Friday, May 17, 2013
In 1950 Leonard E. Read faced one of the most difficult challenges of his life as he prepared to appear before a hostile congressional committee. His friend W. C. Mullendore warned that the committee was out to destroy him: “You should be under no illusion whatever but that the intention is to smear and not look [for] information, enlightenment and the philosophy of freedom. You are going against a bunch of cutthroats who have very vicious motives.”
Read was not the only target of this committee. Even more in the crosshairs was Edward Rumely, who had refused to divulge the names of those who had purchased controversial books he published.
When modern historians, most of whom write from a left-wing perspective, chronicle the “witch hunts” of the 1940s and 1950s, they rarely have in mind the likes of Read and Rumely. Neither fits their formal victim profile. Read, of course, was the founder and president of FEE and the future publisher of The Freeman. Mullendore was his close associate and a trustee of the organization. Rumely was the president of the Committee for Constitutional Government, a group that defended the free market and limited government.
Read and Rumely were not alone. Ever since 1933, many prominent New Deal and later Fair Deal Democrats had relied on the same methods of guilt by association, character smears, and other forms of intimidation to attack conservative and libertarian critics of the growing federal bureaucracy.
Why have most historians ignored these witch hunts? Part of the reason is undeniably the political bias of historians. They tend to be sympathetic to the New Deal and Fair Deal and, in many cases, causes much further to the “left.” This has encouraged a natural human tendency to overlook the dark side of those causes and an unwillingness to sympathize with conservatives and libertarians who may have been their victims. But some of it has to do with the methods used by the New Deal witch hunts, which were often informal and avoided head-on attacks. For example, in New Deal or Raw Deal? Burton Folsom describes how Franklin Roosevelt worked closely with his good friend and Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau to use the Bureau of Internal Revenue against political opponents. Roosevelt arranged audits against such prominent opponents as the wealthy anti-New Dealer Moses Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer; former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon; and conservative U.S. Rep. Hamilton Fish, who represented Roosevelt’s hometown in New York.
In addition to informal pressure, the New Deal witch hunt also included congressional investigations. The first of these was the Special Committee on Lobbying Investigations (better known as the Black Committee)—named after the committee chairman, Senator Hugo Black of Alabama. Black was a committed New Dealer. From 1933 on he targeted companies and organizations that opposed Roosevelt’s policies. In 1936 he went after the American Liberty League, which united Democrats and Republicans who opposed the New Deal. In this effort Black pioneered the use of the so-called dragnet subpoena. He also teamed with the Federal Communications Commission to require Western Union, a private company, to turn over copies of thousands of telegrams sent by New Deal opponents. At the time the FCC required Western Union to keep a copy of each telegram sent.
The next phase in the New Deal witch hunt began in 1937, when Roosevelt tried to expand the U.S. Supreme Court after it had overturned key New Deal legislation. No one was more important in mobilizing public opposition to the “court-packing scheme” than Edward A. Rumely. Rumely was born in LaPorte, Indiana, in 1888 and became wealthy as a manufacturer of tractors. He got involved in politics as an enthusiastic supporter of Franklin’s distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. Rumely depicted himself as a Theodore Roosevelt Progressive for the rest of his life. (Favoring TR and limited government was a curious combination that Rumely and others were able to rationalize somehow.)
In 1915 Rumely purchased the New York Evening Mail with funds borrowed from an American citizen living in Germany. Rumely later claimed he did not know that all such loans had first to be funneled through the German government. Nevertheless, he was convicted under the Trading with the Enemy Act and served time. Although President Calvin Coolidge issued a full pardon, Rumely’s enemies brought the case up repeatedly to discredit him over the next three decades.
During the 1930s he turned against the emerging New Deal, which he feared was undermining individual liberty by centralizing power in Washington. He found common cause with his friends publisher Frank Gannett and conservationist and civil-libertarian Gifford Pinchot. On the same day that Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his court-packing plan in 1937, the trio organized the Committee for Constitutional Government (CCG). Gannett wrote the checks, and Rumely ran day-to-day operations. In fighting the court plan, the CCG led perhaps the first successful offensive against the New Deal and pioneered the use of direct mail.
Despite an overwhelming three-fourths Democratic majority, the Senate rejected the court plan. It was the first major congressional defeat for the Roosevelt administration. Hugo Black, however, received the ultimate reward for his loyalty when Roosevelt nominated him to the Supreme Court the same year. Not even news that Black had once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan deterred Roosevelt from nominating him.
After the court plan lost, New Deal Democrats almost immediately launched a counterattack against the CCG. In 1938 Senator Sherman Minton of Indiana, another ardent New Dealer and Black’s successor as head of the lobbying committee, announced a sweeping congressional investigation targeting forces opposed to “the objectives of the administration.” Minton had actually been Roosevelt’s first choice for the Supreme Court appointment that went to Black, but Minton had turned it down because he preferred to stay in the Senate. At the top of his Senate agenda was the investigation of the CCG. He issued yet another dragnet subpoena, this time for the CCG’s records, and sent his staff down en masse to the CCG’s office, where they began copying files. After watching this go on for several hours, Rumely ordered them out, charging them with an illegal “fishing expedition.”
Minton’s undoing was his proposed bill to ban newspapers from publishing articles known to be false. The public backlash over a perceived threat to free speech led to the collapse of the investigation. Like Black, however, Minton’s loyalty to the New Deal was ultimately rewarded with an appointment to the Supreme Court by his former Senate ally, President Harry S. Truman.
The CCG continued to be a stumbling block for the New Deal and later the Fair Deal. After 1937 the committee distributed over 82 million pieces of literature criticizing such policies as expanded government medical insurance, public housing, and labor legislation. In an article for Collier’s, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes presented the administration’s case against the CCG. He called it a “devilish petard” and said it had been “arousing mob spirit, that miasmic, bloodthirsty degrading emanation out of the dim past.”
The New Deal witch hunt reached its apogee during World War II. Once the United States entered the war, Roosevelt put constant pressure on Attorney General Frances Biddle to crack down on critics of his foreign policy. Most notably he wanted Biddle to prosecute the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Robert McCormick, a powerful critic of the New Deal and entry into the war, for sedition. To his credit, however, Biddle resisted this pressure. Finally, though, he began to relent by, for example, ordering wiretaps on key administration critics such as Joseph Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News. In addition, the postmaster general barred dozens of anti-administration periodicals from the mails. Finally, and much more quietly, Roosevelt ordered Treasury Secretary Morgenthau to launch a new round of tax audits on such prewar noninterventionists as Rep. Fish.
In 1944 a U.S. House committee chaired by Clinton Anderson of New Mexico launched a second major lobbying investigation. Many New Dealers, notably Wright Patman, were upset about the CCG’s campaign for a constitutional amendment to limit taxes to 25 percent of income. Patman characterized the CCG as the “most sordid and most sinister lobby ever organized.” He charged that it represented the “Quisling reserves” of Hitler because it was trying to “sap the power and strength of this government at its tenderest spot, its purse strings, in time of war.”
Like Minton, Anderson subpoenaed the names of the CCG’s contributors. After Rumely refused to comply, the Committee cited him for contempt. A court acquitted him in 1945, finding that the subpoena was improper because the CCG was not a political organization. The most important result of this event was the Lobbying Act of 1946, which required lobbies (broadly defined) to disclose the names of all contributors of $500 or more. Although the CCG decided to register under protest, it found an inventive way around the reporting requirement, or so it thought. Instead of accepting cash contributions over $490, it took them in the form of book orders.
After Truman’s 1948 upset victory, Fair Deal Democrats promised again to scrutinize lobbies such as the CCG. The New Republic declared triumphantly that the “New Deal is again empowered to carry forward the promise of American life” and that it was high time to investigate “the great lobbies and the millions they have spent . . . to defeat social legislation.” The AFL and CIO agreed on this goal, as did two of the best-read columnists in the United States: Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell.
One of the early targets was FEE, which Pearson condemned on the grounds that it was “flooding the country with propaganda aimed at undermining the Marshall Plan, rent control, aid to education, and Social Security.”
After a failed effort to set up a Senate-House joint committee, the House assigned the investigation to a committee led by Rep. Frank Buchanan of Pennsylvania. Buchanan was not only a stalwart Fair Dealer but had his own axe to grind because the CCG had successfully fought expanded public housing, a goal he had championed. He defined lobbying in the broadest possible terms to include groups that had an indirect influence on the formation of public opinion. The committee sent out a probing questionnaire to 166 businesses and organizations, most of them opponents of the Fair Deal. The Buchanan committee ignored lobbying by government agencies, but perhaps for the sake of balance a questionnaire also went to the Civil Rights Congress, an organization with close ties to the Communist Party.
When Buchanan’s staffers, armed with a dragnet subpoena, arrived in force at FEE’s headquarters in early 1949, Read reluctantly cooperated. It became readily apparent to him, however, that the investigators were leaving no stone unturned in the hope of finding something—anything—to discredit the organization. It was also clear that the committee had formed a working alliance with key New Deal interest groups and journalists. Almost immediately after the committee rummaged through FEE’s offices, someone leaked the information to Drew Pearson. Pearson’s column publicized the best-known names on FEE’s “secret” contributor list and quoted liberally from internal correspondence. Mullendore expressed his outrage about the leak in a letter to Buchanan: “Those who seek to extend the power of government try to close the mouths of citizens who dare to oppose them. . . . Your inquisitorial and extremely burdensome demand for information which you have no moral right to demand is a most alarming example of the use of this means of intimidation.”
For its part, the CCG ramped up its anti-Fair Deal efforts by promoting purchases of John T. Flynn’s book The Road Ahead. Flynn warned that pro-New Deal pressure groups were pushing the United States, like Britain, into socialism. Harper & Brothers sold the book for $2.50, but the CCG cut the price to a dollar, thus encouraging bulk purchases. From 1949 to 1950 the CCG distributed an amazing ten million copies.
Despite Mullendore’s warnings, Read agreed to testify before the committee. Ever the optimist, he used that venue to educate the members, and he had some success. He found a sympathetic audience among the leading Republican members, and even Carl Albert, a member of the majority, admitted Read was “far more effective than the average buttonhole artist, so-called, around the capital.”
While most of Read’s testimony explained FEE’s mission to inform and educate Americans about free markets, he also challenged the legitimacy of the committee’s investigation. To Read, under the committee’s all-inclusive definition, lobbying “becomes synonymous with communication of thought—all thought. The Bible communicates ideas that may affect legislation. . . . The list is endless.”
Rumely agreed to answer all the Buchanan committee’s questions except the one asking the names of those who had purchased The Road Ahead. Pointing to the First Amendment, he asserted that the committee had “no power to go into a newspaper publisher and say, ‘Give me your subscription list.’ And you have no power to come to us.” If the House wanted to cite him for “contempt and bring me to trial,” it would “get an education on the Bill of Rights.”
By this point the press had turned against the Buchanan committee and its methods. Editor and Publisher found it guilty of “an invasion of the guaranteed right of the American people to own, hire or use a printing press without interference.” Similarly, the Cleveland Plain Dealer called the investigation “Fair Deal Intimidation.” Even Buchanan’s hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, condemned the probe. Frank Chodorov, a leading libertarian and future editor of The Freeman, asked during the period: “Why did the Committee want these names? Simply to discourage support of the anti-collectivist organizations by harassment and intimidation. . . . Buchananism, then, is a step in the direction of thought control.”
The Buchanan committee presented three separate contempt resolutions for a House floor vote in August 1950. Each had the support of most Democrats. The first and most-publicized centered on Rumely. The second resolution focused on Joseph Kamp, head of a much smaller group, the Constitutional Education League. Unlike Rumely, Kamp had stated he was willing to cooperate but was unsure exactly what the Buchanan committee wanted from him. The last of the contempt resolutions dealt with William Patterson, head of the Civil Rights Congress. Like Rumely, he had refused to reveal the names of contributors.
In the floor debate Rep. John W. McCormick, the Democratic majority leader, went to bat for the committee. In language as extreme as just about any smear uttered by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, he condemned Rumely as “a spy in World War I, and a man who is nothing but a Fascist, who is an opponent of American institutions and American Government.” Virtually all those opposed to the resolution were conservatives, with the notable exception of Rep. Vito Marcantonio. As the lone American-Labor Party member in the House, he was easily the most left-wing person in Congress. Marcantonio portrayed himself as an absolutist champion of free speech even for a “fascist” like Rumely. If Rumely’s conservative defenders truly valued free speech, he challenged, they would also vote against the contempt resolution for Patterson. Despite his claims, Marcantonio’s record on free speech was at best mixed. During World War II, for example, he had urged tough action against critics of the war.
The final vote on the Rumely resolution was close but went against him. Nearly all Republicans, joined by Marcantonio and 42 Democrats, almost all from the South, opposed it.
The Patterson contempt resolution also passed but by a much more lopsided majority. Although the debate took place at the height of the McCarthy era, Republicans cast virtually all their 109 votes against it. By contrast, those southern Democrats who had opposed the Rumely resolution were not about to vote against the Patterson resolution even though the charges were essentially the same. For the southerners, race and anticommunism apparently trumped all other considerations.
In April 1951 a federal judge gave Rumely a six-month suspended sentence for contempt and a $1,000 fine, saying he would have sent him to jail save for his advanced age. Rumely’s old nemesis, Walter Winchell, exulted that he “got real satisfaction out of the conviction last week of Edw. A. Rumely. . . [a] convicted pro-German agent.” Few newspapers or columnists agreed with Winchell. Even The New Republic and Drew Pearson, who had egged on Buchanan at the beginning, steered clear of the controversy.
The Last Laugh
It was Rumely who had the last laugh, however, when in 1953 the Supreme Court overturned his conviction 7-0. Two justices recused themselves because of possible conflicts of interest. In a separate opinion the Court’s most “liberal” members, William O. Douglas and Hugo Black, endorsed Rumely’s free speech and privacy rights in no uncertain terms. When it turned to the Buchanan committee’s demands it declared: “If the present inquiry were sanctioned a publisher would be compelled to register as a lobbyist with the federal government, would be subjected to harassing inquiries. A requirement that a publisher disclose the identity of those who buy his books, pamphlets or papers is indeed the beginning of surveillance of the press.”
By this time some prominent New Dealers were losing their appetite for investigative crusades against the conservatives and libertarians. For one thing, they were too busy beating back McCarthyism. By championing Rumely’s free speech, they could better fend off charges of hypocrisy. Even before the House cited Rumely for contempt, for example, the pro-New Deal columnist Marquis Childs pointed to him as an example of how the First Amendment protected “rightists” just as much as communists. In addition, lawyers for two victims of McCarthyism, Owen Lattimore and Corliss Lamont, cited the Supreme Court ruling in defense of their clients. Rumely had become a case study in the need to protect free speech. It was quite a turnabout for a man whom the left only a few years earlier had roundly condemned as a fascist, a federal convict, and a German spy.
The Minoans were Caucasian: DNA debunks longstanding theory that Europe's first advanced culture was from Africa
DNA analysis has debunked the longstanding theory that the Minoans, who some 5,000 years ago established Europe's first advanced Bronze Age culture, were from Africa.
The Minoan civilisation arose on the Mediterranean island of Crete in approximately the 27th century BC and flourished for 12 centuries until the 15th century BC.
But the culture was lost until British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans unearthed its remains on Crete in 1900, where he found vestiges of a civilisation he believed was formed by refugees from northern Egypt.
Modern archaeologists have cast doubt on that version of events, and now DNA tests of Minoan remains suggests they were descended from ancient farmers who settled the islands thousands of years earlier. These people, it is believed, are from the same stock that came from the East to populate the rest of Europe.
Evans set to work on Crete in 1900 with a team of archaeologists soon after the island was liberated from the yoke of the Ottoman empire, almost immediately unearthing a great palace.
He named the civilisation he discovered after the legendary Greek king Minos and, based on likenesses between Minoan artifacts and those from Egypt and Libya, proposed that its founders migrated into the area from North Africa.
Since then, other archaeologists have suggested that the Minoans may have come from other regions, possibly Turkey, the Balkans, or the Middle East.
But now a joint U.S. and Greek team has made a mitochondrial DNA analysis of Minoan skeletal remains to determine the likely ancestors of the ancient people.
Mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of cells, contain their own DNA, or genetic code, and because mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mothers to their children via the human egg, it contains information about maternal ancestry.
Findings suggest that the Minoan civilisation arose from the population already living in Crete, and that these people were probably descendants of the first humans to reach there about 9,000 years ago.
Further, they found, the remains have the greatest genetic similarity with modern European populations.
Senior researcher Dr George Stamatoyannopoulos, professor of medicine and genome sciences at the University of Washington, said the analysis showed these people probably came to the area from the East, not the South.
'About 9,000 years ago there was an extensive migration of Neolithic humans from the regions of Anatolia that today comprise parts of Turkey and the Middle East,' he said. 'At the same time, the first Neolithic inhabitants reached Crete.
'Our mitochondrial DNA analysis shows that the Minoans' strongest genetic relationships are with these Neolithic humans, as well as with ancient and modern Europeans.
'These results suggest the Minoan civilization arose 5,000 years ago in Crete from an ancestral Neolithic population that had arrived in the region about 4,000 years earlier.
Dr Stamatoyannopoulos and his team analysed samples from 37 skeletons found in a cave in Crete’s Lassithi plateau and compared them with mitochondrial DNA sequences from 135 modern and ancient human populations.
The Minoan samples revealed 21 distinct mitochondrial DNA variations, of which six were unique to the Minoans and 15 were shared with modern and ancient populations.
None of the Minoans carried mitochondrial DNA variations characteristic of African populations.
Further analysis showed that the Minoans were only distantly related to Egyptian, Libyan, and other North African populations.
Indeed, the Minoan shared the greatest percentage of their mitochondrial DNA variation with European populations, especially those in Northern and Western Europe.
When plotted geographically, shared Minoan mitochondrial DNA variation was lowest in North Africa and increased progressively across the Middle East, Caucasus, Mediterranean islands, Southern Europe, and mainland Europe.
The highest percentage of shared Minoan mitochondrial DNA variation was found with Neolithic populations from Southern Europe.
The analysis also showed a high degree of sharing with the current population of the Lassithi plateau and Greece.
In fact, the maternal genetic information passed down through many generations of mitochondria is still present in modern-day residents of the area where the Minoan skeletons were found.
Dr Stamatoyannopoulos said he believes that the findings highlight the importance of DNA analysis as a tool for understanding human history.
'Genetic analyses are playing in increasingly important role and predicting and protecting human health,' he said.
'Our study underscores the importance of DNA not only in helping us to have healthier futures, but also to understand our past.'
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
By Dr. Jack Wheeler
Edinburgh-of-the-Seven-Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean. Welcome to the most isolated community on the planet, on the world’s remotest inhabited island.
Named after the Portuguese captain who discovered it in 1506, Tristão da Cunha, it is 1,736 miles from Africa, and 2,466 miles from South America. The nearest inhabited land is the island of St. Helena 1,343 miles to the north, itself so remote that the Brits exiled Napoleon there.
It’s not simply that Tristan is far away from anywhere else, it’s amazingly difficult to get here. You have to arrive by ship as there’s no airport – and there are no regular passenger ships, just the occasional fishing boat and an annual relief/supply ship from Cape Town. And when one does get here, it is rarely able to land as the weather doesn’t allow it. We are the first passenger ship to land here since March of 2012.
Why bother? Why brave often incredibly rough and dangerous seas for days or even weeks to come here on the off-chance that you can go ashore? Just to be able to tell your friends back home you set foot on the world’s remotest inhabited island?
Maybe for some. For me, it was the opportunity to meet perhaps the most extraordinarily unique people on earth. I came hoping to find a freedom paradise (more accurately, a conservative-libertarian paradise) – and I found it. But before you start packing your bags, be advised: there is, of course, a catch.
There is only one settlement on the island, named after the original Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince Alfred, Consort to Queen Victoria, who visited here on a world tour of the British Empire in 1867. Every Tristanian (tris-tay-nee-un), 262 at current count, lives in Edinburgh-of-the-Seven-Seas – although they usually just call it The Settlement.
Among those 262, there are only seven family names: Glass, Green, Hagen, Swain, Rogers, Lavarello, and Repetto. There are never any first or second cousin marriages, and for 200 years the Tristan gene pool has been continually refreshed from shipwrecked sailors to marriage to outsiders. The population hasn’t gone more than 10% above or below 260 for a over a century.
No one had ever lived on the island when da Cunha (coon-yah) found it in 1506, and for 300 years, no one paid much attention to the tiny, 38 square mile volcanic speck with no natural harbor and little habitable land, until 1816 when a Scottish corporal named William Glass and his wife from Cape Town, decided to live there, and attracted others, such as a sailor named Thomas Swain, and women from St. Helena for sailors like him.
The community grew, waxed and waned, prospered and suffered, learning to become intensely self-reliant. They raised cattle and sheep, fished in the sea, grew vegetables and potatoes, and fended for themselves, dependent upon no one by necessity.
They lived simply. Every family had its own small home, made of large blocks of an easily-carved volcanic rock called tufa, with a heavily thatched roof. There was only one main room, with a fireplace that provided heat and where food was cooked, and a small bedroom. The bed’s mattress was stuffed with penguin feathers, and lamps at night were lit with seal oil.
Yet they saw that their children were well educated. They learned of world events and read books by Plutarch, Plato, and Shakespeare acquired from passing sailing ships. They saw their children learned Christian values at one of the two churches in the Settlement: St. Mary’s Anglican Church, or St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. There’s no history of religious feuds or fanaticism on Tristan.
After World War II, “red gold” was discovered. With the help of South African businessmen, the Tristan Development Corporation was formed in 1949 to exploit the uncountable numbers of easily-caught rock lobsters in Tristan’s waters. In addition, beautifully designed Tristan postage stamps became prized by stamp collectors and were sold world-wide.
The economy boomed, living and housing conditions improved – yet Tristanians managed to adapt to modernization without losing their traditional values and culture.
Then disaster struck. Tristan is an active volcano above a hotspot in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, with the main cone (Queen Mary’s Peak) almost 7,000 feet high. In August of 1961, a vent suddenly opened up right next to The Settlement, out of which molten lava began flowing towards the sea. When it looked like the lava might envelop and destroy the community, the British government ordered the entire population evacuated to England.
For most Tristanians, it was the first time they’d been off their island (save for fishing trips to the small nearby uninhabited satellite islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible), their first exposure to modern Western life and all its temptations. They hated it.
When scientists reported, after an expedition to the now-deserted island in 1962, that the lava flow had missed The Settlement by not much more than the length of a football field, that the eruption had terminated, and that repatriation of the islanders was an option, the Tristanians celebrated. They were given the choice to stay in England and be subsidized wards of the British Welfare State, or return to Tristan and fend for themselves again. All but five voted to return – which they did in 1963.
The kids brought back rock n’ roll and the Twist with them, but for the most part, the plethora of lunacies comprising the Sixties passed Tristan by. Everyone went back to work, although with the rock lobster and postage stamp businesses going better than ever, that work was more profitable. The Settlement soon had a movie theatre, a pub, a community swimming pool; everyone had a modern kitchen, video recorders, and family car – even though there are less than four miles of road on the island.
Today there’s an Internet cafe, and many kids have a Facebook page or even their own websites. The island maintains its own well-done website, www.tristandc.com.
Now we come to the interesting part. If exposure to and immersion in the culture of Western degradation has spoiled and ruined the culture of Tristan, it is indiscernible.
To this day, in almost 200 years of history since Tristan’s founding in 1816, not one Tristanian has ever murdered another. Murder is unknown, it has never happened on Tristan. Rape is unknown. There has never been a single case of rape in anyone’s memory or on record. Divorce is unknown.
Marriage is for life. No one can recall any couple ever getting divorced (save for marriage to an outsider who couldn’t handle life on Tristan and left the island). Pre-marital sex is abundant, but once a girl gets pregnant, she marries the father and that’s that. Abortion is unknown. Aborting a baby is indescribably horrific to a Tristanian.
Crime is unknown. There is no theft. Everyone keeps his home unlocked. There are no fights in the pub, no drunken brawls. There is a peacefulness and serenity to life on Tristan that has to be experienced to be believed.
And there is no socialism. Tristan’s economy and society is based on private property. People have their own sheep, their own cows for milk, their own cattle for beef, their own cultivated patches for potatoes and vegetables. Fishermen are paid according to the amount of lobsters they personally haul in.
For the most part, Tristanians govern themselves. There is a resident British Administrator, as Tristan is a British Overseas Territory, appointed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Yet, with the exception of rare emergency circumstances such as the decision to evacuate the island in 1961, he can only act with the approval of the Island Council, composed of islanders elected by the community.
In fact, Tristanians pay little attention to the “Hadmin,” as they call the Administrator, who manages to spend much of his time in London. They look instead to their own elected leader and head of the Council, called the Chief Islander, for guidance. Currently, he is Ian Lavarello, and I was fortunate to have dinner with him.
His home is like everyone else’s. He goes fishing, manages his potato patch, and works like everyone else. “Tristanians learned long ago,” he told me, “to be a cooperative people, to resolve our disputes peacefully and with goodwill. We are all family on this island, and we use problems to bring us together, not divide us. I don’t think you’ll find a more agreeable people anywhere than Tristanians. They make it easy for me to find solutions to situations that we all can agree on.”
Tristan has one policeman – Conrad Glass, a direct descendant of founder William Glass. Over a Castle Lager at the world’s remotest pub, the Albatross Bar, I asked him what a policeman does in a place where there’s no crime. “My job is to help people,” he explained. “Ian (Lavarello) helps with community-wide issues. I talk to people about their individual disagreements. And I help them be careful.
“There’s a place on the road to the Patches (an area of tiny walled fields two miles from the Settlement in which everyone grows their potatoes and vegetables) where some people drive fast and there’s been a couple of accidents. I’ll park my police car behind this curve – you Yanks would call this a ‘speed trap,’ I believe – so when someone is speeding and they see me, they quickly slow down. We smile and wave at each other, although sometimes I have to shake my finger at them.”
Conrad asked me why I had come here. “People who live in the remotest community on earth, and have been determined to do so for two centuries,” I answered, “have to be uniquely interesting. I came here to meet them, and try to understand something about them.”
He smiled. “The most important thing to understand about Tristanians is what they value most in life is freedom. We have a freedom here in Tristan like nowhere else. That’s why we found England suffocating, rules everywhere, someone always telling you what you can and cannot do. We couldn’t wait to get back here where we are free and we live by our own rules.
“On Tristan, no one tells you what to do. No one tells you when to get up, when to milk your cows or go fishing or help your neighbor fix his house damaged in a storm. But… if you don’t do these things, your cow will die, you won’t have fish to eat, your neighbor won’t help you when you need to fix your house. We’ve learned that when you’re free, when no one forces you to help others, everyone ends up helping everyone else – and cheerfully. There’s no obligation – we just are happier together that way.”
A young fellow, George Swain, joined us. He had gone to high school in Cape Town and then received training in wildlife conservation. Now, at age 20, he had returned to the island to work for Tristan’s Conservation and Fisheries Office. I asked him if most young people left the island to study or work elsewhere today, and how many ever came back.
“Most all of us leave at some time,” he said. “We want to learn something of the world. After a few years or even several, just about everybody returns to live. We miss Tristan’s freedom.”
So – ready to kiss all the fascist craziness in the world goodbye and live in peace and freedom on Tristan da Cunha? That’s the catch: you can’t. The world’s remotest, most isolated community on the planet wants to keep it that way. You can visit here between ships, arriving on one and departing on another – although there are no hotels or restaurants, so you’d have to arrange a homestay – but you can’t live here. Tristan is for Tristanians.
There is only one way to become a Tristanian – and that’s to marry one. You could visit here in hopes of meeting and marrying a local gal if you’re a guy or vice versa (and just to be clear: any mention of “same-sex” marriage is considered a stupidly tasteless joke here). Or you could by chance or tracking them down, bump into a young Tristanian studying or working abroad, marry him or her, and move to Tristan.
Once you establish a home in the Settlement, have children and start to raise a family, you can become a Tristanian – that’s the only way.
The bottom line is that Tristanians are self-contained. They are cheerful, friendly, approachable, nice and easy to talk to. But they don’t need us. Outsiders from other countries and cultures have their values and lifestyles, and that’s fine – live and let live. But they don’t need them.
Tristanians have a freedom and shared humanity that is unique in this world. There is a calmness in their souls, what I would call a gravitas of serenity, that I have never witnessed elsewhere in all the places on earth I have been.
You and I cannot be a part of it – but it is enough to know that it exists. At least there is one place on our planet this free, this peaceful, this happy together. It is not ironic that this place is a tiny village on a tiny island in a vast stormy sea farther away from other people than anywhere else. The latter has to be part of the cause of the former.
No matter. We know now that such peace and freedom isn’t a fantasy ideal but something human beings are actually capable of. It has been such a privilege to be here and meet these wonderful people. The short weather window that allowed us to be here has closed. A major storm is approaching and we must board the Zodiac motorized inflatable rafts in the tiny harbor – so tiny a couple of Zodiacs or motorized rowboats is all it has room for – to get back to the ship anchored offshore.
I must finish one last Castle Lager here in the Albatross Bar where I’m writing this and say goodbye to my Tristanian friends. For the rest of my life, I’ll treasure having been here and having met them. There is such a place as Tristan da Cunha. It’s real, and that should mean a lot to all of us.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The law firm that was blasted by a Federal Court judge over its conduct in the Peter Slipper sexual harassment case has come in for more criticism over a claim that a client rejected a settlement offer nearly five times more generous than she ultimately received.
Rebecca Richardson won just $18,000 in her $450,000 sexual harassment claim against the software company Oracle and must now foot a substantial proportion of her former employer's legal costs.
But she is standing by Harmers Workplace Lawyers. She has issued a statement thanking the firm, even though Federal Court Justice Robert Buchanan found her case had been "largely misconceived" and that it had been "imprudent and unreasonable" to reject a $55,000 settlement offer.
Ms Richardson turned down offers of $55,000, $25,000 and $85,000 respectively.
Justice Buchanan ordered that, given the adequacy of those offers, she was liable to pay the legal costs incurred by Oracle after the first one on an indemnity basis.
She will also have to foot the legal bill after that point for the man who sexually harassed her. It is likely the bill will be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Evidence before the court suggested she already owed her lawyers nearly $225,000 before the 21-day hearing in the Federal Court.
In February the court found Oracle was vicariously liable for the treatment of Ms Richardson by her colleague Randol Tucker, who subjected her to "a humiliating series of slurs, alternating with sexual advances … which built into a more or less constant barrage of sexual harassment".
But it rejected her claim for future economic loss as largely misconceived.
Justice Buchanan said it appeared Ms Richardson's decision to turn down Oracle's offer of $85,000 was based on the amount still being inadequate to pay her solicitors. She would have been left with nothing for herself and still owing Harmers $22,000.
"That picture is a disturbing one," Justice Buchanan said. "At this point, whatever the merits of Ms Richardson's claims, the proceedings would have been conducted solely for the financial benefit of her lawyers."
But the court found this should not be taken into account in deciding whether the settlement offers made to her were reasonable.
Harmers was criticised by the same court last year for abuse of process over the way it conducted James Ashby's sexual harassment case against Mr Slipper, the former speaker of the House of Representatives.
Harmers said Justice Buchanan's comments were made in ignorance of the financial arrangement that existed with its client.
Ms Richardson said Harmers had been "incredibly supportive". "That support has been legal, emotional and importantly [with] the financial arrangements concerning my legal fees," she said.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Just look at the mother's face
Proud parents: Tessa and Daynie Singh
They're sisters, they’re all four years old – but, remarkably, these three little girls are not triplets. The eldest, Cara, was just nine months old when she became a big sister to twins Laura and Jenna. Her mother, Tessa Singh, 40, had become pregnant again within 12 weeks of her birth, and the twins were born prematurely at 28 weeks.
Three's company: Big sister Cara, centre, is only nine months older than her sisters, twins Laura, left and Jenna
Mrs Singh said: ‘People can’t believe it when I tell them all the girls are the same age, yet they aren’t triplets.
‘I can’t quite believe I’ve given birth to three girls in just nine months. I’ve certainly had my hands full.’
Mrs Singh, a teacher, and her hairdresser husband Daynie, 39, had their first daughter Cara in July 2008. They started trying for another baby three months later.
Mrs Singh said: ‘We had wanted to have babies close together so we thought when Cara was three months old that we should start trying as we didn’t know how long it would take.
Happy surprise: Tessa and Daynie Singh began trying for another baby three months after Cara was born, but did not count on falling pregnant on the first try
The couple, who live in Chorlton, Manchester, were in for a further surprise when Mrs Singh went for a 12-week scan and the sonographer told her she was expecting twins.
She said: ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was in complete shock. I’d had a lot more morning sickness with this pregnancy, but I had never imagined that I could be carrying twins. There are no twins in either side of our families.
‘I was actually offered counselling by the hospital after I’d found out. I think they thought that three babies in under nine months was a bit too much to cope with.
‘We discussed it and decided that it was daunting, but as long as we were organised, then we would be able to manage.’
Same, same, but different: The three Singh sisters have a very close bond, 'acting like triplets' and all sleeping in one bed
The girls were transferred to St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. Jenna suffered two bleeds on the brain, had a hole in her heart and had a collapsed lung.
Mrs Singh said: ‘It was a terrifying time for us when the twins were first born. They were so tiny and so poorly. At one point we said goodbye to Jenna, but amazingly she managed to fight on.’
Jenna was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and the doctors warned Mrs Singh that she may never walk. But she has proved the medics wrong, something that Mrs Singh believes is down to her close relationship with her sisters.
She said: ‘They have such a strong bond. Cara was only nine months old when the twins were born, so she has never known life without them there.
‘It is as if they are all triplets. They are never apart from each other. She has just as strong a bond with the twins as they do with each other. They always want to sleep all together on one bed.’
‘Jenna has been helped so much by her sisters. It has given her the goal and incentives to keep up with them, which has helped her enormously.’
She added: ‘It may have been a shock to give birth to three babies in nine months, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.’
See also Katie Brown and Angela Cottam.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Ever since the 'Life of Samuel Johnson’, the biography has been a force in British culture, says the authorised biographer of Margaret Thatcher
Biography is on my mind. The single event from which modern biography sprang took place 250 years ago next month.
At about seven in the evening of Monday May 16 1763, a young Scotsman called James Boswell was drinking tea in the back-parlour of his friend, the bookseller Thomas Davies, in Covent Garden. Into the shop came the already legendary writer, Samuel Johnson.
Boswell was at the time keeping a private journal, which would come to light only in the mid-20th century. In it, he described the encounter. Because he knew of Johnson’s “mortal antipathy” to Scots, he cried out to Davies not to tell Johnson where he came from. Davies disobeyed him, so poor Boswell stammered out, “Indeed, I come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” Johnson delivered his famous put-down: “Sir, that, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”
The 22-year-old was horrified and impressed by the 53-year-old. “Mr Johnson is a man of a most dreadful appearance. He is a very big man, is troubled with sore eyes, the palsy, and the king’s evil [scrofula scars]. He is very slovenly in his dress and speaks with a most uncouth voice. Yet his great knowledge and strength of expression command vast respect… He has great humour and is a worthy man. But his dogmatical roughness of manners is disagreeable. I shall mark what I remember of his conversation.”
He marked everything. He immediately started to see the sage frequently, and he wrote in his journal that “the friendship of Mr Johnson” had made him give up “promiscuous concubinage” (although he also wrote, in a separate memo to himself, “Swear to have no more rogering before you leave England except Mrs ----- in chambers”).
On the same day as he recorded these noble thoughts, Boswell also wrote up a recent conversation with Johnson in which the great man had advised him to keep a private journal, “fair and undisguised”. Boswell told him that he was already doing so, and half-apologised that he put down lots of little incidents in it. “Sir,” said Johnson, “there is nothing too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great knowledge of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.”
It is also by studying little things, Boswell instinctively realised, that we come to build up a big picture of great people. Ever since Homer, Western civilisation had told stories of heroes. But in the past, people did not worry whether these tales were strictly, factually true. They were beautiful, cautionary, exemplary, exciting: whether or not, say, Aeneas had really carried his father on his shoulders out of burning Troy was neither here nor there. With the Renaissance, people gradually became more interested in what we recognise as historical actuality.
Boswell was the first biographer to set all this upon a system. Instead of writing a book of mere scattered anecdote, ill-sourced, he drew on his journal and many other materials and testimonies to construct one of the fullest and most fascinating accounts of a writer of genius. He also gave the best non-fictional encapsulation of an extraordinary human character that English literature had yet accomplished. “Dr Johnson”, as he is generally referred to, is as much in the mind of England as Falstaff, or anyone invented by Dickens. Yet Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson is what it says it is – a real life.
It is interesting to compare Boswell’s journal account of the first meeting of writer and subject with what he wrote in his biography. In the Life, he removes his unflattering description of Johnson’s appearance (though he does give it, in summary, at the end of his book). Instead he says that Johnson looked just like his portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, sitting in his easy chair “in deep meditation”. He also polishes up the great man’s remarks a little. In his journal he records Johnson as saying that “When a butcher says that he is in distress for his country, he has no uneasy feeling.” In the biography, Boswell replaces “in distress” with “bleeds”, which, since he is talking about a butcher, makes it wittier.
But for the most part, he works as hard as possible to reproduce the tone and manner, and the precise content, of this celebrated talker. He kept notes of what Johnson said. These “minutes”, via the book, have now lasted down two-and-a-half centuries. We can have almost as strong a sense of what Dr Johnson said and thought and was like to be with as did the men who gathered with him in Fleet Street in the 1760s and 1770s. Boswell wanted the reader to be “well acquainted” with Johnson. He even recorded how he said something – “(looking dismally)”, “(passionately and loudly)”. He loved precision.
Ever since Boswell, biography has been a dominant and popular form in the English language, particularly in Britain. This is in sharp contrast to some other cultures. In France, for example, the genre is not much respected. It tends to be considered trivial. French historians wish to make their names with wider sweeps of history and by imposing bold theoretical structures upon the jumble of human events.
There are certainly temptations in the Boswellian biographical method. One, which one sees a great deal in modern times, is the idea that tiny details are automatically interesting. It is a trick of writing about political meetings, for instance, that people often describe what the participants ate and drank at dinner (“over potted shrimps, steak Wellington and chateau-bottled wines…”). This is often stuck in merely to show that the author knows a lot or is trying to relieve the boredom of the official communique. What was eaten is worth knowing only if it tells you something about your subject. If one found Hitler eating steak Wellington, for instance, that would certainly be worth noting, since, like many people who dislike the human race, he was a vegetarian.
Another problem is the change in what bits of a person’s life are now considered permissible to write about. On the whole, I share the modern view that sexual matters should not be automatically off limits and may tell one a good deal. On the other hand, what this means in practice is that publishers tend not to commission books about people whose sex lives were not colourful. It also raises matters of taste that are hard to resolve. In general, the argument is moving more and more in the direction of full exposure. Yet I cannot think that it will be an advance if we feel that each biography must carry a photograph of how its subject looked naked, or his habits when going to the lavatory (unless, like Lyndon Johnson, he deliberately kept the door open and made people talk to him while he sat on it). It is a heresy that the most private aspects of a public person’s life are necessarily the most telling: quite often, notably with actors and politicians, the public aspect is more revealing, because the work has taken over the life.
On the whole, however, the revolution which James Boswell started has been greatly to the good. What can we know of “the crooked timber of humanity” if we do not study its most remarkable branches?
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Who fathered Michael Jackson's children? Lawsuit may end years of guessing biological origins of King of Pop's kids
Given the blue eyes of his daughter and his own African identity, it is almost inconceivable that she is his genetic daughter
The suit against Michael Jackson's concert promoter by the late singer's family may soon reveal the biological father of his three young children after years of speculation.
Filed against AEG, the company behind Jackson's ill-fated `This Is It' tour, the suit includes all three of the icon's children as well as his mother Katherine and alleges the company contributed to Jackson's death by pushing him to work too hard ahead of the tour and by hiring the doctor responsible for giving Jackson the drugs that killed him.
As part of the trial's potential award phase, AEG is prepared to present to the court evidence that, despite Jackson's claims, only one of the children is the King of Pop's biological child.
According to a New York Post report, that child is the youngest of the bunch, 10-year-old Blanket.
A plea to the judge in the case from Jackson's family says it doesn't matter, however.
They have begged her not to allow AEG to include biological evidence of the children's parentage in the case, arguing it is irrelevant and only a means of damaging the family reputation.
But AEG maintains that Jackson's claim that he fathered all the children himself is part of a bigger pattern.
`There was a whole lot that Michael Jackson or his family wasn't and isn't being forthcoming about,' said the Post's source at AEG . `The drug use by Jackson, his use of alcohol, his relationship with his own family, and the identities of the children's parents.'
Michael Jackson died in June 2009 after his personal doctor Conrad Murray administered a dose of the anaesthetic propofol that proved deadly for the singer.
In the suit against AEG, the family claims the concert company failed to properly vet Murray, who they hired on behalf of Jackson.
Though the biological origins of the Jackson children remain a mystery on the father's side, many agree on who their mothers are.
Paris, 15, and Prince, 16, for instance, have a mother in former Jackson nurse Debbie Rowe.
And many take as fact the assertion that Blanket's mother is an unnamed San Diego-area Hispanic woman.
If AEG's claims are true, though, Paris and Prince could have fathers among an assemblage of men.
Jackson's former dermatologist Arnold Klein, has said he is the biological father of both Paris and Prince.
A former Jackson bodyguard named Matt Fiddes asked for a DNA test to prove that he's father to sapphire-eyed Paris shortly after Jackson's death and former child star Mark Lester has said he, too, may be Paris's father.
As people take bets on who fathered the older children, no one seems to be refuting AEG's supposed allegations about Blanket.
`Blanket looks just like him,' a Jackson family member told the New York Post. `There is no doubt that he is Michael's.'
Monday, April 15, 2013
Her faraway look is because she was drunk at the time
A MUGSHOT of a woman has gone viral, prompting declarations of love from across the world and even marriage proposals.
Yet the mugshot of the "attractive convict", arrested for allegedly drink driving, is not a model or actress as people presumed. It's a mother-of-four, who is a medical assistant, from Florida, US.
Meagan Mccullough, 27, of Zephyrhills, as she was then known, was arrested for DUI in July 2010 leading to her mugshot being taken in an orange jumpsuit. Her natural good looks meant yesterday, three years on, it caught the attention of the sharing website Reddit and soon spread around the internet like wildfire, MailOnline reported.
Men fashioned memes adding captions to the mugshot such as 'GUILTY - of taking my breath away', 'Arrested for breaking and entering - YOUR HEART' and 'Tell me what she did so I can end up in the same jail'.
Social media sites were overtaken by comments from men wanting to marry her, looking for her phone number and asking if she is a model.
Even on the arrest site men have written of instant love for her mugshot. "The eyes of the sky. And hair like woven silk. I have taken photos of thousands of woman and never seen one with what you have in those eyes breath taking you are.
"I hope if you have a man he takes care of you and showers you with love and tenderness. If we were together you would need for nothing . I would go to the ends of the earth just to make you happy," a man posted.
Another asks her to move to Ireland. "What's up with that surname, you must have Irish heritage? You got bar work experience? "Come to Ireland, I'll put you up for a while and you can work in my friends pub while you find your feet, look up your family history and then move on to something better.
"Over here, we don't call you a criminal for driving drunk (unless repeatedly caught). I'm not joking by the way."
Meagan, now separated from her husband and going by her maiden name Simmons, is baffled by the sudden interest and bemused by the obsession with the mugshot picture she thinks "is terrible".
"I had just been crying when the photo was taken and I was drunk. I knew I'd caused a lot of trouble and my parents were really upset and I was really upset. I wasn't thinking about how I looked at all," she told Mail Online. "I don't think it's that good a picture - there are other ones I would prefer."
Meagan said the interest was overwhelming and said had to block a lot of users.
She is single and dateless, although she says her two daughters and two sons, all of school age, are part of a package.
"Guys may find me attractive but they don't want a relationship and it's disappointing," she told Mail Online.
"I am single and I'm a hopeless romantic and I'm really picky. If it was just a nice normal guy who happened to come across the picture - but I'd have to do a background check because who would do that?'
"I think its weird, you can't be serious about someone if it's based off their mugshot and that mugshot is something I'm ashamed of - I'm not happy about it."
Meagan, who used to work at Hooters, is not unaware of her good looks.
"I never know what to wear to my kids school functions...dress like a mom or the sexy woman I am #hotmomproblems," she recently wrote on Twitter.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Why, in various eateries, do they now insist on serving food on a wooden board? They don't seem to understand: the plate was invented for a reason. It's ceramic, therefore easy to clean, and has a lip around the edge, which stops things rolling off.
The wooden serving platter, strangely enough, appears to be chosen whenever they are serving food that has a tendency to roll. Sausages, gherkins, anything involving whole pickled onions: these are the ingredients that will cause mine host to sing out for a wooden board. Either he wants to set his waiters a challenge, or he's a part-owner of the dry cleaners next door.
It's a classic example of backwards evolution, the signs of which are all around us.
I've mentioned before the TV set, which is now so complex it's pretty much impossible to watch. Many surveys have pointed to the decline in viewing for free-to-air TV. Can I be the first to point out the obvious? It's because none of us can turn the damn thing on.
During the late afternoon, various young people pull all the plugs out of the back of the set, insert memory sticks of uncertain provenance, Wii consoles and joysticks, leaving a Gordian knot of cables on the floor. Stumbling towards the set at 10pm intending to watch Lateline, you need a torch, a manual and 2½ hours of trial and error.
The old TV was fine. You turned it on, clicked the dial either to position 10 (Number 96) or position 2 (the news) and after three seconds of warming up, either Abigail or James Dibble would hove into view.
The top of the set was also flat, allowing for the display of home ornaments. This in turn led to the classic dad joke:
Child: What's on the TV dad?
Dad: A pot plant and the TV guide. Are you blind?
This joke is now impossible to make. And so a perfectly good dad joke dies just to allow a bit of high-pixel action, which, if truth be told, just brings out everyone's blemishes. Why am I surprised?
With every innovation things get worse. Toothbrushes, now equipped with fat, non-slip handles, no longer fit into the holders built into every bathroom. This is, presumably, to reduce the number of toothbrush-slippage injuries plaguing hospitals. Instead, we contract cholera from leaving fat-bottomed toothbrushes out on the benchtop, marinating in a chain of toothpasty puddles.
Bucket seats have long replaced the bench seat in the front of cars, banishing the romance previously an essential part of motoring. Almost simultaneously, the Western world entered a period of long-term population decline, yet no one thinks to note the causal link.
Meanwhile, cameras with film in them have been replaced by mobile phones. Instead of taking a handful of meaningful pictures to be placed in an album to treasure, people take 6.7 million photos, mostly of their lunch, all of which will be lost in the great computer meltdown of 2017.
Admittedly, mobile phones have an upside. They have allowed a generation of young people to contact each other and plan mischief to get up to that very evening. The same device, alas, has also allowed their parents to ring them at random through the evening, preventing the aforementioned mischief. So again: evolution, backwards.
Underwear used to be comfortable, with both genders slipping on something large, usually made of white cotton and slightly grey from the wash. This wasn't very alluring, yet once you were both down to your knickers, plans were rarely derailed by mere undergarment aesthetics. Missing was that tight nylon trussing that is such a contributor to the fractious mood of our time. Comfortably gusseted, one was free to contemplate with equanimity those periods in which one found oneself untroubled by romance.
Further evidence of backwards evolution comes courtesy of the supermarket. They have removed the fish from behind the fish counter, instead placing it in tubs of ice out on the floor where people can breathe all over it. This is meant to promote the sensation you are in some sort of Naples street market, rather than trudging around Coles Birkenhead Point in the 20 minutes between your son's soccer game and your daughter's netball.
Here's the new method: point to the fish you want and the assistant comes from behind the counter, squats down wearily beside the metal bucket, lifts the fish into a bag while dripping water over the floor, then returns behind the counter to weigh the thing. Ah, progress.
Meanwhile, they've taken the green beans and the broccoli and put them on large platters in a process that can be described only as mysterious. If only they could also take all the tomatoes and serve them on wooden platters so they would tumble free and cover the whole floor in a sea of red. By running our trolleys through the resulting melee, we could create our own alfresco pasta sauce.
Friday, April 12, 2013
By Tom Utley
At my father’s funeral in 1988, Margaret Thatcher arrived more than an hour before the rest of the mourners. She took her place in a pew at the front of our parish church of St Mary on Paddington Green in West London, sitting alone in the silence, her eyes on the altar.
Our friend the vicar told us later that he’d been taken aback to see the then prime minister there so early, asking her in great trepidation if somebody had given her the wrong time. Her reply has gone down in Utley family history.
‘No,’ she said, ‘I just didn’t want my arrival to upstage the widow.’
After a week in which all the papers have carried page after page of Thatcher coverage, I can imagine that even some of her most fervent fans may be wanting to read about something else. To them, I apologise for what follows.
It’s just that, in all the millions of words of eulogy from the Right and ignorant rants from the Left, one aspect of this extraordinary woman’s character has often been overlooked.
And after the immense kindnesses she showed my family in our bereavement, I feel it would be simply wrong of me to let her own death pass without recording what I know of it.
The quality I mean was her profound thoughtfulness for others — and particularly for people who, in the great scheme of things, couldn’t be said to count for much. This went beyond perfect manners, which can be taught, to a deeper form of fellow-feeling, which cannot.
Norman Lamont, the former chancellor, touched on it in his affectionate tribute in the Lords on Wednesday, when he said that Lady Thatcher seemed ‘compassionate about drivers, secretaries and doorkeepers — but not about ministers’.
And nobody had any trouble believing him when he added that she had once called him ‘utterly hopeless’.
My favourite story about the Lady, which illustrates the point perfectly, is of the grand Chequers dinner at which a nervous waitress dropped a bowl full of scalding soup into the lap of one of the guests (my increasingly unreliable memory tells me the diner in question was Sir Geoffrey Howe; but it was somebody very important, whoever it was).
As the diner whimpered in agony, a horrified Mrs T leaped from her chair, rushed round the table and gave a huge, comforting hug to.... the waitress.
Immediately and instinctively, she understood who was suffering most in that room — and it wasn’t the dignitary with the scalded crotch, whose whimpers she ignored.
I must admit that I wasn’t there, and so can’t testify to the truth of the story.
But it squares so completely with dozens of similar accounts of her kindnesses to little people (whom she would never in a million years have regarded as such) that I believe it. It certainly tallies with my own family’s experience after my father’s death, for which I can vouch absolutely.
Now, I’m not claiming for one moment that anyone would describe the blind journalist and sage T.E. ‘Peter’ Utley, as one of the little people.
As I may just conceivably have mentioned before, Lady Thatcher herself was to call my father ‘the most distinguished Tory thinker of his generation’.
With her love of ideas, she relished his company, the clarity of his mind and his readiness to argue with her (which, as an old-school Tory, suspicious of ‘radicalism’, he often did — though they agreed over much more than they disagreed).
He also helped with some of her most famous speeches.
As I’ve certainly mentioned before, he may even have had a hand in her famous observation that ‘there’s no such thing as society’ — a remark whose meaning has been turned on its head by her thicker enemies (including Nick Clegg, in his fatuous Commons ‘tribute’ to her this week) ever since she uttered it in 1987.
What these twits never cite is the sentence that followed: ‘There are individual men and women and there are families; and no government can do anything except through people.’
But it wasn’t my father of whom Lady Thatcher first thought when he died, aged 67, on Midsummer’s Day, 1988. It was of my housewife mother, whom she had met only rarely.
That day, the prime minister was in Toronto for a G7 summit, discussing international economic policy with leaders including Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl, Francois Mitterrand, Noboru Takeshita of Japan and European Commission President Jacques Delors.
Yet before she went to bed, she found time to write a long and moving letter to my mother — four or five pages, in her own hand, woman to woman — praising my father and offering her love and prayers.
A diplomatic messenger delivered it to our flat in London the next morning, producing it from a bag emblazoned with the royal arms.
It was quite the grandest thing that had ever happened to us. And it meant more to my mother than I can say.
I’ve often wondered what Presidents Reagan or Mitterrand would have thought if they’d poked their heads round Lady Thatcher’s door the previous night and asked her what she was working on.
At a time like that, would any other world leader have felt an immediate, compassionate duty to comfort the widow of an occasional speechwriter?
We were amazed, too, when she re-arranged her schedule to come to the funeral, on a day she had to fly to Paris for another summit. Indeed, she went straight from the church to the airport, leaving without any attempt to draw attention to herself, with just a few words to my mother, a handshake for the vicar and a sympathetic nod to me and the rest of the family.
One final, thoughtful touch: her car had got ahead of the funeral cortege as we left for the crematorium. So she told her driver to pull over and let us pass, while her police outriders waved us through the red lights to take the path they had cleared for her. The second grandest moment of our lives, in the space of a week.
But her kindness didn’t stop there. Not only did she come to my father’s memorial service, where she read a lesson, but she offered herself as patron of his memorial fund, appearing at several of its prizegivings over the years. Her thoughtfulness to my mother wasn’t a one-off, but a commitment for life.
She also planted a tree in my father’s memory, at a private ceremony at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.
But so petty and vile are her enemies that, when they saw her name on the plaque soon afterwards, vandals dug it up and destroyed it.
I know that, by now, many of those enemies will be spitting with rage at me.
It’s all very well being kind to waitresses and the bereaved families of friends, they’ll say, but, ‘What about the miners?’
To which I can only answer that they know, as well as anyone else, that no matter whose hand signed the death warrant, it was economics that killed the mines. It was simply unsustainable to go on asking taxpayers to pay men to destroy their lungs, a mile underground, digging out coal that was worth pounds less per ton than it cost to extract.
But quite enough ink has been wasted on the disgusting displays of rejoicing over Lady Thatcher’s death by the ignorant exhibitionists of the Left.
The fact is they don’t hate the real Margaret Thatcher, the great and good woman who did more than any peacetime prime minister for the ordinary people of Britain, whom she cared about and believed in so passionately.
Indeed, they know nothing of her, refusing even to think about what she did for her country, since myth and caricature suit their argument better than the truth.
What they are actually ranting at is her Spitting Image puppet — and that just makes them look profoundly stupid.
Monday, April 8, 2013
It is the world's most remote group of islands, 6,173 miles from Britain, and has more birds and penguins than human residents.
But there is one thing missing from the lives of the Tristan da Cunha islanders - it cannot find a vicar to give them spiritual guidance.
The volcanic British territory in the South Atlantic has been without a parish priest since Father Chris Brown left in 2010.
The post has been advertised several times, according to the Church Times, but so far no one has agreed to make their home 1,750 miles from the nearest landmass of Africa.
Now the residents, who number 262, could have a woman as their next priest as the Cape Town diocese steps up its attempts to fill the vacancy.
Lorna Lavarello-Smith, who was born on the island, is training in Peterborough to be a priest and is helping the search.
She is and is due to be ordained this summer before serving a curacy in Northamptonshire.
Ms Lavarello-Smith, the descendant of Italian Gaetano Lavarello, who was shipwrecked on the island in 1892, hopes to return to live on Tristan da Cunha 'one day', the Independent on Sunday reported,
She described the island as a 'very special' place in which to serve, adding: 'If you are looking for a ministry where you want to be close to God and close to nature, then Tristan da Cunha is the place for you.
'There is something about being in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, reliant on a community of people with whom you live. You hear the sound of God's voice much more clearly.'
According to Tristan da Cunha's website, the new vicar of St Mary's will ideally play a musical instrument and teach at the school.
The advert said: 'Applicants should be active and energetic. A keen interest in church music and the ability to play an instrument would be an asset.'
Tristan da Cunha is a close-knit community with just seven surnames among its inhabitants, but some of its priests have found life depressing and lonely there.
The Reverend Edwin H Dodgson, younger brother of writer Lewis Carroll, grew so unhappy at the 'unnatural state of isolation' he told of his despair four years after arriving as a teacher and missionary in 1880. He wrote: 'It has been my daily prayer that God would open up some way for us all to leave ...There is not the slightest reason for this island to be inhabited at all.'
There was a 13-year time lapse between a vicar's appointment when the Rev Graham Barrow quit the island in 1909.
The archipelago, first sighted in 1506, consists of the main island of Tristan da Cunha itself, which measures about seven miles across. Settlers arrived in 1810. It has an area of 37.8 sq miles, along with the uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island.
There is no airport and only nine ships are scheduled to visit from Cape Town, the nearest major port. Television arrived only in 2001, but there are only two terrestrial channels.
During World War Two, It was used as a listening post to monitor German ships while the entire population was evacuated from 1961-63 over a threatened volcano eruption.
People in Protestant countries work harder because they feel guiltier about taking time off, a study has found.
And while unemployment generally makes all people unhappy, it is twice as likely seriously to affect the mental wellbeing of Protestants as those of other denominations.
The findings suggest that the economic downturn may have had a far more serious effect on people in Britain than other countries, with joblessness more likely to have led to depression among Christian workers.
Scientists from Holland studied more than 150,000 people in 82 countries to find out whether there was any truth behind the notion of a Protestant work ethic.
The countries deemed historically Protestant by the researchers, from Groningen University, included the UK, the US Australia, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
They found those who were unemployed in all countries said they were less happy when out of work, regardless of religious denomination, but this was exacerbated among those in Protestant countries.
In fact, Protestants are generally 40 per cent less happy when unemployed than others, they reported.
Researchers took into account a number of factors which could have skewed results - such as marital status, age, gender, income, education and health.
Dutch economist Dr André van Hoorn, who led the study, said: ‘The negative effect of unemployment on self-reported happiness was twice as strong for Protestants compared with non-Protestants.
‘We found that the work ethic does exist and that individual Protestants and historically Protestant societies appear to value work much more than others.
‘At the individual level, unemployment hurts Protestants much more than it does non-Protestants. Protestantism causes a stronger work ethic.
‘Interestingly, it is not so much Protestant individuals who are hurt more by being unemployed as it is individuals - both Protestants and non-Protestants - living in Protestant societies.’
He added that the results supported sociologist Max Weber’s idea that a strong work ethic is something which has evolved from historical Protestantism, rather than contemporary interpretations of Protestantism.
Weber first came up with the notion of a Protestant work ethic in 1904, suggesting that the religious concept of achieving God-given grace through frugality and working hard was one of the crucibles of capitalism.
Despite the theory being widely accepted since, the Dutch researchers sought to test it.
Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University, said the study ‘shows that the Protestant work ethic is alive and kicking’.
He added: ‘It was very evident during the Thatcher and Blair years and the current coalition emphasis on the negative aspects of benefits are also evidence of it.
‘It is very much a cultural thing. In the UK, for example, people work for achievement; in the US, with fewer safety nets - no redundancy [pay] for example - fear is likely a driver.
‘I think 2008 made some differences. People who had followed the work ethic for years found themselves without a job. All the sacrifices - working long hours, not seeing the kids - had not worked out.
'We may find that’s damaged the work ethic and people are putting less focus on work and more on a balance between work and the rest of their life.’
Journal article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268113000838
Friday, April 5, 2013
Mr Osborne looks like a French aristo in a powdered wig. But that's no reason to put on this prolier than thou routine
Tom Utley offers some thoughts on the British class system
Whenever I see George Osborne on the telly, I remember a friend’s brilliant observation that he always looks like an aristocrat in a powdered wig, peering nervously through his carriage window at the Parisian mob on the eve of the French Revolution.
Indeed, the poor man has about him a permanent air of haughty disdain for his fellow man, mixed with a touch of cruelty and a hint of fear.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that the Chancellor actually suffers from any of these character defects. In private life, for all I know, he may be as lovable, fearless and free from hauteur as the Andrex puppy.
All my friend was saying is that when the Good Lord was distributing facial features, He unkindly kitted out young George Gideon Oliver Osborne with those of a supercilious grandee of the ancien regime. He might have added that He gave him a voice to match the face — with a thin, reedy quality and a fastidious accent, suggestive of a childhood spent whining at liveried footmen.
Whatever the truth may be about the inner Gideon, as his family called him in his youth, it has long been apparent that for a politician of the 21st century, he has a bit of an image problem. Clearly, he thinks so himself, because this week, as anyone who heard his speech on welfare reform will confirm, he tried to do something about it.
Not the face, of course. There’s not much a bloke can do about that, short of plastic surgery or growing a beard. But he made a very noticeable effort to adjust the accent, attempting to bring it a notch or two down the social scale by elaborately dropping his tees and aitches and flicking in other touches of Estuary English.
‘Wod I wanna torkta you abah .....’ he began, before getting on to his message that ‘hard-working people who wanna ge’ on in life are gonna be bedderoff’.
If you missed it, and can be bothered, you can catch the whole thing on YouTube and make up your own mind about how far he succeeded in presenting himself as a man of the people. But if you want my opinion, the experiment was not a happy one.
To me, he came across like nothing so much as an 18th-century French aristocrat on the steps of the guillotine, mounting a desperately unconvincing last-minute attempt to persuade the mob that he was really on their side. Indeed, I thought his efforts to sound prolier-than-thou drew attention to his poshness, rather than playing it down.
Of course, Mr Osborne is far from the only British politician who has tried to endear himself to an audience by disguising an accent redolent of privilege.
Perhaps the supreme vocal chameleon is Tony Blair, who will slip from a light Scottish brogue for an audience in Edinburgh to a mid-Atlantic twang for the Yanks — and from Mitford to mockney, depending on whether he is addressing officer cadets at Sandhurst or young offenders in Shoreditch.
But in a strange sort of way, the former Prime Minister’s Rory Bremner act is less jarring than Mr Osborne’s — and not only because Mr Blair is better at it.
My own paradoxical theory is that he gets away with it more successfully because, in switching from one accent to another, he is being completely true to himself. For I’ve always thought the most remarkable feature of the real Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is that there isn’t one, and never was. The man is a fake, through and through, a chameleon to the shallow depths of his nature.
On the other hand, there is a real George Osborne, rooted firmly in a distinctive social class. The trouble is that the mockney-speaking persona he adopted on Tuesday, at Morrisons supermarket distribution centre in Kent, wasn’t him.
True, a survey this week found that more than a fifth of Britons admit to altering our natural accents — whether to sound more posh, like Hyacinth Bucket and the late Woy Jenkins, or less so, like most of the Queen’s grandchildren. But voters still tend to be suspicious of politicians who try to disown their class backgrounds.
If my theory is right, it may go a long way towards explaining why Boris Johnson’s poshness has never stood much in the way of his popularity. For say what you like about my old colleague, what you hear is what you get.
Like David Cameron, he has never made the slightest attempt to disguise the fact he comes from an upper-middle-class background and went to the poshest school in the world. Indeed, my only slight doubt about his accent is the mystery of how anyone below the rank of Duke could genuinely be as posh as Boris sounds.
What is certain is that the niceties and gradations of the Britain class system — with its animosities and snobberies, whether inverted or otherwise — have exerted an endless (and, let’s face it, unhealthy) fascination for the people of these islands through the ages.
Without them, most of our greatest novelists, from Austen and Trollope to P.G. Wodehouse, would have had trouble finding anything to write about, while many a wedding reception would have passed off with a great deal less ill-feeling between the families of the bride and the groom.
Of course, attitudes to class have long been changing. Indeed, one great irony about Mr Osborne is that if he’d actually been around in the 18th century to which his face belongs, snobs would have thought him a frightful oik. This is because his father, though the 17th Baronet, is in the interior decorating trade (Osborne & Little is the family firm), while young Gideon himself went to the least posh of the three great London public schools.
After all (and do agree, my dear) his alma mater St Paul’s has always ranked socially behind my own old school, Westminster —and a poor third to that production line of cads and bounders, Harrow. Yet today, even the most crashing snobs seem to regard Mr Osborne and his background as ineffably posh.
But then nothing was ever simple about our class system. And now the BBC has teamed with a group of academics to complicate it further, by inventing seven new gradations of social class — ranging from ‘elite’ at the top to ‘precariat’ at the bottom — and inviting us all to test which we belong to by answering a questionnaire online.
It seems to me a pretty pointless exercise, with more to do with income than class. And it will surprise nobody to discover that Mr Osborne falls squarely among the elite. But then so do some three million others (including, apparently, me — though our four sons, all fluent mockney speakers, with highly precarious futures, come out second from bottom as ‘emergent service workers’).
Now, I have to admit that I understand why Mr Osborne sought to disguise his class on Tuesday. After all, he was trying to spread the message that it’s wrong for people who are capable of working to live off the labour of others. And hasn’t he only to enunciate his natural vowels to indicate that he’s well used to benefiting from other’s efforts, through a trust fund or two?
But here’s the final irony: when he says that idleness should never pay better than work, he is striking a chord that resonates from top to bottom of the class system. Indeed, polls show that the public’s hostility to over-generous welfare benefits is at its loudest in the BBC’s three poorest categories — traditional working class, emergent service workers and precariat.
For once, he has a message that will appeal to the great mass of voters — in fact, it may yet prove an election winner — and there’s really no need to deliver it in an unnatural voice.
In my book, Mr Osborne deserves huge credit for sticking to his economic strategy. If he takes my advice, he’ll stick to his true accent, too.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
There are certain areas of feeling that classical music does especially well. One of them is the sense that everything will be all right, that there is order underneath the chaos, that peace will win out over rage and darkness. Let’s call it consolation.
It’s found most often in religious music, but not only there. And even when there are consoling words, there’s something in the music itself which redeems the mess of this world, even if we don’t believe in the words.
No composer expresses this mysterious feeling more powerfully than Bach, which may be why he appeals so much to unbelievers like me. Many things conspire to produce that feeling. It’s partly that so much later classical music springs out of Bach, so listening to him feels like going home. There’s also the sense that the music is obeying deep laws which spring out of the nature of music itself. Nobody invented them, they just exist. And finally there’s the sense that the crystalline order of Bach is rooted in simple everyday things – the rhythms of breathing and dancing, and sturdy common chords.
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- My full name is Dr. John Joseph RAY. I am a former university teacher aged 68 at the time of writing in late 2011. I was born of Australian pioneer stock in 1943 at Innisfail in the State of Queensland in Australia. After an early education at Innisfail State Rural School and Cairns State High School, I taught myself for matriculation. I took my B.A. in Psychology from the University of Queensland in Brisbane. I then moved to Sydney (in New South Wales, Australia) and took my M.A. in psychology from the University of Sydney in 1969 and my Ph.D. from the School of Behavioural Sciences at Macquarie University in 1974. I first tutored in psychology at Macquarie University and then taught sociology at the University of NSW. I am Australian born of working class origins and British ancestry. My doctorate is in psychology but I taught mainly sociology in my 14 years as a university teacher. In High Schools I taught economics. I have taught in both traditional and "progressive" (low discipline) High Schools. Fuller biographical notes here