June 04, 2005

EVIDENCE, PROOF AND ENGLISH LAW THROUGH THE AGES: PART ONE

[N.B. As the editors of Orbiter Dicta, the Warwick Law School Magazine have given me no indication when, if ever my article on the above topic is going to be published, or indeed when the next issue of the magazine will come out I have taken the liberty to blog it. The next entry will be another unpublished article… (yes, I am a self-gloryfying, pretentious bastard). I apologise for the footnotes and references notable by their absence but I haven't the time to trundle through and format these just now. Will do so once my exams have finished.]

It is plain that the law cannot exist as a just and impartial system without rules that attribute culpability and wrongdoing or innocence and entitlement according to rational evidence and proof. What I hope to demonstate in my rapid flight through this immense theme is how the rules governing these instruments of legal verification have evolved from dark, Darwinist irrationality to enlightened rationality. In order to achieve this I have dealt consecutively with the principle historical institutions and mechanisms that provide sources of evidence and proof, loosely respecting the chronological order in which they appeared in English history. First of all, however, evidence and proof would do well to be distinguished. Evidence denotes information before a court which may prove an unknown or disputed fact before a law court whereas proof is anything that does determine legal truth. Historically this has often been convincing evidence in documentary form.

PRESUMPTIONS

Presumptions are legal fictions, either rebuttable/ permissive or irrebuttable that weigh a case in favour of either the claimant or the defendant and determine the burden of proof, which normally, of course, lies with the plaintiff – the ancient and now universal principle of actori incombit probatio. Probably the most famous presumption is the presumption of innocence though, despite universal reverance for it, the maxim cannot be found in Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, in the works of the great English jurists, Bracton, Coke, or Blackstone or any English case law prior to c.1800 . Nevertheless, the origins of presumptions penetrate so deeply into ancient history that it would be absurd to try and fix a date at which they first began to be used in English law. The Anglo Saxon king of Wessex, Ine, (688–726) held that foreigners who sounded horns in a wood near a road should be presumed theives and killed, while according to the law of Cnut (1017–1035) if a wife hid her husband after he had reported an object stolen she would be presumed to be a thief and punished alongside him. Thus a presumption stipulates that if the commission of an act can be demonstrated then another may or must be inferred from it . When a presumption is irrebuttable – for example, that a minor under a certain age may be doli incapacita, i.e. unable to have committed certain crimes – no factual inquiry challenging the truth of the presumed fact may be entertained by the court. In 1584, for example a statute was passed stating that a sale immediately proceeded by a second sale is presumed irrefutably to be fraudulous. Conversely, when a presumption is rebuttable, some factual debate as to the truth of the assumed fact is allowed. If a mother hid the death of her newborn there would be a rebuttable presomption of infanticide. Similarly in the case of the presumption of legitimacy – that a child born during a marriage is the legal issue of both spouses – the the factual inquiry is limited to a few exceptions that are difficult to prove. The presumption can be rebutted only by proof of the husband's impotence, sterility, or non-access to the wife This example raises interesting questions. In the absence of scientific proof to the contrary, courts dating back to the Middle Ages have employed presumptions to limit or bar the introduction of evidence to ascribe paternity. Current developments in genetic testing, however, can prove or disprove paternity and, thereby, call into question the validity of such presumptions. At present is is possible to establish by genetic testing to a 99.85% certainty that a particular man is not the father of a particular child, or to a 99.99999% certainty that a particular man is the father of a particular child . Consequently, courts must decide whether to preserve presumptions of paternity and legitimacy that protect children from bastardy or to yield to scientific advances. How should the law respond when advances in scientific knowledge reveal what was presumed to be true as scientically false? A judge once remarked that presumptions are ‘common sense and shrewdness. . .brought to bear upon the facts elicited.’ Another noted that the ‘weight of evidence depends on rules of common sense.’ These are, both very pertinent and compelling statements but then again bastardy no longer carries the social stigma it took delivery of under Victorian society. The social benefits served by the presumption of legitimacy were once manifold. It ensured that children were eligible to the financial support, inheritance rights, and filial obligations of their parents, preventing them from becoming wards of the state so that neither king, nor church, or taxpayer was forced to provide for them. Such arguments no longer hold weight. S.1 of the Family Law Reform Act 1987 established the general principle that there should be legal equality for children, whether or not their parents have been married to each other. Nevertheless the argument that the presumption of legitimacy maintains the stability of the family may still remain valid. The question remains, independent of the issue of equal treatment: is fatherhood a biological question or a socio-legal construct? This is just one way in which the incongruity between law and science has questioned the validity of presomptions. Yet the two might continue to co-exist: writing in the 18th C., the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume nonetheless submitted an idea that remains convincing today. ‘In vain,’ he cautions, ‘should we pretend to determine any single event, or infer any cause or effect, without the assistance of observation and experience.’

THE ORDEALS

The ordeals were physical trials of resilience, undergone to prove the innocence or guilt of an accused, that originated as heathen customs prevailing in China, Japan, India and Egypt and among the barbaric races of Europe. They reversed the principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty, and throws the burden of proof upon the accused instead of the accuser. With the assistance of pious rulers the ordeals were exploited by the Church in mediaeval Christendom who staged them as the thaumaturgic intervention of providence divine to vindicate justice. Indeed the ordeal was a powerful means for the Church to enforce her authority over the ignorant masses she had to deal with . The customary ordeals in the middle ages were by either by fire, reserved for patricians or by water, meted out to plebians. In the cold water ordeal, or judicium aquae frigidae, often reserved for suspected witches, the accused was bound with cords and lowered with a rope into a reservoir or pond, with a prayer (The indication of guilt would be if the accused floated, while the innocent would, rather conveniently lest there be any doubt, sink and thus be accepted by the pure element. The judicium aquae ferventis obliged the accused, with his naked arm, to find a small stone or ring in a boiling caldron of water. The ordeal by fire (judicium ferri or ferri candentis) conversely was either administered either by means of a piece of red-hot iron, which he had to carry for a distance of nine feet or more, or in the form of six or twelve red-hot plough-shares (vomeres igniti), over which the person had to walk bare-footed while blind-folded. This last ordeal was undergone by Emma of Normandy, the wife of King Aethelred and mother of Edward the Confessor, after she had been accused by Robert, the Archbishop of Canterbury, of rather too close an intimacy with Ælfwine, the Bishop of Winchester. The choice of episcopal lover was short-sighted since the aforesaid Ælfwine had been dead three years at the time, but the brave-hearted Emma agreed to undergo the ordeal nonetheless (in lieu of compurgation – swearing innocence on oath). Miraculously Emma passed over the plough-shares unscathed, which was, needless to say everything to do with her having invoked the protection of St. Swithun the preceding night and nothing whatsoever to do with the scorching plough-shares being spaced at regular intervals or even with cold plough-shares having been painted red. The Church also invented and substituted new ordeals including the ‘ordeal’ of corsnæd which it reserved for its own bretheren and which involved undergoing the torture of eating consecrated barley bread and cheese after appropriate religious ceremonies. The profanity of the ordeal is ironic: those who regurgetated the holy sustenance would be deemed to be guilty, since God would send Archangel Gabriel to stop his throat. Miraculously not a single incident of this is recorded.

The genuine spirit of Christianity, however, urged towards an abolition rather than improvement of all these ordeals and more miraculous than the ordeal itself, perhaps, was the fact that certain of the clergy exposed the ordeals for what they were St. Agobard, archbishop of Lyons, (who died c.840) attacked the duel and the ordeal in two special treatises, which breathe an evangelical spirit of humanity, fraternity and peace. He says that the ordeals are falsely called judgments of God, ‘for God never prescribed them, never approved them, never willed them; but on the contrary, He commands us, in the law and the gospel, to love our neighbour as ourselves, and has appointed judges for the settlement of controversies among men.’ Several popes, and the fourth Lateran Council of Innocent III (1215) which outlawed the participation of the clergy in duels condemned more or less clearly the superstitious provocation of miracles . It was by the influence of these pontiffs, aided by secular legislation, that the God-tempting ordeals finally disappeared during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, being abolished by an order of council of Henry III in 1220, but the underlying idea survived in the torture which for a long time took the place of the ordeal.

It would be expedient at this juncture to make reference to the judicial duel, a.k.a. the bilateral ordeal, which is, needless to say, the universal resort of all wild men and beasts to defend or gain possessions or to avenge insults. It prevailed among the ancient Danes, Irish, Burgundians, Franks, and Lombards, but was unknown among the Anglo-Saxons before William the Conqueror introduced it into England. The duel, considered by Ranulf de Glanvill in his De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliæ (1188) to be the chief mode of trial in treason, concealment of treasure trove, homicide, arson, robbery, rape and falsification accorded legal victory to the stronger party, or he who was better able to wield his weapon and was therefore well-suited to the interests of belligerent Mediaeval society. Cowardice was considered to be co-existent with treachery. In 1162, the Earl of Essex was accused by Robert de Monfort of having traitorously suffered the royal standard of England to fall in a skirmish with the Welsh, five years beforehand and challenged the Earl to a duel. Accepting the challenge, Essex was nonetheless unhorsed and severely wounded such that all present thought he was dead. Essex was, however, not dead but merely stunned and recovered under the care of the monks of the Abbey of Reading a few weeks later. Though his corporeal wounds had healed, he could not, however, return to the world having been vanquished by single combat so he took vows and passed the remainder of his days cloistered at the abbey. The Church, while not being able to exercise the power of deciding culpability as they were able to do, de facto, in the case of the ordeals, nonetheless expeditiously traced the judicial duel back to Cain and Abel and reminded the laity of the benevolent intercessions of the omniscient Lord. However, as Francis Bacon, an outspoken critic of the duel writes, ‘for the law of God, there is never to be found any difference made in homicide’ . The judicial battle was usually allowed only to freemen; often aged and sick persons, women, children, and ecclesiastics were permitted to furnish substitutes, though not always. The custom died out in the sixteenth century but it remained lawful in England until an Act of Parliament outlawing the practice was passed in 1819 and continued to be practiced privately ex justicio for many decades after. By the 19th C. the combatants were often sensitive and Romantic, yet foolish young gentlemen well versed in chivalry, whose honours could be easily aggrieved and who would rather die in honour than live in shame.

TRIAL BY JURY

Unlike any biological organism the jury probably had three parents: the lay Anglo- Saxon judge, the Carolingian inquest and the witnesses of Romano-canonical procedure . At the dawn of English common law the form of jury most commonly in use was a committee known as a jury of presentment or grand jury, whose task it was to accuse someone who might be prima facie guilty of a crime, quite different to the petit or trial jury that we are familiar with in England today. Under the Doom Law of Anglo Saxon King Aethelred (980–1016), twelve landholders and one king's representative were appointed to serve as an accusatory body which would point out crimes which had come to their attention in their small jurisdictions of residence. The same practice continued under and after William the Conqueror and into the 12th C. In the reign of Henry II at the Assize of Clarendon (1166) it was restated that 12 lawful men of every hundred (shires were divided into hundreds, each roughly 1/100 of the area of the shire and four of every village, acting as a jury of presentment, were bound to collectively testify on oath whether any local man was a robber or murderer. They were a source of evidence but not of proof since it was only the king’s justiciar who could decide guilt or innocence .

There was then a sea change; starting with their occasional use in civil law to resolve land tenure disputes, the orientation of juries in England began to shift from accusatory to resolutive and functionally the institution’s object became to try questions of fact. In the feudal world, especially in times of turmoil, violent ejections and usurpations were common, with consequent violent vendettas arising and pleas brought to feudal courts could be delayed or altogether frustrated. As a remedy Henry II established the possessory writ, an order from the Exchequer , directing the sheriff to convene a sworn local jury at petty assize to establish de facto dispossession, whereupon the sheriff had to reinstate the defendant pending a subsequent trial at the grand assize to establish de jure his rights. This was the writ of Novel Disseisin (recent dispossession). A similar writ of Mort d'Ancestor decided whether the ancestor of a plaintiff had, in fact, possessed the estate, whereas that of Darrein Presentment (last presentation) decided who, in fact, had last presented a parson to a particular benefice. All these writs gave rapid and clear verdicts subject to later revision thereby facilitating the role of the judge, but more importantly revolutionising the jury by making it effectively a source of proof per se . Moreover, Henry's decrees ensured that the judge-and-jury combination would become normal and that the jury would gradually supplant the irrational verdicts of ordeal and battle, especially as the Assize of Clarendon, aforementioned, stipulated that even if the accused had survived the ordeal, if they were convicted by jury they would be exiled. It may be argued that juries were seen as a more humane substitute for the ordeals, this being an age where unwitnessed felonies or supernatural crimes such as witchcraft posed grave difficulties for the machinery of justice, forensic evidence being either rudimentary or non-existent.

Despite the fact that the power of the judiciary was enhanced considerably by the Tudors the jury maintained its independence. Among the trials of the period was that of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton (1554), a protestant courtier, parlementarian and member of the Warwickshire gentry during the reign of Catholic queen Mary accused of treason in the wake of a rebellion led by Thomas Wyatt the younger. Despite not being permitted counsel – such was the custom of the time – Throckmorton defended himself spiritedly and with quick-witted skill and was acquitted by the jury: an almost unheard of occurrence for Tudor times. However, not all was fine and dandy: according to Sir Thomas Smith by 1664 English juries routinely appeared before the Star Chamber and were fined for acquitting prima facie guilty defendants. Such was the case in the 1670 political trial of William Penn, who was charged with preaching Quakerism to an unlawful assembly. Four of the twelve jurors voted to acquit – and continued to acquit even after being imprisoned and starved for four days. This was common practice: the need for quick verdicts was so great that juries were habitually incarcerated in a room deprived of food, drink, fresh air and a fire. Under such duress, most jurors paid the fines. However, one juror, Edward Bushell, refused to pay and brought his case before the Court of Common Pleas. As a result, Vaughan CJ issued an historically important ruling: that save in cases of corruption jurors could not be punished for their verdicts even if they had been pronounced contro plenam et manifestam evidentium. Bushell's Case secured the verdict of the jury as an unimpeachable proof and was one of the most important developments in the common-law history of the jury. Perhaps unintentionally this ruling laid the foundations for popular lobbying: during the 18th C. juries would often acquit palpable criminals in the knowledge that if they were convicted they would face the death penalty.

Despite being multifariously protected by current laws, there is still, to this day no guarantee that a jury will put its civic responsibilities before its personal interests and issue a just verdict, though the common sense that a jury may, and often does convey to legal injustice is, with reason highly valued and indispensable. The age old dilemma is poetically captured by Alexander Pope:

_Meanwhile declining from the Noon of Day,_
_The Sun obliquely shoots his burning ray; 3:20,_
_The hungry Judges soon the Sentence sign,_
And wretches hang that Jury-men may dine

The Game of Ombre from Canto III of Rape of the Lock


June 01, 2005

Pre–exam cheating for the meritocratic age by A. Pontiff

Better never then late! Nevertheless, I've written it now… will go and chastise myself…

RIP (rest in pestilence) the days of old fashioned corruption, where Lord Snooty-Face of Toffs-Uppington could guarantee filial firsts at primary tertiaries courtesy of a few old-school-tie, under-the-table, sterling-sized golden handshakes. (Corruption is now strictly the reserve of certain international organisations, which I have taken the liberty to blacklist in invisible ink below). Nevertheless we immortally poor, oppressed students still have a number of trump cards when it comes to revision:

GETTING STARTED

Definitely the hardest part for Yours Truly, Mr Procrastinator. This requires an enormous concerted effort to get started – rather like pushing off on a bicycle uphill. Unlike a trip to Woolworths, well worth it, though! Never say, ‘oh I have plenty of time, so I won’t bother revising just yet.’ If you look over your lecture notes once they immediately become more readily comprehensible upon re-re-vision.

Exam timetables. Personally I don’t draw up schedules because I know they will simply be over-ambitious Stalinist ‘5 year plans’ that I’ll end up not fulfilling and then getting seriously depressed over the fact that I never managed to stick to them. I prefer rotating the modules to be revised on a one or two per diem basis.

WHILE REVISING

Take lecithin (pronounced less-a-thin). Lecithin is usually used as synonym for phosphatidylcholine which may be isolated from either egg yolk (in Greek lekithos – λεκιθος) or soy beans (for all you veggies). Lecithin also contains linolenic acid, a fatty acid also found in fish. It is needed by every cell in the body and is a key building block of cell membranes without it, they would harden. Lecithin protects cells from oxidation and largely comprises the protective sheaths surrounding the brain. The lecithin that is available in capsules is the most popular. These are sold at chemists and health food stores and are admittedly convenient, but are also expensive. Much less costly is liquid lecithin. A taste for liquid lecithin has to be acquired, shall we say. It is easier to take if you first coat the spoon with milk or molasses. After taking liquid lecithin, it is wise to have a "chaser" of any dairy product or, again, molasses. Beef and sheep brains are also an excellent source of lecithin…!

Eat plenty of fish!

Take frequent and regular exercise! Whether you prefer cardiovascular or weight resistance the latin adage holds true: mens sanus corpus sanus. Exercise gets the seratonin flowing round the brain again and improves concentration.

While revising avoid distractions, but bear in mind these may be both internal and external! Take regular breaks and treat yourself to small rewards after completing each stage of the revision. Personally I like to escape online or take those infamously risqué walks in parks during such intervals.

Relieve sexual frustration – this can be a major distraction. This may be equally achieved independently of other human beings…

WHEN, ON THE EVE OF THE EXAM, YOU REALISE YOU HAVE NOT DONE ENOUGH REVISION! (C***)

Coffee and glucose rich products will keep you perked up as you burn the midnight oil at the eleventh hour. This situation should be avoided at all costs, however, and I don’t recommend it by any means!

Cramming. Ditch the details, dude, you have less than 24 hours before the exam! Cramming is best done in the morning – better to go to bed early and then wake up ere the early bird… Dude, are you listening? Its like midnight and you’ve got an exam tomorrow – at, like, 9:00am!… Need I say more?


May 26, 2005

Musical meme

My Music Top 20 (if anyone is in the remotest bit interested). I originally wanted to compile a Top 10 but, realising the sheer impossibility of such a task resigned myself to a score. I doubt that this list, roughly in ascending order of preference, is 100% reflective of my musical preferences, and no doubt I shall be editing it somewhat… every time I play a CD hereafter ;-). Nevertheless, I think it is fairly representative of my personal favourites and what they mean to me:

*Adagio from the String Quintet in C, Franz Schubert (in my opinion the most sublime piece of music ever written. Indispensable for summer walks in the English countryside)

*Set Me Free, Chris Rea (awe inspiring; will give me a boost however low I am feeling)

*Pavane pour une Infante Défunte, Maurice Ravel (poignant; for those times when one must resign oneself mournfully to fate)

*Libera me and In Paradisium from the Requiem, Gabriel Fauré (respectively powerful and serene; the fusion of Night on a Bald Mountain by Modest Musgorsky and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria at the end of Disney’s Fantasia achieves this equally well)

*La Mer, Claude Debussy (veritably a symphonic poem)

*Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Götterdammerung (sung version) from the Nibelungen Ring Cycle, Richard Wagner (a more than adequate substitute for sex)

*Adagietto from Symphony No. 5, Gustav Mahler (ultra Romantic)

*The theme tune from the ‘Inspector Morse’ TV series, Barrington Pheloung (am a Morse fanatic)

*Overture from The Magic Flute, W.A. Mozart (I imagine this would be great for driving to down country lanes, with one’s foot on the accelerator)

*Nocture no. – (will add the no. once I’ve tracked it down), Frederick Chopin (nostalgia for Poland)

*Come Rain or Shine, Frank Sinatra (What will be rushing through my mind the first time I French kiss in the rain)

*Adagio from Spartacus, Aram Khachaturian (Perfectly depicts a ship at full mast on the high seas – as the producers of the ‘Onedon Line’ series must have realised; to me it also invokes positive Victorian values)

*The Beyondness of Things, John Barry (vast expanses)

*Tapiola, Jean Sibelius (the beauty of the Tundra)

*Nocturnes, Claude Debussy (Secessionism in music)

*The Whale, Electric Light Orchestra (urban, industrialised England)

*The Weekend, Michael Grey (clubbing)

*Adagio in G Minor for Strings and Organ, Thomaso Albioni (an absolute must for my funeral)

*Simply The Best, Tina Turner (the most uplifting music ever)

*True, Spandau Ballet (for the camp moments inherent in every gay man’s life)


May 24, 2005

The End of the World is nigh

I am not habitually superstitious and view the following as a source of interest rather than as anything to be taken literally. However: walking past a newsagent's window earlier today my gaze was arrested by the cover story of Horoscope magazine, (which also happened to be irradiated by a ray of sunlight that beamed its way between two rooftops to illuminate the corner of the aforesaid store front where the aforesaid magazine was displayed.) In bold type read the title: Pope Benedict XVI spells the Apocalypse.

Upon further online investigation I found myself rather gripped by this Nostrodamian affair. Notwithstanding the fact that Ratzinger's election as pontiff took a conclave of 115 cardinals, four rounds of voting and followed a lifetime of service to the Vatican, it would appear that, according to Internet doomsayers and a 12th century Catholic prophecy by St. Malachy – an Irish archbishop, at least, that Jugement day shall be upon us in the near and not too distant future.

Apparently St. Malachy was said to have had a vision during a trip to Rome around 1139 of the remaining 112 Popes. Benedict XVI is number 111 on that list. He is also described in a text attributed to St. Malachy as the "Glory of the Olive". What's the connection? I hear you ask. Well Malachy-watchers point to the choice of the name Benedict -an allusion to the Order of St. Benedict, a branch of which is known as the Olivetans. Others have speculated that the new pope will be a peacemaker in the Church or in the world and will therefore carry the olive branch.

Critics widely dismiss the Malachy prophecy as a forgery and possible propaganda meant to influence a 16th century conclave. Doses of scepticism even appear on the most energetic Malachy web pages.
But believers point out some startling similarities between the prophecy's descriptions and past pontificates: John Paul II, number 110, was described in the prophecy as "de labore solis" – or "of the labour of the sun". Strikingly he was born on May 18, 1920, the same day as a solar eclipse and was buried on April 8, 2005 – the same day as a partial eclipse, visible in the Americas.

More pressing for doomsayers, however, are the prophecy's references to the last Pope on the list, Peter the Roman, who will lead the Church before "the formidable judge will judge his people". Given that Benedict is already 78 years old, Peter the Roman must be coming soon, and with him, it would seem, the end of the world.


May 15, 2005

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy
All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy
All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy
All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy
All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

All

work

and no play

makes Alex a dull

boy. All work and no

play makes Alex a dull boy

All work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boyAll work and no play makes Alex a dull boy

Mwhahahahahaaaa! Prepare to be taken care of, Ruby – yeah, that's right, I mean you, Ruby. In seven minutes I'm going to hack you up into tiny little pieces. Then I'm going carve up your body parts into cute little star shapes… before shovelling them all into several Tesco's two for the price of one extra strong bin liners and storing them in my industrial size freezer. And don't smirk like that, I am closer than you think. In fact I'm watching you right now – I can see you sitting there, smugly, in front of your computer screen, focusing with your eyes on these very words, one hand poised on the keypad… Getting a bit worried now aren't ya, Rubes? Well don't even think about reaching for the phone, Frisky, I've cut the… oh fuck it… erm, yeah, I removed your sim card earlier today… And remember: you have 7 minutes to live. Mwhahahahahahaaa!


May 10, 2005

30 raisons pour detester les francais/ My Year In Merde

I apologise for and disclaim responsibility for any offence I may herebelow inadvertantly and unintentionally cause to French or Francophone visitors to my weblog.

I could just as easily produce a longer list of things that I like about the French but it wouldn't be so funny.

'My Year in Merde' is a reference to a recently published book in the UK. Over the last academic year I have been studying in Lille, Nord (59) and my observations are for the most part first hand experiences. They may therefore not necessary be reflective of France as a whole.

1 Smoking is a national pastime (cigarette manufacturing was once a state monopoly – quelle surprise!)
2 Their streets are paved with dog turd (in England we have what is known as le 'pooper scooper')
3 Their streets are lined with beggars (this rather whiffs of social problems/ industrial apathy, doesn't it, Monsieur le Ministre de l'Interior?)
4 They speak French
5 They have a habit of meaning what they don't say and saying what they don't mean – rather like women (sorry girls)
6 No one gives a frigging centime for anyone else
7 The state or 'l'administration' has its own courts, police and legal rules, which I have to learn :-(
8 They overwhelmingly drive Pergeots, Citroens and Renaults and buy French – whatever happended to the Internal Market and the Free Movement of Goods?
9 Generally speaking they effortlessly look stylish, slim and tanned
10 Their economy is about as stagnant as a cess pool – job security is very high meaning that the incompetent remain employed while the newly qualified remain out of work
11 They are obsessed with sex and the body image
12 They drive on the wrong side of the road
13 They cannot pronounce 'h' – eg. 'Ello 'Ello
14 They cite the separation of church and state as a motivation for religious intolerance – the banning of muslim chadars and Jewish kippas in state schools etc.
15 Their mobile phone companies enjoy charging hidden fees 'hors forfait'
16 Despite being president for 10 years Jacques Chirac still regularly puts his foot in his mouth at international conventions
17 VAT stands at 19.6%
18 Unemployment at around 11%
19 In order to terminate a contract you are obliged, by law, to send a letter by registered post to the other contracting party (no wonder La Poste has managed to stay afloat – in contrast with Royal Mail)
20 Cheddar cheese is not available
21 Baked beans are not available
22 Disgestive biscuits are not available
23 Blue tac is not obtainable (got bored with 'available')
24 Students write on graph paper – lined paper is not obtainable
25 You could be forgiven for thinking that their gyms haven't received investment since the 1980s
26 Holding protest marches and strikes is a national past time
27 They are going to vote 'no' to the EU Constitution (despite having created the EU themselves 50 years ago – Jean Monnet, French foreign minister, long dead white man, remember him?)
28 Their formalism can be OTT (my lecture note print outs are headed 'Madame le Professeur…') Documents have to be stamped and you can't simply sign and date a contract – you have to state where it was signed and write out 'read and approved' as well
29 They get away with having substantial 'overseas departments' – French Guyana; Guadaloupe; Martinique etc. while the British are still labelled internationally in certain quarters as colonialist pigs.
30 They think they are internationally significant – to be fair they do have a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, rather like the British.


May 08, 2005

Graphic politics

I realise this is lamely timed since we've just had a General Election but if you haven't already visit www.politicalcompass.com, read the explanation and take the test! My recommendation rockets out beyond our stratosphere. With dazzling clarity my earlier fragmented reasoning of politics has been wiped away by a brilliant, coherent and hollistic explanation, in short, simply because the political compass adds a new axis and thereby a new dimension to the problematic and unsatisfactory right-left analysis a relic of pre Revolutionary France. The extremes of the new axis are fascism or authoritarianism and libertarianism – or, if one travels far enough, anarchy. Contrary to popular opinion, communism is not the polar opposite of fascism – indeed these two maybe merely at acute angles to each other, though their differences have fuelled and continue to have the potential to fuel more bloodshed then any other. Communism is in fact not authoritarian per se but because it is polar opposite of neo-liberalist, laissez faire free market economy, it necessarily entails regulation and control and will therefore tend towards authoritarianism. Conversely unbridled corporate freedom can prove to be equally as comandeering though exploitative of greed rather than of fear.

This 2D graphical representation of politics, festooned with dots representing the relative positions of well-known politicians, has explained, inter alia, current affairs in a way that has hitherto escaped my understanding. Speaking topically, this includes the war in Iraq; the hypocrisy of Tony Blair in vectoring the political field of the UK towars the NE and why he must now stand down from his presidential – sorry, I meant prime ministerial – perch; why the leaders of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and, I daresay, China manage to co-operate so effectively, despite purported ideological schisms; why Robert Mugabe is regarded as scum while Ariel Sharon is appeased and why right wing politicians, such as Edwina Currie and Michael Portillo may be simultaneously liberal and liberal politicians, such as the liberal democrats may be simultaneously right of centre. It furthermore illustrates which ideological quadrant one should occupy (SW) in order to obtain political sainthood of persons such as Nelson Mandela, Ghandi or the Damai Lama.


Eats(,) shoots and leaves

A Giant panda or an impolite cowboy in a saloon?

Like her editor I also romanticise the prospect of dining with Lynne Truss, the author of this esteemed insight into our punctuational crisis, at l'Apostrophe (a Parisian restaurant)

Language and the rules that bind it together emblazon an incredible palate of colourful possiblities from which the most expressive artistic creations may sporn their genesis (or is that a double tautology?) Puns are an endless source of amusement. Exemplis gratis:

ounce – the snow leopard or 1/16th of a pound
pound – 1/14th of a stone or a lock-up for stray animals
stone – an instrument for killing adulteresses in certain countries or 1/2240th ton

Did you know?
'Victoria, England's Queen' is an anagram of 'rules a nice and quiet land'
'Schoolmaster' is an anagram of 'the classroom'
'A man – a plan – a canal – Panama' is a palindrome (the same statement may be read from right to left)

26 little-known lexicographical gems for the day:

Aboulia – loss of willpower or the ability to make decisions
Bushido – Japanese code of chivalry
Cerumen – ear wax
Demijohn – a broad glass bottle for holding wine with handles and a narrow neck
Endomorph – a person with a typically stout corporal dimensions
Friable – having the property of being easily reduced to crumbs/ powder
Germicide – killing germs
Heuristic – encouraging desire to learn discover
Indaba – an international Scout conference
Jemmy – a burglar's short crow-bar
Kermesse – a cycle race in an urban area
Lucipotomy – the art of creating white horses, as may be seen on the chalky hillsides of Wiltshire
Marmelise – to thrash, defeat heavily, destroy etc.
Nudibranch – a shell-less marine gastropod with gills exposed on the back and sides of the body
Oubliette – a dungeon with no opening except at the top, into which a prisoner could be precipitated and then forgotten about
Pantophobia – a morbid fear of everything
Quinquagesima – the Sunday preceding Lent or fifty days before Easter
Remuage – the process of turning or shaking wine bottles so that the sediment collects at the cork end for removal
Spry – nimble or agile
Teapoy – a small tri or quadripedal table
Uranous – uranium in lower valency
Velleity – volition in its lowest form – i.e. wanting to do something not quite badly enough to warrant elevating oneself from one's fundamental support
Wobblegong – a carpet shark (I still don't know what this means, but it does fire the imagination, doesn't it)
Xenonium – a present given to a stranger
Yammer – to lament or wail
Zugzwang – a blockade position in chess where any move is disadvantageous to the the blockaded player


Life is but a terminal disease

So a pessimistic acquaintance of mine once proclaimed. I don't think we should contemplate our five senses nor our Freudian egos or ids (mistranslation of 'it') in this way. After all, everyone living in the developed world, bar, I grant you, those suffering from unbearably painful illnesses has something to live for, whether a can of Heineken, another measly cash handout from the welfare state, the light of day (literally: a serotonin booster) or the likelihood of happiness in the future. As little red haired Annie sings, Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you're only a day away…'
I believe in liberated capitalist markets but only insofar as they generate social well-being – ie. local employment; quality products and services that will improve the calibre of life for everyone. Supporting competition (anti-trust) laws and reasonably restrictive regulations proportional to the size and capability of their target enterprises, imposed with the objective of ensuring environmental sustainability, is indispensable for meeting our obligation towards future generations (inter-generational responsibility) especially when we are childless ourselves. I am furthermore skeptical of the notion of choice: simply increasing the availability of potential materialistic options does not translate as a broadening of choices since choice is necessarily a mental process. If choices are too numerous for the average human being to know their number and make comparisons logically the word then becomes a misnomer. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if cultural and social expectations cloud and narrow our paths too restrictively we become disillusioned by the illusion of incarceration. Education, or perhaps more specifically a heuristic society/ culture that promotes useful education, is also a quintessential instrument in the alleviation of poverty.
It would be shortsighted to focus on objective causes of unhappiness such as financial insolvency when so much depression is the nefarious prodigy of emtional/ hormonal activity, amorous departures and neurological disorders. Yet even if we remain ignorant of the available remedies and despair over the very fact that as intelligent beings our despondency is reasoned are therefore incontrovertible, in infinitely greater measure we are likely to remember that there is hope. If all else fails our self-preserving antediluvian instinct for survival, in whatever horrifically mutated form it currently resides (I'll continue smiling fallaciously at my loathsome boss because someone else is, betimes, likely to accept my offer of employment) shall, mercifully, save us.
Here's a war song to raise the spirits (before we drink them):
_Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.
While there's a lucifer to light your fag, smile boys that the style.
What's the use of worrying, it never was worth while, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile :-) _

Why, as a gay man, I abhor the gay scene

From my experience gay urban culture is characterised by a lack of respect, intolerance, selfishness and egotism. The gay nightclub, bar scenes and saunas are little more than glorified cattle markets observing a Darwinist pecking order according to superficial physical appearances, where souls are destroyed through unrestrained liberal hedonism. Lustful greed, promiscuity and schadenfreude for the losers are rife. The haunts, are therefore cruel breeding grounds for misery, cynicism and bitterness. Machiavels exploit the physically saleable and while both may 'have fun,' giving vent to their adolescant single-orientated mindsets they will suffer in the long term as they gradually realise the unsustainability and increasingly unrewarding nature of their addicted lifestyles. Meanwhile the timid, self concious and undesirable for aesthetically defective, will suffer painfully in the shadows, tortured, in cruel irony to the social equality that we preach so vociferously as we parade our banners and our bodies during Pride Marches. We must remember that not everyone is, nor has the capacity to be a mental Hercules, not to speak of a physical Adonis.
Homosexuality between consenting adult men or women (where it may be reasonably presumed that each is mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions) is not wrong per se; certainly not because unsubstantiated biblical passages from Leviticus and Romans dogmatically so state. It is, in any case, unrealistic for the literate and informed modern population to unquestioningly accept religious scripture verbatim. However, though idealism may incite me to state otherwise, the nocturnal scene lifestyle followed by many gay people, a lifestyle that is actively promoted at our peril, is fundamentally flawed. I believe that this largely attributable to the perception among gay people that there are no alternative fora for finding matches – whereas the opposite is often true. GLBT social groups and hobby groups exist, but sadly do not receive the same publicity as the commercially run exploitative haunts.
Until gay relationships are unremittedly accepted and normalised by society through institutionalisation (e.g. single sex marriage) and and can flourish respecting moral norms outside hermetic gay venues; until civilised debates motion constructive criticism on well argued grounds and until we have the courage to detract ourselves from a ruinous lifestyle centred around nightclubs, where drinking and substance abuse foster we can expect mental instability, depression and suicide within the gay population to continue.

July 2020

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