Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Good grief and pitchfork-wavers...

The reaction to the horrific death of Mikaeel Kular has been as predictable as it has been idiotic. As soon as his mother, Rosdeep Kular, was detained by police, before she was charged with murder, the online world erupted with pitchfork-waving calls for her execution. Twitter was, as ever, mindlessly playing judge and jury, with armchair detectives figuring it all out and demanding a return to capital punishment.

Obvious barbarism aside, capital punishment presents the risk of innocent people being executed, it is not effective as a deterrent and, on a brutally cold and practical level, if you believe in due process, it fails dismally as a cost-effective means of administering justice.

But when you are a kneejerking keyboard warrior, pesky little things like due process struggle to enter your mind. There is nothing weird or wrong about reacting with horror or disgust at the thought of a mother killing her own child. The very notion goes against our ideals of maternal love and humanity.

We expect mothers to love their children unconditionally and when a mother falls short of this ideal, everyone's a critic. Hell, a mother doesn't have to kill her child to be on the receiving end of an angry mob, whether it's Kate Winslet's parenting skills being publicly slagged off by Fathers4Justice or an obviously pregnant woman trying to enjoy a solitary glass of wine without some busybody turning up.

And here's the thing. We don't actually know yet if Rosdeep Kular killed her three-year-old son. The concepts of the presumption of innocence and the right to a defence are fundamental to the British justice system. The case has not yet been heard in a court of law but this does not stop people from piecing together their own version of events based on such snippets as Mikaeel's prolonged absence from nursery, the number of children Rosdeep Kular has, the number of men who fathered her children, and a particularly moronic collection of news reports about her "party lifestyle" based on photos pulled from her Facebook profile. None of these snippets, either individually or collectively, prove guilt.

You might have already condemned Rosdeep Kular but before you start tweeting about the joys of nooses or firing squads, it would behoove you to remember that anyone can be falsely accused of a crime. It could happen to you one day. It happened to a friend of mine. Unless you have lived a saintly existence, there are probably aspects of your life that could end up being unfairly and publicly scrutinised if you find yourself in the news because of a murder charge. I trust you would like a fair trial.

And speaking of fairness, there is not much that is fair about dragging kids out to ghoulish shrines of teddy bears and flowers in the wake of the appalling murder of a child. What are parents hoping to achieve by dumping stuff in a pile in honour of a child taken too soon? Would it not be better to honour the child's memory by donating the teddy bear to a kids' hospital rather than letting it get damp and rotten in the rain?

It is a weird ritual that seems to have grown in popularity since the death of Princess Diana. Are there actually any children who ask their parents if they can go visit such a shrine? And if not, how are parents explaining this morbid family outing to their kids? There is nothing wrong with kids knowing about death but dragging them out to a public shrine, whether they want to or not, seems unnecessary, mawkish and possibly a bit cruel if a child is particularly sensitive.

Kids find out about death sooner or later and, because kids are kids, they are curious and they will probably ask questions. Whether it is the passing of a person or a pet, the death talk is an inevitable part of growing up. I remember one of my first proper conversations about death taking place when I was about six and a much-loved teacher died young of breast cancer. I cried, I was upset, it didn't seem right that someone could die before they were old, but Mum talked to me about it and I learned from that conversation. Mikaeel's classmates are three years old. Three. How many of these children are properly toilet-trained, let alone able to fully register the enormous horror of what has happened? Why should they? They are three years old, for goodness sake.

But as long as "hang the bitch!" is the default mode of the masses in such cases and as long as parents continue to drag their kids along to these ridiculously grotesque public grief orgies, we will continue to lose sight of many of the principles of justice that we should hold dear.

Photography by noturordinaryconsort

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Francois Hollande and the First Lady conundrum

Well, that was a bit of an anti-climax, wasn't it? After the media waited all day yesterday for a statement by French president Francois Hollande about his alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet, he was dignified at the press conference to the point of being a bit dull. If people wanted a bald-faced, Bill Clinton-style "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" showstopper, they probably left disappointed.

He said: "Each of us on our personal lives can go through difficult periods and that's our case ... this is a painful time ... But private matters should be dealt with privately and this is neither the time nor the place to do so."

Good for him.

France's opposition UMP party has accused the president of taking security risks. The UMP leader said: "The president is not a normal citizen during his term. He is the chief of our armies. He is the keystone of our institutions. His protection should not suffer from any amateurism ... The president should be aware of the level of responsibility that he exercises, be aware that his role is greater than his person, and be aware that he incarnates the image of France in the eyes of the world."

How thoroughly pompous.

 Hollande responded to Jacob's accusation by saying: "My security is assured everywhere, and at any moment. When I travel officially ... and when I travel on a private basis, I have protection that is less suffocating. But I am protected everywhere."

"On a private basis" is the important part. If Hollande was visiting his mistress with a discreet level of security at the French taxpayer's expense, that's no different to him visiting anyone for whatever purpose with "less suffocating" protection. Jacob might not approve of Hollande visiting a mistress (as alleged by that pillar of quality journalism, Closer magazine...) but if he approves of Hollande having publicly funded security at all times, where does he draw the line at what activities are acceptable for the president to do off duty?

Then we have the additional sideshow of Valerie Trierweiler, Hollande's partner, being hospitalised for shock. Trierweiler has been accused of attention-seeking by going to hospital and of enjoying the perks of being First Lady a bit too much. The position of First Lady in France is not an official one but in practice, she (for France has never had a female president) gets an office in the presidential palace and a small staff.

Now this is under scrutiny, largely because Trierweiler and Hollande are not married. As if being married somehow makes for a better calibre of person in public office. As if being married is the same as never having an affair. There is some rather grim glee being expressed about Trierweiler's predicament and a lot of the vitriol is coming from women.

"Well, he left someone else for her so what did she expect?" is the superior and sneering tone of the slut-shaming nonsense. Never mind that plenty of people leave their partners for other people and live happily ever after with the "other woman" (or man). Never mind that Trierweiler is a human being who may have sincerely believed Hollande was going to be faithful to her. Never mind that people who have led inevitably flawed lives themselves are sitting in joyous judgement of a private situation.

"How the hell is Hollande pulling these attractive women?" is the other sneer that is echoing around the world. I dunno. Maybe he behind closed doors he is interesting, witty, charming, makes women feel special. Maybe he has a tongue like an electric eel. Again, I dunno. From a man, this sounds jealous. From a woman, it sounds naive. From both men and women, it is completely juvenile to take the "Eeeeuuuwww! Gross!" line of unevolved thought.

The UMP is playing this clumsily while Hollande has schooled every world leader in how to handle a press conference about a sex scandal. Hilariously, since the story broke, Hollande has enjoyed a rise in the, ahem, polls. A survey by Le Nouvel Observateur magazine found that between last month and this month, his approval among women is up from 23% to 26% and up to 72% from 69% among men.

So maybe, as I suspect, French people just don't give a damn about Hollande's private life. Maybe women are happy with the new laws he has proposed on workplace equality and in relation to combating violence against women. Maybe men like this too. Maybe everyone is happy with slightly improved employment news. This is despite a stagnant economy and a counter-productive 75% top level of taxation. The UMP could be getting plenty of mileage from that if they weren't obsessed with making a big deal out of an alleged affair as reported by a rather dreadful magazine.

And in the midst of the noise, the only remotely productive thing to come out of this sorry, miserable mess is a chance to rethink the role of the French First Lady. I have in the past mused on what First Ladies are even for and I still maintain it is a bizarre position which imposes ridiculous limits on women.

Is this the catalyst for France to think about what taxpayer-funded perks their First Lady should have? Maybe. But whether she is married to the President or not is completely irrelevant and nobody's business.  Hollande's sex life and how he and Trierweiler deal with what Hollande described himself as a "difficult period" are also nobody's business. And if Hollande did put a ring on it, Trierweiler would still be getting the same office and staff. He is not breaking any laws by living with a woman to whom he is not married or by leaving Segolene Royale for Trierweiler. He was more than happy to have her by his side for the presidential campaign. They didn't just meet at the bus stop the day before the election. They are not having a casual fling.

So, by all means, have a serious discussion about what French taxpayers are happy to fund when it comes to First Lady perks. But when it comes to Hollande's sex life, get over it and get over yourselves while you're at it.

Image by photogreuhphies

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Any danger of a British uprising in 2014?

There has not been an influx of millions of Romanians and Bulgarians into Britain, there were no blazing, looting, lawless riots across London last night in the wake of the Mark Duggan verdict, the BBC has moved so far away from any hint of left-wing bias that it has removed the House of Commons food bank debate from the iPlayer, the UK government has sanctioned absurd internet filtering and the major internet providers are complicit in this, good hospitals are being threatened with closure or the loss of vital departments such as A&E and maternity to atone for the sins of their neighbours, Michael Gove is saying ridiculous things about Blackadder and the teaching of WWI as a distraction to the real problems facing our schools...

And Boris Johnson seems dismayed that Home Secretary Theresa May won't give him any money to buy water cannons for the Metropolitan Police.

What is Boris afraid of? My opening paragraph contains enough fodder for multiple uprisings, reasons to storm the House of Commons or just get really bloody angry, but is there an appetite for unrest in Britain 2014 anywhere near the likes of the chaos across parts of England in August 2011? I don't think so. Regardless of your views of the Mark Duggan verdict, his family's response was predictable, loud, passionate but it was not violent. And the right to peaceful protest - which does not mean quiet or demure but simply non-violent - is something everyone should hold dear in Britain, regardless of your political views. 

In his letter to Theresa May, Johnson says the following:

"Subject to the public engagement process … I am happy to make the necessary funds available to the MPS for the most economical interim solution that allows the commissioner to meet his desire to prevent disorder on the streets. I would expect to do this in February, following the [public] engagement."

Having been in the midst of a campaign to save local health services where the "preferred option" of chopping large and essential parts of busy hospitals was talked about by the powers-that-be as if it were foregone conclusion, I am getting a sense of deja vu with Boris' words. For "public engagement process" read "token effort".

If you are OK with water cannons, here is a reminder from Germany that they not the law enforcing equivalent of being surprised by a Super Soaker:

I hope Theresa May stays strong in the face of Boris Johnson's desire to arm the Met with water cannons. Now, who can be bothered with a spot of peaceful protest? Anyone?