Jul 262013

Paul reports today on how his post on porn got blocked for using too many sensitive terms.  It reminds me of one time I was giving Spanish evening classes to adults in our local school, and I attempted to access my Spanish Blogger-based blog.  The crudest of filters threw me summarily out as it argued, by virtue of its being a blog, that what I was trying to see was adult-related material.

As if in a civilisation of the universally educated adult-related material should mean what it unhappily does.

I’m pretty sure, right now, that this blogsite you are reading at the moment is now coming under the control of more and more automated filters out there.  If for no other reason than this post from earlier in the year, where I argue that governments should invest in the training-up of willing sex workers in the skills of CGI porn:

A suggestion then.  Not just a rant.  Maybe it’s time for a new kind of content.  Given that the instinct for sex is about as old as Adam and Eve’s adult teeth, has anyone considered CGI porn as a wider solution to sexual exploitation – and its corresponding abuse of power – which so many people currently find themselves affected by?

How would this work?  Groups of existing sex workers could form officially-sanctioned cooperatives with the right to apply for government-funded training courses.  These courses would serve to train them up in computer-generated film-making.  There would, of course, be strict control over the content – a kind of Hays Code for our time.  Just because the content was computer-generated wouldn’t give the creators the right to reproduce and duplicate in the virtual world the kind of abusive relationships we were aiming to eliminate in real life.

In such a way, the whole balance of power would be altered.  Sex workers could find a gainful living as unexploited, and unexploiting, generators of porn; porn users would be safely educated away from the violent stuff through a plentiful, cheap and consistently benign exposure to non-violent (perhaps even government-subsidised) narrative; and, most importantly, the Internet could then be properly policed as per the canons of the code in question.

A quaint idea; a curate’s egg of an idea admittedly.  But surely, at the very least, an idea which deserves to generate others.

I did, of course, go on to point out the following (the bold is mine today):

Obviously, there would still be significant and unresolved issues: people would almost certainly, for example, not find it easy to agree even on a definition of non-violent porn.  But nothing was ever solved by an overbearing awareness of the challenges.

Which brings me to my main point this evening, and the reason why I feel strongly enough to nail my flag to the mast of unpopular observations.  You cannot reasonably block anything if you don’t know – if you cannot agree on – what you are blocking.  Porn is like the word “love”.  Who knows what we mean when we use it?  For someone like my mother, it’s anything ever-so-mildly salacious.  For me, it’s simply the recording and/or transmission of non-personal sexual acts where power has been used to abuse some or all of the participants.  As I’ve said on numerous occasions, if we’re against the abuse of sex, we should be against the abuse of power.  The one and the other should coincide in our civilisation, and fiercely coincide too.  That populist politicians choose to criticise and damn the former even as they continue to exhibit behaviours plagued by the latter is simply one more example of the hypocrisy that infuses public debate these days.

To be honest, given that the term “porn” is one of shifting goalposts, of shifting points of view, it’s clear that anyone of a medium intellect who honestly and sincerely believes in its automatic filtering is prepared, just as honestly and sincerely, to give up on civilisation’s greatest quality: that of allowing without a pre-moderation the expression and development of surprising and unpredictable trains of thought.  Without the brilliant men and women who were prepared to ask questions before knowing their destination, we would not know be in a position where we feel we had to censor a communication environment such as the worldwide web in the first place.

Porn, its prevalence, its cost to society, only exists because of beautiful minds across the globe.  And if we now choose to protect our children and our peoples from the nastiness of violent porn through automated systems which landgrab anything and everything in their path, in a sense we are doing nothing more than those who used to catch fish with nets that also trapped dolphins.

If you don’t believe in gratuitous dolphin fishery, why then do you believe in gratuitous content fishery?

If you don’t believe in stopping developing minds from toying with ideas, why then do you believe in cutting off access to a blogsite simply because it uses some terminology in order to talk about a subject you deplore?

And if you don’t believe in allowing Middle Eastern dictatorships to continue imposing their definition of appropriate speech on their citizens, to the extent you are even prepared to spend trillions of dollars on going to war against them, why can’t you contemplate chasing down the pornography you despise on a piece-by-piece basis instead of dishing the dirt on a whole society’s thoughts and ideas?

I really do feel, have never felt more strongly than now, that it’s time to campaign in favour of speech porn.  Anything, everything, all political, social and cultural DNA – however unpleasant.  For if we do not draw this marker in the sand right now, so many outlets like my humble little blogsite, lightly peppered with articles about the subject of porn, will soon become other casualties of those who care little for true free speech: governments which lie; ministers who abuse their power; policemen and women who sully the good name of their profession; journalists who hack for a living; business leaders interested only in bottom lines … in general, all those strata of society which maintain their ability to oppress in the name of what they like to describe as efficient working-practices in bloody awful general and damn good biz in bloody awful particular.

I mean it really is so, isn’t it?  That five years ago, in a school of all places, I was unable to use blogging technologies because they were judged to be adult-related content is a sad commentary on exactly what latterday society understands is the definition of an adult.  And that an “adult movie” should equal the abuse of sex for so many people, and not (for example) its enjoyment, is pretty symptomatic of the whole problem to hand.

Here, then, a final wearisome thought to consider: whilst our childhood is stolen from us even as paedophilia embraces our country’s political and media discourses, and whilst our adulthood becomes defined by an inability to think freely and openly without fear of state interference, little of what I was taught to understand by civilisation remains in the space that I might see to be all our futures.  We can neither be children in safety any more nor adults in growing and developing intellectual abandon.

Instead, we can only – must only – limit ourselves to being cowed young school kids, cowed young adolescents, frightened of every blue car on the corner, frightened of every stranger; able only to prepare ourselves for a world of repetitive office drudgery, growing up into an epoch of adult poverty … everything, in fact, except the glory of humanity itself.

So this is the alternative campaign I propose we should propose: a massive campaign, across the world, for everyone to opt out not of the so-called porn filter but rather – in reality – to opt in to the free-speech zone.

Just imagine.  If millions of people publicly declared their active embracing of a filter-free Internet in the interests of free expression, how powerful a signal that would send to the populists that porn – especially speech porn – is anything but violent.

In particular, a signal to those populists who spend the rest of their lives, outside this matter of porn, exerting undue pressure on the sick, disabled, poor and generally disadvantaged.

For that’s the real porn plaguing our society these days.  The porn that is the abuse of political power.

May 102013

This report from the Independent today shows us just how far we have come.  Whilst Tory Euro-sceptics continue to plot final disavowal of that evil anti-British entity that we all know and love as the European Union, we get these choice phrases on the corruption Britain is finally now exhibiting all on its lonesome:

Yet recent British scandals can compete with the best Europe can offer. Besides MPs fiddling their expenses and Jimmy Savile’s history of paedophilia, racing has been hit by Frankie Dettori’s six-month drugs ban, we’ve seen London-based banks Barclays and UBS embarrassed by the Libor rate-fixing scandal, and BAE Systems has been investigated over its arms deals.

And yet it gets worse, as goalposts are continuously moved:

[…] “There is no real accountability of these guys coming in—the cops don’t really investigate them,” says Mark Hollingsworth, co-author of Londongrad, a 2009 book about the Russian invasion. “They see the capital as the most secure, fairest, most honest place to park their cash, and the judges here would never extradite them.”

Meanwhile, with respect to the paedophilia scandals, the desire of power to overwhelm through the abuse of sex just gets worse (more here):

A prominent barrister specialising in reproductive rights has called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13.

Barbara Hewson told online magazine Spiked that the move was necessary in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to end the “persecution of old men”.

Now in a short Twitter exchange this morning it was brought to my attention that the problem isn’t immorality.  In fact, the problem may not even be corruption as such.  Rather, so much of what we do in both large and small corporate organisations is done with a transcendental amorality.  We are circumscribed by process and procedure – and we assume the bigger view is not ours to own.  We assume that those who set up process and procedure knew what they were doing when they trained us.

Yet this very amorality, this unquestioning behaviour, this inability to think from scratch and try and perceive – on a rolling basis – a broader set of consequences from our acts, leads to outcomes which are anything but amoral.  We ourselves are not immoral – most of us are truly not corrupt – but the accumulation of all our individual tasks does seem to lead more and more to utterly unjust outcomes.

Is it then a systemic question as the Independent reports it might be?  Or is it a question of people-culture?  After all, you can have any number of protective processes and procedures in place but if the people who are supposed to operate them are of a mind to, any and all may quite easily – and eventually – be circumvented.

The battlecry for the anti-Europeans is that Europe is a dirty patchwork of vile and corrupt marshes we need to retreat from.  And yet recent attempts to drag us out of such fields only makes me wonder if the true powers-that-be are looking more to defend their own rights to perpetuate a very British corruption from international law and wider socially-inspired movements than to revert what was apparently once an honest public life to a semblance of modest functionality.

Corrupt or “just” amoral?  Does it really matter in the final analysis?  The evidence of the impact of widespread corruption – that is to say, inefficient and ineffective socioeconomic systems – is all around us.  You don’t need to drill down into that individual or the other to know that the inefficiency and ineffectiveness I mention must be inspired by something seriously wrong.

Solutions?  Lord, I really don’t know.  I really don’t know where to start.  But perhaps we should take a lesson from the best corporate organisations: when you struggle to know the true extent of the bigger picture, start with bitesized pieces.  And maybe, just maybe, attempt to comprehend that just as those poor workers were trapped and died in the rubble of a Bangladeshi building, so too many people here in the West – whilst not losing their lives – are wasting their existences in systems which also, in a way, serve to entrap them.

Just because you act in an amoral fashion doesn’t make you immoral.  Even as, perhaps, the results of your actions are.

There’s a lesson to be drawn there, then, about how we see, consult and work with others.

Maybe it’s time we thought the best of our fellow workers.  And acted in consequence.

Mar 122013

I don’t know much more than the bare bones of this particular story.  The BBC reports it rather sketchily at the moment as breaking news; even the My San Antonio website doesn’t make it all that clear whether criminal proceedings are attached to the $10 million payout by the LA archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, designed it would seem to settle four cases of child sex abuse.  There is talk of further punitive claims against the Church, mind – but I don’t think I fully understand what this means either.  Of course, $10 million can never serve to repair the abused childhood of any poor young person, but – at least in an English context – $10 million would I think be considered pretty punitive already.

I do – out of ignorance – wonder what’s happening here, though.  Is the Church really not of this world?  Are criminal laws not applicable for those who move in the grace-filled circles of godliness?  We hear, as over time the details seep out, of reports having been sent to the Vatican time and time again.  Someone with more money than sense then pulls out their temporal wallet and finds the means to settle what can surely never be settled.  Confession is supposed to be good for the soul, but it would appear that the Church has a very cardinal side too – and the response to these very cardinal sins is not unlike, say, Mr Murdoch’s in the face of phone-hacking scandals various.

That is to say, get out the chequebook.

By now, you must be thinking me very naive.  “Why not?” you may ask.  “If the aggrieved are happy to achieve closure through a wad of promissory notes, who should be reserving for themselves the right to intervene?”  Well, I may be naive, but I’m bloody well not stupid.

I was watching a TV interview last night with an Italian priest – a fairly young Italian priest.  He was sat on a terrace outside a bar, a cup of coffee to hand I think; a brain as sharp as anyone’s might be.  During the interview he cared to remind us of the example of St Francis of Assisi.  No airs and graces there – though plenty of a very different kind of grace.

He asked, almost pleaded, for a different kind of Church: a Church of the lay people; a Church for the real people.

A Church, essentially, which was of this world.

If the Church is to lead its faithful out of the mire in which a wider society finds itself, both politically and economically, both democratically and socially, then it needs to understand this world.  And it can only understand this world by understanding how to engage with its miseries.  To distance itself, to separate itself, to see the hand and works of the Devil in everything bad that its representatives carry out, is to repudiate all sense of personal responsibility and liability: to excise, in fact, from the people who form the Church all possibility of a true redemption.  You cannot be redeemed unless you want to be; unless you express true sadness at what you did, even as you shouldn’t have done.  But to go down the path of saying the Church is capable of no evil – and where it is, it is the acts of extraneous forces or weak men or sheer greed – is to argue that the structures of the Church have no impact on how its flock, clergy and faithful end up behaving.

This is what they said at the start of the Germany that became the seedbed of Nazism.  Structures do matter – terribly too.  The environments we construct – or perpetuate from generation to generation – affect the behaviours we exhibit.

I’m not versed in the Bible; am not versed in the religion I was born to.  But I do feel that if God existed … well, He would not choose structures for His work on earth which distanced that work from the earth He was looking to save.

In any case, it seems clear enough, with the examples I have linked to above, that such distancing from the grassroots has served no purpose whatsoever: to an outsider looking in, it would seem that there is now very little difference between a) those who, from the depths of Wapping, formerly ran the blessed News of the World; and b) those who, from the depths of the Vatican, currently evangelise the blessed Word of God.

Both, in a nasty and very ultimate place, understand the power of money to make problems go away.

Mar 022013

This, from Iceland, on their campaign against online porn, is absolutely spot-on (the bold is mine):

Jónasson’s adviser Halla Gunnarsdóttir told the Guardian this week that the country is “not anti-sex, but anti-violence”, and that “what is under discussion is the welfare of our children and their rights to grow and develop in a non-violent environment”.

As I pointed out recently, sexual abuse is primarily the abuse of power – and any society which criminalises the former should also be prepared to criminalise the latter.  Similarly, the generation of pornography – indeed, the generation of any content which involves the exploitation of people who would not otherwise participate, were their financial, or other, circumstances different – is, above all, an analogous abuse of power.

Iceland’s current move to remove such violence from its children is entirely coherent with earlier reported moves:

The draft legislation follows laws passed in 2009 and 2010 that criminalised customers rather than sex workers and closed strip clubs.

The problem of course, in this particular case, is that the tools which they wish to use involve filtering an open Internet.  Tools which replicate the interventions in human rights that less salubrious regimes across the world are currently using.  Tools which would give these regimes the kind of democratically-stamped approval to continue in their oppressive ways.

A difficult call for everyone who believes in freedom of information.


There’s another matter, however, which I’d like to raise in this post: we must accept we live vicarious lives.  From latterday social media to traditional Hollywood films, this commonplace existing through the actions and creations of others is more or less generally accepted.  No one really questions, for example, the right Daniel Craig has to earn a living from the explicit violence of putting imaginary bullets through anonymous bit-parted actors – nor even the creeping-up-behind naked actresses in movie-lit showers of sexual abandon.

Is it fair, then, to say that Daniel Craig and his cohort of stars are being exploited in order to put violence of one kind or another on silver-plattered screens for our repeated delectation and delight?  And if it is fair to say so, should we strive to prevent such processes too?

I’m not really sure we shouldn’t, to be honest – if, that is, we’re really going to get serious about the abuse of power more generally.  Interfering with the freedom of information flow is, undoubtedly, a very big issue.  But so is what I assume to be the increasing exploitation of sex workers as a result of that insatiable content-black-hole that is the worldwide web.

A suggestion then.  Not just a rant.  Maybe it’s time for a new kind of content.  Given that the instinct for sex is about as old as Adam and Eve’s adult teeth, has anyone considered CGI porn as a wider solution to sexual exploitation – and its corresponding abuse of power – which so many people currently find themselves affected by?

How would this work?  Groups of existing sex workers could form officially-sanctioned cooperatives with the right to apply for government-funded training courses.  These courses would serve to train them up in computer-generated film-making.  There would, of course, be strict control over the content – a kind of Hays Code for our time.  Just because the content was computer-generated wouldn’t give the creators the right to reproduce and duplicate in the virtual world the kind of abusive relationships we were aiming to eliminate in real life.

In such a way, the whole balance of power would be altered.  Sex workers could find a gainful living as unexploited, and unexploiting, generators of porn; porn users would be safely educated away from the violent stuff through a plentiful, cheap and consistently benign exposure to non-violent (perhaps even government-subsidised) narrative; and, most importantly, the Internet could then be properly policed as per the canons of the code in question.

Obviously, there would still be significant and unresolved issues: people would almost certainly, for example, not find it easy to agree even on a definition of non-violent porn.  But nothing was ever solved by an overbearing awareness of the challenges.

Technology, in part, got us to the bind we now find ourselves in.  Technology, properly shared out and distributed, and through a generous and intelligence analysis of the whole process involved, could serve to get us out of it.

If only we were prepared to be coherent.

Feb 262013

Via Facebook, I’ve just seen a photo of a notable cleric and an infamous DJ.  I don’t know if it’s been retouched (the photo I mean).  I’m not really interested either – at least for the purposes of this post – in whether the story is true or not.

For the moment, all I would like you to focus on is the game that’s being played.

All of a sudden, from politicians to celebrities, from the clergy to singers, from the high-and-mighty to the lowly of caste, skeletons are being violently forced and levered out of closets and coffins.  There seems to exist a particularly Anglo-Saxon delight in pursuing those who have allegedly committed sins of the flesh.  Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that they shouldn’t be pursued.  As I’ve already said on these pages, we should all bear witness to the lives we have chosen to live.  What I am trying to make patent is that there is a certain excess on display – a definite inaccuracy too – with respect to what we’re accusing all these people of having committed.

Above all, when we lick our proverbial journalistic lips and use distancing techniques to protect ourselves from all awful association, or slyly juxtapose old and recent news, the inaccuracies – and perhaps also the bad faith thus contained – become all too apparent.

These matters are being sold as a righteous society cleaning up after sexual perverts.  Two reactions on my part:

  1. The sexual abuse committed (or not) by those currently in the limelight is not principally a matter of sorry individuals abusing others sexually – but, rather, a question of the powerful abusing the powerless.  It is not sex which matters most here but, instead, the abuse by those at the top of our societal trees over those who find themselves almost inevitably at the bottom.
  2. Inasmuch as we are talking not about sex but – in truth – about power, the lesson we should draw is that any abuse of any power by absolutely anyone – and not just tabloidy abuse of a lascivious nature in a sexually couched transaction – is, frankly, as bad as absolutely any other.

What, as a consequence, is our society ignoring – even deliberately and self-interestedly as might be the case?  Well, I would suggest the following: the fact that the Anglo-Saxon Inquisition is now pursuing the “perverts” we perceive with grand vigour – when, at the time, the all-powerful establishment got away with almost everything it cared to, as phone-hacking, the altering of police evidence and the fucking and deceiving of young and impressionable activists in the name of state security all got their shabby green lights – doesn’t half make one wonder whom this sudden inquisitorial bent should suddenly serve to benefit.

For the abuse of power continues apace.  The abuse by the powerful over the essentially powerless is as prevalent now as it is now appearing to have been then.  And whilst sexual abuse still plagues our societies – and still finds itself the object of rightful condemnation – the kind of abuse I would like our police to pursue with equal enthusiasm is the kind of abuse I see exerted by elected representatives over the people they supposedly serve.

This hullabaloo over sexual abuse is right and appropriate – but only if we inscribe it in a wider campaign to eliminate the cruelty of the rich and connected over the poor and disadvantaged.

Time, then, for us to fight for an Atos for political professionals?

Time to seriously wonder if our politicians are fit for work?

Time to decide if MPs, and other political movers and shakers, are suitable for the jobs they carry out?

Time, in essence, to propose an Inquisition to investigate and interrogate the workings not of Anglo-Saxon sex but – rather – of Anglo-Saxon power?

Feb 232013

I know it shouldn’t any more – but what people say, the words they use and the underlying assumptions such words reveal still has the power to shock me.

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic, for example, has this to say of the future nature of the priesthood:

“It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

I notice two things here – both of which serve to shock me.  Firstly, the reassuring reminder that it’s women these free spirits are looking for as companions.  Secondly, that it’s a free world Cardinal O’Brien is observing.

Amazing, isn’t it?  And there was I, thinking the real problem has been a not insignificant number of priests who – through the decades – have demonstrated how they’ve wanted anything but the onerous obligations of marriage and family, when engaging in the perverse delights of illicit flesh.

These words are almost as revealing as the following comments on the poor.  Again, we get a representative of the powers-that-be uncovering their most primitive prejudices:

Germany’s development minister has suggested food tainted with horsemeat should be distributed to the poor.

Dirk Niebel said he supported the proposal by a member of the governing CDU party, and concluded: “We can’t just throw away good food.”

A German church concurs:

[…] Prelate Bernhard Felmberg, the senior representative of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), has backed the proposal.

“We as a Church find the throw-away mentality in our society concerning. How and whether to distribute the products in question would have to be examined,” the priest said.

“But to throw away food that could be consumed without risk is equally bad as false labelling and cannot be a solution.”

Quite.  No solution at all.

So how about, instead, we serve it up for as long as it lasts to all those politicians, church representatives and other moneyed members of society who believe, in their innermost sanctums, that the poor are truly deserving – but only of the crumbs from the high tables that clearly plague us?

This is verily beyond the palest of pales.  If the poor are deserving right now of receiving “tainted” beef, if – as the German development minister argues – “unfortunately there are people [in Germany] for whom it is financially tight, even for food […]”, then these very same disadvantaged were also just as deserving before recent events took their sorry course.

That the powerful now argue the poor have suddenly become deserving of our charity, and at exactly the same time that metric tonnes of mislabelled horsemeat need to be summarily shifted, is a rank duplicity of the very worst sort.  One hardly needs to be an expert in stratospheric spin to understand that heavy business interests will be pulling in all sorts of favours from their meek and puppet-mastered politicians, as someone tries to salvage as much resource as possible from the disaster.  And what better way than make the poor pay for their poverty?

What better way than via taxpayer-funded graft?

We’re back, I fear, to those prejudiced Tories of yore – for they’re all the same, whatever political allegiances they pointedly profess – who are always trying to slap taxes on plebeian caravans, Cornish pasties and grannies.

We’re back, in fact, to those very plebeian sausage rolls.

Money buys everything.

It just doesn’t buy it for everyone.

Now does it?

Jan 172013

I went to Chester Zoo recently.  I saw some beautiful butterflies.  All butterflies are beautiful – but these were particularly beautiful.  What’s so very beautiful for me about these creatures is how they dance unthreateningly from one position of rest to another.  They add to the world in almost everything they do.

But they do so in such a sustainable way.

We could do well to treasure their example.

There’s something else I admire about the butterfly, of course.  A long time ago, I was instructed by my father – who, even today, treasures their example in much the same way I suggest above we should all aim to do – not to try and touch them ever.  Apparently, their wings are covered in tiny scales – the touching of which removes an important protection.

In this, butterflies are one step away from a lingering but unstoppable death.

One touch, in fact.

Yet evolution has cared to find them a place in the scheme of things.  Nature has created them and decided unthreatening, in this case, is good.

And nature, in this, at least in this case, is about as wise as it gets.

Two examples today, then, of where we human beings have become butterfly-crushing bastards.

First, Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the implications of which I hope will continue to resonate: please read these two posts from John Naughton and ensure that this indeed does continue to happen.  From the second of the two, and quoting from a Matt Stoller article:

[…] What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako – who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.

But Aaron Swartz isn’t alone in his death at the hands of the political inversion of our public interest.  Here in Britain, today, we now have plenty of evidence to hand to demonstrate how all these unsung heroes of our time – human butterflies all – are being broken by a political system that turns a very real public interest into a very private personal benefit.  Some choice examples here:

The first example concerns a constituent of mine who was epileptic almost from birth and was subject to grand mal seizures. At the age of 24, he was called in by Atos, classified as fit for work and had his benefit cut by £70 a week. He appealed, but became agitated and depressed and lost weight, fearing that he could not pay his rent or buy food. Three months later, he had a major seizure that killed him. A month after he died, the DWP rang his parents to say that it had made a mistake and his benefit was being restored.


To illustrate one of those cases, I shall cite a letter I received from a constituent, Janine, in Liverpool. Her dad was thrown off sickness benefit in November after an Atos work capability assessment and was declared fit for work despite suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Six weeks later, on Christmas day, Janine’s father died.


My caseworker, like those of many Members, is inundated with cases that are tragic and heart-rending. The telephone line to my office is often clogged with crying people. They often ring several times a day, as they are unable to cope with the stress that they are facing. Many have mental health problems, and are unable to cope with the paperwork. They are unsure what to do with it, and they ring me to ask for help in the most tragic and personal way.


We are all here today because constituents have come to us and told us their stories. Constituents have come to me in their wheelchairs with their carers because they have wanted me to know about the difficulties that they are experiencing. They cannot understand why, in the face of overwhelming medical evidence, they are still being called in for interviews. Some cannot understand why they have been told “If you make it to this interview, you must be fit for work.”


Thirdly, there is a category of people who are being considered fit for work although they have had, for instance, a severe stroke or are awaiting a back operation. One constituent was told that if people could move an empty cardboard box, they could go to work. Do the health care professionals employed by Atos always take account of the fact that people have to get to work in the first place, or that, while they may be able to perform an action once, they may not be able to perform it repeatedly when it causes severe pain?


Many disabled people’s groups say that the reductions in benefits have had a catastrophic effect on recipients, and there have been a number of reports of suicides and untimely deaths brought on by immense distress. In my surgeries, I have heard several harrowing and very sad accounts from constituents who have been subjected to impersonal and inhumane work capability assessments by Atos. One has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, which cannot be completely removed because that would leave her paralysed. In August and September of last year she had radiotherapy to slow down the growth of the tumour, but in October she was told that it would grow back even more quickly, and that she would have to have further radiotherapy or she would die. I should add that this lady also has polyarthritis and asthma. Why has this lady been placed in the work-related activity group? Her doctors and consultants have specified that she should be placed in the support group as she is fighting for her life. Her only concern should be winning that battle.


Another constituent contacted me who had been ill for two years and was eventually diagnosed with cancer following a serious bout of pneumonia. Prior to her illness, she had an unblemished employment record. She was certified as unable to work by her GP and had attended many DWP hearings about the employment and support allowance, with the final one being in April 2012. She won her tribunal hearing against the Atos decision. She had not received a single penny in state benefits from before April 2012 until she died at the end of November. She faced immense distress and was denied any financial assistance at a time when she was vulnerable and in desperate need of assistance.


Clearly many of my constituents have not been treated with the fairness and decency they deserve. Although I realise that we need to see whether people can work, we need a system that is humane and fair, not one that causes fear and loathing. It is time the Government realised that they are driving many sick and disabled people into poverty. What does the Minister think of Citizens Advice’s detailed year-long study “Right first time?” on the controversial work capability assessment run by Atos, which has revealed evidence of widespread inaccuracies in the medical reports that help to determine whether individuals are eligible for sickness benefits? Citizens Advice also tracked a group of people through the process of claiming employment and support allowance and looked at how their claims were handled. The report’s conclusions are stark: 37 individuals were tracked and had their reports examined, with serious levels of inaccuracy revealed in up to 43% of the reports. That level is significant enough to have an impact on the claimant’s eligibility for benefits—surely our sick and disabled deserve better than this.


Over 5,000 of my constituents are on incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance and they are facing this terrible system. I should like to give a few examples. Mr H, a double-leg amputee, was told to undertake an 80-mile round trip for his work capability assessment. Mr W, who has serious mental health problems, had a panic attack and was physically sick during his WCA but was told he was fit for work. His wife believes that he is being victimised by Atos. Mrs D, a district nurse who broke her back at work, was told that she is fit for work. Mrs M, who was treated for cancer in July 2010, was deemed fit for work before the results of the operation came through. Her appeal will not take place until next month. Mr E, who is one of the people the RNIB is worried about, had been completely blind for 16 years and forced to give up work, but was told by Atos that he was fit for work.

And finally (the bold is mine):

A gentleman in my constituency—let us call him Mr D—served in the forces for many years and is now in his late 50s. In the past 18 months, he has undergone extensive surgery to the brain, following a tumour, and in November 2011 he was informed that he required further surgery, this time to his neck, to remove the growing tumour. At the same time—in precisely the same month—Atos assessed Mr D as being fit for work. That assessment was undertaken by someone who was not trained as a doctor at a time when Mr D was going to assessments with a gaping wound in his head and still undergoing treatment. Does it not make an entire mockery of the whole process if that is allowed to happen? Does it not cast real doubt on the effectiveness and accuracy of the whole system? Most ominously, does it not reveal the system’s true intention?

Several of my constituents—far too many to be isolated incidents—have told me that they were asked by the person carrying out the assessment whether they just sat around all day watching Jeremy Kyle. I expect uninformed, unprofessional and crass comments from the likes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not from medical professionals with the serious task of determining whether a person is fit for work in, presumably, an objective and non-prejudicial manner.

Too much to read you say?  Too many words, distant experiences and other lives we cannot be expected to share?  Well, I’m afraid there’s plenty more of the same at the Hansard link in question.  And you really should read it all.  In fact, I insist.


Go ahead and do it.

And then come back for a very short last couple of thoughts.


If Aaron Swartz has anything in common with any of the rest of us souls who populate this planet, it is with these human butterflies I refer to above.  Struggling to understand the world as it really is, yes.  Weak, in no way at all.  With everything stacked against them too.  For being blind only means you cannot see as the wicked do too easily.

And seeing life as it is doesn’t mean giving up on goodness either.

Even when pursuing goodness may – ultimately – mean one’s own destruction.


One final link for you to think about.  This, tonight, from the Independent, takes us back to the conflict-strewn 1980s:

The Labour MP Tom Watson alleged in the Commons in October that politicians belonging to a paedophile network had used their powerful connections to escape justice.

In a short statement tonight, the Metropolitan Police said: “The Metropolitan Police Service have today, Thursday 17 January, launched an investigation, Operation Fernbridge, into historic allegations of child abuse in the early 1980s at the Elm Guest House, Rocks Lane, Barnes, London.

“The investigation will be led by the Child Abuse Investigation Command. Anyone with information is asked to contact officers on 020 7161 0500.”

Talk of breaking butterflies on wheels, eh?

This shit is everywhere, at all levels and in all countries.

Isn’t it?

Jan 122013

Two disturbing posts tonight.  The first, from Anna Raccoon, examines the Savile scandal – and effectively aims to deconstruct what might in some circles be described as widespread “media hysteria”.  It makes for painful reading, certainly for me anyhow.  I find my assumptions on the matter becoming confused and uncertain.

Which is why I draw your attention to it without further comment on my own ignorant part.


Meanwhile, another piece which quite coincidentally reached my attention some minutes after the above was this one.  A phrase or two to set the scene for what follows:

My first time started about ten minutes into the journey. […]

It was a long break before my second time. […]

Not long until my third time though! […]

But wait for it…it happened again the DAY AFTER! Cor, twice in 24 hours. Aren’t I the lucky one? Aren’t I lucky to be chosen for a stranger’s pleasure? I mean I clearly look hot if this is happening to me. I clearly look like I’d be totally okay with that. This time I was on a tube and a guy was actually trying to finger me from behind. […]

As I read this second piece, my thoughts were thrown into awful turmoil.  The blogger in question, Louise Jones, was describing a process of hidden and casual abuse on a fearful scale.  The worst of it was how an intelligent young woman felt obliged to pretend nothing was happening.  If intelligent and clever young women feel society requires them to capitulate thus, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Put up against the Anna Racoon piece, I struggle to see a way through.  I begin to wonder if the media hysteria Anna’s post rejects is actually – in a strange and perhaps now all too understandable manner – simply a question of a hurting society finding some indirect way to notify its sufferers that reality does, after all, exist.  Even as it cannot be spoken about yet, taking pot shots at a deceased Jimmy Savile may be providing us all with the opportunity to express a very referred pain about a much more unpleasant – and society-wide – underbelly out there.

This is why I think the second piece I link to above is the one that more accurately describes the real reasons behind the swirling hullabaloo that the Savile case has generated.  Whether Savile did everything he is accused of having done or not, the continuing pain out there is in the daily humiliation that Savile’s elves, helpers and deadly duplicates carry out quite unhappily, unbidden and uncontrolled.

I’ve never, myself, as far as I know, been the victim of sexual abuse.  But I have experienced the sadness of feeling persecuted.  I even had to spend a month in a hospital because a year of fearing one of society’s underbellies drove me to a puzzling, curious and occasionally frightening psychosis.  And I see that very same fear – that ever-present fear of that omniscient underbelly, an underbelly which everyone perceives in some way and yet no one ever cares to pierce (neither by publicly engaging with nor even by discussing) – infusing the story that Ms Jones shockingly tells us today.  Not a psychosis which distances one from reality though but – rather – a brand new kind of psychosis which quite bizarrely reveals, uncovers and makes all too manifest to this or that individual a cruel reality of oppression that most will – for reasons best known only to themselves – choose to keep denying.

So yes, I do know what it is to experience society’s underbelly.  I do know what being sexually abused must feel like.  And if we should take anything away from the Jimmy Savile case, it is this: sexual abuse is common, widespread, prevalent and everyday.  How do I know?  Because sexual abuse has little to do with sex and far more to do with the abuse of power.  And whilst our politicians, business leaders and other figures of importance are happy to continue publicly displaying – proudly displaying – their verbal and strategic violence in their own radii of action, it hardly takes a wild leap of imagination to understand that their sexual equivalents must be taking place somewhere and some place quite off-stage.

The problem really isn’t Savile, folks.

It isn’t even the possibility that there was a cover-up.

The real and shocking alternative is – precisely – that no one needed to cover up anything because nothing Savile was alleged to have done was anything out of the ordinary.

Neither then nor now.

Neither sexually nor politically.

They were all at it.  They still are.  Ripping into the powerless when the opportunity presents itself.

Politicians do it.

CEOs are paid huge sums of money to do it.

And grubby little Tube users do it … every day of the year.

Dec 102012

This story is interesting:

[Jimmy] Savile was  interviewed by police in 2009 over four alleged indecent assaults at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Williams-Thomas believes that if Savile had been named publicly then, other victims would have come forward and he could have faced justice while he was alive.

He added: “So there is a real value in naming people but we also have to be very careful about how we do that.”

Coupled with the recent revelations around the ex-Labour councillor and Liberal Democrat MP Cyril Smith, it is indeed a difficult balance to weigh up.  As a flood of allegations now besmirches what appears more and more to have been a society of hidden distress, and as threats of libel actions serve to muddy the waters of what we should and shouldn’t be describing, it’s difficult to know what we should expect of the figure of free speech any more.

You, as a democratically-engaged citizen … do you know what you can say these days?  For when even the truth is no definitive and guiding principle in itself, how can ordinary and untrained subjects properly understand the reach of what is right and wrong, what is permissible and what is not, in that strange and forbidding infrastructure we call our legal system?

What is absolutely clear, mind, in the light of all the above, is that speaking ill of the dead is one of the very few freedoms now left us.

Has it come to that for the floodgates of honesty to open?  Have we now fashioned a society where fear of reprobation, where fear of making a mistake, where fear of committing an uncertainty, leads us all – more and more – to wait until death before we say about an individual what we really know and think?

And do you really believe that is a sign of a healthy and civilising community?

Nov 022012

If you’re living in Britain at the moment, it can’t have escaped your notice that paedophilia is the flavour of this generation’s angst.  Or should I say, a previous generation’s angst.

I’ve already posted on one high profile case (as well as the media’s lily-livered reaction to it): the DJ and entertainer, Jimmy Savile.  Tonight, it would appear that the BBC current affairs programme “Newsnight” will – if it doesn’t find itself looking down the barrel of a super-injunction – reveal that a senior politician from the Thatcher era was allegedly involved in similar activities.  What’s more, it would seem that this person is still alive.

The Twitterverse is going pretty barmy with the rumours at the moment, as the Twitterverse tends to do in such matters.  But I do wonder if we shouldn’t take a wider look at what’s happening here.  Over the past few days, I’ve read about 650 instances of abuse in 40 boys’ homes located in North Wales; astonishing allegations of a paedophile ring close to the heart of a previous government; celebrities various arrested and bailed by the London police; and a general and growing sensation of something very ugly.

Paedophilia is most definitely ugly: an attack by the strong and imposing on the most defenceless of all our citizens.  This sudden raft of revelations is clearly a cry for justice: that Jimmy Savile appears to have been so “prolific” is, for example, an undeniable way for an emotionally awful boil of such characteristics to be utterly lanced once and for all.

But bringing to light paedophilia as a crime of previous and supposedly responsible generations also fits another curiously appropriate purpose: that of attributing terrible acts to such generations which, however agile and cunning their political arts under normal circumstances, cannot ultimately escape a finally ignominious fate and vigorous condemnation from their very own offspring – both figurative and literal.

It’s almost a challenge from beyond the grave: these politicians, celebrities and makers and shakers of all characteristics might have managed to conserve their reputations as far as history was concerned – but try and beat this rap if you can.

So if I am right in the psychology of this, even a little, even a mite, where Thatcher and her reputation for Iron Lady could not be properly besmirched by political discourse – essentially because those who supported her saw value in precisely those elements which her opposition so violently criticised her for – they most certainly can be damaged, and perhaps in the near future fatally for Cameron & Co, by such profoundly unsettling allegations about the establishment’s behaviours in the distant but still imposing edifices of the past.

In summary, revealing crimes of paedophilia is a perfect way (whether subconsciously or not) to forcefully hit back once and for all not only at the perceived sexual abuses of a prior generation but also their far more prosaically sociopolitical ones: a perfect way to hit back for those of us who are hurting because of what our parents’ generation has done to this world – a world we are now to do little more than survive in; a perfect way to hit back for those of us who feel society has become a heartless machine – a machine whose humanity is now so very visible by its manifest absence.


Update to this post: today, November 3rd, Tom Watson has published a terrifying series of observations, on the basis of information only a politician of his integrity is ever in the position of having honest access to.  As he rightly concludes:

I wish I could fight the case of everybody who has been abused by a paedophile who has so far got away with it, but I can’t. That is a job for the police. Up and down the country private grief is being stirred by these stories. I cannot help in each individual case, but the police and support services can, must and will. If you were abused a long time ago and want justice now, go to the police. It is not too late.

What I am going to do personally is to speak out on this extreme case of organised abuse in the highest places. At the core of all child abuse is the abuse of power. The fundamental power of the adult over the child. Wherever this occurs it is an abomination. But these extreme cases are abuse of power by some of the most powerful people. Abuse of trust by some of the most trusted. It is a sickening story, but one which – like the truth about Jimmy Savile – is now going to be told.

I strongly advise you to read his article in full.  As with the hacking scandal, this strikes at the very soul of a very British way of doing things.  Whilst communities were destroyed in the name of distant and abstruse economic policy, these politicians were untouchable.  But even an establishment as powerful and navel-gazing as the British clearly has been – well, it cannot resist forever the tidal wave of ordinary people’s disgust.

Whilst political argument and discourse acted as a barrier to closer examination, there was nothing we could do.

But there always comes a time when good people like Mr Watson get to have their say.

A moment and opportunity to truly re-examine our profoundest and most hurtful memories.

All power to him, then.  All power to the people.

Oct 282012

I’ve been working these past couple of days, setting up a language-learning site.  Thus, the moderate radio silence.

Meanwhile, the unhappy news about sex abuse and paedophilia at the heart of our most sacred institutions continues to unspool our perception of our childhoods and their – up until recently – complacently happy memories.

I wonder if history will judge the BBC as an especially bad egg in this matter.  Or, alternatively, as a kind of measure of what the rest of society was doing.

Just one simple question today – and one simple post.  Those political behemoths who have traditionally run our nations and their body politics – were they, indeed are they, any better than the Jimmy Saviles and Gary Glitters of this world?  After all, what does the phrase consensual sex mean – if it involves the whiff of powerful people behind aphrodisiacally closed doors?  Isn’t that just as substantial a distortion of what sexual relationships between, in this case, adults ought to be?

What I’m really asking runs as follows: what is the difference between paedophilia or more general sexual abuse – a question of someone exerting power over a manifestly weaker soul in a relationship – and that force which a powerful politician or business leader exerts over an individual, group of people or nation?

Aren’t all three of the above cases situations where those who have power use it to force others who don’t into doing things the latter otherwise wouldn’t?

That is to say, aren’t we confusing sex and power?

What, exactly, is the difference between a shallow celebrity destroying an individual’s peace of mind through a sexual powerplay and a shallow politician destroying an individual’s peace of mind through a political powerplay?

In fact, in essence, even that which we call consensual sex can take place against the better judgement of one of the parties involved.

To conclude, we don’t need less sexual abuse in society.

We need fewer people to abuse the power we award, delegate in and attribute them.  Whether this be sexual, business or political.

A lesson for all our leaders, whatever their fields of endeavour.

Mr Jimmy Savile’s alleged crimes are a warning shot across your bows too.

Oct 252012

Not a minute ago I was looking, sadly, at the latest revelations in what would now appear to be this very British scandal: an institutionalised and violently unravelling sequence of sex abuse cases, initially circling around the figure of the DJ Jimmy Savile but which may have also involved other people who are still alive.

At the BBC for sure – and possibly, shortly, much further.

Over the past couple of days on Twitter there have been allegations that important people in government were involved in a paedophile ring.

It does seem to me that, little by little, the last thirty years or so – a monolithic and untouchable mystery for so long and for so many – are beginning to fall apart at what history might end up describing as their filthy seams.

Tonight, in the meantime, as I see politics, its practitioners and its hangers-on in the dark light which the above casts over us, it seems entirely appropriate that alongside the latest news about Savile and his entourage, the world of advertising should serve up the following two images.

That a multinational chemical company should see its name in the same frame as all this scum is mostly unfortunate – even as it must be entirely unintentional.

Unintentional perhaps – but hardly inaccurate.

Never was a chemistry so polluting.

Oct 012012

The BBC is being accused of having prevented the completion and airing of a short Newsnight film about allegations that Jimmy Savile abused young women.  I say young women uncertainly – partly because I’ve read several reports, some of which talk about schoolchildren; some about young girls; some about under-age teenage girls (coincidentally, the BBC itself chose the latter); and some about young women.

Now I’m really puzzled by these four terms – unless, of course, people are telling four slightly different stories about the alleged activities of the same man.  As I tweeted not a few minutes ago:

Hmm. Not sure I understand this one. Alleged abuse of girls by DJ = sexual assault. Alleged abuse of boys by priests = paedophilia

A couple of my Twitter friends felt that paedophilia was the preserve of age rather than gender.  And I think I tend to agree.  But this only serves to beg a further three sets of questions:

  1. Why does the word “paedophilia” have so much power in the English language where “abuse” or even “sexual assault” do not?  Let me be plain: I’m not arguing that “paedophilia” shouldn’t carry the weight of meaning it does; rather, I’m asking you why “abusing young women” should mean any less.  After all, whether you are sexually abused at the age of five or fifteen, the transgression can be as ultimately destructive in both cases – and both are examples of when the person committing the crimes abuses a manifest power over another.
  2. Why are the media sliding between the four examples (there are almost certainly far more out there) which I quote in my first paragraph above?  What is going on, in fact?  Do some sub-editors believe some schoolchildren are actually young women – and therefore more at fault in some really rather twisted way?  Do other sub-editors believe that some young girls are actually not only under-age girls but also under-age teenage girls – and therefore somehow more horribly complicit in the circumstances thus described?  And if not all the above, if I’m really seeing shadows where they don’t exist, why make the distinctions in the first place?
  3. Finally, just to expand on that last point before we finish, isn’t there something really unpleasant going on behind the scenes – something which has very little to do with what allegedly happened in itself but, maybe, helped to facilitate it?  Something, that is, which is happening right now?  Unspoken prejudices we do not choose to be aware of, perhaps?  Prejudices which may – even – have allowed the alleged events to take place over decades?

Personally, I feel a complex mixture of sadness and shock at this story.  I still find it impossible to internalise the impact it’s having on me.  I watched Savile’s programme every Saturday afternoon as a kid – often wondered if I might ask for a dream of mine to be fulfilled through his good works.

Oh, yes.  Such sentiments of betrayal are small beer compared to someone who’s really been abused – but, in a sense, if the allegations are true, perhaps those who underestimate the effect such abuse has on its victims may now begin to understand, in the pit of their televisual stomach, a degree of its true reach, unkindness and ability to hurt.

Nov 122011

I read this story from the Mail today almost as soon as it was published.  I thought it might be wise to wait and see.  Even after everything that has happened, and even after everything we’ve all written, I did wonder if this was just one accusation too far.  James Murdoch and his NLP-like ways of disconcerting his verbal opposition, his carefully open body language, his convincingly couched appeals for reasonableness to those others sidelined in attendance as awful accusations were declaimed by Tom Watson, as well as Murdoch’s oh so appealing naivete in the face of a dreadfully suspicious world, all still continued to make me wonder if he – and by extension the Murdochs in general – were truly as bad as they are painted.

But the news continues to dribble out.  First from that Mail story I link to above:

The latest twist in the case emerged 24 hours after Mr Murdoch – the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch – was grilled for two and a half hours on Thursday by a House of Commons select committee.

In a bruising second appearance before the Culture Committee, he insisted he had not learned until recently that the practice of illegally eavesdropping on private phone messages went beyond a single ‘rogue reporter’.

Then Andrew Neil tweets that:

Source close to R Murdoch tells me emails uncovered by police in India (see today’s Daily Mail) potentially ‘devastating’ for James M down.

Only for Tom Watson to confirm this incredible piece of information barely an hour and a half ago:

“Every Single Member Of The Committee Investigating [Phone Hacking] Were Followed By Private Eyes” http://t.co/TJKBnBZW 6 months ago!

Meanwhile, my attention is drawn to this similarly ongoing story – and it occurred to me a thought experiment really might not come amiss.  It describes how alleged abusive behaviours at a Catholic school were being investigated by the Church itself – an exercise which in the words of one observer was akin to putting “Dracula in charge of a blood bank”.  In a more recent report on the outcome of an external investigation into these selfsame accusations, we get this text:

The report’s key recommendation was that Ealing abbey monks lose control of St Benedict’s. It listed 21 abuse cases since 1970 with Carlile saying the form of governance was “wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable”.

The report said: “In a school where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

“Primary fault lies with the abusers, in the abject failure of personal responsibility, in breach of their sacred vows … and in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law.

“Secondary fault can be shared by the monastic community, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations.”

Historic fault also lay with the trustees and the school for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for “unpalatable eventualities”.

In his criticism of school governance, Carlile wrote that the existing structure lacked “independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.

So let’s rewrite that just a little – and see how it might pan out as template for – say – a massive global news-gathering corporation called Miljenko’s News:

The report’s key recommendation was that the Miljenko and his inner circle lose control of Miljenko’s News. It listed thousands of phone- and computer-hacking cases since 1999 with the report’s author saying the form of governance was “wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable”.

The report said: “In a corporation where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of its editorial community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

“Primary fault lies with the abusers, in the abject failure of personal responsibility, in breach of their legal responsibilities … and in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law.

“Secondary fault can be shared by its board and top management, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing the public and democratic discourse at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the awful temptations that might attract some with corporate vocations.”

Historic fault also lay with with the shareholders – especially the institutional ones – for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for “unpalatable eventualities”.

In his criticism of corporate governance, the report’s author wrote that the existing structure lacked “independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.

For two things occur to me, you see.  What surprises me, first, given that the original version of our thought experiment tonight describes how a corporate body like the Catholic Church would allegedly appear to have been consistently allowing the abuse of children since 1970, is that this story is not grabbing the headlines this weekend as much as Mr Murdoch’s also alleged – and perhaps ethically analogous – disregard for what is admittedly an utterly different set of public and private mores.

Just remember the litany however.  Thousands of alleged cases of phone-hacking, uninvestigated by the British police for almost a decade; families like that of Milly Dowler absolutely led down the garden path of cruelly raised hopes; a body politic pulverised by Murdoch Sr’s total control over its democracy; and now, if Watson and Greenslade are to be believed, a surveillance of lawyers and MPs which continued well into 2011.

Whilst it was supposed News International was cooperating with the authorities.

Talk of Dracula being in charge of the blood bank.


What surprises me more, however, and after all, is that if such a report as the one we read above can be written on an institution as mighty as the Catholic Church, especially in the uncompromising tone we clearly can detect and note, why – then – cannot we do the same in relation to News International? 

And sooner rather than later?

Murdochs, monks and dirty habits.

There’s no getting away from them.

Closed environments, shuttered communities, organisations where money is no object.

And there was once a man called Jesus all people would probably have been proud to have in their belief systems.

Just as there was once a Murdoch called Keith all journalists would probably have been proud to have in their profession.

How the mighty fall.

And how very far.

Nov 092011

This was what the Catholic Church was attempting to argue this summer:

The Roman Catholic Church is taking the unprecedented step of arguing in court that is is not responsible for sexual abuse committed by its priests, arguing that the relationship between a Catholic priest and the bishop of the local diocese is not an employment relationship and therefore the diocese does not have vicarious liability.

The court case in question did not focus so much on the example of abuse which provoked examination of the issue but, rather, this:

However the hearing this week will not deal with the allegations of abuse at all, but will centre on the ‘corporate responsibility’ of the church in abuse cases.

If the claim is upheld, the church will be found legally responsible for the sexual abuse committed by their priests.

What really shocks about the stance, of course, is that a church – of all entities – should care to avoid responsibility for such disgraceful acts against the integrity of vulnerable human beings.  But there you have it: a corporate body will always behave like a corporate body – even when it’s a church.

As yesterday’s report from the same news organisation goes on to summarise:

The Catholic church has always argued that it is not “vicariously liable” for the actions of priests. In a three-day hearing in July before Mr Justice Alastair MacDuff, the church argued that priests are not employees. They said there was no contract of employment, that priests paid self-employed taxes and that the positions were never advertised.

Anyhow, yesterday we were spared further embarrassment (I say embarrassment because although I am a lapsed Catholic, I do even now feel a certain responsibility for what the Church declaims).  This video tells us everything we need to know.

And, just to make it absolutely clear, below we have about as much clarity from the judge himself as we could hope for:

“[Father Wilfred Baldwin, who is accused of abuse] was so appointed in order to do [the Church’s] work, to undertake the ministry on behalf of the defendants to fulfil that role… He was directed into the community with that full authority and was given free reign to act as representative of the church,” the ruling read.

“He had immense power handed to him by the defendants. It was they who appointed him to the position of trust which (if the allegations be proved) he so abused.”

However, as the video points out, it would appear not to be clear enough for a corporate body – and so the Church has decided to appeal.  It has also declined to speak to the media as a result.

Which all reminds me of the behaviours of Big Tobacco and Big Media as portrayed in the excellent film “The Insider”.  The closed and hidden nature of their functioning encouraged the kind of corrupt and two-faced actions we witness today in the Church.

The Spanish stolen babies case (more here from a personal standpoint) is just one more example.

One wonders what would have happened to any other organisation which had committed the kind of crimes the Church has been accused of turning a blind eye to.

Imagine, in fact, if – instead of the Pope – the Church was headed up by the Murdochs …

Would we still be talking about the finer matters and technicalities of employment law?  I don’t think so.

Too big to fail then?  Is the Church a religious equivalent of the banking system?  Have we all been suffering under the massive impact of an example of moral insider trading?  I wonder.

May 182011

The seeds of rape lie in prejudice.  Prejudice is a primal soup of appealing lies which caters to the darker side of human nature.  From the crimes of civil war, as the tipping-points of community fear drive us into the arms of hateful acts, to those daily acts of verbal abuse which happily married couples keep for their more private moments, prejudice allows awful thoughts to flourish and find their medium of exchange.

The progressives amongst us have recently found ourselves facing up to the reality of fragile human nature.  First Assange and now Strauss-Kahn find themselves embroiled in circumstances which – whatever their truths – involve wrongdoing somewhere along the line.  What I mean to say is that if the wrongdoing is not of the accused’s making, then the accuser’s motives must surely be questioned.  And yet … and yet …

This is clearly a man’s world.  This is clearly a boss’s world.  This is clearly a world of big companies and large organisations.  This is a world which belongs to the rich and powerful.  This is a world where, as a general rule, only the rich and powerful can topple the rich and powerful.  And when the rich and powerful fall, reserving judgement – that is to say, letting due process run its course – is perhaps the fairest reaction of all.

I have never been a fan of the IMF.  I suppose this is a knee-jerk reaction on the part of someone who cannot profess to a profound knowledge of the matter.  As such, my opinion is of little importance.  But people far better than myself have spoken authoritatively on the subject and have come to the following conclusion:

Behind the free market ideology there is a model, often attributed to Adam Smith, which argues that market forces–the profit motive–drive the economy to efficient outcomes as if by an invisible hand. One of the great achievements of modern economics is to show the sense in which, and the conditions under which, Smith’s conclusion is correct. It turns out that these conditions are highly restrictive. Indeed, more recent advances in economic theory –ironically occurring precisely during the period of the most relentless pursuit of the Washington Consensus policies–have shown that whenever information is imperfect and markets incomplete, which is to say always, and especially in developing countries, then the invisible hand works most imperfectly. Significantly, there are desirable government interventions which, in principle, can improve upon the efficiency of the market. These restrictions on the conditions under which markets result in efficiency are important–many of the key activities of government can be understood as responses to the resulting market failures.

Abuse can be sexual or abuse can be economic – in either case, the common driver is the exertion of power by someone who has it over someone who doesn’t.  And the seeds of such drivers, the seeds of such abuse, the seeds of what we might term a profoundly common instinct to rape, lie precisely in the comments that men of the people like this casually doff in mainstream media when they are caught off-guard and unprepared.

Political correctness is, in a sense, a hugely negative factor in our society because it serves to teach the vast majority of us to hide very strongly held prejudice.  It serves to teach us how to hide it without allowing us to face it.  What we need far more of, in my opinion, is a long-term process of eradication: a consensual act of education agreed on by all political parties and stakeholders which serves to underline and support – from a true baseline of honestly uncovered opinion – a mechanism whereby all of us can approach and deal with painful subjects like this afresh.  A mechanism whereby all of us can be truthful about what we really think and might do.  A mechanism whereby situations can be laid truly bare and then – just as truly – resolved.

In the meantime, and whilst we choose to do nothing, the seeds of rape will continue to be nurtured, and people in positions of power everywhere – whether they are powerful through their position or powerful through momentary circumstance – will continue to want to take full advantage of all their opportunities.