Final Instructions

Our puppies are leaving for new homes.

The older unnamed child asked when we were going to baptise them.  The unnamed woman had to explain that even though we think of them as members of the family, animals don’t get baptised.

The younger unnamed child is still intent on sending them on their way properly catechised. Teaching it the etiquette of veneration, she was sitting on the sofa with one of them over the weekend crossing it and telling it, “The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, bow”and pushing it’s nose down slightly. The puppy didn’t seem to mind, though if you ask me, it was really just going through the motions.

Larry Norman, RIP

Thanks to my friend Greg for letting me know that the Father Christian Rock passed from here to eternity in the wee hours of Sunday morning. He emailed me the link to a story on the Christianity Today website.

I was never a big fan of Larry. Nothing personal. As a performer, he didn’t appeal to me, particularly when I first discovered contemporary Christian music in the late ’70s. I liked other people doing some of his songs. In the very early days of performing – and while still a dispensational pre-millenialist (and that’s going back a long ways)  – like ever other Christian teen I used to play “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. Watching some of his performances on YouTube, I think I would enjoy him more now.

Nonetheless, I don’t underestimate the impact he had on a lot of artists to whom I made much more of an immediate connection, as well as his importance as a groundbreaking artist. Even a two-bit songwriter like me owes him a debt of gratitute.

Thanks, Larry.

I keep looking at this mirror
At the age around my eyes
Time is such an earnest laborer
Precision is its neighbor
Lay my body in the ground
But let my spirit touch the sky

– “I Hope I’ll See You In Heaven”

Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Larry, in a place of light, in place of green pasture, in a place of revival, whence all pain, sorrow and sighing have fled away.

Textbook Agenda

I’m not suggesting that textbooks in this country are biased and driven by a political agenda, but I’m looking for another satisfactory explanation for the following definitions in a textbook I’ve been given to teach history.

Socialism: movement to make the country fully democratic, with equal rights for everyone

Left-wing: believing that society should be made more equal

Right-wing: believing that the country should be strong and that ordinary people should have little or no power

Why, how could I think that somebody (like author Andrew Boxer) has a “Left-wing good/Right-wing bad” or “Socialism good/Capitalism bad” message they are trying to get across to 14- to 16-year-olds? Of course he never comes out directly and says it. He doesn’t need to, really.

Doctors Tried to Kill a Healthy Baby

I can understand how people can be opposed to abortion and the death penalty. What I can’t understand is how people could opposed capital punishment, yet have no problem with abortion.

Death penalty opponents often (as in just about every time I see or hear one) say, “With an imperfect justice system, there is no doubt that an innocent person will be executed.” How many of them take the same view when it comes to abortions performed on the grounds of the serious illness or handicap of the foetus?

In the England, Wales and Scotland, a child in the womb diagnosed with a serious handicap can be aborted up to the time of natural delivery. Doctors wanted to abort Brandon Kramer. He was diagnosed with rhomboencephalosynapsis. He would be born blind and deaf and only survive for a few hours. That diagnosis was after they said he had Downs Syndrome.

His parents are glad they withstood the pressure from doctors. His father put it succinctly “I feel incredibly guilty thinking that I could have killed him – and then I find myself wondering how many other babies are killed who would have turned out to be completely healthy.”

Read the whole story in the Mail on Sunday.

Hitler’s Educational Legacy

In 1938, Adolph Hitler made it a crime in Germany to educate children at home.

Not only has the law never been taken off the books, it is vigorously enforced. The Germans may be all apologetic about many things that happened under the Third Reich, but as the family of Melissa Busekros know, they are still happy to use stormtrooper tactics when it comes to this. The minds of young Germans belong to the State.

Today’s Observer is reporting that homeschooling families in Germany are fleeing to the UK. And if you read the article, there will be no question in your mind why. One family who fled to Britain had already had their bank account frozen and emptied and their car confiscated. It’s good to know that even though Britian is moving toward totalitarianism, it is still a place of more freedom than Germany.

Games

I saw the boardgame Stratego at Woolworths the other day and it brought back a few memories. And I do mean few.

I used to love board games. Growing up, I had at least half the length of the shelf that ran the length of my bedroom closest stacked with them. That would have been at least two games wide and several high. But the thing about games is that you need someone with whom to play them. I never had a lot of friends growing up. I had a chemistry set. And the board games.

So I didn’t get to play Stratego very often. As I moved into my teenage years, I had a few friends from church who were older than me, but we never played Stratego. We played guitars. I got pretty good at it and eventually the Stratego game must have been thrown out. (This must have happened after I moved away to college, as I never threw away anything.) It had probably lost pieces appropriated by my little brother for no known reason, but he always seemed to have bits and bobs of my stuff in his room.

If anyone ever played Stratego with me it was probably my cousin Kyle. He was (and still is, by last count) five years older than me. However, most of the time we played Monopoly. Not out of the box, because Kyle designed his own Monopoly boards. My uncle was a building sub-contractor and Kyle had access to big off-cuts of Formica. He would cut these in rectangles of what must have been about 2 feet by 3 feet. The perimeter of the board would be partitioned into the various properties using masking tape. Names would be created for them and deeds created from the names. The prices of the properties reflected the currency being used, which was always the large denomination money from the Game of Life, rather than the lower value Monopoly cash. I ended up with one of Kyle’s boards as a hand-me-down. I had it for ages.

When I got into college, I had the chance to play another one of the games that during my childhood spent most of the time in the top of my closet. During a brief window of time, my housemates and I played Risk. It is probably the greatest of all male bonding games. Often we would play at the home of another man in the church. His son was just a baby – now that son is serving with the Army in Iraq.

I still look back on this time of my life as one of the happiest. These days it is those college friendships that spend too much time on the shelf. I stay in contact with some – one or two occasionally read this blog – others haven’t been dusted off in ages. Some are undoubtedly missing enough pieces that the only thing left is to look at the box.

It’s when I think of college – that emergence into adulthood – that nostalgia hits the hardest. That’s when I have to go look in the mirror at the lines around my eyes and the reflection of the light off the top of my head to remind me that I’m not 20 anymore. I could also look down at my pot belly or look in on the sleeping faces of my own children upstairs – there’s plenty to remind me if I’m not absorbed in my own thoughts.

When I see the kids I teach just about to make that jump to college and university, I feel both jealous and sad.  They have the opportunity for so many great times ahead. Most of them may not remember much, because their social life is entirely fuelled by alcohol. Lots of alcohol. They don’t know to be jealous of the values with which I was raised and which were reinforced at my college. I am so glad that I never spent one college night drunk and obnoxious. None of the games we played were drinking games.

My children enjoy playing games. I hope they have more friends to play with than I did early on. I hope my son will find someone with whom to play Stratego, Monopoly, and Risk. I’ll try not to be too jealous.

All Change

I think Barak Obama has the best chance of being elected President of the United States.

I’d actually rather see Hillary Clinton elected. If you know me, you know that is not an easy thing to say. I’d rather see almost anyone elected rather than Hillary. But at least with Hillary you know what you are getting. All you have with Obama is the most liberal voting record in the Senate combined with the endless chant of “Change! Change! Change!”

Obama has not been around on the national scene long enough to have built up a lot of negative feeling. Clinton would be defeatable in November because so may people have an attitude of “anyone but Hillary”. Once in office, Obama will push for an agenda that most Americans will not like. It will be too late.

Obama will work with a Democratic Congress, in the first such tandem between Capitol Hill and the White House since the first half of Bill Clinton’s first term. That’s when we got the FACE Act, the Brady Law, don’t ask dont’ tell, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer. We also got the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. That created 50 new federal offenses, banned semi-automatic “assault” rifles, and eliminated higher education opportunities for prisoners.

The big differences between 1993 and 2009 are that Obama is much more liberal than Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is both more legislatively aggressive and more liberal than was Tom Foley. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Steven is 87. Scalia, Kennedy, and Ginsburg are in their 70’s.

Then there is foreign policy. Obama will be much happier for the UN to decide that. He’s going to pull the troops out of Iraq. That sounds good, but unfortunately the US invasion created a bit of a mess and a subsequent direct withdrawal will result in a complete breakdown of civil order. Any Christians who are left in Iraq had better get out, because it will just be a matter of which Islamist extremists can kill the most people. Also expect something close to full-scale war between Iraq and Turkey.

So yes, all in all, you can expect change, change, change from an Obama presidency and you can expect an Obama presidency in January.

Taking Lazy to a Whole New Level

I was just over at Asda (a wholly owned subsidary of Wal-Mart) to buy a lightbulb for the bedside table of an unnamed woman. I wandered over the electronics, as I am sometimes wont to do.

It was there that I discovered the Standby Buster. The proud owner of a Standby Buster is clearly making a statement. No, not, “See how much I care about the environment!” Rather he is saying, “I am so lazy that I can’t bother to push the button on the telly on the way up to bed.” I mean, how much effort does this really take?

The company that developed the Standby Buster encourages users to plug all of their entertainment appliances into one four-way plug and plug that into their product so all the devices can be shut off at once. That includes the Sky or digital box. These are devices that are designed to be left on, as they re-set when the power goes off and lose programming information.

Surprise Litigation

The crazy litigation bug has migrated to this country from the US. From the Daily Telegraph:

A home owner is being threatened with legal action after a woman claimed she trapped her hand in his letterbox while delivering unwanted junk mail. Joy Goodman, a cake decorator, is seeking damages for personal injury and loss of earnings, claiming the top of her right index finger was severed when she delivered the mail. She claims she needs compensation because she is now unable to carry out her intricate job.

But the home owner vowed to fight the case. Paul O’Brien, 44, a self-employed engineer from Leeds, said: “When I received a solicitor’s letter I thought someone was having a laugh. I actually told them they had sent it early. April Fool’s Day is still six weeks away.

“I just cannot believe someone who came on to my property uninvited, to put junk mail through my door that I didn’t want, can now sue me because they hurt themselves.”

Mrs Goodman declined to comment, saying only: “It is in the hands of my solicitors.”

A law expert said that householders had limited duties of care to people who went on to their property such as delivery people or postmen.

These duties of care include not having such things as bare electricity cables sticking out, but were not likely to extend to a letterbox providing it was a standard model.

Maoist in Parliament

Some Labour MPs are very definitely still Marxist Old Labour, or at least pine after the good ol’ days. A few moments ago on the BBC News commentary programme This Week, I listened to the following exchange between former Tory MP and cabinet minister Michael Portillo, current Labour MP Diane Abbott, and moderator Andrew Neil. There was a discussion about dictators.

Portillo: Mao Zedong killed 30 million, 60 million. People still wear Mao t-shirts; people still carry Mao Little Red Books and if you go to China there’s still a huge picture of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square. It’s absolutely bizarre. When a royal prince dressed in an SS uniform he was absolutely condemned. Had he worn a Mao outfit, nobody would have blinked.

Neil: Why is that? Why is it right to wear a Maoist t-shirt but obviously wrong, as it is, to wear a Hitler t-shirt?

Abbott: I suppose that some people would judge that on balance, Mao did more good than wrong. We can’t say that about the Nazis.

Portillo: What!?!?!

Neil: Remind me what the good was.

Abbott: Well, it’s funny I just had this debate with my son.

Neil: Mao killed tens of millions of people.

Portillo: Just tell me what was the good thing that he did that made up for the 60 million people he murdered?

Abbott: He led his country from feudalism, he helped to defeat the Japanese, and he left his country on the verge of the great economic success they are having now.

Portillo (to Neil): You call Stalin the greatest [in terms of despotism] ever dictator. In terms of mass murder he isn’t on the same page as Mao, that Dianne apparently supports.

Yes, isn’t it nice to know that we have Maoists sitting on the Government’s backbenches in the British Parliament?

The Cost of Coffee in Saudi Arabia

An American businesswoman is fearing for her life after she was arrested for having a coffee with a male workmate in a Starbucks in Saudi Arabia.

Yara, a 37-year-old mother-of-three, said she was strip searched and forced to sign false confessions while in custody. A judge then told her she would “burn in hell” before she was released on Feb 4.

I don’t like to meta-blog, but I’m a bit short on time, due to marking exams. However, the full story is worth a read.

Absence of Conscience

It wish this would happen to a Government minister, rather an a Tory frontbench spokesman. Then something might happen, if it isn’t just completely too late. From the Daily Telegraph:

An MP was stoned by a gang of youths after challenging their behaviour.

Tobias Ellwood spotted the group of 10 teenagers climbing into an elderly woman’s garden and using it as a lavatory.

When he stopped his car and confronted them they responded by hurling missiles at him and delivered a torrent of abuse.

Mr Ellwood, 40, a 6ft 3in ex-soldier, said he was deliberately polite as he asked the youths to leave the garden.

But when he threatened to call the police, four or five of the gang started hurling stones, some of which hit him and his car.

He called the police and officers searched the area but the youths had fled.

The Tory MP, who is shadow minister for tourism, had been driving past a housing estate in his Bournemouth constituency at midnight when he saw the youths getting off a bus.

They were aged between 15 and 17 and had been drinking. The most aggressive person in the group was a girl, he said. “They had no understanding of right and wrong,” he added.

“They couldn’t comprehend why a member of the public should challenge them. It was an eye-opening experience.”

Despite his experience Mr Ellwood said: “I would urge people to confront youths who act in this anti-social way.”

Sowing the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind in Kosovo

I’ve debated within myself whether to step into the morass that is the matter of Kosovan independence. After my post on the Rest of the Bible blew away all my previous stats on this blog and overnight became the most read post in the history of this incarnation of my blog and my daily stats doubled my previous high, the return to normal numbers is a bit of a letdown. If I alienate all of my Ortho-blogger friends, the numbers are likely to dry up even further.

Let me say from the outset, that I don’t think the Unilateral Declaration of Independence was a good thing for a least three reasons. First of all, Kosovo is Serbia. It is just one of a number of regions. It happens that ethnic Albanians have migrated there. Second, UDIs create a mess in international law. Invariably some countries recognise it and others don’t. It’s made an even bigger mess when members of the UN Security Council are on opposite sides of the matter. They can (and are perfectly will to do so in this case) block the emerging country from joining the club. Third, as Steve notes, Kosovo UDI is a triumph for terrorism.

The Serb minority in Kosovo have been, and will continue to be, subject to persecution. I think this is a bad thing. Yes, it is a statement of the obvious. So why do I bother?

Because I think was goes around comes around. Or to use biblical language, what you sow, you reap. As Orthodox, ever-persecuted, or at least in the West having a sympathetic persecution complex, we want to see Serbia as the victim – the victim of the Croats, the victim of Bill Clinton, the victim of the Muslims (whether Bosnian or Albania or Turk). Neither am I denying that Serbia and the Serbs have suffered in the past, both distant and recent. But neither have they been keen to turn the other cheek. They have been just as willing to perpetrate genocide when it suited them.

So you say, yeah, sure, but that’s those evil politicians and generals like Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. The Serbian Church has been pure as the driven snow over the mass graves in Bosnia.

Unfortunately, that’s not true either. The Serbian Church has behaved like the Russian Church when communism was overthrown there. It has immediately grabbed ahold of the leverage of the State to persecute other Christians. Like the Russian Church, it is nationalistic and ethnocentric. You can’t encourage violence and oppression against Protestant Hungarians in Vojvodina and then cry foul when Muslim Albanians start wrecking your churches and burning your icons in Kosovo.

Several bloggers have suggested that Russia will come to Serbia’s aid in this latest turn of the Kosovo crisis. Will that be in the form of fascist Putin Youth, fresh from the government-sponsored stadium rallies encouraging them to fornicate to make babies for Mother Russia? Are Orthodox in the West willing to decry American imperialism while supporting the resurgence of Russian imperialism, because it is the imperialism of an ostensibly Orthodox country?

Frankly, I think that rather than looking to them for spiritual guidance, Orthodox in the West need to start asking some hard questions about the “Orthodox homelands”. Let’s set aside the blatant Phyletism, if we can for a moment ignore the elephant in the room. Why is the abortion rate in Russia only exceeded in Europe by (you guessed it, another Orthodox country) Romania, that only legalised after the fall of Communism what the Church has always recognised as the intentional killing of an innocent human life, when the Church was once again free to proclaim and propagate the Tradition? Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine and Greece are not far behind.

I do not for a minute want a single person, Orthodox or otherwise, in Kosovo to suffer persecution in any form. I do not want to see the historic churches there to suffer even worse than the churches of this country did under Oliver Cromwell. But neither will I blindly support the Serbs just because they are Serbs or Orthodox, nor will I ignore the whole political and spiritual picture.

Crazy

I’m not usual one to report “celebrity” sort of news, but in case anyone outside of Britain has missed it, Mohamed al Fayed testified before the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Yes, I know it has been over ten years since her death, but her cause of death is only now being officially determined by a jury. This is mostly because of Mohamed al Fayed.

He is the father of Diana’s lover du jour, Dodi Fayed.  He has always told the press (over and over) that he is convinced that Diana’s and Dodi’s deaths were the result of a complex plot. Now he has told the inquest jury. The full details are worth reading in a reputable source like The Times. Why do you want to read this? Because it is truly bizarre. Let me just set the stage:

The alleged plot involved Prince Philip, Prince Charles, British, French and American security services, the French judiciary, ambulance staff, pathologists, newspaper editors, two former Metropolitan police commissioners, the Princess’s sister and brother-in-law, the former British ambassador to France, and the Princess’s lawyer, among others, and it was sanctioned by Tony Blair.

It gets more weird. Really.

Backfire

With all of the legislation and regulation New Labour has brought upon us, it is awfully good to see that one of their key legislative achievments is in tatters. With the help of a few well-intentioned members of the Opposition, the Government was able to pass the ban on foxhunting in 2004. It took them several attempts and they finally had to invoke the Parliament Act (for only the fourth time since 1949) which allows a bill to become law despite being voted down in the House of Lords.

So what a joy it is to see that the effect of the ban as been to increase the interest in foxhunting. The number of anti-hunting protesters continues to dwindle. The League Against Cruel Sports has seen its membership decline from 18,000 to between 5,000 and 10,000. Their spokesman wouldn’t be any more specific, according to the Sunday Telegraph. They are having to sell up their offices and find cheaper accommodation. At the same time the number of hunt participants has risen to 68,000.

The anti-hunt campaigners have always been a minority. It is only because the urbanisation of the UK has made a Labour Government, comprised principally of townies, able to trample on the historic rights of the countryside. The hunters have put up the often violent attacks by protesters. (It’s amazing how animal rights people have such little regard for humans.) When the Government trampled on then, they uncharacteristically put up a fight. Most of the time Brits follow sheepishly when the Government tells them what to do.

Reading the Rest of the Bible

I had almost given up hope of seeing the full Orthodox Study Bible. I had almost forgotten about it until I was over at Energetic Procession and it was mentioned in the comments of a post about Deacon Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Reading Fr Pat Reardon’s article on Susannah on the Conciliar Press OSB site reminded me once again of how much of the Bible I haven’t read. When students ask me whether I’ve read the Bible all the way through (as if this is some sort of insurmountable challenge in the face of the ultimate boredom), I always tell them that I have. (The only time was from March 20 to November 29 of either 1976 or 1977.) I don’t tell them I’ve read a bad paraphrase (the Living Bible)  with an Old Testament eleven books short of the Scriptures used by Jesus and the Apostles.

I have so much catching up to do.

Staying Active in Old Age

Sure, most crime is perpetrated by the young. It’s good to see they don’t have a total monopoly. Seniors need something to keep them active. From The Daily Telegraph:

Police are hunting an elderly lady who tried to hold up a Post Office in an attempted armed robbery.

The pensioner, described as a “little old lady” aged between 65 and 70 years old, pulled out a knife, threatened the cashier and demanded money in the shop in Northenden, Manchester.

But she shuffled off empty handed when staff activated the store’s alarm.

The suspect is described as being white and about 5ft 2inches tall.

She was of medium build, had dark hair and was wearing a purple jacket.

Lenten Guilt

All my Orthodox blogging friends are excited that Lent is almost here. We Orthodox really do Lent. None of that giving up chocolate or just going teetotal. That’s not to deny that chocolate is off the menu – thanks to dairy in the ingredients. Alcohol is reserved for weekends and all of the fifth week. We even give up meat for an extra week before Lent, before going totally vegan for the duration.

I say “we” in the sense of being a member of the Orthodox Church. I don’t do Lent very well. For most Orthodox it is a time of spiritual renewal and cleansing. For me it is mostly a time of guilt. I sometimes get through the first week without meat. Forget Cheesefare Week. I mean the first week starting on Clean Monday (the Orthodox version of Ash Wednesday). I am a carnivore. Not an omnivore. Okay, I eat the vegetables that take up a small area of my plate next to the meat. Left to my own devices – i.e., unless my wife cooks my meals – I’m perfectly happy to just eat meat.

The only mitigation is fruit. I do like fruit. But you can only eat so much of it. I don’t think I could be a fruitarian for six weeks. I’d eventually have to have it on top of a meringue, covered in cream. Neither are fasting foods.

I’m the second person St John Chrysostom was talking about in his Paschal Homily. “Ye sober and ye slothful, honor the day. Ye that have kept the fast and ye that have not, be glad today.” And I am very glad when Pascha arrives. I love singing “Christ is Risen”. And at least for Bright Week the rest of the Church is fast-free like me.

Sharia Justice

A Saudi man was rendered impotent by a witch. We know this because the witch, Fawza Falih, admitted it. She was beaten before she confessed, but as any good CIA agent working in the war against terror knows, sometimes you have to use a little force to get the truth. Falih was beaten so badly that she had to be hospitalised.

And sometime it takes a while for criminals such as Falih to finally admit their crimes. She was held by the religious police for 35 days.

She didn’t exactly sign the confession, as she is illiterate. But there’s no denying her fingerprint is on it, and there’s no reason to believe that someone who has been beaten would have their finger forceably inked onto something they can’t read. Why should the religious police even read your confession to you before putting your fingerprint on it? They are the religious police after all. If you can’t trust them, who can you trust? And if you confess, why do you need to have your lawyers in the courtroom or present evidence of your innocence? Isn’t the claim of impotence by a man proof enough?

It’s a mere technicality that witchcraft isn’t a crime under Saudi law. She was sentenced to death anyway.

She managed to appeal and the appeals court overturned the verdict, saying she couldn’t be sentenced to death solely on the evidence of a retracted confession. Appellate decisions don’t carry a lot of weight in Saudi law. The trial court reversed the appeals court. It sentenced her to death on a “discretionary” basis, as this was in the “public interest”. There is no right of appeal from this second sentencing. Only the King can intervene and commute it.

There’s not a lot of international pressure on King Abdullah. It seems many countries used up their political capital last year when they persuaded the King to pardon a girl who was sentenced to lashes for getting herelf gang-raped. So Fawza Falih may die, but Saudi Arabia will remain a key ally of the West.

Forever Young

The difference between adults and children is that children want to grow up and adults wish they didn’t have to.

I mentioned earlier in the week that I might have further reflection on Peter Pan. Kids love Peter Pan because of all the adventures. They want to fly and fight pirates. Adults just wish they could stay forever young.

I think that’s part of the reason I like to listen to Taylor Swift. Her music, with themes of innocent love and summers past, is nostalgic. It’s a false nostalgia, but sentimental nonetheless. I never had those idealised relationships or breakups – just wished I had. It’s not that I now wish that I had, but rather that I wished it back then. So maybe I’m nostalgic about how I wish I could have been nostalgic. And then there’s the whole wishing I could have been as talented and successful at that age, when I was starting to write music and wanted to be a professional musician but had none of the talent or connections. That’s a lot of layers, but it still gets to the same place.

So part of it is the desire to re-live what was and what could have been, or even what never could have been but would have been really great. But Peter Pan is also about avoiding the consequences of mortality. It’s not just that he stays a boy – he never dies.

Regardless of how old I get or how old I feel, I never think I’m old. It doesn’t seem like I’m 26 years away from my three score and ten. When I dream, I’m not a fat one-legged almost 44-year-old. No, somehow in my mind I’m still in my 20s. I’m grown, but just. Until I remember the truth, I still feel like I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. When I think of the truth, and think of how little I’ve done with the time I’ve been here, it’s just a little depressing

I think about death constantly, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to die. With every season of the year that passes, I think about how I have one less to experience ever again. And it’s not like 70 years is a guarantee. Northern Illinois University yesterday is evidence of that. Four years ago, my own brother died at 34.

Sadly, nostalgia is ethereal and mortality unavoidable. The only Neverland is eternity. There is only one way to be forever young, and that is to (hopefully grow old and) die. My favourite Psalm is the antithesis of Peter Pan, perhaps because my desire for a life like the latter brings into clear focus my need for the former. Moses, as recorded in Psalm 90 (in the LXX it is Psalm 89) says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

How Times Have Changed

When I was Republican County Chairman of Gonzales County, Texas, we were definitely the minority party. Way in the minority. This was at a time with the only winnable statewide race for Republicans was the governorship. Pockets of GOP support on a more local level were beginning to emerge in places, but for Gonzales County, as well as most other rural counties in South Texas, to win the Democratic primary was to win the general election.

So imagine my surprise when I was going through one of the regional daily papers online and learned that the candidates for District Attorney are both Republicans. Whoever wins the Republican primary will be unopposed in the general election.

I’m not particularly surprised that both candidates are women. Texas has a long history of electing women, including the second woman governor in US history in Ma Ferguson. Ferguson would have been the first woman governor in US history, if Nellie Ross hadn’t been inaugurated two weeks earlier to finish her husband’s unexpired term. Ferguson’s husband had also been governor, but had been impeached and removed from office eight years before.

That’s why I won’t be surprised if Hillary wins the Democratic presidential primary. I would, however, be very surprised if she were to win the state in November. No Democrat has carried Texas since Jimmy Carter barely did so in 1976.

But it’s local politics where things have changed. This is the proof that Texas has really become a Republican state. I just wish I was there to enjoy it.

The Divorce Racket

With the lull in the Britney Spears endless psychotic episode, Brits can turn their attention to these shores for the continuing saga of the divorce between Sir Paul and Lady McCartney. This is a case wherein the term “lady” is certainly a case of form over substance.

I’m not usually one for celebrity news or gossip. However as a lawyer I have been keeping an eye on this one for the precedents it may set. Heather is about to get £55 million for four years of putting up with a luxury lifestyle, though that may be part of the problem. Sir Paul is worth a little bit less than £1 billion but he doesn’t live like it. I mean, he doesn’t live like poor folks, but perhaps Heather was expecting to tap into it a bit more.

But I’m straying into the gossip. What isn’t gossip is that divorce is a lucrative racket. Susan Sangster is getting her fourth divorce. She’s amasses a fortune from her previous marriages and was looking to improve on it after just 14 months. She had hoped to get her pre-nup invalidated, but when she found out that wasn’t going to happen, she decided to cut her losses and run. Probably into the arms of husband number five.

Writing in today’s Daily Mail, Amanda Platell has an insightful commentary on the injustice of modern divorce. It is something that may be a developing phenomenon here, but old hat in the States. Even though I never had a case involving particularly rich clients, the injustice climbs right down the socio-economic ladder. It is one of the reasons I’m glad I don’t practise anymore.

Divorce is the only no-fault breach of contract. In any other cases, if one party wanted to just dissolve the arrangement against the wishes of the other, the breaching party would be responsible to the non-breaching party. In divorce, the breaching party can walk out of the contract without cause and take the other to the cleaners. Hopefully the courts won’t let Heather Mills do this.

Now if we could only get rid of no-fault divorce.

Busking

One thing London has to offer is a variety of buskers. Just about every Tube station has one. Some have more.

The legality of it all is quite confusing.  There was a blind man playing an accordion just down from a sign saying buskers would be fined £200. Clearly he didn’t see the sign. At another station there was a painted (or carefully tiled) semi-circle area on the floor which seemed to be created for busking. I favour the latter approach, as busking really is a London institution. Do people really complain?

The quality ranges from almost professional to atonally bizarre. At one station a hip-hopper with a wireless mike started singing about the kids making up lyrics as we walked by and followed us for a short distance. Then there was the man with no legs who played one note on a pipe of some kind. He just tooted the one note at random intervals.

Disability did seem to be a recurring theme. I suppose that when opportunity or academic inclination hasn’t offset physical handicap, begging is a reasonable recourse. And buskers are actually putting some effort into their work – or in the case of the tooting double amp, at least making a noise to get noticed.

And there are those who seem to be making a lifestyle choice. Two or three times a day, you come across the really talented. These are the ones that should be playing in a band somewhere. Maybe they do in the evenings.

The most memorable busker I have ever heard – in fact, the only one I can remember from more than three days ago – was a Afro-Caribbean man playing classical music on a steel drum at the bottom of an escalator. It was in 1992. I don’t remember the Tube station.  He was playing Für Elise by Beethoven.

Paying for an Apology

The new Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has apologised to Aborigines who were taken from their families under the policy of assimilation. While I’m not in favour of apologies for wrongs committed before living memory, I think this apology is perfectly acceptable. After all, this policy continued into the 1970s and the damage done by it very directly affects the lives of people today.

But as with all these social apologies, there are still some who think it hasn’t gone far enough. Some human rights lawyers want Britain to apologise as well. Since the policy started in the 1880s under colonial rule, which lasted until 1901, they feel the British should bear some of the responsibility. I feel not.

I’m not just concerned that British taxpayers could then be subject to legal claims like Australian taxpayers are about experience. This is not hypothetical or conjectural. One Aborigine, Bruce Trevorrow, won A$525,000 (£220,000) in the South Australian Supreme Court last year after proving he had been treated illegally and with negligence when he was taken from his parents as a baby. Previously, claims such as Trevorrow’s would have been limited because of the lack of a paper trail in many situations. Claims also would not have extended to people generations removed from the actual act of being taken away from their brith family.

The official apology from the Government could create lines of legal causation – proximate cause – that could empty the Australian treasury. I have great sympathy for Trevorrow and the Stolen Generation. I think those who can make claims for themselves should either do so or persuade the Australian to set up a compensation fund. I don’t think the British (or I, as a UK taxpayer)  should pay for this too.

Big Brother is Tracking

Big Brother is at it again. The Government has announced that every 14-year-old will be issued a number for life. This is not like a National Insurance or Social Security number. It will be called a Unique Learner Number (ULN) . It will be used to access the new Managing Information Across Partners (MIAP) database. It will have all their personal details, exam results, and school disciplinary record to be accessed by employers, colleges, and anyone else in any Government department or 40 “stakeholder organisations” across the education sector. It will be used by Government agencies to track an individual until they die.

All the information will be on the internet. Each person will get two passwords – one for themselves and one to give an employer. How long will it be before the whole system is hacked and all the details available on the black market to anyone will to pay for it? How quick will it lead to wholesale identity fraud? If the Government’s recent track record for losing massive amounts of critical personal details (like the bank details of nearly half the population last year by putting them into the post) is any indication, it won’t take long.

Nonetheless, the Information Commissioner is said to now be happy with the security arrangements, so it will now go online next September.

This MIAP is separate from the ContactPoint database, which will contain details of all of the children in Britain, including names, addresses, schools, GPs and, where applicable, social workers. I don’t know if social worker details will include the health visitor, which is the nurse/social worker assigned to every child from birth until they start school. They were ready to start putting ContactPoint in operation when the Child Benefit details went missing and a security review was ordered.