Saturday, November 11, 2006

Today's Early Release Murderer - Thomas Wood

Thomas Lee Wood, 22, launched his unprovoked attack on Tom Grant, 19, without warning, suddenly lunging at him as he sat in his seat on a crowded express train. Tom, in his first year at St Andrews University, Scotland, and hoping to become a Sandhurst cadet, had no chance to defend himself.

One blow from Wood's stolen 11-inch kitchen knife pierced his heart and aorta, killing him "with callous efficiency". Covered in his own blood, the teenager had time only to cry out: "I've been stabbed." His killer then tried to break down an interior train door to reach other passengers and staff, who had fled in terror.

Wood, of Skelmersdale, Merseyside, made his escape by smashing a window with a fire extinguisher. He was later held at a police road block.

Last night, as the killer was jailed for life with the recommendation that he serve at least 21 years, police disclosed that he had been released from prison on licence less than six weeks earlier.

This case was brought to you by the Probation 'Service'. There'll be more soon !

A Sough o'War

RANGERS will become the first major football club to wear poppies on their shirts when they turn out today against Dunfermline.

Captain Barry Ferguson and his team-mates are making the gesture to help spread the Remembrance Day message to younger fans.

SPL bosses have allowed the players to have poppies sewn on their strips.

Rangers say the shirt gesture is linked to a can collection outside the ground and a minute's silence before the match.

The corn was turnin', hairst was near,
But lang afore the scythes could start
A sough o' war gaed through the land
An' stirred it to its benmost heart.
Nae ours the blame, but when it came
We couldna pass the challenge by,
For credit o' our honest name
There could be but one reply.
An' buirdly men, fae strath an' glen
An' shepherds fae the bucht an' hill,
Will show them a', whate'er befa',
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

More New Blogs

As some disappear, more new ones arise.

Cobbett Rides Again. I know just what Peter Porcupine - unusual name, that - means about the slow death of rural England.

There are also new (excretive) executive housing estates. You rarely see the inhabitants of the latter. Most of those that dwell in them disappear out of the villages every morning. Their children are dumped at a nursery and the parents leave for the twenty mile drive to one of the surrounding towns, in their never-more-than-two-years-old German cars and 4WDs. One flustered parent will later arrive at the nursery, usually late, to retrieve the abandoned infants.

And each village has a pub.

One, run by an ex-car salesman, caters for the executive home dweller. Anxious to establish the right, rural ambience, everything has been tarted to ape the olde worlde style established by the theme pub designer. The bars, save for a small “cocktail” bar, have been swept away to provide space for the diners. For two or three hours it gives the appearance of popularity, as the steak-eaters arrive in their groups of four or six. One drink is sipped while studying the menu before they are processed through the dining room and back out to the car park. By ten it is generally deserted. The locals never visit.

The other village also has a pub. It belongs to a local brewery and the landlord used to run one of the village stores before it had to close. It is neither self-consciously old nor pretentiously new. It just arrived as it is now by adapting to the needs of customers over the years. There is only one bar. From October to April, a large log fire burns in an open grate every night. If you want to eat anything but crisps or nuts you'll be unlucky. There's a television which shows cricket in the summer and football in the winter, but always with the sound off.

And every night it is packed. It hums with conversation. Departures are accompanied by a chorus of “good nights” whether the person is known or not. Strangers talk to each other.There are old folk and young lovers. Dogs loll on the floor, carefully stepped around as customers journey to the bar and back.

The Tin Drummer - a son of Glarstershire ('There are now two, distinct Cheltenhams: one is very nice and is mainly offices and flats; the other is huge, sprawling, ugly and is where people actually have to live and shop.') - likes cricket and XTC ('and all the world is football-shaped, it's just for me to kick in space' - easily my favourite of theirs). Occasional swearing - needs to stop reading the Devil.

Both rightish of centre.

Sudan Incident, 1909

From a memoir by Captain Greenwood of the Highland Light Infantry, quoted in Hilary Hook's "Home From The Hill"
I always did like the Dinkas. Happy, idle, contented people, with few wants and no cares, singing to their cattle in the sun. Stark naked and free by the river banks and singing to their cattle in the sun. All they wanted was to he left alone, just like everybody else.

Nobody had ever been to see what happened to the north of the Post, between the Post and the River, which ran in a wrongly dotted line on a 'provisional' map. We vaguely knew that great plains stretched for miles in all directions and that there the Dinkas roamed about over the new-burnt pastures when the rains were over, driving their great flocks and herds northwards across the Lol up to the Bahr el Arab River. They gave no trouble to speak of and paid a 'token' cattle tax yearly to the Government which had never found time to go up and count their cattle.

All very easy and everybody was quite happy. Then the Arabs started coming down from beyond the River to the north, and panic spread and grew with every raid over the plains, and the Dinkas fled before the Arab horsemen thundering over the hard burnt soil and took refuge on the fringe of the forest to the south. Poor, gentle, timid Dinkas, they just ran and ran till where the plains met the forest. The Arabs used to ride down like lightning from their country beyond the River, spearing anyone they met on their road who offered resistance, and recrossing the river with a mob of raided cattle driven before them and lithe naked Dinka girls strapped on to their great saddles behind them.

So it went on. Something had to be done.

So I was sent up to the Bahr el Arab, across the River Lol north of the Post. I and Shawish Kapsur, Almaz, Selim and Yambios - to meet Musa Madibo, the Sheikh of the Arabs. He lived in unadministered country and beyond reach of the law. Slatin arranged the meeting on the river.

So I went up to the River and the shadow that was over the plains lifted and the Dinkas came forth again out of the protecting forest and drove their great bellowing herds back to pasture over the plains; singing to them by the rivers and lying in the sun.

We stood and looked at the River. There was no sign of anybody on the banks.

I said, 'He ought to he here by now. We've had much further to go than he has.'

Kapsur said: 'You never can depend on Arabs.' I said: 'But the Pasha himself wrote to him and fixed the date.'

'You can't depend on Arabs.'

I said, 'Well, we can't waste all day looking at the river waiting.'

'It's always waste of time to make a date with Arabs.' That was Shawish Kapsur. He was a black heathen from somewhere or other - I forgot where. Some of our police came from the other side of Africa - kidnapped as children by Fellata pilgrims up Sokotu way and set free by us (with luck) in the Bahr el Ghazal.

Shawish Kapsur was very brave. He once charged a charging elephant, shouting and waving his straw hat, and turned it. I watched him as I lay (exhausted) in the mud. All very long ago. But for Kapsur and his fantastic charge, I suppose I should still be under the mud, down Meshra way.

I gave my mule to Selim to hold and wandered up the bank. Aimaz and Yambios were fishing. Shawish Kapsur came along with me.

I was wondering how long I ought to stay, waiting for a man who might never come, who lived beyond reach of the law, whom nobody had ever seen, except perhaps Slatin in the old Mahdi days. And then there was a thunder of galloping hoofs and I was in the middle of a crowd of Arab horsemen who'd suddenly appeared from nowhere.

I said: 'Peace be upon you.' I thought this was Sheikh Musa arriving with the usual Arab bluster and fantasia.

But there was no reply. 'And upon you the peace' and nobody dismounted to greet the Governor's representative on the river. All the Arabs carried the long dervish spear and a few of them had old Remington rifles. Then I noticed the leaf-shaped spear heads and some of them were red.

Again I said, 'El Salaam aleikum' and still there was no response.

I said, 'I have come as arranged by the Pasha to make peace on the border. Where is Sheikh Musa?'

Pax Britannica and all that. How fantastic!

What should Arabs want with the peace when the finest sport in the world was to be had at the expense of the unbelieving dogs of Dinkas? Infidel and uncircumcised Dinkas, flaunting their shame before the pious Moslems. The ride through the night - the fording of the boundary river - the mad gallop over the plains - the chase of the slim, shrieking Dinka and the long spear piercing his shining naked back....

The slender naked black girls lifted from the cattle posts and strapped, struggling, to the great saddles.

The mob of cattle driven bellowing to the north.... The boasting of great deeds done that day, in the safety of the camp fires fifty miles away ...

There it was. They looked on it all from a slightly different angle.
Greenwood and his men were disarmed and taken captive, but escaped and after a long march on foot were succoured in a village where Greenwood, ill and wounded, was nursed back to health by the Chief's beautiful daughter, Yatong, with the same results that attended Elaine's nursing of Lancelot. More than forty years later Hook visited the village and met her. When Greenwood recovered and left, her father forbade her to follow him and she had tried to drown herself. She still carried his silver and enamel snuff box.

Friday, November 10, 2006

He must have had Tommy Sheridan's jury

During the trial, the court had heard that on 2 September last year Mr Green had visited county hall to finalise arrangements for a meeting he was due to have the following week with Mr James to discuss land he co-owned at Travellers Rest near Carmarthen.

As he left he handed an envelope marked "private and confidential" to Mr James' personal assistant Liz Thomas.

When she opened it later in the day she found it contained £5,000 in £20 notes but there was nothing else inside.

Mr James called the chief constable of Dyfed-Powys Police and Mr Green was arrested that night.

Mr Green, a former dairy farmer who rents out properties in Llanelli, Kidwelly and Carmarthen, said the money was intended as a donation towards the refurbishment of Carmarthen leisure centre.

He said he was "indebted to the pool" because swimming lessons there had helped improve his children's' confidence, which had been hit while he and his wife were going through a divorce.

He accepted he had been "naive" in not leaving a covering note but had denied the charge of corruption.

"I made a mistake - I should have left a note," he told the jury.

The prosecution case had been that money was intended to "tempt" Mr James into looking favourably at Mr Green's plans for the land.

After more than four hours of deliberation the jury returned a unanimous not-guilty verdict.

I'm not surprised they acquitted. Millionaire property developers are renowned for their naivety.

Today's Early Release Rapist

James Marshall.

The court heard Marshall had previous convictions for rape, aggravated burglary and assault.

He was jailed for six years in 1987 for the violent rape of a young girl, who was dragged out of bed at knifepoint.

Marshall attacked the youngster in a churchyard near her home before taking her back to the house and burgling it.

In his 1992 attack, Marshall pounced on his pregnant victim as she walked across fields off Marsden Street in Bury.

1987 + 6 years = 1993.

But in 1992 he was carrying out the rape for which he's just been convicted.

This case was brought to you by the Probation 'Service'. There'll be more soon !

PS - I notice the Probation 'Service' site has information for the following categories :

Practitioners (the people who let the criminals out and the tax-funded lawyers who defend the criminals)

Sentencers (the Magistrate)

Offenders (criminals to you and me)

Can you spot the missing category ?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Defend Mizanur Rahman !

I've looked at a few reports on Mizanur Rahman, the cartoon protestor convicted today of inciting racial hatred. I can't see why he was found guilty. Or why the jury couldn't agree on a charge of inciting murder. This is the biggest miscarriage of justice since Nick Griffin was convicted tomorrow.

Oh Allah, we want to see another 9/11 in Iraq, another 9/11 in Denmark, another 9/11 in Spain, in France, all over Europe.

"Bomb, bomb France. Bomb, bomb France. Nuke, nuke France. Nuke, nuke France"

Surely it's every Englishman's birthright to abuse the French ?

And anyway, how in God's name does 'bomb France' constitute incitement to racial hatred but not incitement to murder ? Given that all the countries named are multiracial societies, how can randomly killing their citizens be racist ? Unpleasant, perhaps. Murderous, certainly. But racist ?

Today's Early Release Murderer

A sex offender who stabbed a schoolgirl to death was not monitored after leaving prison because he changed his name, according to a report.

Timothy Cuffy, 39, plied 13-year-old Sandy Hadfield with alcohol before taking her to a secluded park and cutting her throat with a Gurkha knife.

Cuffy had moved into the area a year before the killing in July 2002.

The independent report found he hid his criminal record from the authorities by using the surname Barnett.

The report looked into how the man came to be in Lincolnshire without any supervision after his early release from a six-year sentence for burglary and assault on a blind woman.

It followed a two-year investigation by the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board.

The report also found vital information about Cuffy was not shared between the Probation Service, the police and health authorities who all had contact with him prior to the killing.

A probe led by Lincolnshire County Council discovered Cuffy had been set free from prison only three years into a six-year sentence for indecently assaulting a deaf woman as she slept in her own bed - then leaving gas seeping from her oven.

The early release took place despite a string of previous convictions - which also included the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl.

If Cuffy, 38, had served his sentence in full, he would have been behind bars when he slit Sandy's throat after calmly leading her to her "execution" in July 2002.

And there'll be more soon - courtesy of the Probation Service.

"they vandalise the allotments, so let's build them a shelter"

Reading Labour councillor Richard McKenzie provides a short and unwitting lesson in why crime and anti-social behaviour are so high.

"Mr Williams, who is white"

Facing 16 charges of rape ? Bail ? No problem. Well not until you disappear anyway.

(Mr Williams is white. So white they say it twice.)

Doomed ?

The Today team were a lot more chipper reporting from the US this morning than they were in 2004.

The question is : Ms Pelosi has said that "we will stand by Iraq, but we'll do it differently". What does this mean ?

I'd love it if she meant - 'we'll send another 250,000 troops and hunker down for the long haul'. I've got a horrible feeling she meant 'we'll get out just as soon as we've found a way to make it seem OK'. The Iraqi leadership must be worried men tonight.

BBC Radio had a reporter trawling various political functions in Washington last night. At a Republican bash one gloomy activist said 'If you enjoyed seeing the helicopters scraping the last Americans off the roof of the Saigon Embassy, you'll be able to see it all again soon. A Democratic Congress will starve the military of funding, compelling them to leave by end 2007'.

If America gets out of Iraq and leaves it in chaos, 'twill be a defeat. But the consequences of that defeat will be felt in Europe long before they're felt in the US.

UPDATE - Paul Belien puts it more elegantly :

However, the current American elections are relevant for Europe, too. If they lead to the American withdrawal from Iraq, Europe will face a widespread intifada. The withdrawal will be perceived as a defeat of the West ...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Yes, but can they sew their tails back on ?

Blind mice could help humans regain sight
By Jenny Percival and agencies

Cell transplants that restored sight to blind mice have raised hopes that similar kinds of blindness in people could also be cured.

Early Release - Scotland Special

Three of Kriss Donald's murderers were sentenced today.

Mr Stewart revealed that all three had criminal records - including serious violence in the case of Huddersfield-born father-of-two Imran Shahid.

He was jailed for four-and-a-half years at the High Court in Glasgow in May 1995 for serious assault and was sentenced to 30 months in February 2003 for assault to danger of life and dangerous driving.

Mushtaq's record, mostly for road traffic offences, also includes assaults.

Zeeshan Shahid has served an 18-month sentence for culpable and reckless conduct and reckless damage.

So Imran Shahid was sentenced to 30 months in February 2003. Unbelievably he was released in December 2003 - just eight months into his 'thirty-month' sentence. Is the Scottish system even less sane than the English ? It's not as if he had no previous - he'd been given 'four and a half years' in 1995. What made them think he'd be suitable for release after a QUARTER of his sentence ?

Less than three months later he was driving his mates around Glasgow, looking for a white victim "to cut them up and take out their eyes". If he'd served his time Kriss Donald would be alive today.

It's been a cracking week for Scotland's Criminal Justice System.

Jack Roy was just 15 when he raped and stabbed Janet Maddocks before throwing her body off a train. He's an old man of 37 now, obviously no threat to anyone. Let him out on licence. Blimey - he's done a runner from his 'close supervision' !

Difficult one, this. You've got Vasilica Potolinca, an illegal Romanian immigrant who's been charged with rape. He's been on remand for a whole two weeks. Surely we can trust him to turn up for his trial of we release him on bail ? Well I never - he's legged it !

Or how about this - "Inmate hid heroin in prison cell".

British understatement is not dead. 53 grams of the stuff, worth a fair bit on the street and a lot more inside.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard how prison officers also found steroids, electronic scales, syringes and mobile phones in Ian McLaughlan's cell.

Sounds like a cushy little number - literally a captive market to sell to.

Mr McLaughlan's home, Castle Huntly, seems a bit of a comedy prison. It was also host to Alan Wright, who broke out at night to rob a nearby house before returning to his cell. He said he needed the money 'to pay drug debts'.

To Ian McLaughlan ?

The Wicked Uncle

One tends to forget that the cultural left's long march through the institutions began with the Home Office and the Prison Service as far back as the 50s and 60s. Education and social services fell later (corporal punishment in schools was only outlawed in 1982 by a nominally Conservative government, led by a former Education Minister who abolished more grammars than Crosland ever did), medicine later still.

Written in the late 60s, Tony Parker's "The Frying Pan" is a series of interviews with staff and prisoners at Britain's only 'therapeutic' prison, Grendon Underwood. Parker was another middle class grammar school boy fascinated by the rough end of life, but a fine writer.

The portrait of Grendon takes in all sorts and conditions of prisoners and do-gooders. The chapter 'The Wicked Uncle' features the one person at Grendon who's prepared to say the whole thing is a waste of time and effort, and is wonderfully illuminating on the changing Prison Service culture. Here are a few chunks. At the time of these interviews £20 a week or £1,000 a year would have been an average wage.

"I am what is known as a discipline officer, sir, as distinct from hospital officer. That is a man of the same rank as myself but he's been on a three-months' training course at Wormwood Scrubs or another prison hospital, in which he learned how to give-out medicines and empty bed-pans. That qualifies him for an extra twenty-two shillings a week on his salary, but not my mind for all the airs and graces as well which most of them assume.

The reason that half the staff here are hospital officers is they applied for training as such after they arrived at Grendon, knowing it was the correct procedure to match in with the image of the place. Band-waggoning if you want my candid opinion, sir. They know this is the shape of things to come in the penal system, and if they want to stay here and earn promotion they must go along with the official attitude as well as having the right coloured eyes.

The prisoners'll tell you this is the easiest nick in the country, and so it is - and not only for the prisoners, sir. There's a good seventy percent of the officers here who've got nothing to do all day except stand around. You look out of the window of that little room of yours any day of the week - and you'll see a hospital officer in charge of a gardens party. If that isn't a farce, sir, then I don't know what is. 'Over-staffed' wouldn't even begin to describe it, sir. There's ninety-seven officers for a hundred and fifty prisoners, which to my mind is a crying scandal, considering the shortage of staff in every other prison you'd care to name.

Whenever we get the wire there's someone coming down from Head Office on an inspection, we're all told to find ourselves things to do which make it look as though we're busy. I've known officers been instructed to keep themselves out of sight on such occasions, when there's literally nothing that can be found for them to do at all. I've been told it myself; so what have I done, I've gone over to the canteen at eleven o'clock in the morning to drink tea, and found thirty other officers there all detailed to do exactly the same. When I was in Brixton or Pentonville there was many a day when you didn't even have time for a piss from morning till night, sir, and that's a fact."

"... all this about Jones swearing at me because he'd had a letter which had upset him from his daughter. I'm not interested in that: if a prisoner swears at an officer, it's an offence against good order and discipline - or at least it is in any proper prison as I understand it. The man should be put on report and punished for it. But not here, oh no: I have to stand there and let myself be called 'a lousy fucking bastard' to my face, by some slag I wouldn't even let sleep in my tool-shed at the bottom of the garden. And what do I have to do ? Stand there and pat him on the head, that's all.

I haven't put anyone on report f6r over a year now, I've learned my lesson: it's no use. They can swear their heads off all day for all I care. You'll notice they only swear at the screws though: let the Governor or the Deputy Governor come down on the Wing, and it's 'Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir' all the time. If they can't swear at them, then why can they swear at us ? But my God, if an officer swears at a prisoner, then there's hell to pay all right.

There's a few of them, I think 'Just you wait me lad, I'll get you one day, and when you're least expecting it too. I'll catch you with the edge of that cell-door of yours sometime when you're in the right position.' Of course I shall be very apologetic about it afterwards: 'Oh, I am sorry Johnny, real clumsy that was; are you all right, shall I take you down to the hospital for a sticking-plaster on your nose ? Here have a fag lad, will I go and make you a cup of tea while you sit down and recover ?'

It makes me sick, the hypocrisy of this place. These men in here, officially everyone's supposed to talk about them as 'inmates' or 'patients'. To me sir, they're not patients, they're criminals. They're convicted felons who've committed an offence, been given a fair trial according to the laws of the country, and been sent to prison quite rightly as a punishment. I agree with all that business about them being sent as a punishment and not for punishment: I don’t believe they should be mishandled or knocked-about or ill-treated while they're inside, not unless they're the ones who start any trouble themselves.

But I do think they should be treated firmly, and while they’re here they should do exactly as they’re told. They know they haven't got the same rights as ordinary citizens outside; their liberty's restricted, they can't indulge in business, or vote, or any of those things. And that's quite right: they've offended against society, and the Judge in his wisdom has sent them to prison for it. One of the penalties of prison is that you're not a free agent any longer: that's exactly why-we have prisons.

To give them the idea when they get here that they're important, their only trouble is they're misunderstood, they need sympathy: well to me, quite frankly that just seems ridiculous. They get more attention paid to them here, more mollycoddling, more listening-to than they’ve ever had in their whole lives outside. It makes them feel, it can't help it, that they're not really bad people at all; it's everyone else outside who's wrong, not them.

Thirty-four pounds a week I understand it costs to keep a man here: thirty-four pounds a week, of your money and mine, poured straight down the drain to look after some layabout who's never done an honest day's work in his life. There's men in here doing five years for £20,000 robberies--which if my arithmetic's correct is four thousand pounds a year. I'll tell you, for four thousand quid a year I'd do five years myself in Dartmoor and think it was worth it. But five years in a place like this, good God sir, it's a rest-cure and a bonus on top as well. It's nothing more or less than a pantomime. Well, there's got to he a few Wicked Uncles in fairyland hasn't there ? I certainly don't mind being one of them.

But don't think I'm the only odd-man out here because I'm not. Ask them up in the Administration Block if they'll tell you how many officers have applied for transfers to leave here in the last few years. It's the thick-end of ninety since I came, and that's well over two- thirds of the uniform staff. So it can't he one big happy family, can it ? Of course staff don't give the real reason why they want a transfer, that'd be very unwise; they'd no more put it down in writing or tell anyone anymore than I do myself with my own applications. We all know Grendon's the prison of the future; loving and understanding and getting to know the prisoners is now official policy, not only of the Home Office but of the Prison Officers' Association as well. If you say you don't approve of it, down it'll go in your record; and when you come up for consideration for promotion, you'll find you've been unaccountably passed by.

So what you say is 'My wife's unhappy living out here in the country, she prefers the town life,' or 'All our relatives are up in the north, we'd like to move somewhere in that direction.' When you're really stuck for an excuse, a very good one indeed, which can gain you a bit of credit too, is 'I'd like to move on from here and put into practice some of the valuable things I've learned. The more these ideas are spread around through other prisons the better.'

Sometimes those up at the top'll scratch their heads, they'll say to themselves 'Why the hell are so many people going, what's the matter with everyone ?' They go around asking other members of the staff. Well, you've heard about a code among thieves sir, I suppose; but there's an equally strong one among prison officers. They know perfectly well what the real reason is for a man putting-in for a transfer; but when the big-wigs ask them, they come out good and pat with the answers: 'I understand his wife doesn't like it here, sir'; 'He's a good man, sir, he wants to broaden his own experience.' There's not one of them brave enough to tell the truth - or stupid enough for that matter - to come out with it straight from the shoulder, especially as they know it'd spoil the man's future career ...

Only what really a gets my goat sir is this: the only two kinds of people who don't do a full-time job are the doctors because they speak in posh accents and think they're above the hoi-polloi like us - though any other doctor, so far as I'm aware, if he works in a hospital is on call any hour of the day or night to attend to patients who need him, and if he's in general practice doesn't think twice about running an evening-surgery for people who can't see him during the day. And believe it or not, sir, who's the other class who don't demean themselves with working here during normal hours ? The bleeding prisoners !

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Families Without Fatherhood

Young black men are "crying out for fathers" to provide stability in their lives, MPs have been told.

Community worker Reverend Les Isaacs told the Commons home affairs committee there was a "very high proportion of absent fathers" in the black community.

This was having an "enormous impact" on boys and young men, he added.

Damn right it is.

London mayor Ken Livingstone's equality adviser, Lee Jasper, said the crime rate was "toweringly disproportionate" within the black community.

Damn right it is. Could thse two things by any chance be related ?

Shaun Bailey, of youth organisation My Generation, said all the evidence showed children who grew up in married or two parent families did better at school and were less likely to end up in prison.

He said the lack of positive role models for young black men and the "promotion" of irresponsible sex they were exposed to was having a negative impact.

He called on the authorities to do more to promote marriage.

Across the Atlantic :

"It is easier to attack me than to deal with some hard facts. Here I go again, but let's look at the facts. One hard, unforgiving fact is that 70 percent of [U.S.] black children are born today to single mothers. This is at the heart of the breakdown of the black family, the cornerstone of black life for generations. Some of these children without two parents may turn out just fine, but most add stress to the lives of their grandparents, neighbors, police and teachers who have to take up the slack for absent or bad parents. It is easier to attack me than to deal with the hard fact of a dropout rate now at about 50 percent nationwide for black and Hispanic students. The average black student who gets a high school diploma today is reading and doing math at an eighth-grade level. Even with a diploma, that young person is ill prepared to compete for entry-level jobs or for a college degree."

Juan Williams quoted at Booker Rising.

Exactly the same considerations apply to white people - it's just that in the UK the Afro-Caribbean community has the highest proportion of fatherless kids. But the natives are catching up fast. You can read about the links between single parenthood and crime here (Families Without Fatherhood, by the great Norman Dennis, pdf file) and here (Experiments In Living, Civitas).

Getting Down With The Kids

It's Local Democracy Week, aiming to "make councils more relevant and useful to young people", "encourage young people to 'take part take power'" etc etc.

So youthful Tory blogger Sam Tarran went off to County Hall :

To be honest, most of the councillors were good to talk to, apart from a woman who didn't seem to know where she was. As always, you get one or two idiots. One Labour councillor decided talking about local government at a Local Democracy Day was boring:

ME: ... though personally, I don't think either the white paper or the Conservative proposals go far enough.
LABOUR COUNCILLOR: So what type of music do you listen to?

He's Moved

Christian conservative Peter Glover is now here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why, oh why ?

I enjoy the blogs of Ian Dale and Guido, but I understand exactly what Richard North means when he accuses Ian of - if I understand him - not taking politics seriously.

It's a fair point. Ian and Guido are in the entertainment end of the politics business - and very good at it. But it's true that they tend to concentrate on the bear-garden, who's up, who's down, personality side. Great fun it is too.

Mr North regrets that 'the growing power and influence of the blogosphere is frittered away on trivia and puerile "tee-hee" comment.' Presumably he considers that Ian and Guido could harness their large and influential readership to create real political change rather than a change of personalities.

He may be right. But isn't it just as true to say that the large and influential readerships are because of the trivia and personalities ? People like stories about John Prescott waking up in the morning and feeling Rosie all over. Hello magazine sells more then Prospect.

That comparison's a little unfair. But these musings are inspired by Ian's apparent amazement at the BNP getting 26% in a Rotherham council election. It's the demography, Ian.

Cheltenham Firework Riots - As Not Seen On The BBC

If you looked on the BBC News site for the South West 'region' today, you'd see top stories like "Bishop's wife to undergo surgery". Although I'm sure we all wish Mrs Hill well, I'm not sure her back operation compares with the scenes in Cheltenham on Saturday night.

Despite Cheltenham's garden city image, if you get off the M5 then turn left by the new GCHQ centre, you'll find yourself in an estate built, like Bestwood, in those optimistic 1950s. "Coronation Square". "Princess Elizabeth Way". "New Zealand House". In fact the area is - you'd never guess - a smack-ridden disaster zone, known generically to locals as "Hester's Way" after the most notorious of its streets. It's the kind of place where elderly residents die in their maisonettes and only the smell alerts the neighbours.

The BBC does have a report, tucked away on the Gloucestershire web page, which doesn't seem quite to tally with the Gloucestershire Echo, even discounting for journalistic hyperbole, or with eyewitness reports. Apparently a concerted effort was made to set fire to the Catholic Church with repeated salvos of rockets. And a Saturday evening drive down Princess Elizabeth Way, part of the ring road system, was enlivened by attacks with rockets and other missiles.

10:30 - 06 November 2006
Cheltenham erupted into chaos as 200 rioting thugs rampaged through the streets armed with thousands of fireworks last night.Yobs stormed through Hester's Way, throwing lit rockets at cars and passers-by.

Dozens of police in riot gear fought running battles with the rioting mob who tore through Princess Elizabeth Way in a six-hour orgy of violence.

The drama began at 6pm when the fire service was called to New Zealand House where a bonfire was too close to the flats.

After the blaze was put out, police turned up and seized a horde of fireworks in a shed.

After the police and fire crew left, teenagers took to the streets armed with hundreds of display fireworks.

Frightening scenes unfolded as marauding gangs of hooded teenagers launched a relentless six-hour assault, hurling rockets, bangers, and Catherine wheels at anyone who crossed their path.

As I got out of my car to take a photograph of the gathering mob, two boys yelled "Oi, press" and ran towards me. I shot back into my car and pulled away fast.

As I drove past New Zealand House it was 6.25pm. Hooligans tossed rockets into the path of cars and hit windscreens as drivers tried to dodge the chaos and smoke.

Some of the yobs used the wheels of parked cars as a launch pad for their packs of rockets which were strapped together in lethal bundles.

They walked in front of cars to set off mighty bangers in the middle of the main road, as trapped drivers watched.

Others took to their bikes and cycled like madmen, holding blazing Roman candles aloft before they threw them at anyone and anything.

The smell of sulphur hung in the air and the street was filled with smoke.

Panicking drivers were forced to swerve to miss each other as blazing rockets careered across their path.

Cars tailed back as far as the McDonald's roundabout as drivers tried to reverse away from trouble.

Crowds gathered to watch as the lawless mobs lay siege to the street. They hung from balconies, cheering on the rioters below.

Anyone who shouted a message of disgust and disapproval became a target for a burning firework. Mothers with pushchairs ran frantically away.

"I've never seen anything like it - it's unbelievable," said Father Mark Moran.

Chanting and jeering, the gangs boasted about their exploits to the growing crowd.

At 7.30pm a series of blasts lit up the back of Grevil Road. Rioters whooped and stuck two fingers at the police vans that swept in.

Six vans took up positions along Princess Elizabeth Way. A host of squad cars patrolled the estate looking for gangs of youths who split up and tore through the back streets.

The biggest troublespot was New Zealand House where dozens of youths loitered in the smoke-filled haze and taunted officers with foul language.

At 7.40pm, the riot appeared to have died down. Again I got out of the car and tried to take a picture. I asked one of the police officers if he thought the worst was over.

It wasn't. I was ordered back into the car. The police sirens started blaring and all hell let loose once more.

At 8.45pm another fire was lit behind New Zealand House and a fire engine rushed to the scene of a blaze which threatened to set the whole tower block alight.

They were quickly followed by two police vans and four police cars as youths hurled bricks at police and firefighters.

The jeering and aggression grew as the sirens swept through the streets and officers with dogs and riot gear spilled out of vans to be confronted by baiting crowds.

Residents of neighbouring Rhodesia House took to the balconies to watch as police swarmed on to the scene.

Officers wearing fluorescent jackets directed traffic through the mayhem.

At one stage, there was an uneasy stand-off as 200 baying youths stood on the corner of Orchard Way, whilst police lined Princess Elizabeth Way.

There appeared to be an element of organisation as younger children crowded around two 4x4s.

The mob started hurling bricks and lit fireworks at police. "If you put these out, we'll just start again somewhere else," yelled a hoodlum.

As police tried to restore calm, one youngster threw a lit rocket into the path of a patrol car. Officers gave chase down an alleyway past St Thomas More church to the delight of his mates.

At 9.15pm the crowd started to thin. The police helicopter was scrambled at 9.30pm. It hovered over Hester's Way, its flashlight following groups of youths below.

At 10.30pm police sealed off Princess Elizabeth Way and officers in full riot gear patrolled the trouble zones.

At midnight, police said there were four arrests and two police cars were damaged. They will be issuing a statement later today.

They were unable to confirm whether the incident was connected to the theft of thousands of pounds of fireworks from Blooms in Evesham Road, and from Stonehouse last week.

Some of the stolen rockets were recovered, found in a shed in Hester's Way on Thursday.

A second report.

10:30 - 06 November 2006
The violent and lawless scenes in Hester's Way drew hundreds from their homes.Those who watched the frenzy erupt had a mixed reaction.

Some thought it was the display of a lifetime. One resident of Hester's Way Road said: "It's been pretty good. It's gone on all night so you can't complain there weren't enough fireworks.

"It's kids having fun. The police should have known it was coming. They've been letting them off for weeks."

His friend said: "It's all kicked off. Some of them started when it got dark and then everyone else joined in. It's pretty mad."

Others shook their heads in despair at the damage being done to the area's reputation.

Residents refused to give their names for fear of reprisals.

One mother, standing next to a pushchair, said: "It's bad in some parts round here but I've never seen it like this.

"They're running wild. They do what they like.

"These kids aren't frightened of anyone. They've got elder brothers who will sort you out if you complain about them.

"They know the police can't touch them. It'll be worse next year."

One elderly resident said: "They will say 'another quiet night in Hester's Way', won't they?

"Where did they get the money from? People will say it's drugs. As if we didn't have it bad enough anyway, they go and act like this."

One mother-of-four from Welch Road watched all night.

She said: "It's frightening. This is serious. If you took my name they would put my windows through.

"My friend called the police about lads setting off fireworks last week and they trashed her car, so what good does it do to speak out?"

People rushed to protect frightened elderly relatives living near the barrage of explosives.

One couple, who asked not to be named, said: "Why should they get away with this?

"They have people terrified to walk the streets in the day and now they'll have people hiding in their homes.

"It's a disgrace. They want a hiding. In my day we had respect for the police. These lot don't have discipline or respect for anyone. They're scum."

Father Mark Moran, of St Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Princess Elizabeth Way, was horrified.

He said: "It was chaos, absolutely unbelievable.

"It started and just kept going. Cars were reversing into each other to get out of the way because they were setting off fireworks in front of them.

"I'm surprised someone wasn't seriously injured."

Some onlookers tucked into McDonald's meals as they watched the action spilling on to the street.

Others said police should not be surprised trouble had erupted.

One mother-of-two said: "Well, what do they expect? They know this happens every year."

The thugs were defiant to the last. One youngster, not yet a teenager, said: "The police can't do nothing. They can't touch us. We'll just do it somewhere else."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Prince of Non-Blogging

Liam shows how. Two posts in July, one in August - steady now, you're overdoing it - let September and October lie fallow ...

Underclass News - Bestwood, Notts

The brook ran under the alder-trees, scarcely soiled by these small mines, whose coal was drawn to the surface by donkeys that plodded wearily in a circle around a gin. And all over the countryside were these same pits, some of which had been worked in the time of Charles II, the few colliers and the donkeys burrowing down like ants into the earth, making queer mounds and little black places among the cornfields and the meadows. And the cottages of these coalminers, in blocks and pairs here and there, together with odd farms and homes of the stockingers, straying over the parish, formed the village of Bestwood.

Then, some sixty years ago, a sudden change took place. The gin-pits were elbowed aside by the large mines of the financiers. The coal and iron field of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire was discovered. Carston, Waite and Co appeared. Amid tremendous excitement, Lord Palmerston formally opened the company’s first mine at Spinney Park, on the edge of Sherwood Forest. About this time the notorious Hell Row, which through growing old had acquired an evil reputation, was burned down, and much dirt was cleansed away.

The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners’ dwellings, two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve houses in a block. This double row of dwellings sat at the foot of the rather sharp slope from Bestwood, and looked out, from the attic windows at least, on the slow climb of the valley towards Selby.

Bestwood is a 'village' smack (le mot juste) in the middle of what was DH Lawrence country - the mining villages to the north of Nottingham. In 1896 it was described as a 'busy centre of industry', characterised by 'the shriek of the locomotive whistle and the rattle of the hosiery frames'. Lawrence called the village where the Morel family lived in 'Sons and Lovers' Bestwood, although I'm not sure whether he was anonymising his home village of Eastwood.

The colliery closed in 1967. The Bestwood Estate, a typical Midlands postwar council estate of solidly-built semis, underwent the social and cultural changes you can see from the Durham and Northumberland coalfields through West Yorkshire to the Valleys, the other side of the Glorious 60s Revolution so acclaimed in liberal England.

Suffice it to say that Bestwood has the Youth Project, the "Centre in Bestwood incorporating Family Learning, Adult Learning and Resources and a Children’s Centre", Surestart, Bestwood Directions ('In Bestwood there are no longer any children on the child protection register' - are they all in care ?), the Healthy Living Centre etc. Operation Kingdom, a multi-agency policing and neighbourhood management initiative, is working to improve the quality of life on the Bestwood Estate.

In other words, all sorts and conditions of social worker and funding stream is washing around this smack-ridden disaster zone.

It must be said that some of the old culture survives in the Black Diamonds Band and the Miners Welfare soccer side. The park where the mining boom began is now a Country Park ('mainly straight dogging fun with male, female and couple swingers up for some action. Weekday lunchtimes are very popular.' says the authoritative Swingers 24/7 site), the Park Lodge is a businessman's hotel and lottery money has restored the old pithead engines.

But the Bestwood boys and girls seem to be caning it a bit even for a disaster zone. Today I noticed this BBC news story.

Police have described the arson, on Friday evening, as "a deliberate and malicious attack".

The lit firework was pushed through the letter box just after 2100 GMT, three men were seen by the occupants running away from the house in Raymede Drive on the Bestwood Estate.

Two men, aged 17 and 23, who were inside the property, chased after the attackers who ran across Paddstow Road and Southglade Road.

But in the ground of Southglades Leisure Centre the three attackers were joined by another four men who attacked the two from the house.

They suffered cuts and bruises in the assault. They managed to escape and ran back to the house to find it gutted by fire, police said.

A third man, aged in his early 20s, who was upstairs in the property managed to escape.

Raymede Drive ? That name rang a bell. Wasn't it there that there was rioting after the verdict was announced in the Stirland murder trial, so well described by the Policeman ?

Six people have been charged with violent disorder after police were attacked with petrol bombs on a Nottingham housing estate.

Officers said up to 30 people set fire to cars and skips and vandalised fences on the city's Bestwood Estate.

It is understood the protest was linked to the jailing of three Nottingham men who plotted to murder Joan and John Stirland at their bungalow in Lincs.

About 200 officers were called in to the disturbances on Saturday night.

Prosecutor Stuart Rafferty told the court that the group were caught on camera ripping up fences, knocking down walls and building barricades across Raymede Drive.

They were filmed hurling abuse at police, setting fire to cars and chanting about a miscarriage of justice.

Their motivation, he said, was the conviction of three men for conspiring to murder Joan and John Stirland at their bungalow in Trusthorpe, Lincs, in August 2004.

Mr Rafferty said: "It is perfectly plain that the over-riding motive of those who orchestrated this and took part was to make public their displeasure at the recent conviction of the men for conspiracy to murder and the very lengthy imprisonment they were ordered to serve."

Mr Rafferty said the group, led by New and the 34-year-old woman, shouted instructions to the others in the group, ordering the setting of fires and the building of barricades.

A crate full of unused petrol bombs was later discovered by police abandoned in an alleyway on the estate.

"The people on the street were volatile," Mr Rafferty said. "However, some of them were demonstrably enjoying every moment. There was a group elation at what was going on."

The group, led by the two ringleaders, marched up and down the street, calling for the release of the three men through a megaphone. The pair also threatened further outbreaks of violence unless the men were released from jail, the court heard.

I did a bit more digging. Well blow me down. This is only available in the cache so I'd better post the whole thing. Using the Compose' format gives a pretty good clone of the page. I wonder for how long the Fire Services have been handing out useful tips to householders on protection against arson ?

According to Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service in August 2004 - way before the Stirland convictions - "there have been over 200 arson attacks in the last 12 months alone in just three streets in Bestwood – Raymede Drive, Leybourne Drive and Andover Road".

200 arson attacks in a year ? In three streets ? No one apprehended ? What the hell is going on on that estate ?
hot news

Fighting back against arson

Photo of houses damaged by arsonFirefighters, police, local councillors and housing officials have joined forces to fight the arson problem that is threatening to engulf a small area of the Bestwood Estate.

There have been over 200 arson attacks in last 12 months alone in just three streets in Bestwood – Raymede Drive, Leybourne Drive and Andover Road.

Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is spearheading a new taskforce which has been set up to address the problem.

Assistant Divisional Officer John Topham, who is heading up the taskforce, said: “Arson is blighting the estate and is ruining the residents’ lives. We need to take immediate positive action to stamp out this crime and turn this part of the Bestwood Estate around.

“Local councillors, housing officials and the police are already working well with us to address this problem but we have to make sure we keep the momentum going. It’s not all about quick fixes and we intend to get some long term measures in place to tackle the problem.”

After just one meeting of the taskforce, immediate measures planned to tackle arson in the area include:
  • clearing the existing burnt out houses in the area and preparing them for new tenants
  • increasing the number of Housing Wardens patrolling the area
  • stepping up the campaign to remove rubbish left in the area, to reduce the fuel available for fires
  • providing residents with a number to report any abandoned rubbish
  • providing residents with information on how to contact Crimestoppers
  • increasing the level of police Anti Social Behaviour Patrols in the Bestwood area
  • raising the profile of local youth provision
  • visiting local schools to educate children about the dangers of arson.
Photo of house damaged by arsonStewart Smith, Nottingham City Council’s Housing Manager, said: “Fire damaged houses are an eye-sore in an otherwise popular area. They attract fly-tipping that acts as a magnet for arsonists. Tackling areas of Nottingham that are causing ongoing problems is a major part of the Respect for Nottingham campaign and we want to clean up this area.”

Inspector Mick Windmill-Jones, from Nottinghamshire Police, said: “We are supporting the Bestwood community through the use of our Beat Managers and Police Community Support Officers but local people have their part to play too.

“They are our eyes and ears and I would urge them to report anything suspicious. They can do that anonymously, by calling
Crimestoppers on (0800) 555 111. Arson is a serious crime. It endangers lives and has a detrimental impact on an area.”

In the past year in Nottinghamshire:
  • 11,443 fires were started deliberately
  • two people were killed and 58 injured due to arson
  • arson cost £52.5m to the local economy
  • there were 368 house or flat fires as a result of arson
  • there were 202 other building fires
  • there were 2,344 vehicle fires
  • there were 681 other major fires
  • there were 7,843 grass and smaller fires
Residents can report any incidents anonymously to Crimestoppers on: (0800) 555 111.

Anyone wishing to report abandoned rubbish in the area can phone the City Council on: (0115) 915 2282.

People can also contact the City Council for special collections of fridges, tyres, etc from their homes for free on: (0115) 915 2000.

10 Top tips for avoiding arson in your home
  1. Deter unauthorised access by installing security fencing or lighting.
  2. Ensure your house is securely locked.
  3. Install an intruder alarm and make sure the box is visible from the outside of the house.
  4. Make sure you have a strong front door fitted with strong locks and a chain. Ensure that the latch cannot be reached if someone breaks a panel of glass.
  5. Install a metal box container for incoming post.
  6. Ensure any rubbish outside your property is cleared – contact your local authority.
  7. Do not keep rubbish bins or other flammable items next to your house – store at least eight metres from a building so that fires cannot spread.
  8. Ensure you have a smoke alarm fitted, preferably one on each floor and check it works regularly.
  9. Keep internal doors shut to prevent the spread of fire.
  10. Plan an escape route from your home in the event of a fire and talk to your family about it.

Disappearing Blog

After posting this am I noticed that my 'main' page seems totally blank, although I can see individual posts. Let's post this and try again.

"we shall not see them lit again in my lifetime"

The ghost of Sir Edward Grey haunts Europe.

Power companies said the outage started in Germany with a surge in demand prompted by cold weather, and then spread to other parts of Europe.

Some five million people in France lost power, mainly in the east of the country and including parts of Paris.

"We weren't very far from a European blackout," a senior director with French power company RTE said.

Pierre Bornard told the French news agency AFP that two German high-voltage transmission lines failed, causing problems across western Europe.

This triggered a "house of cards" style system breakdown, he said.

Probably something to do with global warming. I bought a 2.5kw generator last year, but haven't had to use it yet.

Talking of global warming, the Greens have a good idea for reducing Co2 emmissions :

"The environmental costs of long-distance trade need to be properly taken into account," said Dr Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP for South East England.

"We must manage international trade in a way which is socially and environmentally sustainable, working towards global agreement on a raft of measures such as taxation on fuel and import tariffs designed to support home-grown businesses.

"This will help offset the environmental damage caused by ships like the Emma Maersk plying international waters filled with MP3 players and plastic toys."

Tariffs, eh ? It's the way of the future !

I doubt very much that Chris Dillow reads Majority Rights, but its occasional contributions from the Bear's Lair are worth a browse - this one on Comparative Advantage :

In his 1990 paper “Endogenous Technological Change” economist Paul Romer showed that economic growth is caused primarily by the spread and interaction of information, some but not all of which is “excludable” in that others can be prevented from using it once it’s created. As an instance of information-driven technological change, he instanced Francis Cabot Lowell’s 1811 industrial espionage on British power looms, through which he created the U.S. textile industry.

From the Lowell example, it is immediately clear where the Doctrine of Comparative Advantage falls down. Under the Doctrine, if the United States is able to produce textiles more cheaply than Britain because of its more advantageous factor costs, then the U.S. should specialize in textiles and Britain in other goods and this will be advantageous for both sides. However Lowell’s industrial espionage demonstrated a flaw in this argument: if British technological superiority consists of knowledge of how to run a textile mill, and can be suborned by an American spy, then the transfer of textile manufacture to the United States was disadvantageous to Britain. It produced new competition which drove down prices, removed the U.S. market (Lowell was instrumental in getting an 85% tariff enacted against imports of British textiles in 1816) and was highly damaging to British living standards. By the process of technological piracy, the factors of comparative advantage were changed in the U.S. favor, with no compensating advantage to Britain.

Further :

Given that most intellectual property is portable and non-excludible, if the world economy is to consist largely of intellectual property, with physical goods being manufactured by robots and their design being far more important in their cost than human direct labor, then the world trading system is in deep trouble. Companies in rich countries that outsource intellectual property production to cheaper labor environments will soon find their trade secrets no longer secret and their outsourcees competing with them with an unbeatable wage cost advantage.

Ah yes, but our superior education system will mean we move to higher-added-value goods, aided by our 'superior infrastructure', education system, and 'technical know-how'. That's why we're specialising in hi-tech stuff like ... er ... er, while China is doing downmarket products like medical scanners and telecomms.