Quotulatiousness

September 16, 2014

Coming to Kickstarter real soon now…

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Frequent commenter Lickmuffin sent me a message that I thought was amusing enough to promote to a full post:

Speaking of writing like someone else, your Three Men In A Boat posts made me read that work and the similar-in-style Leacock. I’m starting work on a Sunshine Sketches-like book updated for modern times: Oxycontin Delusions of a Ditchpig Trailer Park.

That’s the working title — I’ll clean it up when I set things up on Kickstarter.

Speaking of Kickstarter, the wife wants to start a My Daughter Is Not A Skank campaign there to see if we can get some decent girls’ clothing manufactured. Went shopping on the weekend for the first time in a long time and it was kinda scary to see what’s being marketed to pre-teen girls. Most retailers only have two jean styles available for girls: Boot Cut and Skinny. In terms of actual cut and fit, they are identical. Old Navy is the only retailer with a third option: Boyfriend Skinny. Actually, that’s not quite true — Sears also offers a style called Mommy’s Little Money Maker.

I’m thinking that burkas actually make a lot of sense.

September 13, 2014

The latest NFL scandal

Filed under: Football, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

News broke yesterday that Minnesota Vikings star running back (and former NFL MVP) Adrian Peterson has been accused of reckless or negligent injury to a child. The team announced that Peterson would not play in this weekend’s home opener against the New England Patriots and that any inquiries should be directed to Peterson’s attorney rather than to the team.

Peterson has been the focus of charges before, and the team and the fans rallied around him and the charges were eventually dropped. This is different. This is not a confrontation with a rent-a-cop with delusions of authority. This is much more serious and, if true, shows Peterson in a very bad light indeed.

Jim Souhan expresses much the same feelings I have over the situation:

I hoped it wasn’t true. I hoped that if it turned out to be true, the child was uninjured.

Then I saw the alleged pictures.

I’ll use the words “alleged” and “if” a lot here, just in case Peterson is somehow being wrongly accused.

The pictures detail the wounds that Peterson allegedly inflicted on his 4-year-old son with a switch. The pictures are, allegedly, taken a week after the injuries. The pictures should turn the stomach of any human, and especially anyone who has worried over their child’s skinned knee with a Band-Aid and Neosporin.

If Peterson is guilty, this act would change everything.

I’ve always liked Peterson. I’ve never had reason not to.

For a star, Peterson is friendly and accessible. In terms of work ethic and on-field effort, he has never been anything less than admirable. His teammates like him. Vikings staffers like him.

None of that matters now. If Peterson took a piece of wood and whipped a 4-year-old until the child bled from large welts, he should never play for the Vikings again.

If the charges are true, Peterson will likely face a lengthy suspension. He is 29. By February, the Vikings were already due to begin asking themselves whether they could afford to pay an aging running back like a superstar.

If Peterson viciously beat a 4-year-old, the Vikings may have to consider cutting ties with a player who had a chance to be not only great but forever beloved.

If Peterson is guilty of child abuse, someone, somewhere in the NFL has to stop thinking about wins and losses and begin asking this question: “What kind of league do we want to be?’’

1500ESPN‘s Andrew Krammer and Phil Mackey have more, including quotations from the police report:

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been indicted by a Montgomery County, Texas grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child, his attorney Rusty Hardin confirmed in a statement to 1500ESPN.com.

Per the statement, Hardin confirmed the charges involve Peterson using a “switch” (a flexible tree branch) to spank his son, adding that Peterson “has cooperated fully with authorities and voluntarily testified before the grand jury for several hours.”

KARE 11 TV has reported an arrest warrant is out, and Peterson plans to travel to Houston to turn himself into authorities.

[...]

Peterson also allegedly said via text message to the child’s mother that he “felt bad after the fact when I notice the switch was wrapping around hitting I (sic) thigh” and also acknowledged the injury to the child’s scrotum in a text message, saying, “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”In further text messages, Peterson allegedly said, “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”

According to police reports, the child, however, had a slightly different story, telling authorities that “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face.” The child also expressed worry that Peterson would punch him in the face if the child reported the incident to authorities. He also said that he had been hit by a belt and that “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet.” He added that Peterson put leaves in his mouth when he was being hit with the switch while his pants were down. The child told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches” and “has a whooping room.”

Peterson, when contacted by police, admitted that he had “whooped” his son on the backside with a switch as a form of punishment, and then, in fact, produced a switch similar to the one with which he hit the child. Peterson also admitted that he administered two different “whoopings” to his son during the visit to Texas, the other being a punishment for the 4-year-old scratching the face of a 5-year-old.

Update: USA Today‘s Tom Pelissero explains the situation both for the NFL and for the Vikings.

September 6, 2014

QotD: Rafting

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

We got to chatting about our rowing experiences this morning, and to recounting stories of our first efforts in the art of oarsmanship. My own earliest boating recollection is of five of us contributing threepence each and taking out a curiously constructed craft on the Regent’s Park lake, drying ourselves subsequently, in the park-keeper’s lodge.

After that, having acquired a taste for the water, I did a good deal of rafting in various suburban brickfields — an exercise providing more interest and excitement than might be imagined, especially when you are in the middle of the pond and the proprietor of the materials of which the raft is constructed suddenly appears on the bank, with a big stick in his hand.

Your first sensation on seeing this gentleman is that, somehow or other, you don’t feel equal to company and conversation, and that, if you could do so without appearing rude, you would rather avoid meeting him; and your object is, therefore, to get off on the opposite side of the pond to which he is, and to go home quietly and quickly, pretending not to see him. He, on the contrary is yearning to take you by the hand, and talk to you.

It appears that he knows your father, and is intimately acquainted with yourself, but this does not draw you towards him. He says he’ll teach you to take his boards and make a raft of them; but, seeing that you know how to do this pretty well already, the offer, though doubtless kindly meant, seems a superfluous one on his part, and you are reluctant to put him to any trouble by accepting it.

His anxiety to meet you, however, is proof against all your coolness, and the energetic manner in which he dodges up and down the pond so as to be on the spot to greet you when you land is really quite flattering.

If he be of a stout and short-winded build, you can easily avoid his advances; but, when he is of the youthful and long-legged type, a meeting is inevitable. The interview is, however, extremely brief, most of the conversation being on his part, your remarks being mostly of an exclamatory and mono-syllabic order, and as soon as you can tear yourself away you do so.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.

September 5, 2014

Casting blame over Rotherham

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:49

At Samizdata, Perry de Havilland unflinchingly points the finger of blame:

The English ‘fascist‘ movement is a bit like a bowel movement, smelly but easily disposed of. In truth they are so trivial in terms of their support or intellectual influence that I cannot escape the notion they get as much publicity as they do primarily to keep them as a boogieman to be pointed at by their equally irrelevant confrères on the loony left.

The Rotherham scandal is not about comically half witted and pleasingly unphotogenic fascists (sorry Ed Temple). It is not about Islam or Pakistanis (sorry BNP, EDL et al.). It is not even about immigration (sorry UKIP). It is entirely about how the political culture pushed unfailingly by the BBC and Guardian (and the increasingly indistinguishable Telegraph and other formerly ‘Tory’ papers) for decades has so completely enervated British institutions along with all the mainstream political parties, that such thugs could not be dealt with. We do not need more laws, we have more than enough to deal with what happened. What we need is the preposterous culture of political correctness and its obsession with race to be flushed down the toilet.

So my caring sharing multicultural leftie chums… Rotherham? That is entirely down to you. Yes, YOU

August 14, 2014

QotD: How to create a depressive society

Filed under: Health, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The widespread perception that almost everyone else was a moron — why, just look at the things people post and say on the Internet! – would facilitate a certain philosophy of narcissism; we would have people walking around convinced they’re much smarter, and much more sophisticated and enlightened, than everyone else.

Marinating in the perception that most people are stupid, hateful, sick, and needlessly cruel would undoubtedly alter people’s aspirations and ambitions in life. Why strive to create a new invention, miracle cure, remarkable technology, or wondrous innovation to help the masses? It would be pearls before swine, a gift to a thoroughly undeserving population that had earned its miserable circumstances. The hopeless ignorance and hateful philosophies of the great unwashed might, however, spur quiet calls for the restoration of a properly thinking aristocracy to help steer society in the correct direction.

If we wanted to build a society designed to promote depression, we would want to make children seem like a burden. Children are a smaller, slightly altered version of ourselves; Christopher Hitchens described parenthood as “realizing that your heart is running around in somebody else’s body.” To hate life, you have to hate children. If they are a form of immortality — half of our genetic code and half of our habits, good and ill, walking around a generation later — then a depressive society would condition its members to hate the possibilities of their future.

If we wanted to build a society designed to promote depression, we would want to make old age seem to be a horrible fate. (It is the only alternative to death!) Our depressive society would want to not merely celebrate youth, but we would want to constantly reinforce the sense that one is approaching mental and physical obsolescence. A celebrity who appeared much younger than her years would be celebrated and everyone would openly demand to know her secret. The unspoken expectation would be that anyone could achieve the same result if she simply tried hard enough. We would exclaim, “Man, he’s getting old!” in response to those who didn’t look the same as when we first saw them.

We would want to make sure that appearances not merely counted, but that attractiveness is preeminent. That anonymous and yet public realm of the Internet would ensure that anyone in the world could safely mock the appearance of others to a public audience and then return to picking Cheetos out of his chest hair.

Jim Geraghty, “Robin Williams and Our Strange Times: Does our society set the stage for depression?”, National Review, 2014-08-12.

August 12, 2014

How comedians are made – and it’s not pretty

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

David Wong says it’s almost always a result of a shitty childhood:

You ever have that funny friend, the class-clown type, who one day just stopped being funny around you? Did it make you think they were depressed? Because it’s far more likely that, in reality, that was the first time they were comfortable enough around you to drop the act.

The ones who kill themselves, well, they’re funny right up to the end.

[...]

The medium has nothing to do with it — comedy, of any sort, is usually a byproduct of a tumor that grows on the human soul. If you know a really funny person who isn’t tortured and broken inside, I’d say either A) they’ve just successfully hidden it from you, B) their fucked-uppedness is buried so deep down that even they’re in denial about it, or C) they’re just some kind of a mystical creature I can’t begin to understand. I’m not saying anything science doesn’t already know, by the way. Find a comedian, and you’ll usually find somebody who had a shitty childhood.

Here’s how it works for most of us, as far as I can tell. I’ll even put it in list form because who gives a fuck at this point:

1. At an early age, you start hating yourself. Often it’s because you were abused, or just grew up in a broken home, or were rejected socially, or maybe you were just weird or fat or … whatever. You’re not like the other kids, the other kids don’t seem to like you, and you can usually detect that by age 5 or so.

2. At some point, usually at a very young age, you did something that got a laugh from the room. You made a joke or fell down or farted, and you realized for the first time that you could get a positive reaction that way. Not genuine love or affection, mind you, just a reaction — one that is a step up from hatred and a thousand steps up from invisibility. One you could control.

3. You soon learned that being funny builds a perfect, impenetrable wall around you — a buffer that keeps anyone from getting too close and realizing how much you suck. The more you hate yourself, the stronger you need to make the barrier and the further you have to push people away. In other words, the better you have to be at comedy.

4. In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you — a clown that can go out and represent you, outside the barrier. The clown is always joking, always “on,” always drawing all of the attention in order to prevent anyone from poking away at the barrier and finding the real person behind it. The clown is the life of the party, the classroom joker, the guy up on stage — as different from the “real” you as possible. Again, the goal is to create distance.

July 28, 2014

Britain’s “Trojan Horse” schools

Filed under: Britain, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

In The Spectator, Douglas Murray wonders when the moderate Muslims are going to speak out over the “Trojan Horse” scandal:

The Trojan Horse reports are in, and they make for damning reading. ‘An aggressive Islamist agenda… a coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos’. Teachers who claimed that the Boston marathon bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby were in fact hoaxes and an ‘Attack on Islam’. And so on. The grim details are out. But there is a story behind this story which has not been thought about, though it ought to be. That is the response of Britain’s Muslim communities to these awful revelations.

Ever since 9/11 a considerable appeal from the non-Muslim majority in the West has been ‘where are the moderates? Where are the moderate voices who are willing not just to excuse or remain silent in the face of their religion’s extremists, but to actually stand up and say ‘these people are bringing our faith into disrepute, we recognise it, we hate it, and we are going to actually push them out of the faith.’ The unwillingness of more than a tiny number of Muslims to actually stand up and speak out as well as push out the extremists is very noticeable to non-Muslims. Indeed, I would suggest that it is one of the largest contributing factors to the hardening of attitudes across Europe towards Islam in general (see here for some interesting polling on this).

So when the story of Birmingham schools emerged – with stories of the most appalling racism against white people and disgusting bigotry against Christians, gay people and others – it should have provided a fine opportunity for what is generally termed the ‘moderate majority’ to make their voices heard. Granted, the ‘Trojan Horse’ story started strangely and plenty of us were uncomfortable about writing or speaking about it until we knew what the facts were behind the allegations in the original document. But, once the press and then the official investigations got underway, it became clear that, whatever the origin of the document, what it alleged was true. It has now been repeatedly found to be true.

Yet the response of Muslim communities has not been to accept this and to do something about tackling it. Far from it. The official responses have almost to a man and woman been denial, evasion and a fall-back onto claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.

July 22, 2014

23% of US children live in poverty … except that’s not actually true

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

In Forbes, Tim Worstall explains why the shocking headline rate of child poverty in the US is not correct (and that’s a good thing):

The annual Kids Count, from the Annie F. Casey Foundation, is out and many are reporting that it shows that 23% of American children are living in poverty. I’m afraid that this isn’t quite true and the mistaken assumption depends on one little intricate detail of how US poverty statistics are constructed. This isn’t a snarl at Kids Count, they report the numbers impartially, it’s the interpretation that some are putting on those numbers that is in error. For the reality is that, by the way that the US measures poverty, it does a pretty good job in alleviating child poverty. The real rate of children actually living in poverty, after all the aid they get to not live in poverty, is more like 2 or 3% of US children. Which is pretty good for government work.

[...]

However, this is not the same thing as stating that 23% of US children are living in poverty. For there’s a twist in the way that US poverty statistics are compiled.

Everyone else measures poverty as being below 60% of median equivalised household disposable income. This is a measure of relative poverty, how much less do you have than the average? The US uses a different measure, based upon historical accident really, which is a measure of absolute poverty. How may people have less than $x to live upon? There’s also a second difference. Everyone else measures poverty after the influence of the tax and the benefits system upon those incomes. The US measures only cash income (both market income and also cash from the government). It does not measure the influence of benefits that people receive in kind (ie, in goods or services) nor through the tax system. And the problem with this is that the major poverty alleviation schemes in the US are, in rough order, Medicaid, the EITC, SNAP (or food stamps) and then Section 8 housing vouchers. Three of which are goods or services in kind and the fourth comes through the tax system.

July 21, 2014

The retreat of civil society and the advance of the nanny state

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:27

In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders why so many parents are being arrested these days for letting their children do things that used to be utterly normal:

Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.

Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”

Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:

    Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.

[...]

But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.

Update: Scott Greenfield on the whole “see something, say something (to the authorities)” situation with parents and children.

[...] the most fundamental cause for some people to feel empowered to rat out a parent [is] because they just aren’t managing their children the way I think they should!!!

Everything that fails to comport with the way the most sensitive soul in the neighborhood feels it should must now be a crime. Do it for the children. Do it for the women. Do it for … just do it.

Parents always question other parents’ parenting skills and choices. We naturally believe with all our heart and soul that whatever choices we made were better than theirs, whoever they may be. This is human nature, given our own belief that we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. Conversely, everyone who agrees is brilliant, confirming that we, too, are both right and brilliant. These thoughts are nothing new.

But the problem in Douthat’s parade of bad parenting isn’t merely some prissy busybody’s decision that some parent has inadequately bubble-wrapped their kid. The problem is that they conflate their parenting choices with righteousness, such that anyone who doesn’t share their sensibilities has committed a crime. It’s a crime to neglect your child, with neglect defined as doing anything less than providing absolute safety and comfort to children as the most delicate flower perceives it.

[...]

Years ago, there was a saying in the parent’s handbook, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Today, that’s Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree. This isn’t to suggest that beating kids is a great method of child rearing, but to remind all the self-righteous that their beloved nanny used to beat their mother to a pulp when she misbehaved. Are you ready to lock granny up? If not, what moral authority do you have to call the cops on someone else, whose crime is not meeting your expectations of safe enough?

The criminal law is not a child-rearing tool. If you spent a few seconds thinking beyond your overly passionate feelings, you might consider whether a child would do better to be reared by a loving parent who isn’t inclined to keep them locked in protective custody throughout the formative years, than as a ward of the state. How does turning a parent into a criminal, losing a job, perhaps even a home, make a child’s life better?

July 13, 2014

QotD: Teaching children how to read

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

This is Cargo Cult stuff. They did the same thing with their new innovations in Whole Word learning (reading a word at a glance), when they got rid of Phonics (sounding a word out, letter by letter), and doomed a generation to being bad readers.

Here’s the Cargo Cult part:

Professional Highly-Educated Education Researchers noted that high-level early readers were usually just identifying words at a glance — reading in a “whole word” way. While kids using Phonics read more slowly. Phonics kids were slower readers and struggled with it more.

So hey — let’s stop teaching kids this slow method of reading called Phonics and just teach them “Whole Word” reading!!! Win, win, win!!! It’s easier for the students, and even easier for the teachers, as they don’t have to teach the step-by-step Phonics method of reading. They can just say the word “horse” is horse and keep saying it until these stupid kids start learning that “horse” means horse.

Here’s the problem: This is Cargo Cult mneliaty. Yes, the high-lanrneig, early-raednig kids are in fact using the Wlohe Wrod raenidg mhoted, just as you, reading that gibberish I just wrote, employed Whole Word reading — looking at the first and last letters of the word and using context and years and years of experience in how the written language works, and what words are expected to come in which place in a sentence to read, fairly easily, a bunch of misspelled words as the words I intended.

But the high-learning, early-reading kids are only doing that because they started reading earlier than the other kids. All kids — including the early readers — go through the Phonics phase. [...]

Now, having gone through the Phonics phase at age 3 or 4, by age five I was reading quite a bit, especially Peanuts (I had whole books, decades’ worth of Peanuts cartoons). And I had moved from “mostly Phonics” to “mostly Whole Word reading,” at least as far as common words. The unfamiliar words I still had to sound out, Phonics-style.

So sure — the accomplished 6-year-old readers are indeed mostly using whole word, at least for common words. Spoiler alert: That’s because they already went through the Phonics phase at age 4 or 5.

The Cargo Cult mistake of these “Educators” is to think that Whole Word reading is a shortcut to teaching reading. No — Whole Word reading is the endpoint of learning to read. First you read letter by letter, then syllable by syllable (as you have begun to compile, in your Reading Memory, a large list of common syllables). Then you start just reading Whole Word.

You have to go through the letter-by-letter process to get to the Whole Word level. [...]

By denying kids their first step in reading — teaching them to read letter-by-letter — educators have not advanced Whole Word reading. They’ve retarded it. You can’t do whole word until you’re an ace at letter by letter.

They’re making the same mistake here with this jackass method of teaching math. The method they’re teaching is what I’d term a secondary insight. [...]

But once again the “Experts” are demonstrating their Cargo Cult mentality when it comes to pedagogy. Because kids will start intuiting these things after they’ve mastered the rote-memorization and drilling routine of arithmetic and the times tables, hey, let’s just cut out the middleman and teach the Advanced Secondary Insights explicitly! And skip all that tedious rote-memorization and drilling!

Ace, “Common Core is Pretty Dumb”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-01-21

July 10, 2014

Sometimes, “a phase” really is just a phase

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:21

Lindsay Leigh Bentley contrasts her own “tomboy” childhood with that of Ryland, who was born female but whose parents have transitioned her (at age 5):

I have no degree in early childhood development, nor have I studied psychology. I didn’t even graduate from College.

I am also not here to pass judgement on Ryland’s parents. I believe that they are doing what they believe to be the most loving thing for their child. I’m simply sharing my story because I see so much of my 5-year-old self in this child.

I was born the second daughter to two loving, amazing, supportive parents. They would go on to have 2 more daughters. The four of us couldn’t be more different, even down to our hair and eye color. Our parents embraced our differences and allowed us to grow as individuals, not concerned with the social “norms” for girls. I often joke that I was the boy my dad never had. My dad is a free spirit, 100% unconcerned with what people think of him, and he thought nothing of “out of the box” behavior. I function more as a firstborn than a second born (however, this does not make me the firstborn, amiright?)

[...]

I wanted to be a boy. Desperately wanted to be a boy. I thought boys had more fun. I felt like a boy in the way that our society views genders. I liked blue and green more than pink and purple. I remember sitting up as high as I could climb in our huge mulberry tree, bow & arrow in hand, trying to kiss my elbow (a neighbor lady had told me that if I could accomplish this, that I would turn into a boy, which was what I wanted in that moment, as a child, more than anything.)

Thankfully, my parents didn’t adhere to the archaic stereotypes that “boys like blue” and “girls like pink;” that “boys play with dinosaurs, and girls play with dolls.” Had they told me that liking these things made me a boy, I would have concluded that I was a boy.

They just let me be me. They let me be a girl who wore jeans more often than skirts. They let me play with slingshots rather than princess wands. They didn’t conclude that I was gay, or transgender. They didn’t put me in a box that would shape my future, at the expense of my own free will.

July 9, 2014

Britain’s latest moral panic enters the “proposing bad law” stage

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:40

Iain Martin says it’s now gotten to the point “where it is permissible to mention George Orwell and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four“:

Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, said earlier: “If someone consciously knows that there is a crime committed against a child, and does nothing about it because they put the reputation of the organisation above the safety of that child, that should be a criminal offence.”

“Consciously knows.” There’s an interesting phrase. It seems that the NSPCC sees this sanction applying only to people in positions of responsibility. But how can that be defined fairly in law? Will the new law only apply to the chief executive of a health trust, but not to the finance director or to the head of communications? It would be impossible to define such a law so narrowly. In time it would have to apply to anyone working in any organisation. And, surely it must also apply to anyone who comes into contact with said organisation and who might have heard that a crime has been committed? People often think they “consciously know” something when they have actually only heard it third-hand. If the idea is established that failure to pass on a wild rumour to the police is somehow illegal, it is not difficult to imagine what could go wrong.

[...]

If it is to become a crime to fail to report suspicions that child abuse is taking place, why should the new law not to be extended in time to all other areas of criminal activity? It could become illegal to fail to report to the police if you suspected that a fellow citizen had committed a crime, or might be about to. As someone wise on Twitter put it earlier: the historical precedents of states making it compulsory for citizens to report on their fellow citizens are not encouraging.

July 8, 2014

Understatement of the day – “Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:42

In the Telegraph, Iain Martin tries to put this summer’s British media hysteria/witch hunt into a bit of perspective:

Anyone who expresses astonishment about the wave of recent revelations and allegations centred on the conduct of assorted entertainers and celebrities from the Seventies must have been lacking access to a television set, if they are genuinely shocked. In that decade, and on into the Eighties, even the most successful and least funny comedy programme rested mainly on one joke, which involved a man in a raincoat chasing around bikini-clad young women. Back then the work of Benny Hill was regarded as family entertainment, and groping, sexual incontinence and jokes about the corruption of innocence were the staples of countless other comedians. It would be surprising – really, wouldn’t it? – if a minority of twisted, power-crazed people working in “entertainment” intent on sexual abuse hadn’t exploited the opportunity to do terrible harm.

Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place. The sexual revolution (largely an elite project of the Sixties, which did not go mainstream until later) had produced a bizarre popular culture hybrid. In the Seventies, the British saucy postcard tradition, always darker than it looked, featuring cheeky innuendo, collided with a crazed mood of supposed sexual liberation. The message pushed out in some sitcoms and other forms of popular entertainment was that everyone was permanently at “it” and that any woman resisting “it” was a prude or a relic of a bygone era. Questions of license, consent and desirability became hopelessly confused. This was the dark flip side of the numerous benefits which came with the abandonment of the old, stifling constraints imposed on both sexes.

To make matters even more hazardous, Britain in the Seventies was a country wobbling on the verge of a transition. The population’s over-reliance on deference and a blind faith in the virtues of authority had already been tested in the Suez disaster and in the Profumo scandal of 1963, although it had not collapsed entirely. Parents still operated on the assumption that fellow adults in positions of power were likely to be trustworthy, and the majority were. But thanks to scandals revealed since involving schools, churches, children’s homes, the BBC, the Scouts and so on, we know that some individuals and networks of paedophiles exploited that trust, again to do terrible harm.

The hound pack of the media is in full cry, and that urge to convict before trial is overwhelming common sense and propriety.

But increasingly we seem less interested in due process – as a protection against miscarriage of justice or to prevent a bad precedent being established – than we do in the excitement of the moment and urgent demands for a government “inquiry” which must usually be “over-arching”. These inquiries are now an industry in themselves, although curiously the one area that probably deserved it (the banking collapse presided over by the political class which triggered the worst downturn in 80 years) was not given a proper inquiry. Funny that.

On Westminster child abuse, the risk was identified by Claire Fox speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme earlier. She said that rumour is already becoming confused with evidence. All manner of claims are now being aired and reported as though they are fact. “Twenty members of the Establishment,” “ministers” and unnamed “leading figures” are accused of dark and sinister deeds. Alongside those making genuine allegations, anyone with a claim will get on air at the moment, any crank or fantasist who wants to attract attention or settle scores will cry that they are being ignored or suppressed if the broadcasters will not give them a platform immediately. It would be a brave BBC producer who would decline right now.

July 5, 2014

Did Rolf Harris face a kangaroo court?

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

I didn’t follow this particular case (or any of the recent British witch-hunting expeditions against former celebrities), but this post makes it seem as if at least some of the charges Harris was convicted of were remarkably flimsy:

Rolf Harris has been convicted and for many that is conclusive proof of his guilt. However, we should not forget that the British justice system is not perfect, it can make errors, as these high profile miscarriages of justice show.

I do not know if Rolf Harris committed the crimes he was accused of. However, I find the fact that he was convicted, based on the evidence reported by the BBC, alarming.

Let me explain why:

    COUNT ONE – VERDICT: GUILTY

    “The woman said she was aged seven or eight when she queued to get an autograph from Harris at a community centre in Hampshire in 1968 or 1969. When she reached the front of the queue, Harris had touched her inappropriately with his “big hairy hands”, she told the jury.

    The court heard that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre. He also showed his hands to the jury and denied they were hairy.”

When they say that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre, they don’t mean a cursory glance turned nothing up. They searched local newspaper archives between January 1967 and May 1974, council records and even conducted letter drops appealing for witnesses. Nothing, not a single piece of independent evidence that he was ever there!

It is hard to see how the uncorroborated recollection of an event alleged to have happened 45 years ago, when the witness was eight, can constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt.

On another count of which Harris has been found guilty by the court:

So the accuser couldn’t remember when it happened (or how old she was), she couldn’t remember where it happened and yet the jury found her 36 year old memory of the indecent assault to be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt!

When we talk about the indecent assault we are not talking about something so traumatic, like rape, that it would understandably be burned into her memory. We are talking about a 17 year old having her bottom touched in the 1970′s, a time where bottom pinching was considered mainstream enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat.

Again, nobody who wasn’t there can be sure what Rolf Harris did or didn’t do in this case, but I know that there is an £11m incentive for people to make up accusations and without any corroborating evidence there has to be a reasonable doubt in favour of the accused.

I have no idea whether Harris is actually guilty of the accusations, but I’m astonished a court could convict based on such flimsy evidence. Clearly, at least in high profile media-related cases, the presumption of innocence has been replaced by a presumption of guilt.

July 3, 2014

QotD: The death of nuance

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

… American liberalism culture is now synonymous with a juvenile Manicheanism that imagines some perfect world we could achieve if people just weren’t so selfish and evil; that getting showily, publicly angry about problems is more popular than actually attempting to solve them; that there is no issue of such emotional and moral complexity that many people can’t reduce it to a black-and-white caricature; and that we have created a media which has made its financial best interest inextricable from destroying depth, nuance, and complexity. I genuinely don’t know if people believe in difficult choices and intractable problems anymore; they’ve been bludgeoned by the loud noises and shouting we mistake for discussion into thinking that all problems have clear villains and easy answers. I do know that this is no way to run a democracy. And I also know that, years from now, when people like Vogell are no longer wasting a second of their time thinking about physical restraint of children who are a danger to themselves and others, the women in my program will be working, quietly and selflessly and for awful compensation, trying to help the children they are now accused of abusing.

Fredrik deBoer, “difficult problems after the death of nuance”, Fredrik deBoer, 2014-07-01.

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