Friday, 21 October 2011

The Lives of Others

'Transcripts of those recordings have now been obtained by the Guardian, along with other police materials relating to Kennedy's deployment marked "restricted" and "confidential".

'They shed light on the extent of surveillance undertaken to keep tabs on a group of environmental campaigners. They reveal the minute details about the activities of campaigners being relayed by Kennedy, from discussions about football teams to types of biscuits eaten at a planning meeting.

'In one document, marked "secret", police chiefs lay out what they believed to be the legal justification for Kennedy's surveillance operation, stating that the environmental campaigners could cause "severe economic loss to the United Kingdom" and an "adverse effect on the public's feeling of safety and security".'
State secret

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Windfall fines - confidential briefing

Not for Publication (NfP)

The Department will be announcing at the next suitable opportunity (Breakfast-time Christmas Eve - BCE) that the Windfall Licencing Fines and Penalties Bill (WLFPB) will be withdrawn from the current legislative programme due to unforeseen pressure on the legislative schedule and the Ministerial Mind (MM).

We shall not, however, be abandonning this vital piece of Public Service Reform (PSR) and it will be reintroduced at the earliest opportunity. The Consultative Process (CP) has now been concluded and positive representations will be incorporated into the Bill. The Tendering Process (TP) for the Enforcement and Oversight Contract (EOC) is well under way and the Windfall Agency (WA) has already been set up as an arms length body under Ministerial Directive (MD).

The legislation will not apply to Scotland (NOB), but fruit is not thought to form part of the Scottish National Provender (SNP), and as there are many times more sheep than Scotsmen they would probably have got round it anyway (GRIA).

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Pease Pottage

Last December our coalition government, in the form of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg promised that child detention would be ended this May. The “shameful practice that last year alone saw more than 1000 children – 1000 innocent children – imprisoned” would end. There would be not only a “big culture shift” (How did he imagine one shifts culture – or was his imagination, rather than his articulation, actually engaged at all?), there would be a “totally new process” for dealing with families in the immigration process. It is with immigrant families or children entering the UK or about to be forcibly removed after the failure of their appeals against refusal of their applications to stay that child detention mostly arises.

What we have is less a change of process than – if one were to be uncharitable – an interior design exercise. The grim and prison-like Yarl’s Wood has been replaced by the country retreat of Cedars. Families will be detained for much shorter periods. However, the numbers of children detained have not much reduced since May.

Cedars looks very different from Yarl’s Wood, inside and out, but inside it is staffed by G4S and outside there are security fences. It is inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons.

Controversially Barnardo’s, the children’s’ charity, has contracted to work with G4S and the government advising on both the fitting out and the running of Cedars. The chief executive of Barnardo’s describes Cedars as looking like an upmarket holiday resort, perhaps a bit like Center Parcs. One can see what she means, but the irony of the UK state’s willingness to extend this level of comfort and ease to would-be immigrants, many of whom will have no doubt been motivated to make their risky attempts to settle here at least partly by economic poverty, for something like an away-break, but not a life-time, will not be lost.

One regrets also that in our times our government no longer has within its own ranks the ability to envisage and implement a civilised and unintimidating environment for these people but must contract with a charity to achieve it. Likewise, it now almost passes unremarked that it must contract with a commercial organisation (much criticised for competence and humanity, but profitable none the less) to run its detention centre in all but name. The government has outsourced not only its executive functions but also its imagination. How far have we come from Victorian values and practices when the government no longer regards detention of the individual as the proper preserve of the democratic state? At least the d├ęcor has improved.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Dominoes, thine hour hast come. Vietnam was a terrible disappointment, but wait long enough ...


Sunday, 9 October 2011


The heat of battle
 He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.

Many Reapers and Predators don’t encrypt the video they transmit to American troops on the ground. In the summer of 2009, U.S. forces discovered “days and days and hours and hours” of the drone footage on the laptops of Iraqi insurgents. A $26 piece of software allowed the militants to capture the video.

Software is being developed to move the decision on whether to launch a strike against a particular target from human operators to computer programs. That probably costs more than $26.

Cry havoc

Saturday, 8 October 2011



Edward Gibbon by Sir Joshua Reynolds "This man [Reynolds] was hired to depress Art." William Blake

Increasingly I feel like labelling all my posts just Decline and Fall.

"I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion."

"I admire his eloquence, I approve his politics, I adore his chivalry, and I can even forgive his superstition..."  Gibbon of Burke

Gibbon's grandfather lost all of his assets in the South Sea Bubble but later recovered his fortunes to enable him to leave a substantial estate to his son.


"iPod, iPad, iConquered."

Dermot Byrne

Royston, Hertfordshire

Friday, 7 October 2011

Windfall fines update 2

One matter is to be withheld from the Consultation Process (CP). Bids are already being considered for the Contract for the Execution of the Capital Penalty (CECP) for unauthorised tree felling. The Department has received a representation from the National Association of Licenced Executioners and Disembowellers (NALED) claiming that, their membership now being reduced to five and the youngest member being aged 95, they would require Substantial Public Subsidy (SPS) to enable them to keep up with the Targetted Capital Conviction Rate (TCCP) on a Contracted-out Basis (CoB). There are no funds in the Departmental Budget (DB) for such purposes: this legislative project is meant to be Revenue Positive (RP). A Loyal Address (LA) has also been received from the Worshipful Company of Hangers, Drawers and Quarterers (WCHDQ) respectfully drawing (do they have a sense of humour (SoH)?) the Departmental Attention (DA) to the fact that their activities are now restricted to the consumption of ceremonial dinners (with beverages) and the creation, in a purely figurative sense, of Deadmen of the City of London (DCL), where there are thought to be few fruit trees but plenty of windfalls. The Department will not be deterred from this Essential Reform (ER) of a Vital Public Service (VPS) by such self-interest and nimby-ism. Self regulation is Not an Option (NaO). There Is No Alternative (TINA). If nothing is done the nation's orchards and gardens face collapse into the mush of uncollected windfalls. The National Apple and Pear Service (NAPS) is Safe in Our Hands (SiOH). There will be no Top-Down Reorganisation (TDR) of the Nation's Apples. This is a Ticking Time Bomb (TTB). Accordingly I have directed that a Youth Employment Training Initiative (YETI) be established to create Apprenticeships in Modern Execution Necessities (AMEN). It's either that or the Predator Drones (UAVs).

Pass me the water.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The policemen look so young these days


One Nation - No Sog

We need to be cautious when political leaders with substantial but minority support come to government in times of economic woe and danger, and of a popular sense of grievance and powerlessness, promising to unite the nation with resolute, bold measures, simultaneously warning that they need to overturn old ways and appealing to past glories and achievements.

Read the history, especially in Europe.

Windfall fines update 1

Typical English orchard

My Departmental staff have drawn to my attention that Minimum Flock and Herd Levels (MFHLs) would need to be set to avoid abuse of the Sheep and Pig Exemption (SPE). Otherwise anyone could avoid the tax with any doddering old ram (DOR) in their orchard. Following publication of draft MFHLs, the Department received representations from the Society for the Preservation of Ancient and Historic Orchards (SPAHO) pointing out that some historic varieties of apple and pear trees (APTs) have low cropping ratios (LCRs) and that they consequently require a lower flock or herd level to consume the likely Total Windfall Amount (TWA). (Why are shepherds called shepherds when they look after flocks? A Departmental Working Group (DWG) is currently examining this question and will be reporting in 2015.) The Department has also received a vigorous communication from the Guild of Goose and Swanherds (GGS) complaining that their exclusion from the SPE or similar scheme will cause the elimination of historic goose varietiess (HGVs) that have roamed the nation's orchards for centuries and form part of our historic heritage (HH). I have therefore announced a Listening Pause (LP) in the legislative process, following which I shall proceed with my original intention (POI).

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Windfall fines

I shall shortly be introducing legislation to make it an offence to allow windfall fruit to remain uncollected. Teams of inspectors will tour the land counting windfalls and imposing on-the-spot fines of 50 pence per fruit. To prevent evasion it will become a capital crime to fell a fruit tree without a permit. Exemptions will be available for those who keep sheep or pigs in their orchards.

Media lens

The blue pill

Charles Wheeler October 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm

The blue pill’s been pretty effective for 30 years because debt has papered over the deep fissures caused by the startling polarization of wealth and economic power – most starkly in the US ( and UK. It’s enabled a majority to cling on in the housing market, finance tuition fees and hospital and school building programmes and retain the remnants of a safety net for those mired at the bottom.

But the arithmetic is changing. Pretty soon most young people will find themselves shut out of the housing market and denied social housing – doomed to serve up an increasing share of income to the rentier class; many more will find the prospect of student debts of £50k too much of a disincentive (particularly those who’ve already drawn the short straw of substandard ‘sink-school’ education and low expectations – leaving the field open to their less able but wealthier peers, exacerbating the divide between the Herberts and the Henrys). The elderly are already finding that the crippling costs of ageing are being transferred to the individual and the family. Disability benefits are effectively being abolished even for most of the most severely disabled, again pushing the financial, physical and psychological burden onto those least able to bear it.

As a result, confidence in the future is plummeting and the next generation are growing up with the realisation that they will be expected to worker harder and longer for less than their parents.

And this is before the effect of the cuts has fed through.

In the nineteenth century, as the ‘residuum’ grew liberals like Charles Booth set out to prove that the scale of the problems of the underclass had been exaggerated by socialists – only to find it was much worse than imagined. He then sought to scapegoat the casual labourer as the cause of society’s ills in much the same way that today’s economic liberals pin the blame on those at the bottom of the pile (the poorest of the 50% that share just 5% of the nation’s wealth). But it wasn’t just the poor that suffered insecurity, the drop for even the relatively comfortably off had become so precipitous that only a tiny proportion were unaffected by the psychological effect of the gravitational pull of poverty.

For the post-war generation life without a welfare state is just a distant memory. It’s a while since the majority have had to live with the concern that a chronic illness might bankrupt us; that a disability would leave us totally dependent on family, charity or face life in an institution; that any kind of incapacity in old age would wipe out our life savings in a few months (so much for the incentive to save!); that being born into poverty wouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle to advancement or bar to opportunity. But, with the collapse of social care, the time-limiting of disability benefits and the slow death of the NHS, and the ‘marketisation’ of higher education, all those fears that plagued our Victorian forebears are coming back to haunt us.

In a sense, social democracy was a victim of its own success – the fact that most of us grew up expecting to be educated, receive healthcare and some help should we suffer a disability or live long enough to need some assistance in old age, as a right has led us to take these benefits for granted, or even to assume such guarantees are no longer necessary. But Polanyi’s announcement of the death of laissez-faire has proved premature. Beveridge’s ‘Giant Evils’ of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease are being uncaged.

As more and more income has been taken by the top 10%, the tax burden on top earners fallen, and ‘trickle down’ morphed into ‘hose up’, only rising levels of debt have kept the boats afloat. Where, in 1980 a manual worker could finance a mortgage, run a car, take a holiday and see his children through university on a single wage – it now takes a couple working full-time to keep up with the rent and the car loan (see: on decline of the middle income worker in the US). This is the root cause of the financial crisis, as ever more exotic financial instruments have been created to mask the growth of inequality. Instead of taking a share of growth in higher wages as happened in the immediate post-war period, this has been substituted with rising debt + compound interest (and even now the orthodox continue to chant the mantra from page 1 of the neoliberal playbook: wages are too high at £6 an hour!) – an ultimately unsustainable combination in a slow-growth economy. As a result even those back-stops we may have thought inviolable are being removed: universal healthcare, decent education, adequate pensions, the right to a life of more than mere subsistence for disabled people, the attenuation of child poverty.

Perhaps, under this assault, the effect of that blue pill is going to start to wear off.

See post and other comments at

Monday, 3 October 2011

Good for us

Britain is being urged to follow the example of the Danes, and introduce a 'fat tax'. According to the National Obesity Forum, it's not a matter of whether we should do it, but when. Or follow the example of the Hungarians, the Swiss, the Austrians, the Romanians, the Finns, and introduce sugar, caffeine or salt (following the example of seventeenth-century France?) taxes. (The French had the right ideas. They not only taxed salt; they obliged every individual over the age of eight to purchase a minimum weekly amount at a fixed price.)

Is this the best we can do to rescue our doomed culture? Tinker with ill-adjusted financial penalties imposed on everyone's behaviour by right-thinking people of comfortable means and minds, who will themselves hardly notice the effects in their own lives - though they will minutely measure it in the lives of others? Slap 25 pence on the price of a food like butter that mankind has made for millenia. How about a Tesco tax instead?

A man after my own heart

'Sendak is in search of what he calls a "yummy death". William Blake set the standard, jumping up from his death bed at the last minute to start singing. "A happy death," says Sendak. "It can be done." He lifts his eyebrows to two peaks. "If you're William Blake and totally crazy."'

'On the day of his death, Blake worked relentlessly on his Dante series. Eventually, it is reported, he ceased working and turned to his wife, who was in tears by his bedside. Beholding her, Blake is said to have cried, "Stay Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait – for you have ever been an angel to me." Having completed this portrait (now lost), Blake laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses. At six that evening, after promising his wife that he would be with her always, Blake died. Gilchrist reports that a female lodger in the same house, present at his expiration, said, "I have been at the death, not of a man, but of a blessed angel."

George Richmond gives the following account of Blake's death in a letter to Samuel Palmer:

"He died ... in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ — Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten'd and he burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven."'

'He loves Middlemarch, although "Daniel Deronda, oy gevalt! She put aside her hard hat and was determined to be sweet and understanding. That won't get you anywhere, honey."'