I was struck by a particular contrast between two opinion columns that appeared in today’s Guardian. Both made reference to crimes in which many children were killed.
The first column I would like to look at, written by Zoe Williams, refers to the crime described here. Mick Philpott had lived in a ménage à trois with his wife, Mairead, his mistress Lisa Willis and the eleven children the two women had bore him. When Lisa Willis walked out on this arrangement, taking her five children – and their welfare benefits – with her, the Philpotts and another man set a fire at the Philpott house with the aim of framing Ms Willis for it, which would help him regain custody of their children and the income stream that came with them, and also so that Philpott could be seen to rescue the other six children who still lived in that house. It would also aid him in his custody battle to be hailed a hero. As it turned out, he could not rescue them. All six died in the fire. The three conspirators have been jailed for multiple manslaughter, with Mick Philpott receiving the longest sentence as the dominant figure in the group.
The Daily Mail published an article headed “Vile product of Welfare UK: Man who bred 17 babies by five women to milk benefits system is guilty of killing six of them.”
Zoe Williams of the Guardian was deeply angered by this. Her Guardian column has the title “Don’t get mad about the Mail’s use of the Philpotts to tarnish the poor – get even.” Ms Williams writes,
It is vitriolic, illogical depersonalisation to ascribe the grotesqueness of one wild, unique crime to tens of thousands of people on benefits. When any section of society is demonised on irrational grounds we have to take that seriously, so I will complain to the Press Complaints Commission, and I hope you will too.
The readers’ comments share Ms Goodman’s outrage, as does a similar comment piece about the same crime by Graeme Cooke which says,
There’s nothing wrong with moral principles in welfare policy but making political capital from an appalling crime is offensive.
The second, contrasting Guardian column, by Amy Goodman, referred to the gun massacre of twenty children and six adults carried out by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. That crime and its legal and moral implications were discussed at length in this blog at the time it occurred.
Amy Goodman’s column has the title “It’s time for the majority to move on gun control” and includes the words:
The moment to pass gun control was when the national attention was riveted on the massacre at Sandy Hook, the brutal slaying of 20 children and six adults. Before the broken bodies of those victims fade from memory, our broken body politic must be mended. What is needed is a vigorous grassroots movement, to provide the leadership so lacking in Washington DC.
I do not wish to simply jeer at the inconsistency of the reaction of the Guardian’s writers and readers. They could quite fairly throw the same jibe back at us – I assume that most readers of this blog oppose gun control and objected to the demonisation of American gun owners because of one grotesque crime on much the same grounds as Ms Williams objects to the demonisation of British welfare claimants for one grotesque crime. I post this to ask, not answer, the question, when is it offensive and when is it a moral necessity to make political capital over the bodies of dead children?
The film maker and Labour nobleman, David Puttnam, has written this article: Press regulation: the royal charter deal is a move towards a better democracy. He says,
I believe there is a need to totally re-evaluate the way we look at the relationship between the media and democracy. Over the past decade or so, a great deal of thinking has developed around the notion of “a duty of care” – as it relates to a number of aspects of civil society. This has principally focused on obvious areas, such as our empathetic response to the elderly and infirm, to children and young people, to our service personnel. It has seldom, if ever, extended to equally important arguments around the fragility of democracy itself: to the notion that honesty, accuracy and impartiality are fundamental to the process of building and embedding informed, participatory societies. I believe our developing concept of a duty of care should be extended to “a care” for our shared but fragile democratic values.
If “duty of care” really were nothing but a “notion”, this would still be mildly sinister. But “duty of care” is not just a notion, it is a legal notion. He wants to make it possible to sue a writer for threatening democratic values. Specifically, he wants to make it a tort.
Do you think that I exaggerate; that this proposed “duty” was no more than Puttnam advocating a moral course of action and perhaps using the legal phrase as a metaphor? Then read the next paragraph. In it, he makes it clear he is indeed thinking of legal penalties for failing to fulfil this “duty”:
After all, the absence of a duty of care within many professions can amount to accusations of negligence, and that being the case, are we really comfortable with the thought that we are being, in effect, negligent in regard to the long-term health of our own democracies, and the values that underpin them?
Baron David Puttnam is very comfortable with the thought that he and those like him will be able to suppress views that promote values he does not like.
UPDATE: A just comment from Laird:
It strikes me that Puttnam should be the first to be sued under his proposed law. After all, the ability to offer and discuss unpopular and controversial ideas is the epitome of “democratic values”. His proposal is clearly negligent, even threatening, toward those values, and is itself grossly negligent toward the long-term health of the democracy he purports to champion. That way lies fascism.
Bernard Levin wrote this about a deceased leader much-lauded by progressives when certain domestic grievances became public after the icon’s death:
Tito’s widow has been claiming (unsuccessfully) her inheritance; he had got rid of her a few years before his death, no doubt to instal something more agreeable and up-to-date in her place, and they clearly parted very non-speaks indeed – so much so that she seems to have lived under conditions not far removed from house arrest ever since.
The marital relations of Tito do not concern me; what caused me to twitch an eyebrow when I read of the dispute over his property was the list of said property. It included cars, motorboats, horses, yachts, jewellery, paintings, a score of villas, orchards, a safari park and vineyards; and the value amounted to millions of pounds.
You see the point immediately, no doubt. What was this noble, selfless, upright, honourable, caring, moral, austere, heroic, truly socialist figure – the Stafford Cripps of the Balkans, the Keir Hardie of the non-aligned, the Nye Bevan of small nations – what was he doing with millions of pounds’ worth of luxury goods, disappointed widow or now disappointed widow?
Nor … is the corruption of power limited to one end of the political spectrum. It is true that supporters of left-wing regimes, and of left-wing insurgents against right-wing regimes, invariably claim that the defeated or beleaguered forces of the right are financially corrupt, and those making the claims proudly contrast their own side’s scrupulous purity in money matters, to such an extent that it sometimes seems as though Marxism is not an ideology but an antibiotic, with the miraculous property of cleansing the patient’s blood of avarice, dishonesty and a taste for grands crus and caviar.
But apart from the fact that it almost always turns out, even if only after some years, that the Marxist power-brokers were not in the least averse to sleeping off feather beds, dining off gold plate and exercising every variety of droit de seigneur, there is no evidence at all that a belief in communism, even if it is genuine rather than cynically professed, is in any way a guarantee of financial probity and moral uprightness.
As it happens, I knew that Tito was a crook as long ago as 1977, when on a state visit to France, he stopped at Michel Guérard’s place at Eugénie-les-Bains (to judge by that waistline, I bet he didn’t go for the cuisine minceur) and skedaddled without paying the bill.
I remember thinking at the time that Tito had been so accustomed to bilking restaurateurs and shopkeepers in his his own country without being challenged (because none, back home, would dare to challenge him) that he had altogether forgotten that elsewhere a bit of give is expected to accompany the take.
– Bernard Levin, from an article originally published in the Times on January 24th, 1986, and reprinted in his collection In These Times.
I have never heard that the late Commandante Hugo Chávez went so far as to put his troublesome ex under house arrest, but he has certainly had wife trouble. Marisabel Rodriguez, his second wife, claims that he made use of his official position to bully her. Not just wife trouble, woman trouble generally. Like Tito, Chávez was something of a Don Juan. His longest lasting paramour, Herma Marksman, told the Sunday Times in 2006 (subscription required to see full article) that he was a romantic lover but was “imposing a fascist dictatorship”. The similarities between Tito and the now presumably re-reincarnated reincarnation of Bolivar do not end there. Chavez seems to have done well for himself. I would prefer to have more than one source before endorsing the oft-quoted estimate of his personal fortune at a billion dollars made by Criminal Justice International Associates (CJIA), but An Argentinian journalist, Olga Wornat, can be heard here being interviewed by ABC News in 2007 and she does provide sources to suggest he liked the high life. Wornat wrote a book about several Latin American leaders called “Accursed Chronicles”, for which she interviewed Chávez himself and many of those close to him including cabinet members, his two ex-wives, his long time lover Herma Marksman mentioned above, his tailor and his psychiatrist. She says that he had collections of luxury watches and Italian suits, spent $65 million on a private Airbus (with a $500,000 bill to repaint the flag on the jet so it would look the way it did when he used to draw it in school) and that his family, despite the turbulent relations between him and them, were the “richest in Venezuela” and were the “royal family” of their home state. His daughter Rosines flashing wads of dollars on Instagram caused widespread irritation among less well-connected Venezuelans, who face severe restrictions when trying to obtain dollars.
Comnandante Chavez had the waistline to match Marshall Tito’s. Did he feel obliged to pay his restaurant bills? I did not find any specific claim that he did not, but it would be a brave restaurant owner who presented El Presidente with a bill when said Presidente had displayed such a penchant for expropriations, often done openly on his personal whim and in revenge for trivial thwarting of his desires; who, for example, seized the Hilton resort on Margarita Island in with the words,
“To hold the conference we had to ask for permission… and the owners tried to impose conditions on the revolutionary government. No way,” AFP quotes Chávez as saying. “So I said, ‘Let’s expropriate it.’ And now it’s been expropriated.”
Chávez is one up on Tito; Josip stole the meal, Hugo stole the whole building. In response, let it be noted, to the rightful owners having had the gall to expect that their permission was required before the revolutionary government could use their building.
So, when’s the reading of the will?
Healthy life expectancy is shorter in the UK than abroad
People in the UK enjoy fewer years of good health before they die than the citizens of most comparable European countries as well as Australia and Canada, a major report shows.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said Britain’s performance was “shocking” compared with that of other countries, and called for action to turn it around by local health commissioners, who are about to take up their new responsibilities.
The UK ranked 12th out of 19 countries of similar affluence in 2010 in terms of healthy life expectancy at birth, according to a detailed analysis from the Global Burden of Disease data collected by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle.
Despite big increases in funding for the NHS in recent years and many reform initiatives, the UK was in exactly the same place as in the league table for 1990, according to the IHME report, published in the Lancet medical journal.
Emphasis added. The report’s authors, and the Guardian article from which I quote, are at pains to say that
the problem is only in part to do with hospital care – much of it is about the way we live. Our diet, our drinking and continuing smoking habits all play a part
In other words, Britain’s relatively poor average life expectancy partly is to do with NHS hospital care, but they would rather not say so. As for the remainder of the problem that is not caused directly by the failings of the NHS, I wonder if the report’s authors have considered the possibility that the “despite” might be a “because”? Why do the British do worse than other nationalities of similar wealth when it comes to living an unhealthy lifestyle? It is no answer to just say “culture”; why is our culture as it is? Have we always been thus? We have a long tradition of getting drunk, I grant you, but my impression is that the British were not considered any fatter or any more drug-addled than comparable nations a few decades ago… before 1947, let us say for the purposes of discussion.
It is often said that one of the great blessings of the NHS is that it has lessened the fear of illness. The fact that they do not have additional worries about costs or insurance does come to those already worried about illness as a huge relief, and NHS-sceptics like me have to engage with that, sometimes in our own lives. So let us do so. I submit the hypothesis that a certain amount of fear of getting ill is salutary – both in the general sense of producing a beneficial effect and in the more specific, and original, sense of promoting health.
Naturally, I speak here of averages over a large population. Many illnesses cannot be avoided by human action; that is what insurance is for. When considering any one individual, I doubt that when making the many small bad decisions that have the cumulative effect of making him or her unhealthy, “hey, I don’t have to worry about paying for healthcare” often comes consciously to mind. But, like the proverbial mills of God, the mills of incentives grind slow but they grind exceeding small. In some countries those many small decisions take place under the shadow of “I might end up with a bill for this”. In Britain they do not. My hypothesis might go some way to explaining Britain’s anomalously poor average health. Something must explain it.
By the way, I shall take it as read that every human being has a perfect right to eat, drink, smoke and inject as he or she pleases. I shall also take it as read that the authors of the report and 95% of its readers wish to deny others that right. If the hypothesis above is correct, Britain has set up a system that, besides the inherent wrong of being based on coercion, removes one of the incentives for people to take care of their own health. How to solve that? More coercion, of course.
The typical member of the British ruling class of yesteryear was complacent, arrogant, and a hypocrite. However his public school had at least imbued him with one particular virtue, or, failing that, had imbued him with the desire to appear to have that one virtue, which does well enough for most purposes. He wanted to be seen as a good sport. A chap who played the game. A chap who would not shoot a sitting duck or a grouse out of season, and who would never hit anyone who by reason of sex, age, or any other cause, could not hit back.
We have dispensed with all that foolishness now.
It is contempt of court for a juror ever to describe the deliberations of the jury of which he or she was a member. Thus the members of the jury held up to public scorn (“…a fundamental deficit in understanding … in 30 years of criminal trials I have never come across this at this stage, never”) by Mr Justice Sweeney for asking stupid questions cannot defend themselves.
Not playing the game, sir, not playing the game at all.
Related: Sexual and financial privacy and the bully pulpit.
“More regulation” is the cry in every gagging throat, following the revelation that numerous cheap meat dishes in several supermarkets that were labelled as beef or lamb actually contained horsemeat.
Regulation caused the problem in the first place.
From today’s Times (subscriber only):
The Government knew last summer that a sudden ban on cheap British beef and lamb meant it was “inevitable” that unlawful meat would be imported from Europe.
Unintended consequences, again. It would make a horse laugh.
Jim Paice, the former Agriculture Minister, warned the committee last summer that unlawful meat would be imported from Europe as manufacturers sought cheap sources to make up for banned British supplies.
The warning came after the FSA [Food Standards Agency] suddenly told meat processors to halt the production of “desinewed” beef and lamb, which was used in tens of millions of ready meals, burgers and kebabs each year, after orders from European Commission inspectors.
The committee demanded in July last year that the Government set out its plans to prevent illegal imports, stating: “The Agriculture Minister’s evidence suggested that it was inevitable that wrongly labelled or unlawful meat products would be importing into the UK to replace UK produced desinewed meat.”
Emphasis added. Do not, however, expect this aspect to be emphasised in the Radio 4 Food Programme. I could be proved wrong; there is a podcast here which I am not in the mood to listen to, but so far the BBC’s coverage has been a relentless flow of, if you will forgive yet another revolting processed meat metaphor, pink slime.
Just as the incoveniently disprovable “global warming” gave way to irrefutable “climate change”, so “The Science” (TSIS) gives way to “The Physics” (TPIS). Climate activist Bill McKibben will demonstrate:
We’re talking about a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn’t care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less profitable.
Physics doesn’t understand that rapid action on climate change threatens the most lucrative business on Earth, the fossil fuel industry.
All you hoi polloi** with your so-called degrees in The Chemistry (TCIS), The Biology (TBIS), The Meteorology (TMIS), The Zoology (TZIS), The Geology (TGIS), The Climatology (TCIS), not to mention even those poor old bits of the The Science* (TSIS) that are so uncool that they have to have the word “Sciences” in their names (TPOBOTTS(TSIS)TASUTTHTHTWSITNIS), are just going to have to face facts. The Physics (TPIS) iz da maximum cool. You all want to be us. When times are tough for your cause, who ya gonna call? Who they gonna believe when they don’t believe you? The Physics (TPIS), that’s who.
Only slight problem is the physicists. Not that we have a superiority complex or anything, but we sometimes do get a leetle touchy when inferiors, sorry, less rigorous folk, start stretching our error bars. If I may recommend a strategy to non-physicists wishing to keep us on side, your best bet is continued abject flattery.
*Please note, “the The” is grammatically correct in this special case. I have discovered a marvellous proof but the footnote to this post is too small to contain it.
**And I can so say “you hoi polloi” if I want to. The Greek is not settled when you’re a physicist.
The Times (behind a paywall) reports:
In a bold stand for gun control, New York newspaper has had to take an unfortunate course of action to maintain its freedom to act without fear or favour. The Journal News, which prompted outrage by publishing the names and addresses of local gun owners, has hired armed guards to defend its offices from irate readers.
The Rockland County Times, the paper’s rival in the Hudson Valley, reported the news with a gleeful headline: “The Journal News is Armed and Dangerous.”
The move apparently followed mounting concern at the newspaper for the safety of its staff, who have borne the brunt of a backlash against the paper’s campaign to publish the addresses of gun owners in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown.
Records at Clarkstown Police Department seen by The Times show that Caryn McBride, the paper’s Rockland County editor, had made at least two complaints to police over the “large amount of negative correspondence” in recent days. “Today she received an email from an unknown subject who wrote that he wondered what McBride would get in her mail now,” wrote an officer, in a police report, adding that the missive was brief and did not contain any specific threats.
The officer went on to say that he had spoken to a private investigator named Richard Ayoob, whose company, “is doing private security on location at the Journal News as a result of the negative response … His employees are armed and will be on site during business hours through at least January 2, 2013.”
Emphasis added. Boldly and without fear, favour or concern for mixed metaphors, I sing of arms and the editor:
(To the tune of Brave Sir Robin Ran Away)
Brave Dame Caryn hired a gun
She bravely hired a gun, a gun
When danger reared its ugly head, she left her principles for dead
Yes, brave Dame Caryn turned about, and gallantly she chickened out
Bravely cringing at a tweet, she thought it best to pack some heat
Bravest of the brave, Dame Caryn!
You see, it doesn’t count as being armed so long as you are rich enough to hire someone else to hold the gun. Anyone can see that morally that is completely different to actually, you know, touching the thing yourself.
While the default response to reading any government document is and must forever be “Bah humbug”, I must admit that, when reading the latest from the DCLG this Christmas Eve*, I am tempted to let slip a surreptitious “God bless us, every one” or similar piece of Tiny Timmery.
Via Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, I learn that the thirty-seventh of 50 ways to save: Examples of sensible savings in local government suggested by Eric Pickles’ department is
Cease funding ‘sock puppets’ and ‘fake charities’: Many pressure groups – which do not deliver services or help the vulnerable – are now funded by state bodies. In turn, these nominally ‘independent’ groups lobby and call for more state regulation and more state funding. A 2009 survey found that £37 million a year was spent on taxpayer-funded lobbying and political campaigning across the public sector. Many of these causes may be worthy, but why should they be funded by taxpayers?
Endearingly, Mr Pickles or whoever wrote this has not got the usage of the term “sock puppet” quite right. I would have called what is being described “astroturf” myself, but even so the appearance of the term “sock puppet” in a government document is a great big blog-print in itself. Specifically the print left by the currently inactive but still influential trope-namer “Fake Charities” blog started by Chris Mounsey of Devil’s Kitchen fame.
Scanning back to sensible suggestion no. 31, it too shows the influence of blogs:
Scrap trade union posts: Get rid of unnecessary non-jobs such as taxpayer-funded, full-time trade union ‘pilgrim’ posts.
“Pilgrims” was a term coined by Guido to describe a full time union organiser paid from the public purse, named after one Jane Pilgrim, who posed as, and was admiringly reported as, a nurse giving the then Health Minister a piece of her mind before the revelation that she hadn’t been near a patient in years.
*As one does. It’s that or “Merlin must find a way to overcome his greatest challenge yet, yadda yadda, the young wizard finally comes face to face with his destiny.” The latest heartstopping ep of “Examples of sensible savings in local government” is probably more exciting and less politically correct.
Andrew Rawnsley asks, “was Andrew Mitchell stitched up?”
The police log, the leaking of which to the media fuelled the clamour for Mitchell to quit as chief whip, claimed that his swearing shocked “several members of the public”. Yet the CCTV footage appears to show there was no crowd watching at the gates of Downing Street: there was just one passerby at the time of the incident. While we still cannot be absolutely certain what transpired that night – there is no audio – the footage does not appear to suggest a serious altercation. The supposed independent eyewitness who came forward to corroborate the log’s version of events – a fatal development for Mitchell – is said to be a serving copper who was not at the scene.
Emphasis added. Because if this turns out to be true, it is a case of false testimony by a police officer.
There was a good comment to the above article from PolishMark:
A small incident, yes, but with serious ramifications. This is starting to look like a police conspiracy to remove an elected politician from Government. You don’t have to like the Government to be concerned by this.
There was also a good visual comment from Guido Fawkes.
I find it strange that this dreadful crime is so little known; I first read of it only within the last few years. Perhaps this is because Wikipedia and many other sources refer to it as the “Bath School Disaster“, as if it were a natural catastrophe, rather than what it was, a mass murder. Worse may have happened in the Indian Wars, or in the various other conflicts during the early history of the European presence in what is now the United States, but the premeditated murder of the children of Bath Consolidated School was the worst such killing in the US in time of peace.
From the Wikipedia article Bath School Disaster:
The Bath School disaster is the name given to three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, on May 18, 1927, which killed 38 elementary school children, two teachers, and four other adults; at least 58 people were injured. The perpetrator first killed his wife, and committed suicide with his last explosion. Most of the victims were children in the second to sixth grades (7–14 years of age) attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest mass murder in a school in United States history.
The bomber was the school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe, 55, who was angry after being defeated in the spring 1926 election for township clerk. He was thought to have planned his “murderous revenge” after that public defeat; he had a reputation for difficulty on the school board and in personal dealings. For much of the next year, a neighbor noticed Kehoe had stopped working on his farm and thought he might be planning suicide. During that period, Kehoe carried out steps in his plan to destroy the school and his farm by purchasing and hiding explosives.
Kehoe’s wife was ill with tuberculosis and he had stopped making mortgage payments; he was under pressure for foreclosure. Some time between May 16 and the morning of May 18, 1927, Kehoe murdered his wife by hitting her on the head. On the morning of May 18 about 8:45, he exploded incendiary devices in his house and farm buildings, setting them on fire and destroying them.
Almost simultaneously, an explosion devastated the north wing of the school building, killing many schoolchildren. Kehoe had used a timed detonator to ignite dynamite and hundreds of pounds of incendiary pyrotol, which he had secretly planted inside the school over the course of many months. As rescuers gathered at the school, Kehoe drove up, stopped, and used a rifle to detonate dynamite inside his shrapnel-filled truck, killing himself, the school superintendent, and several others nearby, as well as injuring more bystanders. During rescue efforts at the school, searchers discovered an additional 500 pounds (230 kg) of unexploded dynamite and pyrotol planted throughout the basement of the south wing. Kehoe had apparently intended to blow up and destroy the entire school.
In the aftermath of the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newton, there have been widespread calls for gun control. It is worth noting that two of the most deadly massacres of children in the US, the Bath School massacre and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, among the 168 victims of which were nineteen children under the age of six, were carried out with explosives.
Gérard Depardieu says he will give up French passport over tax rises, reports the Guardian:
Gérard Depardieu has said he is handing back his French passport and social security card, lambasting the French government for punishing “success, creation, talent” in his homeland.
A popular and colourful figure in France, the 63-year-old actor is the latest wealthy Frenchman to seek shelter outside his native country by buying a house just over the border in Belgium in response to tax increases by the Socialist president, François Hollande.
The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, described Depardieu’s behaviour as pathetic and unpatriotic at a time when the French are being asked to pay higher taxes to reduce a bloated national debt.
“Pathetic, you said pathetic? How pathetic is that?” Depardieu said in a letter to the weekly newspaper le Journal du Dimanche.
“I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned,” he said.
The full text of his open letter is given in the Le Journal du Dimanche (Le JDD). M Depardieu finished with a fine flourish:
“Therefore I ask, who are you to judge me, Mr Ayrault, prime minister of Mr Hollande, I ask, who are you? Despite my excesses, my appetite and my love of life, I remain a free being, and I will remain polite.”