Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wisdom from York

As someone who once lived in Uganda, I follow with keen interest news about Uganda and Ugandans. I was therefore glued to the television today for the ordination of Bishop John Sentamu as the new Archbishop of York. Bishop John Sentamu is a Ugandan. He fled that country during the rule of the dictator Idi Amin Dada. His friend, Janan Luwum, the Archbishop of Uganda had been killed by Amin and Sentamu thought it wise to leave the country. Bishop Sentamu is an earnest man with great zeal for the Lord and a heart of service. An outspoken critic against racism, he has also called upon the English not to be ashamed of their heritage. This is very heartening in these days of self-loathing leftism.

I loved Bishop Sentamu's inauguration sermon. He spoke of the role of the Church in today's world. He lamented the fact that the Church has become life-enhancing, rather than life-changing, and challenged us as Christians to cease to be 'consumers of religion', and become disciples of Christ. He spoke of the power and joy that makes real disciples; the recognition of the fact that Jesus Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves.

The Archbishop also stated that the vital issue facing the church in this country is the loss of the country’s long tradition of Christian wisdom which brought to birth the English nation. I am inclined to agree. Everywhere we turn, we see the erosion of Christian values. The consequences are not pretty.

Sentamu spoke a diagnostic sermon of loss, challenge and dedication. There were enough jokes and anecdotes to keep things moving. He spoke of the scandal and glory of the Church, but he also spoke of the hope for the future. The hope that the churches in Asia and Africa to whom the English missionaries took the gospel would rejuvenate the Church in England with their zeal and faith. He quoted the words of Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1960, who longed for the day a black Archbishop of York would speak to a future generation of the scandal and glory of the Church.

That day came today. I am glad I witnessed it.
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Lunacy of the week

I have decided to resurrect this dear old column. Readers will recall that the original idea was to publish a 'lunacy story' every Friday. Only two articles were published, and the column has been resting for a while now. I have decided to resurrect it because there is only so much lunacy one can observe in this country without comment.

This week's award goes to West Mercia Police Force. Ideally, I should wait until the end of the week before announcing a winner, but I very much doubt that anyone can top the West Mercia police this week.

The award goes to that police force for spending £200,000 on hiring a certain American 'motivator' to give 'politeness training' to its 999 operators. Apparently, part of the course taught by Mary Gober involved teaching the 999 operators to say 'welcome' instead of 'hello'. Yeah right, like when you call 999, you particularly care what opening words of greeting the operator uses. She also taught the operators to avoid using the word 'can't'. Quite right. What more do you expect from our police? 'I called 999, but they were unable to send an ambulance right away. It doesn't really matter as the operators were very nice'.

The award is in the post.
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No nuclear

This blog has been rather quiet all week. This is partly because nuclear energy has been the main topic of political debate. As I promised you in my first post, I will steer clear of anything science-related. You will have to look elsewhere for comment on the advantages and disadvantages of building nuclear stations. The only thing I will say is that Tony Blair appears to have made up his mind already, so one can very much predict what the energy review will recommend when it publishes its report. I predict fudge of the variety we have come to expect from this Government. It will be a report that will be interpreted to say whatever the Government wants it to say. I suppose, for those who will undertake that review, it is a quick way to a knighthood, but one wonders whether the country is best served by this sort of politics.
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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Let us drink and be fearful ...

Here is a tragic case that made the news yesterday. A young student went to a bar and had a few drinks. She started to feel very unsteady, and one of the workers at the bar asked a security guard to walk her home. He did so. On arriving at her block of flats, he had sex with her in the corridor outside the door to her flat, during which time she kept drifting in and out of consciousness. She later woke up and went into her flat where she fell asleep. She awoke the next day, remembering nothing of what had transpired the night before. As she walked down the corridor, she had a sort of flashback. She still wasn’t sure what had happened to her, so two days later, she contacted her university’s counselling services. The police were then called in. They spoke to the security guard, and it was only then that she knew for a fact that sexual intercourse had taken place. The security guard was charged with rape.

Under United Kingdom law, the prosecution must prove a charge of rape by adducing evidence that the alleged victim had not given consent to sexual intercourse. The security guard’s defence was that she had consented. The student countered that if she had indeed wanted to have sex with him, she would not have done so in the corridor, but rather would have taken the few steps to her room.

When the student gave her testimony in court, she was asked if she remembered consenting. She replied that she did not remember. It was therefore possible, however unlikely, that she might have consented. This gave rise to reasonable doubt, which, under the law, must be resolved in favour of the defendant. The judge directed the jury to find him not guilty.

I can understand the legal reasoning behind the above, but I cannot help feeling that, perhaps, in this case, justice has not manifestly and undoubtedly been seen to be done. I make no comment on the guilt or otherwise of the defendant. The following things concern me, though.

The judge directed the jury that the student, even though drunk, was capable of consent. In his words, ‘drunken consent is still consent.’ I beg to differ.

Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides that the offence of rape is committed when the defendant has sexual intercourse with the complainant without that person’s consent, and the defendant does not reasonably believe that the complainant consented. I wonder how the security guard could reasonably believe that a woman who was so drunk that she needed the help of a stranger to get back home would be in a position to consent to having sex with that stranger in the corridor outside her flat, where anyone could walk past. You might think that I am expecting too much from the security guard, but I don’t think so. He was in a position of assistance to a vulnerable woman, and at the very least, the very fact of her vulnerability should have played a part in his consideration of whether or not she was consenting.

Section 74 of that Act has this to say about consent: a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. I leave you to consider whether, on any consideration of the facts as we know them, that student could be described as having the ‘capacity’ to make the choice of having sexual intercourse.

Section 75(2)(d) of that Act states that consent is invalid ‘if the complainant was asleep or otherwise unconscious at the time of the relevant act’. The student stated in her testimony that she was drifting in and out of consciousness while sexual intercourse was taking place. At one point, she was aware that something was happening, but she could not recall anything the next day.

It appears to me that the judge has not properly considered the legislation. I can understand his point when he says that if the student cannot remember whether or not she consented, the reasonable doubt should be resolved in favour of the defendant. However, given that the legislation provides guidance for determining whether or not she did consent, I wonder why he does not appear to have had recourse to that.

This is very troubling. At the beginning of the week, new research revealed that a third of people in Britain believe a woman is partially or completely to blame for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner. It also revealed that more than a quarter also believe a woman is at least partly responsible for being raped if she wears sexy or revealing clothing, or is drunk. That report was greeted with outrage. I was not surprised at the results, but I am now more saddened because the facts of the case I related above show that some of these views may be even more entrenched than we think.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Charity 101

I think this is my first post of the winter, properly so called, as they say. I lament the Autumn, over almost as soon as it began. I am already looking forward to the Spring. In the meantime, I am dealing with the cold and frost as best I can. I have resumed work on my thesis, and I hope to have completed it in the next few weeks.

While all this has been going on, our dear politicians continue to show us why they are unworthy of the great office they hold. They have all run out of ideas, and have now resorted to gimmickry. In particular, I am thinking of the Government's new initiative to 'foster' a culture of charitable giving in our children. One would have thought that that was the sort of thing a child learnt from home, the church or elsewhere. Anyway, this Government has decided that each school should open an account for charitable donations, and encourage its pupils to donate. To set the ball rolling, the Government has decided to pay £500 of public money into each such account. I like the Adam Smith Institute's reaction to the story. They have pointed out to the Government something that should have been clear to even a local councillor, that charity was about 'giving your own money away, not someone else's - that's taxation.'
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

90 days to reflect on hubris

Yesterday, the Government lost a key vote in the House of Commons. They had proposed a clause empowering the police to detain suspected terrorists for up to 90 days without trial. Tony Blair claimed that he had been told by the police that they needed this power in order to meet the challenges being posed by terrorism. That may be so, but the role of Parliament is to make law for the good of the country, and not to grant every wish of the police. They should take account of the views of the police in the same way they should those of other interested parties, such as the civil liberties groups. It is Parliament's duty to weigh up all the arguments and enact laws that are in the best interests of the country. Another point: as the Government is now in a listening mood, why stop with the police? For example, I have seen no sign of Blair taking the advice of teaching unions, civil servants, parents and others when pushing through the Government's education policies.
The story of the Government's defeat is an interesting one, and one that gets even more so in the retelling. Last week, after the Government proposals on creating an offence of 'glorifying' terrorism managed to scrape through by only one vote, the Home Secretary realised that the 90 day clause was likely to be defeated. He quickly withdrew the clause and informed Parliament that he would seek consensus with the other parties with a view to reaching a compromise. There was talk at the time that the Opposition parties would favour detention for up to 45 days, or even 60 days.
But the Home Secretary had reckoned without Blair. These days our Prime Minister is a man in a hurry. He has great zeal, because he knows he 'hath but a short time'. But as any Bible scholar will tell you, zeal without knowledge is a terrible thing. Even worse, he has lost the ability to accommodate opposing views. The 'big tent' of Blair's previous two Parliaments has for a while now been flapping wretchedly in the wind, abandoned by his single-minded pursuit for a place in history.
Anyway, Blair didn't want compromise. He wanted 90 days. Waving away all talk of negotiation, he strode into Parliament yesterday, and once there, attempted to clamber upon the moral high ground, depicting himself as tough on terror and doing the right thing, and implying that opponents of the 90 days clause were not. Michael Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, was not having any of that. He reminded Blair's supporters that on the Conservative Party's backbenches were men who had fought terrorism on the streets of Belfast. Everyone could see through Blair, and when the results of the votes came in, his humiliation was complete.
One remarkable thing about this story was the role played by the police. Many MPs have claimed that they received telephone calls from their local chief constables at the weekend, urging them to support the clause. Things have come to a sorry pass when the Government of the day resorts to using the police to do their dirty work. The impropriety of the police descending into the arena of partisan law-making is something that is imaginable only under this government. The police is there to serve the country, and not to lean one way or the other, still less to play such a blatant role in influencing law-making.
During Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, the Prime Minister affected indignation when a Conservative Party backbencher shouted that the country was becoming a police state. Well may he posture. The point is, a country that makes laws on the say-so of the police is, to most observers, a police state.
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Who cares if Cameron goes commando?

The Conservative Women Organisation recently hosted the two Conservative leadership contenders to a debate. Among the issues raised was the party's failure to engage with women. During the last General Elections, its share of the women vote declined. The women also complained that when they presented the party with suggestions for the manifesto, these were dismissed out of hand. They made the case for all-women shortlists, but neither David Davis nor David Cameron were buying. That aside, both contenders pledged to take all measures short of all-women shortlists to give women a voice in the party. This is all very good, but I must say something here. A short while before that meeting, both men had been interviewed for BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour. The sort of questions put to them in that programme were nothing short of disgraceful. Women want to be taken seriously, so why on earth did this desire not manifest itself in the choice of questions for the candidate? One of the questions put to the contenders related to their taste in women (Davis apparently prefers blondes, but Cameron wisely refused to answer). Davis has now been condemned for his 'sexist' response, but why put the question to him in the first place? Another question related to their choice of underwear (Cameron refers boxers, and Davis, briefs). There was also a question about choice of alcoholic beverage. Heavens! If those are the sort of questions a leading women's programme comes up with when given an opportunity to address the future leader of the Opposition, does anyone wonder why women don't appear to be taken seriously? Can you imagine the uproar if a male party member asked a female prospective Parliamentary candidate about her preferred choice of underwear? Get a grip, ladies.
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Friday, November 04, 2005

Welcome to the Moon

When I heard of the decision of our venerable Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, to grant Reverend Moon, the cult leader, a visa to enter the UK, my initial reaction was one of shock. For very good reason, Michael Howard, when Home Secretary, had excluded this man from the country on the ground that his presence was not conducive to the public good. This decision was upheld as recently as 2003. So why the volte face by the Home Secretary? What has changed, so as now to allow this man into the country? Nothing has changed. Reverend Moon remains the same man he was back in the '90s when he was first excluded. He has not recanted any of his poisonous beliefs. Actually, I am wrong. Something has changed, but it is not Reverend Moon. The country has changed. Our politicians have changed. The world, I suppose, has changed. Now that the UK is powerless to deport terrorists to their country of origin, and has ceded powers over its own borders to an unaccountable federalist European Union monolith, we may as well throw open the doors and welcome in Moon. After all, in a country reportedly crawling with terrorist suspects and such other undesirables, what more harm can a deluded octogenerian cause?
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