Sunday, 4 September 2011


Unfortunately the Diogenes Club is now closed. There has been no activity at the club for over a year and the members have ceased to meet.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Diogenes Film Club

The Diogenes Club is well known for its film evenings which are held monthly. Films are chosen by members in turn and we all enjoy a good meal and a selection of the finest ales as an accompaniment to the main event. The Club Secretary thought it wise to record the choice of films for posterity and will keep it updated with any future events.

25 Europa
(Pridian July 10)
A dark, surreal film-noir take on the political thriller: a young American deserter trying to find a place in postwar Germany is torn between idealism and love when pressed by a terrorist group to blow up the train he is on. Danish 1991, dir. Lars von Trier

24 Burn After Reading
(Beachhut Man June 10)
Black comedy by the Cohen Bros. Ex CIA operative decides to write a memoir which gets lost. Two naive people try to sell it to the russians with dire consequences for all. At the end we are all left asking, what did we learn? The answer, as is true of life's lessons in general, is nothing.

23 LA Confidential
(Dr Phil May 10)
Corruption in the LA Police leads young rooky detective to rise to the top of this profession by being more ruthless than the corrupt officers he exposes. Set in the 1950's this has all the glamour of a Bogart movie with added colour.

22 I Know Where I'm Going 
(Zeno April 10)
Determined lady who thinks she knows her own mind persues happiness in the shape of a rich industry tychoon who can provide her with all the essentials of a happy life. On her way to marriage on a scottish island she is side-tracked by the genuine article. More Powell and Pressburger magic.

21 The Whole Wide World 
(Pridian April 10)
The author of Conan the Barbarian meets sassy Texan school teacher on the road of discovery. Does romance win out or will love be sacrificed on the sword of fantasy fiction to divide them forever?

20 The Lives of Others
(Beachhut Man Mar 10)
East German movie (sub-titled) about the Stasi and their intrusion into the minutiae of everyone's lives with its appalling and obvious consequences.

19 Conflict 
(Dr Phil February 10)
Bogart movie that has become a lost classic, in which Bogart plays the disenchanted husband who murders his wife and leaves her body under a pile of logs. Sidney Greenstreet plays the psychologist who brings him to justice.

18 Still Crazy 
(Zeno Jan 10)
Aging rock group reform for one last gig and find that age is inescapable

17 The Wind and the Lion 
(Pridian Dec 09)
The irresistible force of Connery meets the immovable resistance of Candice Bergan

16 In My Father's Den 
(Beachhut Man Nov 09)
A movie about paternal loss.

15 The Magnet 
(Dr Phil Oct 09)
A young boy tricks another into giving him his magnet. Plagued by a guilty conscience he stumbles from one narrow escape to another until at the end of the adventure he finds his deception has resulted in him being awarded the civic medal of honour, which he passes back to the original and rightful owner.

14 Melody 
(Zeno Sep 09)
Charming 70s movie of teenage love set to irresistible BeeGees music. Mark Lester falls in love and reaches that point when girls mean more than friends.

13 Much ado about Nothing 
(Pridian August 09)
Shakespeare courtesy of Kenneth Bragnan and co. A salutary tale about how the smallest of mistakes can lead the the greatest of tragedies and as the title says a great deal about very little.

12 Charlie Chaplin in Limelight
(Beachhut Man
Sep 09)
A piquant farewell from a tortured genius with aspirations and responsibilities in conflict.

11 To Kill a Mockingbird
(Dr Phil
June 09)
Powerful drama seen through the eyes of children. Scout learns that "you never get to understand another person unless you walk around in his shoes a little"

10 The Dish 
(Zeno May 09)A gentle story about Australia's involvement in the Apollo 11 moon landing as it tracks the astronauts with its big dish in the middle of a sheep farm. A cross between Contact and Local Hero.

9 Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment 
(Pridian Apr 09)
Artist son of Marxist parents abandons traditional class-struggle ideology to indulge in fantasy - based largely on scenes from King Kong and Tarzan movies - of Natural Man living outside social convention, and pays the price.

8 The Lake House 
(Dr Phil Mar 09)
Dismissed by some as a "rom-com", hailed by others as ground-breaking paradigm-shifting science-fiction. The truth is probably neither: Two people meet and fall in love with only the barrier of time to overcome.

7 Park Row 
(Beachhut Man Feb 09)
Hard gritty newspaper story about the hard and gritty life of newspapermen. The Diogenarian maxim is, "Don't ever let anyone tell you what to write".

6 V for Vendetta 
(Zeno Nov 08)
Guy Fawkes resurrected in a dystopian future, strikes a blow for freedom and blows up the government to the general acclamation of all.

5 A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy 
(Pridian Oct 08)
A light and breezy understated comedy from the stable of Woody Allen who manages to produce a mixture of Brian Rix and William Shakespere with just a dash of New England.

4 Thank you for Smoking 
(Beachhut Man Sep 08: )
Big tobacco's spokesperson twists the truth for smoking to prevail. Katie Holmes is as an amoral journalist who gets on top of an amoral pro-tobacco spin doctor in this satire.

3 Hobson's Choice 
(Dr Phil Jul 08)
The poor but honest cobbler, with the help of a good wife, shakes off the shackles of class oppression and sets up on his own shop eventually buying out the boss.

2 Catch us if you can 
(Zeno Jun 08)
The mad cap adventures of a famous pop group (no, not the Beatles...) the Dave Clarke Five who through a wistful tour of 60s nostalgia have a zany time. But don't ask what it is all about.

1 Closely Observed Trains 

(Pridian May 08)
A group of Czech railway station porters learn how to keep themselves sane under the new Nazi occupation but don't always succeed.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A Manifesto for Change

One of our members received a personal email the other day from Nick Clegg, Deputy Primeminister, asking how to run the country. It went something like this.

Dear ...........,

We've already scrapped ID cards. Now I'd like to ask you - which other laws do you want to scrap?

Well, from the comfort of my club armchair I have a few suggestions that the new regime might like to take on board.

Personal liberty
Let's start with dismantelling the new authoritarianism. It's been the Dark Ages as far as personal freedom goes. Restore our freedom to let our children play outside or cycle to school or smack them if they need it. Everyone should be free to smoke, free to drink, adopt a child or walk down a street without hitting a minefield of regulations, restrictions and surveillance measures. Smoking should not be banned in pubs. There should be no laws against hate or thinking the wrong thoughts. People should be free to say anything they like without worrying about offending anyone.

The government should cease its intervention into the private lives of people and pronouncing on what is allowed and what is not in intimate relations. Sex offenders should not be singled out and demonised by society. Childen aged 10 and 11 should not be brought to the Old Baily and accused of adult crimes for playing doctors and nurses.

Free speech
No speech should be constrained by bans, libel laws or well-meaning self-censorship. The internet should not be regulated in any way. "Hate speech" should not be a crime. Nazis, anti-semites, racists or the Womens Institute should not be censored. Everyone has the same rights as everyone else to express their views. There should be no crimes against stating your views or holding opinions. Holocaust denial should no more be a crime than God denial should be a crime. There should be no laws against blasphemy or outraging public opinion. The right to be able to offend other people should be an inalienable human right.

Risk and Fear
Society has become obsessed with risk and peril. Governements are experts at doom-mongering. Stop trying to create zero risk for everything. Stop trying to regulate all human activity. Health and safety should not be the number one priority. Common Sense should be restored to test all things. The precautionary principle which governments are signed up and paralyses innovation should be dumped.

Stop penalizing drivers and treating them as an income source. Remove all speed cameras. Remove all speed limits from motorways as in Germany - if they have better road saftely statistics than we have, let's try it the way they do. Reset police priorities to focus on criminals and not motorists. If you want to get people out of their cars then provive a first rate public transport system that is completely free for everyone and paid for by everyone out of taxes.

Poor countries
Governement humanitarian aid is largely bogus. It makes weaker nations more permeable to western domination and is a means of exerting political control. Stop governement aid and encourage individual aid. Put money where it is needed and not in the hands of corrupt government officials.

There's a start. I await with interest Nick's reply.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Lesson of History

"Hello chaps." I said, as I walked into the warmth of the library. Henry appeared at my elbow as I lowered myself into my chair, with my drink on a silver salver.

Travis motioned at me to keep quiet as there was a fairly heated discussion going on about the recent general election. I had been looking forward to this evening. One of the advantages of being a member of a club where the main membership requirement is an attitude of cynicism, is that a good evening's conversation is guaranteed after watching our mighty democracy being unable to make up it's mind.

Treworthy seemed quite agitated about the stories that a considerable number of people had been unable to vote due to there being a late rush toward the end of the evening.

"I can't see why they couldn't just keep the polling offices open until they had collected everyone's vote."

"It's because the rules stated that all polling stations should close at ten o'clock." said Abrahams.

"Well the rules clearly need changing. I mean the whole system is practically Victorian anyway." countered Treworthy.

"That's as maybe - I'm sure that after the enquiry changes will be made, but until that time, the current rules stand."

"Oh I know, I know, but it is a bit embarrassing, isn't it. I mean the election in Iraq seemed to be better organised. Maybe they should look into the possibility of on-line voting."

"God help us," said Manton, as he gestured furiously at Henry for another drink. "The introduction of postal voting has been responsible for some of the biggest abuses of the system in my lifetime. Can you imagine the chaos if all the votes were just collected in a huge database without any paper trail to back it up? The government's record on databases isn't particularly good."

"But it would be a very simple database, technically." said Abrahams.

"Yes, but it's not the technical aspects that doom these projects to failure, it's the human aspects. 50% of the people that they get working on these things seem to be completely useless, adding nothing of value."

"Oh come on, Manton, next you'll be saying that 50% of all people's jobs are useless too."

"I do, my dear fellow, I do. I'm thinking of writing a short monograph on the subject."

"Well what about the result itself?" said Treworthy. "A hung parliament. It's not good for the country."

"I don't see why not," I said. "I can see why the parties don't like it, but it is clearly the will of the people."

"Yes, they will have to actually keep talking to each other, rather than blindly following the party line. I wonder how long the coalition will last?" said Abrahams.

"I can't believe any of them actually want power." said Travis. "I mean, you do realise what sort of spending cuts are going to be introduced soon, don't you? Any manifesto promises are going to have to go out of the window. It's going to make the 1970s look like a picnic in comparison."

"I've always considered people who seek out power to be fairly deluded anyway." said Manton.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because they are. Who in their right mind would wish to shoulder the burdens of high office, especially at the moment?"

"Ah Manton, ever the misanthrope." I said.

"Not at all. I would put it to you that in the vast majority of cases, lust for power over others is the sign of a highly dysfunctional personality. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot - how many names do you want?"

"Yes but you are picking the biggest monsters in history. There are exceptions."

"Of course. There are always exceptions but not many."

"Nonsense. There have been some good rulers."

"Yes, but how many of them actually wanted the power? There have been some who extremely reluctantly took on he mantle of responsibility, remained full of doubts as to what was the right thing to do, and shed the responsibility as soon as they were able to, but I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the ones who can't wait to start ordering people about, and design nice uniforms for them, and who want to make the trains run on time."

"Funny you should say that Manton," I said, "but just last night I watched the film 'Downfall', about the final days of the third Reich. I found it fascinating. You see Hitler admiring his wonderful model of the new Berlin, whilst outside the city is being reduced to rubble as the Russians advance from the East and the Allies from the West. The officers in charge of the final remnants of the defence force are summoned to the bunker and they find themselves in a mad hatter's tea party. Their senior officers are all constantly drunk, or on drugs, and Hitler is completely losing touch with reality. You can see him turning in on himself, being forced for the first time to look within, and finding nothing but a gaping void. When his generals tell him that he is condemning his own people to death, he simply screams at them that it is their own fault, and that if they are not strongly enough to withstand the invaders, they all deserve to die. It's rivetting stuff."

"That's exactly what I mean. In the end, the only thing he can do is either admit to himself that he has made hideous mistake, and that he has lead the entire nation into the abyss, or commit suicide. And of course, he chooses the latter. He's got nowhere left to go. Typical case of someone who thinks that power can fill the inner void."

"I've heard of that film." said Travis, excitedly pulling out his smartphone. "There are lots of clips of it on Youtube, where people have put satiric subtitles onto it. Here, I can show you some." Having just bought it, he would try to demonstrate its features to anyone and everyone at the slightest opportunity.

A look of infinite pain flickered across Manton's face, as he waved the gadget away with a feeble paw.

"The point is, it is this gaping void within that actually creates the desire for power. The thing that makes them least suitable for the role is the thing that makes them most want to do it. It's the lesson of history."

"Oh come on Manton, you can't condemn all those that seek to improve the lot of their fellow man?" said Treworthy.

"You know full well my feelings towards my fellow man, Treworthy. We all live lives of brain-numbing banality, blind to the consequences of our actions, refusing to think about the social dysfunction, environmental impact and appalling suffering that our society has created."

"Well, thank god that not all are as nihilistic as you Manton, that is all I can say. I, for one, intend to give the new coalition my full support."

"Treworthy, did you know that the last government spent £163 billion more, per annum, than they raised in taxes? Even by slashing public spending to levels not seen since the 1970s, we cannot hope to bridge that gap. Every country in the Western world is living way beyond its means. California is in a far worse financial state than even Greece is at the moment."

"Oh come on Manton."

"I'm serious. Why is this so difficult to understand? I don't know if the world is blind, deaf or just stupid. We've given billions to these people .... did you know that each of the big hedge fund managers is getting about $3 billion in bonuses EACH. $3 billion!"

"They are saying that the recession is over." said Abrahams.

"Well it certainly is for them. For the rest of us, it is just beginning. Our money has been stolen from us, forcing us to pay, against our will, for the lifestyle of the super-rich, while our health services, transport services, education services and just about every other pathetic attempt to make our lives more livable is going to be effectively destroyed in the attempt to pay off the debts they've created. And do you know the best bit? We are going to be told by these same people that we must become more efficient, that it is all caused by the inefficient practices of all these public services. We are going to be a third-world country in all but name."

"You can't really believe that."

"Why not? I don't understand why people aren't more angry. In the past, the super-rich tended to be a bit more discreet, but maybe they feel that they don't need to be any more. They will probably pretend to be surprised and horrified when the cities finally erupt into violence, like they have in Greece, and refuse to see any connection between their inconceivable levels of wealth and everyone else's suffering."

"Well what would you do about it?"

"I'd pass laws to restore the separation between high street banks and merchant banks. I'd pass laws to institute a maximum wage, or a maximum differential between the lowest and highest paid. I'd outlaw derivatives and all the other insane methods of setting up fictitious markets. That would be a start."

"Manton, the city would never wear it. You would cripple their ability to make money."

"They aren't making money, they are making debt. What do you think caused this latest crisis? All these financial tricks are simply ways of enabling money to generate more money without any useful work being done. The world can support a certain amount of that, but not if everyone is trying to do it. You can't have economic growth forever. They've attempted to keep it going by finding new markets, but there are only so many manufacturing companies that you can invest in. So what happens is that they start to invest in more abstract things, that don't necessarily provide employment for others. Stocks, shares, intellectual property rights, land, water, housing and other property. They make money out of them by trying to ensure that they always increase in value."

"Well, I'm not complaining," said Treworthy, "my house is worth twice what is was when I bought it."

"Yes, but it has the side effect that, eventually, most people can't afford those assets - how can the price of something keep rising if no one can afford it? So what do they do? They create totally fictitious markets, like Carbon Trading. And they make the idea of personal debt completely normal - something that would have been anathema to my Father's generation. They draw us into their mess by telling us how we must all have a mortgage. You can't go on strike if you have a mortgage. Better still, have a credit card. In fact, why not have both?"

"But that's a good thing, Manton." said Travis. "You can't deny that everyone's living standards have gone up."

"Yes, but that could have been achieved by increasing everyone's wages. Why do it by placing everyone into debt? Simply because it turns us all into an investment opportunity for the rich. They will give us credit - at a rate of interest, of course. And so we get turned into cannon fodder for whatever their next great scheme is for transferring our money into their pockets." Manton paused, and then said quitely, as if to himself, "It's all wrong."

The room was silent, as it usually was after one of Manton's tirades. The only sound was the ticking of the Grandfather clock in the corner.

"Sorry about that chaps." said Manton, after a while. "You know what I'm like once I get the bit between my teeth. Henry! Drinks for everyone - put them on my account."

"Oh, that's alright Manton, it would be a dull evening without you holding forth on some topic or other." said Travis.

"It sounds to me like you might be turning into a Marxist." added Abrahams, jokingly.

"Do you know, it's funny you should say that. I've always fancied having a crack at Das Kapital, to see if I could get my head round it. Just to see if it makes any sense purely as an economic theory."

"Didn't he write it at your place of work, Manton?" said Treworthy.

"Yes. Well, I don't know if he wrote it there, but it's true that he did most of his research at the British Library. I quite like the idea, for some reason."

"If my memory serves, sir," said Henry, "there is a copy of the first volume of Das Kapital in the club library. Would you like me to get it for you?"

"No, no, you see to the drinks. I'll get it."

"Very good sir."

By the time Henry had brought our drinks, Manton had located the book and was leafing through it.

"Good Lord", he said, in a stunned voice.

"What is it?" I asked.

"It's a first edition. Signed by the author."

"Signed? Isn't it a club tradition that members who have written a book..."

"Henry," interrupted Manton, "does this mean that Karl Marx was a member of the Diogenes Club?"

"I would have to consult the membership ledgers before I could say for certain, sir. However, if I may be permitted to make an observation...."

"Of course, Henry."

"A person who stated in 1867 that capitalism would inevitably collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, would probably be considered to be enough of a cynic to be eligible for membership."

"I think I had better start reading," said Manton. "I've got some catching up to do."

Sunday, 28 March 2010

An Englishman's Home is his Castle

As I was relaxing at the club the other day, Manton came in swearing under his breath.

"Bloody snoopers," he muttered flopping down in the chair next to me.

"Another brush with GCHQ?" I asked with a sly grin.

"Nothing so quixotic," he said, his smile returning. "It's the bloody TV detector vans round again. That's the third time this year."

"I thought you didn't have a TV?"

"Wouldn't have one in the house! Utter rubbish and governement propaganda. But do they believe you? No they have to come in and look around for themselves."

"Why do you let them?"

"Can't stop them old chap!"

"Don't they need a search warrant or something?"

"Pardon me for butting in." It was Montague Hyde our resident barrister. "I couldn't help overhearing you gentlemen talking about warrants. Things have changed a great deal over the last 13 years. There are now over a thousand different officials who have complete access to your home any time they please. And they don't need a warrant."

I was incredulous. "You must be joking!"

"Not at all my dear fellow. Most people don't realize it but the TV detector man is the least of your worries these days."

"But an Englishman's Home is his Castle!"

"That may well have been true in 1629 when Sir Edward Coke issued his well known declaration and the Petition of Rights was created, but alas it is true no more," added Montague Hyde. "Government and local officials can force their way into your home not just to pursue criminals and terrorists but for the most trivial of reasons."

"Such as?" I queried.

"To check health and safety standards, for instance. Or height of your hedges, or to check whether you are profiting from the plunder of shipwrecks, or conduct rabbit control..."

"You're kidding me!"

"...checking babysitting credentials.... inspecting potted plants... monitoring the environmental credentials of refrigerators.... the list goes on and on. The proliferation of the grounds of entry coupled with the wide discretion granted has left individuals wide open to arbitrary abuse by the state."

"Goodness, I had no idea...."

"Very few people do, until its their door that is being knocked on in the middle of the night. I'm afraid that an Englishman's home is no more impregnable than an aging ruin now.

Friday, 19 March 2010


Dearest Manton
In plodding my weary way across the internet I seem to frequently come across documents such as the enclosed. You will no doubt have seen thousands of similar examples. Everyone from Government departments, schools colleges local authorities use this kind of thing to try to specify levels of ability/skills.

Now I don't know about you but every time I come across these things I cant help feeling these documents are fundamentally flawed in almost every respect. One example. To reach level 2 ICT you need to be able to, quote, review the effectiveness of IT tools to meet needs in order to inform future judgments. Now is it just me or is that utter gobbledygook, meaningless twaddle and total crap? Or have I missed something? Either I need to be enlightened or every government educational department/quango is talking utter rubbish. Does anyone else see this? How is it perpetuated? Why has no-one claimed that the emperor has no clothes?

Can you advise? Or better still, with your unusually enlightened mind pinpoint where the exact error lies? Is it not time to expose this fraud?

Your humble and grateful servant.

Dear Carruthers
On the contrary, I think the brave men and women who toil selflessly in these quangos should be congratulated! They have managed to list all of the skills that were once implicit in the traditional GCSE syllabuses (syllabi?), so that they can be taught separately, despite complaints from hide-bound traditionalists (so unlike yourself) about why these skills are no longer being learned by default during standard lessons in our nation's schools.

You will, I am sure, be as delighted as I am to learn that basic/key/functional skills will be tested in an as yet undetermined way and assessed with a simple pass/fail, thus making them easy, and above all cheap, to mark.
There are whole armies of teaching assistants out there who may not be qualified to teach, but who can now be given some concrete way in which they can improve the CVs of their students, thus leaving the teachers free with the far more essential work of improving their schools rankings int he league tables, and therefore making the Government's education policies look good.
Yours Ever

Dear Manton
Every government quango out there just seems to thrive on writing piles of reports that mean nothing, setting standards that have no value, and undertaking extensive work that accomplishes nothing? Call me old fashioned if you like but isn't it all rather pointless?
Your obedient and submissive servant

Dear Carruthers
If it weren't for these massive bureaucratic quangos doing this important work, how would the Government be able to claim that they are putting more into education than ever before? Where would the money go? Apart from the bankers bonuses, obviously. Oh sure, they could pay it to the teachers, so that they have got the time and the resources to teach maths and English properly in the schools, but would that really be in the best interests of our children?

The children of today will become the captains of industry of tomorrow - or at least they would if we still had any industries. They need to be prepared for a world in which huge corporations pay huge sums of money to their top employees whilst contributing absolutely nothing of any value to society and at the same time poisoning the air, water and food chain in an ever accelerating rush towards ... something or other.

Surely it behoves us to run education in exactly the same way, to prepare them for the broad sunlit uplands of the modern industrialised society that are awaiting them as they mature into adults.
Toodle Pip

My Dear Manton
How can you talk about education when the curriculum has replaced the real learning of History, Science, Maths, English, Latin.... with the vacuous modern learning of how to avoid drug addition, obesity, teenage pregancy, green issues, relationships.... where has all the real knowledge gone? Education doesn't exist any more, at least not in any form I recognise.
You obedient, humble and servile servant

Dear Carruthers
If we actually start to teach them properly, imparting real knowledge for it's own sake, rather than a simple list of skills that will enable them to become good consumers and allow them to participate in this great sacred quest towards .... something or other, is there not a danger that they will start to think for themselves, and start to question the nature of progress, and why our race towards ... something or other is important enough to justify such senseless waste, declining moral standards and global economic incompetence?

What is the point of filling their heads with these grand visions of some mythic golden age which never existed, when they have to live in the real world, the one that we are working so hard to create for them.

I'm sure that you will agree with me that the document that you sent me is vital to the forward march of education towards ... something or other. I for one am glad that someone is working out the precise difference between key skills and functional skills.

I did at first think that it would probably have been easier to make key skills and functional skills identical, so that no comparison was needed, but one visit to the QCDA website soon put me right.

I did look for a listing of the actual functional skills that they were comparing, but other than a video from the CEO of Toyota UK about how functional skills would have prevented Toyota cars from crashing all the time, there seemed to be very little in the way of detail on precisely what functional skills actually are.

I did find out though, that they have been piloted somewhere and are about to be rolled out nationally. Clearly they were a huge success. It makes you wonder why they ever bothered with basic skills or key skills. I am sure that functional skills will be much better.

Anyway, I hope I have set your mind at rest
Toodle pip

Dear Manton

Yes, yes.... that is all very well but what about the language they are using to describe these things? Look at the terms they write in. Here is the standard you have to reach: "review the effectiveness of IT tools to meet needs in order to inform future judgements" I mean how do you do that? What does it mean?

"Review the effectiveness of IT tools?" What kind of review, just a quick 'look again' or a hundred page report or a set up a government quango? A review can be anything.

And the "effectiveness of IT tools" - how do you measure that? Effective in what way? How effective does it need to be? 100% or will 18% do? (the same as the pass mark for A level maths?)

"To meet needs" Did we read that right? "To meet needs" Yes. How vague is that? Who's needs? an expert? a beginner? for what? Writing a letter?, designing a nuclear sub? Playing Doom? How do you define needs. Needs of one are not needs of another.

"In order to inform future judgement." About what? How far in the future? Tomorrow? Next century? To scan compulsory ID card? To lock critical thinking people up? Or just to buy a new printer?

How can anyone draft something so vague that it becomes totally meaningless and not see it? And not just a phrase but a standard, presumably something that needs to be measured by someone to ensure that they have reached the right level? How can anyone ever measure something like that?
Your humble grovelling and most servile servant
Dear Carruthers
You reaslly should not get too involved in these matters. It certainly won't help your blood pressure. These quangos are keeping the country running. What more do we want?
Toodle Pip

Dear Manton
It's the language that bothers me. The vague imprecision of it all. They are surely fooling themselves and perpetuating a huge fraud on the whole of education if they think this means something and they have defined what it means to have an IT functional skill. It can mean anything anyone wants. Can't it? Have I missed something?

And it is not one isolated document, almost everything that comes from local government or a quango has built its structural edifice on language like this. It is the common language of the bureaucrat. The lingua franca of the pseudo-educationalist the world over. Is it not time to send the whole house of cards tumbling? I call on all of sound mind to join the revolution...
Your obedient, humble, grovelling and sycophantic servant

Dear Cartruthers
I once met someone who was high up in the civil service took your point of view. If I remember I have a clipping from one of his letters which I reproduce here:
"I seek to do away with obscurantist jargon (although I think I might just have invented some there) in both my own subject and others. Language is there to communicate meaning, not hide it. If someone can only make themselves important by withholding something, and forcing others to be complicit in this by creating an academic discipline out of it, they are a pretty sorry sort of person. They also tend not to have much of a sense of humour, presumably because they are too scared of being found out. I've read too many academic papers which use academic sounding language to hide the fact that they don't contain anything worth saying and are a complete waste of paper. This is why Orwell is one of my heroes."

He took his own life, if I remember correctly as he couldn't face the world any more.
Let that be a lesson to us all
Toodle Pip

Sunday, 7 March 2010

On Tyranny

"I couldn't help overhearing your conversation the other day on liberty," said Scoobles approaching me with a glass in his hand. "Can I get you a drink old chap?"

Scoobles was one of the newer members of the club and I hadn't really spoken to him much. I guessed he was looking to make a new friend. "No, I'm fine thanks."

"I bet most of the old crones round here have never heard of John Stuart Mills, never mind read him, eh?" He gave me an encouraging wink.

"Mill," I said.


"It's John Stuart Mill. Not Mills." I smiled.

"Yeah, well, whatever. I agreed with everything you said about liberty. But of course you can only take it so far."

"How do you mean?"

"Well not all crimes have victims, do they?" He sipped his drink and leaned forward, "I mean what about vandalism or fly-tipping or arson? And there's drug dealing and racial hatred...not to mention downloading porn. It would be a horrible, dirty, scary world if all crimes had to have victims."

 "Well I think you will find there are victims if you think about it. Aren't the victims of  vandalism the property owners? And with fly-tipping, the council tax payers? Drug dealers have plenty of victims I would have thought with the addicts they are making. But I admit that race hatred is a little more difficult. Hatred is an emotion, not an action and I don't believe that anyone should be criminalized for their emotions any more than people should be criminalized for their thoughts."

"Well I do, if they are the wrong thoughts!"

I looked at him surprised. "Wasn't it Orwell who first foresaw a day when people would be arrested just for thinking the wrong things? He called it "Thought Crimes". We already have thought crimes in this country - and I am not so sure that race hated isn't one - where the authorities want to lock people up just for what they think, even though they may not have actually done anything wrong. I think you will find that is the real horrible scary world we are sleepwalking into."

"And what about dowloading pornography? You can't justify that."

"The basic rule is still the same - Principle of Harm. If any anyone is harmed in any way then there should be a law to prevent it. But equally there should be no laws against what happens in peoples minds. Our thoughts are our own and there should be no such thing as an Orwellian thought crime in a free country. If no one is hurt, there should be no law against it."

"I fail to see how you can sensibly apply Mill's Harm Principle to this type of obscenity because there is no way that any aspect of it can be described as a 'victimless crime'."

"What people do in their own heads, with their own thoughts is their own business - as long as no one else is harmed. The state has no right to dictate to anyone what they do in their own minds. And whether you or I approve or disapprove makes no difference. Everyone has the liberty to think what they like, feel what they like, reason how they like. That is what makes us human beings. As long as they are not harming anyone, I support their freedom to do as they please. That is what liberty means. Liberty does not mean others are only free to do what I approve or what you approve. That is just another name for tyranny."

"Well, Ok, downloading and looking at something isn't directly hurting anyone but you're forgetting that I don't agree with you that there should only be laws against things that directly hurt other people. There totally should be a law against it, And the state completely has a right to enforce a law on downloading all indecent images. Call it tyranny if you like but I would rather the country be tyrannical than full of dirty scumbags."

I put my paper down. "That is exactly what tyranny is - the imposition of one persons view, or even the view of the majority, on others.
    "There have always been bogey men throughout the ages, who society have singled out as the 'dirty scumbags' of their time. In the 17th century it was witches, in the mid 20 century it was communists, in the mid 30s it was the Jews and in the early 21 century it has been those who download indecent images. What these groups have in common is they didn't harm anyone but they were persecuted because society set its face against them because it didn't agree with them. Every age has its own demons.
    "Once you have identified your 'scumbag' group you can then denigrate them to any extent, deprive them of their rights, liberty or even their life. And no one will come to their defence because they are afraid they will be associated too. 
    "All persecution starts this way - we label a certain group as 'scumbags' because they are different from us and we don't approve of what they do. And before we know it there are a whole new bunch of witchfinders, or McCarthyites or Nazis who would be quite happy to turn the country into a tyranny provided they can get rid of the 'dirty scumbags'.
    "And down that road my friend, I cannot follow you." And with that I got up a left.