that parental hitting ought to be banned. Some people think that there is a jolly difficult balance to be struck between on the one hand it being an obviously bad thing for private citizens to hit other private citizens and on the the other hand it being a bad thing for the state to interfere in how private citizens order their private lives and anyway, how would  you enforce such. I understand that the NSPCC thinks that you should make the law but not actually enforce it. It would, as practically all polticians say about practically everything "send a  clear signal".

That's a good model of 21st century politics, actually. Don't do anything. Just send signals. We may return to this point.

What fascinates me is how deeply enmeshed people are in the fictional universe where the Political Correctness Brigade has already won; how firmly they believe that and all forms of discipline – along with conkers and bent bananas and indecent seaside postcards and Christmas  – have been prohibited,  even though they quite clearly haven't been.

I don't understand how any of this impacts on Teh Riotz in any case. It's a little far-fetched to suppose that some violent, sub-human feral hoodie, half-crazed by exposure to Grand Theft Auto and American Apparel, who has always existed in a violent gang culture in which black youths, and white youths with black accents, who think of each other as soldiers, and don't know how many pence there are in three-and-six-pence, routinely engage in lethal territorial knife fights, might sit out an orgy of looting because they're afraid that Mum might give them a slap when they get home.

But it's a good deal more convincing than Call-Me-Dave's theory:

"Are you going to come out looting and spreading anarchy on Monday night, innit?" (I have it on good authority that this is really how young people talk.)

"That sounds swell, but you will have to tell the cats that I can't, innit. If I were caught, the beak might keep me in after school on Tuesday and make me write 'I must not engage in sheer criminality' on the blackboard, one thousand times, innit.

"Haven't you heard, innit? The Cultural Marxists have abolished discipline, innit. They wouldn't be allowed to put you in detention until Wednesday night, innit."

"That's, like, way cool, and also wicked and safe, and possibly lush and mint, innit. Let's go and set fire to the bloomin neighbourhood  innit. Pass me that blimey molotov, innit."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Getting the ship confused

A man dies and goes to hell. Satan, after filling in the paperwork, leads him to his cell. It resembles a single room at a Holiday Inn. There is a small bookshelf, consisting of nothing but Barbara Cartland romance novels and Observer Guides to British Birds; an infinite quantity of pot-noodle in the fridge; and a TV which is showing nothing but repeats of One Man and His Dog. "Oh please, no, I'll do anything, show me some mercy" screams the sinner. "Think yourself lucky" says the Devil "This could be heaven for some poor bastard."
                                                             Very Old Joke[1] 

In my last dissertation from the riot-zone, I misquoted Call-Me-Dave as having said:

Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Sentences without verbs.

The first bit he really said. The bit at the end was, of course,  my little joke.

Sam asked: "Am I alone in thinking that 70% of that would be a blueprint for utopia?" I think that this is a really interesting question." I apologize in advance for failing to provide a really interesting answer.

I take it that Sam does not think that it would be a Good Thing if all schools were full of vandalism, drug abuse and bullying. I take it that he doesn't even think that it would be a good thing if schools were the kind of environment in which it was impossible for the teacher to actually teach anything or the pupils to actually learn anything.

There have, I suppose, been revolutionaries who think that the whole idea of Literature and History and Science were dreamed up by the Patriarchy in order to keep the workers in their places: that Grammar and Maths are intrinsically Hierarchical and Structured and therefore Repressive. Get rid of schools and books, let the kids go and listen to impulses from vernal woods, and everything will be fine. I don't think that Sam is one of them.

Similarly, I assume that he doesn't think that in the New Jerusalem, there will be widespread murder, rape and child abuse, and that the perpetrators will all get away scott free. Again, there have been those who think that it's the whole idea of "punishment" that creates "crime" and that if we stopped telling people that if they talked in the dinner queue they'd get slapped then they'd mysteriously lose all desire to talk in the dinner queue. Oscar Wilde thought this was the case: so did St Paul, sort of. I don't think this is Sam's point.

And while there have been very, very extreme feminists who are so sure that it's all the fault of men that they've wanted to take men out of the reproductive process altogether (I understand that sisters are doing it in test tubes nowadays) and that even if you absolutely need a man to make a baby you still shouldn't let him anywhere near an actual child, I don't think that Sam or Germain Greer or anyone else thinks that way nowadays.

I imagine that what Sam has in mind is that in Utopia, schools will be nice and interesting and child centred, so teacher will happy to teach and children will be happy to learn and there will be no need to impose learning friendly behaviour by means of rules and sanctions; and that in Utopia, criminals will be well-treated, educated, helped -- isolated from the rest of society as a last resort -- but always for their own and society's good, never with a thought of saying "you did it to us so we'll do it back to you". I think that abolishing fathers is probably one of the 30% of Dave's propositions which he doesn't agree with -- but it might be that he thinks that the idea of fatherhood is bound up with a toxic notion of force and power ("just wait till your father gets home") and that in Utopia, that kind of fatherly role will not exist. Children will have two mothers, one of whom will probably be a male mother.

Sam can tell us if this is the sort of thing he had in mind. But it wasn't the sort of thing which David Cameron had in mind.

At least, I assume it wasn't.

Regular readers [insert joke here] will recall that before the coup, I expressed concern about Mr Cameron's ludicrous poster which asked "Why Not Restore Discipline To Schools". It seemed, I said, to take it for granted that there was a thing called "discipline" which used to exist, which doesn't exist any longer, but which it would be possible to bring back into existence.

Now, that word, "discipline" carries a sliding scale of meanings, along the lines of:

1: Learning in general ("fine art is an academic discipline")

2: Some task which you have set yourself because you think it will do you good ("the discipline of fasting")

3: An orderly environment

4: A highly structured regime in which everyone has to be in a particular place at a particular time and in which clothes, modes of address and bladders are strictly regulated.

5: Punishment

6: Corporal punishment

7: A euphemism used by prostitutes who provide sadomasochistic services.

A relatively sane person might, in fact, believe and be prepared to defend the belief that in order for learning (1) to take place, you absolutely need an orderly environment (3) that order can only be achieved through timetables and ritual courtesies (4) and that such structured regimes can only be brought about with the threat of punishment (5) and that painful punishments are the only kind of punishments that anyone is bothered by (6).

But if you aren't careful, you will find people engaging in the most shameful flip flopping between the different levels of meaning. Some reactionary old soldier who thinks that neat ties, shiny shoes, army cadets and a decent haircut would solve all the worlds problems will defend his belief in discipline (sense 3) on the ground that you can't possibly be against discipline (sense 1). Anyone who has moved in evangelical circles will be familiar with the argument that "hitting children is a good idea because the word discipline comes from the same root as disciple". In fairness, quite a lot of liberals say that people only support discipline (sense 3) because they enjoy discipline (sense 7).

Now, it falls upon Michael Gove, Dave ridiculous education minister, to implement the long-awaited "restoration" of "discipline". This has become very politically topical because Dave thinks that one of the reasons for Teh Riotz was that children and young people nowadays are undisciplined. I wish it was true that there was an ancient Babylonian text which complains that young people do not respect their elders any more. It is certainly true that Chaucer complains about ill-disciplined apprentices. 

As we saw during the election, the measures that are being proposed (by Tony-Lite, I mean, not Chaucer) are laughably trivial. Some schools like to give parents 24 hours notice before keeping their naughty offspring in after school: Her Majesty's Minister For Education thinks that this shouldn't be necessary. (So far as I can tell, this is a policy of particular schools, or possibly a rule laid down by particular education authorities, so it isn't quite clear what the education minister is going to do about it -- is there going to be primary legislation that says that giving 24 hours notice of detentions will henceforward be unconstitutional? Will parliament also make a meta-rule forbidding teachers to permit boys to take their ties off on hot days, or that cutting across on the field on your way back from P.E isn't allowed even if you ask the gym teacher first?) Gove thinks that it ought to be permissible for a teacher to use physical force, say to separate two boys who are having a fight...what, you mean it already is permissible? ought to be permissible for a teacher to physically separate two boys who are having a fight without having to fill a form in afterwards. In Daily Mail speak, Gove's moderate list of minor rule changes came out as "Tories pledge to end classroom chaos". And of course, the neanderthals who post comment on the Mail's website immediately translated this to and I quote "Bring back the cane. Discipline went out the window when the cane was banned."

It seems to me that use of the term "discipline" is deliberately being used to create a fug in people's minds. It is absolutely true that no teacher has been allowed to strike a child for 30 years. It is possible that a very stupid person might think "Since good behaviour only follows from the threat of punishment; and since physical punishment is the only possible kind of punishment; I know, without needing to look, that there has been only bad behaviour in all schools for the last 30 years." But I don't think the neanderthals have articulated their point of view in so many words. They probably don't actually know so many words. I think that the very fact that we use the same word, "discipline", to refer to "hitting" and "orderly classrooms" means that when someone tells them that  "hitting" (=discipline) has been abolished they hear that "order"(=discipline) and "learning (=discipline) have been abolished as well. Hence Gove's modest suggestions about making the process of expelling a child from school less bureaucratic becomes  "Gove puts an end to classroom chaos". Doubtless there are difficult schools and difficult classes and teachers at their wits end: their always have been. But the generalized, solvable "classroom chaos" is a myth. In fact, it is very nearly a pun.

It is this kind of verbal ambiguity which Cameron seems to be playing on, and which Sam picks up. The suggestion that, as a general rule, we have "crime without punishment" is quite obviously absurd. We currently have about 85,000 people in prison in this country: some of them, at least, must have committed crimes. In the course of his speech, Cameron claimed that young-people-nowadays aren't scared of committing crimes because they think that if if they are caught, they will only get an ASBO, which they don't mind too much. (The whole point of anti-social behaviour orders -- and the reason they were controversial -- was that they were applied to behaviour that was not, in itself, criminal: you could get an ASBO prohibiting you from buying spray paint even though you hadn't actually been caught painting graffiti on walls yet. It might be true that teenagers who'd been looting shops thought that they would only get an ASBO: it's not at all the case that that was really all they'd get.) [2]

When Cameron said "crime without punishment" he could plausibly deny that he meant anything other than "I think that courts are much too lenient with first time offenders". But a lot of his extreme right wing fanboys will hear either: "No-one gets punished nowadays. If you are found guilty of a mass murder or a war crime, you just get a few hours of community service" (people who write to Metro and the Daily Mail really believe that this is true.) Or they will hear "Prison doesn't count as a punishment, because all prisons are like holiday camps. The only real punishment would be execution, torture or hard-labour, and when we secede from Europe and opt out of the Human Rights Act, that's exactly what they will get."

So. Her Majesty's Ministers makes very specific and only mildly controversial statements: "I think that teachers should be able restrain children without having to fill out a form"; "I think that people who commit even moderately bad criminal offences should be sent to jail even if they haven't been in trouble before." But they couch them in very general terms which play into the fantasy world of those who believe in the Broken Britain mythos.They say "I think that it should be easier for teachers to put children in detention" and the Common Sense brigade hears "All schools in England are in a state of primal chaos."

But liberals like Sam hear the very same words and think that what is being described is a socialist Utopia: a world without coercion or violence or arbitrary authority.

Well, doubtless this is coincidence. Clearly, Cameron didn't intend to describe Sam's ideal society. He just described what he saw going on in the country, and happened to couch it in terms which Sam could willfully and amusingly misread as describing a liberal or anarchist Utopia.


If my reasoning up to this point has been correct, then the lunatic right now operates primarily in a fictitious world in which a fictitious organisation called the Political Correctness Brigade has already taken control (or very nearly) of England. And the fictitious Political Correctness Brigade is simply a front for the Extreme Left. If Cameron believes that the Cultural Marxists are already running the country, is it any wonder that he describes his made-up Broken Britain precisely in terms of an anarchist Utopia?

[1] I also like the one about the man who, as a warning to mend his ways is allowed to see the torments being meted out to history's greatest sinners. Jack the Ripper is being eternally flayed alive by his victims; Henry VIII is having his head cut off over and over again; Hitler is acting as a domestic slave to thousands of Jewish people; and Richard Nixon is making love to Marilyn Monroe. "Nixon seems to have got off pretty lightly" says the man "Idiot" says Satan "That's Marilyn Monroe's punishment." But it wouldn't actually have been relevant to the essay.

[2] This seem to be the kind of thing that @Nick has experienced: because people think -- because Call-Me-David and the Daily Mail has told them so -- that Health and Safety now controls every aspects of their lives, then a petty official has only to say "ooo, it's against Health and Safety" and people are inclined to believe him. In the Olden Days, that same official would have said that the petty inconvenience he wanted to inflict on you as down to union regulation, or merely that it was more than his jobs' worth to do anything else. People's beliefs about health and safety and asbos seem to count for more than any actual law. There is no point in being saying the Birmingham city council never did ban Christmas (they didn't, by the way): the story is what matters.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I wrote this ten years ago

Arthur:  And what happened to the earth?
Ford:  It’s been disintegrated
Arthur:  Has it?
Ford:  Yes. It just boiled away into space.
Arthur: Look, I’m a bit upset about that.
Ford:  Yes, I can understand.

So; Flash and me and Darren and Keith hired a little pleasure boat at Inverness, and spent a week tootling down the Great Glenn, across Loch Ness, Lock Oich and the imaginatively named Loch Lochy.
Flash and I flew from London to Scotland. That meant on one day I traveled on a train, a car, a bus, a plane and a boat.
Scotland is very pretty. There are hills and lakes.
One night, we tied up at mooring point a mile or so from the nearest village. There was no artificial light. We couldn’t take our eyes of the stars (until it got too cold and we went into the boat and drank whiskey and read poems out loud out of a book).  It surprises townies that the night sky has stars in it.
According to the guidebook, you could drown the whole population of the world in Loch Ness, three times over. Somewhere in its murky depths there hides a Monster.
Never mind the scenery, the whisky, or the stars. It’s the Loch Ness Monster that keeps the tourist business going. Souvenir shops offer you soft-toy Nessies (usually sea-serpents) or china ornament Nessies (usually plesiosaurs). Dumnadrochit has got a large fiberglass plesiosaur in front of a mocked up boat, so you can show your friends a photograph of you with the Monster. As you sail through the lock system into Fort Augustus, there’s a topiary of the monster and a little baby monster.
Flash explained that in Scots, you can’t mistake the word “Lock” for the word “Loch” because “Lock” is pronounced “lok” whereas “Loch” is pronounced, er, “clorrk”.
It only takes two people to pull a little boat through a lock, so while Darren and Keith held onto the ropes, me and Flash jumped off, walked into the canal-side pub (the Loch Inn, ho-ho) downed a quick pint, and rejoined them on the other side.
It was September, so the weather wasn’t perfect but we didn’t have any thoroughly washed out days. There’s a snapshot of the three of us looking very drenched by a very disappointing historical monument.  (An ancient well where the dismembered heads of seven people who had been executed in some blood-curdling highland feud were washed before being presented to the clan chief, apparently.)
The worst disaster occurred when we thought it would be a Good Idea to take the boat out into the middle of the lake while Keith was preparing a good healthy English cooked breakfast. The first time a teensy tiny little wave struck us, he poured a – fortunately not very hot pan -- of cooking oil over himself.
The charter company set Fort William as the limit of how far we could take the boat. It was Tuesday. A nice enough medium size town, containing the one good pub we found, name-check the Goose and Gruel. It’s the place you go if you want to climb Ben Nevis. We didn’t. We did visit the Ben Nevis whisky distillery, however. Not a whisky drinker myself, but I forced myself to try the free samples.
We took a taxi back to the marina where we’d left the boat.
“Och, have ye heard the news?” said the driver “Apparently, an aeroplane has crashed into a big hotel in America.”

We only had a radio to communicate with the outside world. But then one would automatically turn to  Radio 4 in a crisis in any case. When we turned on, there were car bombs going off all over America and tens of thousands were dead. Canary Wharf had been evacuated. Things only gradually got back to normal. I am happy to say that I still haven’t seen the footage of the tower collapsing.
I was going to use the word “stunned” to describe our reaction. Perhaps “embarrassedly not sure how to react” would be more honest. Since none of us on had friends or relatives in New York we turned off the radio and carried on with our holiday. There didn’t seem a great deal else to do.
There was an American family we’d passed in a couple of locks, with a star and stripes tied to the back of their boat. We noticed they’d lowered it to half-mast.
Last February, I lost a very close friend in a pointless futile stupid railway accident. That’s left me a bit mixed up over how to mentally process big disasters. I’d been through the experience of seeing a news report of a major accident, saying “tut tut, how terrible” and finding out twelve hours later that there was a real person involved. It would be nice to say “and that made me feel much more Christian sympathy for the horror stories coming out of New York”, but it actually just made me want to switch off. Must then a Christ perish in torment in each age for the sake of those with no imagination?
I think the media actually does very well at bringing minute-by-minute reporting of major events. In the old days, the morning papers were history’s second or third draft: by the time you heard the news, it had been tidied up. Journalists knew the facts before they reported them. Live news creates a weird immediacy, despite its inaccuracy. Fog of war – conflicting reports – “something terrible has happened, we don’t know what the details are yet”—too early to speculate. Real life must be very much like that. 
But after a few hours, it very rapidly reverts to normal; human-interest items about children who have lost parents and arty photos of the fire brigade raising the Stars and Stripes. Would the girl who lost her fiance be any more traumatized if he’d slipped on the steps outside his house and broken his neck? But because he perished publicly, her grief is News.
I know what they were doing and I don’t blame them for it. 6,000 dead is just a number, they want to put a human face on it. But it has the effect of assimilating the shock into an easily digestible narrative:  tragedy as soap opera. At some level, those of us who weren’t directly involved were enjoying it. God help us, we were.
“We are all Americans now,” said one commentator. I was at college in Brighton when the IRA came within a hairsbreadth of assassinating Mrs. Thatcher; one of those rare moments when strangers are allowed to talk to each other, even if it’s only to look down at the paper and say “Tut tut, nasty business.” People stood on the beach and gaped at the wreckage of the Grand Hotel. A man with one of those RAF moustache accents said “You a Tory supporter, then?” and I said “No, but that’s a bit irrelevant, isn’t it?” -- as if my opinion of the Falklands War or the Miners Strike might have any effect on my opinions of the moral wisdom of putting explosive devices in hotel bedrooms.
My opinions on the U.S foreign policy, the middle-east situation, George Bush’s brain-power, globalization and the fact that Starbucks make crap coffee remain precisely where they were on September 10. But that’s a bit irrelevant, isn’t it?

The most moving sound image which Radio 4 piped at us was the Queen’s guards playing the Star Spangled Banner outside Buck House as part of the changing of the guard; and the mainly but not entirely American voices singing the words. The cynic in me knows that “the Queen’s” decision to change the ceremony was really the result of a press adviser who wanted to make sure that she didn’t fumble the ball like she did when Di died. But it was very moving, nonetheless.
We can’t do patriotism; we aren’t allowed. At about this time of year, there is a minor classical music concert in the Albert Hall. Tradition dictates that the second half includes Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and a silly medley of English Sea Songs, culminating in Rule Britannia. And every year, I mean, every year, without fail, there is a minor controversy about whether these songs are a bit bellicose and jingoistic and it wouldn’t be better to sing “I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing In Perfect Harmony” instead. This year there was even more mumbling. As it happened, the little American conductor with the line in weak jokes replaced Land of Hope and Glory with Ode to Joy but still let the multitudes belt out Jerusalem and everyone went home relatively happy. But one couldn’t help comparing our embarrassed confusion about patriotic traditions with the purity and wholeheartedness of that of the Americans.

The Vicar preached an entirely adequate sermon about Recent Events in the World. He said that it reminded us of the frailty and contingency of human existence; he said it reminded us of the weakness of human endeavor compared to the will of God; he said that if we put our trust in God rather than towers made by men, that, in the long run, even in the face of terrible events, we would be OK: that death needn’t be the final and total evil. He pointed out that in the Psalm, where it says “God is our refuge” the word “refuge” means literally “unassailably strong tower.”
All doubtless very true.
But it struck me that all he had really done was use an “item in the news” as a sermon illustration: rather as if he had drawn an moral point out of England losing the football (don’t set your hearts on human heroes, they may let you down) or, less likely, England winning the football (press on towards the goal however hard it seems.)
And that, one feels, is what a lot of people have been doing: like any big event, it can’t just be a Terrible Thing which happened: it has to be a metaphor of Titanic proportions; onto which we gradually project meanings. Sensible meanings, if we are C of E vicars; mad ones if we are Richard Dawkins or Pat Robertson. There are crazed fundamentalists on all sides. (Tony’s “reorder the world” speech reminded us that it was possible to be a well meaning liberal and a crazed fundamentalist at the same time.)
It’s unlikely that “Why does God allow bad things to happen” was at the forefront of the congregations mind. If we regarded “the problem of evil” as an impediment to Christian belief, it’s unlikely we would have been in church in the first place. The issue that we could have done with guidance on was, I thought, more practical. “What’s the Christian response to evil?  Should we try to forgive the people who did this terrible thing, and encourage our leaders to turn the other cheek? Or should we rather take up arms against Evil, and prepare for a Holy War?  Great Christians have  taken both positions. And if a Just War it is to be should we regard it as a Crusade against Islam, or merely a crusade against a minority of bad people? Or perhaps a police action against one Evil person? But if it is a war against bad people, why these bad people in particular; why not a never-ending theocratic war until a holy world government ushers in the Millennium?”
Answer came there none.

Someone said that reacting to a terrorist is rather like smacking a naughty child. You know that he’s trying deliberately to provoke you, and in reacting, you are in one sense, giving him precisely what he wants. But if you don’t, then he smashes up your house. There’s no doubt that the point of a terrorist attack is to provoke a retaliation, to make the target behave like the wicked oppressor that the terrorist believes him to be. (Now we see the violence inherent in the system! Look at me I’m being oppressed!)  But in one sense, what else do you do?
As a dyed in the wool liberal with dangerously pacifist tendencies; I would like to hear a good deal less about good wars, about how we are going to defeat the forces of evil and make the world a good and happy place and a great deal more about straightforward retaliation. Swift retaliatory justice, annihilating the perpetrator of the atrocity, in so far as we know who he is, and indeed where, taking out as many civilians and tacit supporters as happen to be in the way – nuke the whole country if you like, I don’t mind. It may not be an ideal solution, but it seems to be morally straightforward, in a brutal, Old Testament way. I can understand the morality of “If you kill our citizens, we will kill you”. It has limits. A blood-letting , some mourning, and we get back to normal. But a general war against terrorism – or, in some views, against evil in general – seems too open ended. It could go on forever. Millions could die. And it’s a blank check to give power to our rulers. Of course we aren’t going to be too critical of them during a crisis; but don’t let it go to their heads, otherwise the crisis could mysteriously drag on for ever and ever, with more and more of our liberties being eroded along the way.

And so everything gets back to normal; my holiday is over; there are reports of bombings on the news and some vague mutterings about anthrax in the stock exchange. It’s not even very interesting any more. Just some dead people in a foreign country; a subject to write about; slag off the clergy, maybe a parenthesis or two about Tony.
It’s been a standing joke in this column for years that half the readers are a mysterious alien race called “Americans”. I drop in friendly little asides about how “my readers” won’t pick up on the irony or understand my references to English literature. Assuming that they exist it would have been nice if I’d been able to think of something better to say to my Americans readers beyond “sorry”. Humankind cannot bear very much reality.

You could drown the whole population of the world in Loch Ness, three times over. Somewhere in its murky depths there hides a Monster.
Thought for the day

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The aforementioned Blackbeards Tea Party have just posted the track list for their second album on facebook. Not often one gets excited by a list of songs without having heard the actual songs, but I think the combination of their slightly OTT nautical arrangements with such impeccably chosen numbers as Barret's Privateers and Chicken on Raft puts this at the top of my "most eagerly awaited" list.

and they're playing in Bristol in November!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Semantic Interlude

I think that the really interesting question, however is is "how the hell could anyone have possibly thought that saying 'taxation is the same as theft' was a useful contribution to a discussion about the abolition of the 50p tax band, or indeed, anything else?"
If "stealing" means "taking something from someone else without their permission and not intending to give it back" then it is a no-brainer that there are lots and lots of times when "stealing" is very naughty; a few occasions when stealing is very good; and a number of difficult cases about which we can agree to differ. Coming into my house and taking my laptop would be in am example of the first kind of stealing (bad); taking a knife away from a homicidal maniac who was about to stab someone with it, or confiscating heroin from someone who was planning to sell it to small children at the school gate would be in the second kind of stealing (good); stealing bread in order to feed your sister's children would be an example of the third kind (debatable).

Or perhaps you would say: "Ah! But confiscating weapons or drugs, and liberating food to feed characters in long French musicals isn't stealing at all." In which case stealing doesn't mean "taking something from someone else..." It means "taking something you shouldn't have taken". If you go with that definition, then it would be completely untrue to say "Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor". If the rich were really that rich and the poor were really that poor then what Robin Hood did wasn't stealing at all. I believe that this really was the line taken by the medieval English church, in theory if not in practice: it was the rich man's Christian duty to feed the poor; therefore the food didn't really belong to the rich man; therefore it wasn't stealing for the poor man to take it, if he really was starving.

So: "Taxation is theft" comes out as either:

"Taxation is taking something from someone else without his permission. Taking something from someone without his permission might be right or wrong depending on circumstances; so I'll now have to explain what it is about the circumstances of taxation which makes it wrong, which is very much where we started."


"Taxation is taking something which you shouldn't take; which is as much as to say, I personally don't approve of or agree with taxation: so I will now have to explain to you why I don't approve of it or agree with it, which also takes us back to where we started."

I suppose it is possible that there could be a rational man who thinks that our society, pretty much uniquely in the history of the world, could get by without a system of taxation. (Is the idea that the police will send you a bill after they catch, or more likely don't catch, the guy who stole your laptop and gave the proceeds to the poor? Or that once we all have guns, we'll be able to defend our own houses and won't need policemen? Will there be people who can't leave there own homes because they can't afford the toll to walk on the pavement? Or what?) But "I don't believe in taxes because taxes are a form of theft" is a meaningless sentence, boiling down to "I don't believe in taxes because I don't believe in taxes."

See also "I don't believe in hanging / war / smacking foxes / hunting children because hanging / war / smacking foxes / hunting children is a form of murder / violence / not the sort of thing which is acceptable in a civilised society."

I find this kind of thing keeps happening to me. I think that it is quite possible that I am in fact the wisest man in Athens, or a corrupter of the nation's youth or something.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Sentences without verbs.

Some people were perplexed by Dave "Call Me Tony" Cameron's attempt to draw a line from what-he-calls-health-and-safety to rampaging mobs of poor people stealing plimsolls from shops.

We have all agreed that it's quite silly to require children to wear protective headgear when playing conkers, and the fact that no one does require children to wear protective headgear when playing conkers doesn't make it any less silly, but its quite hard to spot how that sort of things causes a riot. "It says caution, may contain nuts on this packet of peanuts! Quite unnecessarily! I think I shall go and burn down a theater!"  Was his idea that bobbies-on-the-beat couldn't go and club rioters like baby seals (as a certain columnist in a certain paper helpfully put it) because they had to fill out risk-assessment forms first?

Regular readers of this column, estimated to now to be well into double figures, will have had no problem spotting what was going on, and, come to think of it, don't really need to read the rest of this article. But for anyone coming here for there first time:

The right wing propaganda machine is heavily committed to a conspiracy theory in which Health and Safety, and Human Rights are -- along with Global Warming -- more or less synonymous with Political Correctness, and Political Correctness a cover-story for a secret communist plot to bring down Western Civilisation. What all four have in common is that they force people to act against something called Common Sense: indeed, believers in the conspiracy theory hold that Political Correctness means "whatever is contrary to Common Sense." I am sorry to keep banging on about this: but it really does seem to be the central unthink which is driving the far-right's project and Dave's speech about "fighting back" against The Riots is full of it.

He doesn't use the expression "political correctness gone mad" or "cultural marxism" in the speech, but he does directly claim that there are certain things which "you just can't talk about" nowadays. The things you just can't talk about are, of course precisely those things which Prime Ministers have been rabbiting on and on about since at least the time of Robert Walpole. (Note to self: Horace Walpole was someone entirely different.)
"We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said – about everything from  marriage to welfare to common courtesy.

Sometimes the reasons for that are noble – we don’t want to insult or hurt people...

So you can’t say that marriage and commitment are good things – for fear of alienating single mothers.

You don’t deal properly with children who repeatedly fail in school – because you’re worried about being accused of stigmatising them.

You’re wary of talking about those who have never worked and never want to work – in case you’re charged with not getting it, being middle class and out of touch."
So. The Conservative Party have never before talked about children doing badly at school, single parents, the family, good manners or right and wrong but under daring Dave they are jolly well going to start doing so right about now.

Note the passive voice, by the way: you may "be accused" of stigmatising less clever children if you notice that they are doing badly at school; you may "be charged" with being too middle class -- but there is no hint as to who the accuser or the charger might be. Non Specific Man is out to get us.  
To be fair to Cameron -- and just typing those words makes me feel dirty -- his comments on human rights are reasonably nuanced. Human Rights: Good Thing. Some People's Interpretation of Human Rights Act: Bad Thing. If he has got some concrete idea about how a "bill of rights" would differ from a "human rights act" then I'd be happy to listen, or at any rate, read a leading article in the Guardian by people who have listened on my behalf. [*]  I'm sure he didn't remotely want or expect that DAVE DECLARES WAR ON HUMAN RIGHTS headline in the Nasty Express.

Yet even here he can't help drifting into the language of the Conspiracy Theory.

The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations, leading them to act in ways that fly in the face of common sense, offend our sense of right and wrong, and undermine responsibility.

It would be nice to hear one concrete example of how human rights have made public organisations do nonsensical things things and things which are plain wrong. He doesn't, because there aren't any.

However when it comes to health and safety, there is no nuance:

It is s exactly the same with health and safety – where regulations have often been twisted out of all recognition into a culture where the words 'health and safety' are lazily trotted out to justify all sorts of actions and regulations that damage our social fabric.

Exactly the same as what? Twisted by whom? Trotted out by whom? Damaged in what way? What is a social fabric, in any case?

Of course there is scope for grown ups to disagree about how dangerous a world we care to live in. Dave would presumably be quite happy for his child to lose the odd finger in a woodwork accident; someone else might think it quite sensible to make the teacher think before the lesson about what could go wrong and how to stop it from doing so. But how, forsooth, do we get from "We think there should be a qualified life-saver near places where children go swimming" to "damaging the social fabric" to "burning down shoe shops". 

The language veers toward the mystical. A vague thing -- "human rights" "health and safety" -- has a vague, metaphorical effect -- "corrosion", "chilling", "damaging the fabric" on a vague thing -- "society" (which does not exist but needs to be bigger). He can't give a concrete example of how we are more rusty or colder than we used to be; but he takes for granted that this cold rusty damagedness had something to do with a few hundred cross people causing a lot of damage. None of it makes the slightest sense unless you already believe in a literal Human Rights Brigade working to destroy civilisation by making us all reject common sense.

I don't know to what extent David Cameron believes in the Frankfurt Conspiracy Theory. (Melanie Phillips thinks he's one of those actively working towards the downfall of civilisation, remember.)  But the language -- of a creeping ideological thing that is chewing away at society and will shortly destroy us all -- clearly draws on the same mythology.
David Cameron is not Melanie Phillips., and Melanie Phillips is not Anders Breivik. But I am afraid that moderate right wing lunatic gives spurious credibility to violent right wing lunatics. It's no good being a little bit in favour of human rights, or a little bit skeptical of the idea that health and safety means the end of society as we now know it. You have to denounce the whole fantasy; just like you'd denounce someone who believed in the Procols ofthe Elders of Zion. There is no human rights culture. There are no elf and safety fantatics. There is no political correctness brigade. The Queen is not a telepathic alien lizard. Nothing is eating away at the fabric of society and no-one banned Christmas. Mild mannered politicians who perpetuate fantasy worlds are part of the problem.
[*] Surely a British Bill of Rights will either say the same things as the European Human Rights charter, or else different things? If it says the same things, then lawyers who are inclined to bring frivolous cases will be just as able to do so under a Bill of Rights than under a Human Rights Act. If it says different things, then UK citizen will have rights under the European Human Rights charter that they don't have under UK law; which means that they'll be able to be appeal to Strasbourg when they've exhausted the UK legal process, as they did before 1998. Have you thought this through. At all?

[**] Except in so far as "common sense" means "whatever I feel like doing at a particular moment". It is quite possible that Tony-Lite feels frustrated when he wants to grab a quick headline in the Nasty Mail by kicking a scary looking foreigner, possibly one with a prosthetic hand, out of the country and the courts insist on checking the letter of the law and hearing all arguments on both sides. But that's an argument against the whole idea of due process, not against human rights per se.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Remember, Tony Blair created New Labour because Britain was broken.

Specifically in order to deal with an outbreak of child on child murders in the north of England (outbreak being hear defined as any number greater than zero.) Regular readers of this column can undoubtedly set it to music. The murder of little Jamie Bulger was the Ugly Manifestation Of a Society That is No Longer Worth of the Name and a Hammer Blow to the Conscience of the Nation.

It is disingenuous to claim that this was just a single ill judged speech, though God knows its joyous to hear Tony admitting he was wrong about anything ever. But it was a central part of the argument behind a silly book called The Blair Revolution Can New Labour Deliver by someone called Mandelson. As PM, Blair said quite plainly that it was the problem of law and order that made him dream up New Labour.

Blair's solution to the collapse of society was elegantly simple. He dreamed up ASBOS and gave the police powers to march sub-humans to the cash machines and fine them on the spot. The idea was that letting bobbies on the beat dish out formal embarrassing punishments on the spot would replace the shame of being disapproved of by your neighbours.

He also changed the system of unemployment benefit so that unemployed yes people would no longer get help paying the bill by right, but would instead have do something to earn that yes payment -- whether doing unpaid work or attending a course or volunteering. There would be no third option of staying at home and doing nothing, remember.

And his other three solutions were education, education and education: compulsory literacy hours, because not all trained teachers realised that it was part of their job to teach children to read; parenting orders that would force feral families from hell to take care of their children in the approved middle class fashion; parents of truants deprived of welfare payments and kicked out of council houses; and compulsory citizenship classes in which feral chavs from hell would be have it explained to them straightforwardly that murdering toddlers was really not on.

So. No one staying at home doing nothing and getting paid for it; feckless parents punished; everyone made to feel part of their community; naughty people named and shamed and too embarrassed to get into trouble again; schools where children couldn't read properly closed down on the spot. A veritable New Jerusalem of common sense and hard work to replace the ugly blows of a broken hammer that is not longer yes worth of its y know conscience. Which stood for thirteen glorious years.

So tell us, Tony: how did all that turn out?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

just walked from temple meads to home along stokes croft. felt a white guy probably shouldn't go through st pauls by himself right now

everything entirely quiet, but there is a post-carnival feeling mixed with a sense of nervousness and a police presence like i've never before seen in this country

i nearly typed "my" country silly, silly me

it grieves me more than i can possibly say to see cafe kino, the "here" book shop, the arts cafe, the sally army shop and the croft vandalized (the croft isn't my sort of pub, usually, but they did a folk season a few years back and its the place i first heard all my current idols)

pretty much everything you people have read here over the last twelve months was written or at any rate drafted in kino so maybe you should feel slightly violated as well.

can't deny a certain schaudenfraud in seeing tescos boarded up again, I admit

presumably the guardian thinks its the fault of the tories and mail thinks its the fault of foriegners and melanie phillips thinks its the fault of the bbs and computer games. i have absolutely no intention of adding my voice to the storm of bullshit and anyway i wouldn't be able to make myself heard if i did

only set down this set down this

the may riots were largely about the inhabitants of stokes croft and gloucester road reacting to a percieved invasion of their community, by a nasty corporate supermarket and several hundred men with horses and judge dredd custumes. this was an attack on the community by people outside it.

at the time of the may riots there was a credible rumour - we should probably put it no stronger than that - that a tescos sercurity man had expressed the opinion that everyone who lived on stokes croft was street scum who should be killed by normal people

i don't often play on my r.p accent but i did get a laugh at the public meeting by saying that i didn't think that i fitted the standard imager of a street scum

certainly, there were lots of forum comments in the evening post, and on twitter, saying that the people who lived on the croft, the people who objected to tescos, the people who think that chris chalkley's campaign of purposeful graffiti and street art was a good idea were street scum, rats, hippies, crusties, dole monkeys etc etc and that after the riots the next step was to drive us out of the area

just be careful what you wish for, that's all

Thursday, August 04, 2011

As someday it may happen...

as some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I've got a little list; I've got a little list
of society offenders who might well be underground
and who never would be missed; they never would be missed

The BBC reports that "a Conservative MP...believes the death penalty is the proper punishment for certain crimes."

"Mr Turner, who represents the Isle of Wight, said "My instinct is that some crimes are so horrific that the proper punishment is the death penalty....A few people commit acts so evil they are beyond understanding, for example Ian Brady, the Moors murderer; Roy Whiting who abducted and killed eight-year-old Sarah Payne and, more recently, those who tortured and were then responsible for the death of Baby P, Peter Connolly."

There was a time when "Tory MP supports hanging" would not have been News: it was the sort of thing you'd take for granted, like "Labour MP Supports Trades Union" or "Bishop Believes In God". So I suppose we have advanced some distance since the 1980s.

But still, there is something morbidly interesting about the MP's remark.

In the last calendar year, five criminals have been sentenced to the most severe punishment which a civilized country knows how to inflict: to spend the rest of their lives in prison. In England, we call this a "whole life tariff". In America it would be called "life without parole". The "tariff" is the least amount of time which the criminal will have to spend in prison before he can apply to be released. A less heinous murderer might be given a "life sentence" with a "twenty year tariff" -- in American terms, "20 years to life". (My knowledge of the American criminal justice system is based on once having seen an episode of a courtroom drama on Channel 5 while setting the video for something else, so it may not be accurate. My knowledge of the English system is based on Crown Court, and completely reliable.)

Presumably, it is these five individuals -- the ones who got the worst possible punishment under the present system -- who would become eligible for ritual asphyxiation should the Isle of White Terminator get his way. When someone talks about restoring capital punishment, you might expect that they would mean "I think that the ultimate sanction of life imprisonment should be replaced by the even more ultimate sanction of being killed."

But you would expect wrong.

Four out of the five people on the Terminator's shortlist were not sentenced to the ultimate penalty which is available as the law now stands. Roy Whiting, who we can all agree is really not very nice at all, was initially sentence to Life Without Parole by a judge; David Blunket, Home Secretary and Daily Mail fan, changed this to "50 years to Life", and it was further reduced to "40 years to life" on appeal. That's a long time in gaol, but falls short of "forever". The victim's mother thought that the sentence was far to lenient, and said that life should mean life. But it didn't and it doesn't. If Whiting didn't get the worst possible sentence in a system which excludes capital punishment, why on earth imagine that he would be eligible for the death penalty were it to be restored?

"Those who tortured and were responsible for the death of Baby P" were very nearly as nasty; but none of them was sentenced to life without parole. There was a very good reason for this: none of them were convicted of murder. They were convicted of other, lessor charges, like child cruelty and causing or allowing the death of a child in their care. Very serious and horrible, but not as serious and horrible as murder. The child's mother was sentenced to between five years and life in prison; her boyfriend to between twelve years and life in prison; the boyfriend's brother to between three years and life in prison. (*)

So: how is the Terminator's system going to work? Is his plan is to kill all the people who would otherwise have got "whole life tariffs" -- which would amount to 6 hangings so far this year, giving Texas a run for its money. Or his his plan to send people sentenced to "5 years to life", like the mother of Baby P, to our shiny new British death row? Another mad Tory (Phillip Davies) actually goes so far as to say that we should have the death penalty for all murder, in which case we'd be talking about more executions in England than in the whole of the rest of the world put together. (**) Have they actually thought this through? At all?

The Terminator is not completely without a heart. He is quite worried about executing innocent people. (I've never really understood this. If the death penalty is such a good idea, then surely you ought to be perfectly comfortable with a certain amount of collateral damage?)

"Like many people I have concerns about the possibility of wrongful convictions, so perhaps we should consider whether before a death sentence could be passed, a higher standard of evidence would be needed than 'beyond reasonable doubt' which is used to secure a criminal conviction. Some people have suggested that there should be proof 'beyond the shadow of a doubt' before a death sentence could be passed."

But, you utter cretin, that is precisely what "beyond reasonable doubt" means. In civilised countries "probably guilty" and "almost certainly guilty" mean the same thing as "innocent". A witness saw you running from the scene of the crime: but it was dark, and she didn't get a good look at you, so there is a reasonable possibility that she could be mistaken, so even though we think you dunnit -- even though we are pretty sure you did dunnit -- we have to find you "not guilty". "Pretty sure" isn't sure enough to send someone to prison.

How is the Terminator's new system going to work? A witness definitely got a good, long look at you and is 100% certain that the person she saw at the scene of the crime was you: there is no reasonable doubt that you were there. Aha -- but now we have to take into account unreasonable doubt. It's theoretically possible that you have an evil twin that your mother never told you about. And that your evil twin cuts his hair in the same way as you, and has a tattoo in the same place. I am found next to a murdered body with the knife in my hand; thirteen witnesses swear that they saw me stab the victim; and when the police arrive, I say "I'm glad I killed the bastard". Aha, but it's theoretically possible that a Cartesian demon caused all the witnesses to have a clear and distinct hallucination. So I am not guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. So I walk free. Hooray! 

It's absurd.

I'd be fascinated to know which criminals who are currently languishing in jail Mr Terminator thinks are not guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and what he intends to do about it. Or maybe he really thinks that high security prisons are four star holiday camps which innocent people are quite happy to be sent to?

I am not going to waste your time with arguments against capital punishment, any more than I am going to waste your time with arguments against throwing people into ponds and burning them at the stake if they weigh as much as a duck. It's a comically farcical notion: England, a pariah nation, withdrawing from Europe and forming a cosy little thanatos club with Texas and Iran.

But why did the Terminator pick on Ian Brady (criminally insane), Tracey Connolly (not convicted of murder) and Roy Whiting (not given a whole life tariff) for his little list of people he'd like to kill? Why not John Cooper or Andrew Dawson?

So far as I can see, he is arguing, not just for the reintroduction of capital punishment, but for a complete rethink of how we define crime. At present we have an offence -- "killing someone" -- and we have a range of mitigating and aggravating factors which make that offence more or less serious. The Terminator thinks there is a special ontological category of "acts so evil that they are beyond understanding".

So how to we find out who fits into this special category of "evil"? If we wanted to put it nicely, we could say that evil people are the ones who attract a special degree of outrage and horror from the general public. Never mind what the law says about mitgation and aggravation and the definition of murder. Ordinary people are genuinely horrified by what Tracey Connolly did (tortured and killed her own baby, or allowed other people to do so); they are not particularly horrified by what John Cooper did (killed four grown-ups). If the law at present says that Cooper gets a worse punishment than Connolly, then the law is an ass. The law is there to express the emotions of the common people, not some hi-faultin notion of "justice".

If we wanted to put it less nicely, we would say that Sarah Payne, Baby P and the Moors victims are the kinds of  photogenic victim particularly beloved of the tabloid press. The Terminator is simply proposing that we should kill Murdoch and Dacre's favourite pin-up boys for evil. He's making a vaguely argument shaped noise in the hope that his picture will appear alongside that mugshot of Ian Brady in a funny suit, so he can say "Brady. Bad man. Me no like bad man."

Calling it populist bullshit would be unkind to both people and bulls.

And that's very suspicious. Three weeks ago, the News of the World got closed down and the whole world discovered just how filthy the organisation to which Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron paid homage really was. Even in its death throws, the News of the World continued to position itself alongside the Sarah Payne brand. Two weeks ago two filthy tabloids were convicted of contempt of court (and eight had to pay compensation) for -- lets put this quite plainly -- attempting to get a man convicted of a murder which he had had literally nothing to do with. And this week, the lunatic fringe of the Conservative party starts drawing up a list of people they would like to strangle -- people whose only qualification is that they are hate figures of that same tabloid press. It's okay, they seem to be saying. The News of the World may have gone away, the bobbies may be arresting its staff, but we still have faith in its made up world of holy angels and evil monsters.

In the 1950s, we pretended that we had to kill people because it was the only way to stop people from killing people. Hanging was not about revenge we said, oh no, no, no, no, its all about protecting society. Alfred Pierrepoint changed his mind about capital punishment, rather late in the day, precisely because he didn't think it was really doing any good. "I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge," he is supposed to have said. But the Terminator has completely abandoned this utilitarian argument. He doesn't attempt to argue that a neck tie party on the first day of every month will make any difference. We know it won't: he knows it won't. Executions aren't meant to "solve" anything. 

So how does he work out who is in this special category of  "people I want to kill". This is the really scary part. You may remember that, earlier this year, David Cameron "argued" that we should choose one method of counting votes over a different method of counting votes because he had a "gut feeling" that system A was less British than system B. Not maths: not psephology; gut feeling. Similarly the Terminator knows that hanging is the proper punishment for some kinds because his "instinct" tells him that it is.

What does "proper" mean, anyway?  Appropriate? Conforming to acceptable social standards? Fitting? But to say that you think that people who talk in the dinner queue should be given a firm slap on the leg because a firm slap on the leg is the appropriate or fitting punishment for people who talk in the dinner queue tells us absolutely nothing accept that you approve of it. It's not an argument. It's a tautology. We should execute people for the kind of crimes that people should be executed for, because those are the kinds of crimes which people should be executed for. We have to kill people because some people should be killed. It's a bypass. You've got to build bypasses.

Some people, for example, Melanie Phillips and Anders Brevik, believe that a sinister cabal of Cultural Marxists (including the BBC, David Cameron, and Barak Obama) are on the point of bringing down Western Civilisation. Their plot, you will recall, is disguised as Political Correctness. Believers in the conspiracy say that Political Correctness is in direct opposition to something they call Common Sense: indeed, many of them define Political Correctness as "whatever goes against common sense". Common sense; gut feeling; instinct: things that I feel to be true, but cannot at any level, justify or articulate. Faith: not faith in God, or in an ideology, or a party line, or a leader -- faith in whatever happens to be going through your head at a particular moment.

"I did what I felt was right."

It is a strange vortex that we are being sucked into: a phantom zone where argument and logic and cause and effect vanish. Where there is no longer "morality" in the sense of "the codes taught by churches and philosophers". Where there is only the will of the people, schooled Rebekkah Brooks or Piers Morgan. Where we rewrite our judicial system from the ground up, not based on learning or study, or principle, or logic, or evidence or the teachings of some great man, but on common sense. Gut feeling. Instinct. What our genitalia tell us this morning. These are the kind of weird, emotion driven un-men who stalk the back benches of the House of Commons. Pray that they never get within custard pie throwing distance of the cabinet office.

(*) Ian Brady is a complicated and messy example, but also ancient history. He committed his crimes when capital punishment was in force, but was tried and convicted after it had been abolished; had he been tried a few months earlier, he would certainly have been hanged. He technically hasn't been sentenced to life without parole, but has confessed to murders other than the ones he's been convicted of; and in any case he's criminally insane. It's hard to know why anyone can be bothered to say "I think that a man in a lunatic asylum ought to have been hanged 40 years ago".

(**)  I expect he really means "We should kill everyone convicted of murder, but some crimes which are now called murder should stop being called murder." A bit like how "everyone should go to university" turned out to mean "we should start to refer to sixth form colleges, polytechnics, further education colleges and night schools as "universities"