Batty Britain again
When Dreamy the dormouse was pictured in the Mail sleeping peacefully on a red rose, he became a very small celebrity. Not that he knew, of course, because he was busy hibernating. But his celebrity status became a big problem for staff at his rescue centre home after Jonathan Ross showed the picture on his BBC1 chat show.
Ross suggested Dreamy must have been woken from hibernation at some point during his photographic session, an offence under the Animal and Welfare Act. Some viewers believed him and rang police. When an officer went to investigate at the Secret World Wildlife Rescue Centre in Somerset, staff were horrified. After all, they had originally saved Dreamy when he was found in a greenhouse with wounds thought to have been inflicted by a cat. Spokesman Jamie Baker said: 'We told them the dormouse had never been woken up. '
Avon and Somerset Police later said no offence was committed. The following week, on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, the presenter apologised, adding: 'The charity who provided that picture have been raided by the police for allegedly disturbing the dormouse during its hibernation, which is illegal. The dormouse stayed asleep during the whole thing and was fine.'
Mr Baker said: 'I think people meant well but they should have got the whole story first.' A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police confirmed that a complaint was made over the dormouse and that an officer was sent out to investigate. He added that no offence was committed.
British elite hatred of the middle class again
'Equal Justice Under Law' are the words chiselled in stone above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court building in Washington. I did not notice whether any similarly stirring sentiment adorns the somewhat less impressive frontage of a certain magistrates' court in East London but I rather suspect that it does not.
My wife and I are three months behind with our council tax payments to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and as a result we had to appear in court. We hoped that if we promised to clear our debt of 549 pounds by March 31, the end of the fiscal year, the magistrates would waive the additional 75 cost of our summons. As most of our food shopping involves the 'Last Day Of Sale' shelf - we walk a fine line between nourishment and food poisoning - that sum represents more than two weeks' worth of groceries for us.
We felt we had a chance. After all, the two magistrates on the bench had been magnanimously lenient in the four cases that preceded ours. However, it was not to be.
Our financial troubles had started when the credit crunch began to affect our already irregular incomes, necessitating the selective paying of bills. My wife, Vahni, is a sporadically employed ballet dancer and I am a sporadically employed actor. We have always resorted to various day jobs to get by between engagements: market stalls, telesales, product demonstration and a host of other badly paid, short-term posts ranging from the boring to the unbearable. Now even those were becoming few and far between. One firm we had worked for had closed its doors without notice, owing us money.
So our cardinal rule has been never to sign on or to claim any form of social assistance. I'm Canadian, naturalised British, Vahni is American, and although we've lived here for many years and are eligible for benefits, we would find it embarrassing and presumptuous burdening a 'foreign' country with the responsibility of subsidising our artistic ambitions...
On our day in court, the magistrates, both of whom had public-school accents, worked slowly and carefully through each case preceding ours and were punctiliously fair to all the defaulters, who were of many different nationalities. Interpreters were provided, all sorts of holy books were made available for oath-taking and a lawyer was present to explain the finer points of the law. In two instances, the magistrates gently admonished those before them for obvious lies and evasions.
It didn't seem to bother them that not a single defendant was completely self-supporting. Employed or not, all were on some sort of benefits and the magistrates carefully took this into account when assessing repayments. In each of the four cases, thousands of pounds had been owed over a considerable time but the magistrates generously charged no interest, wrote off a significant proportion of the arrears and made no mention of court costs. The most flagrant evader was ordered to repay 20 pounds a week - he'd owed 5,000 for some years - the others were let off with repayments of 10 pounds per week.
We were easily distinguishable from the other defendants because we'd made the effort to dress in a manner we felt appropriate for a court appearance. Also, our case involved just a few months of arrears rather than years, we were not on benefits and we spoke English as our native language.
Our turn. Into thy hands, Blind Justice. I rose and politely stated our case. I freely admitted the money was owed, explained our impecunious circumstances, promised repayment as soon as possible, and asked only that court costs should not be charged.
The magistrates smiled, and one thanked us for being so straightforward and honest. 'Are you aware,' he asked with a vulpine grin, 'that your appearance today means a further 20 pounds in costs, in addition to the 75 previously assessed?' I was not - and I sensed with some unease that the magistrates seemed almost to relish our discomfort.
'We will,' the second magistrate pronounced in lordly tones, dripping with munificence, 'waive that 20.' A pause. 'The 75 will stand.' 'Yes,' said the first. 'You should realise many people are suffering financial hardship these days. We can't make exceptions for everybody. Kindly make arrangements with the council to pay this off as quickly as possible.'
Undoubtedly their predecessors would have hanged me and sold my remains to an anatomist. The court usher sighed as he showed us out. 'Can't say I'm surprised,' he said. 'Sometimes they seem to come down hardest on the well-spoken ones.'
On the way home to our privately rented flat, we tried to work out what had gone wrong; why we were the only people the court had stigmatised. Was it because we were the only ones who had respected the court and dressed accordingly, perhaps making us look affluent? Was it our assurance that we'd do everything we could to pay off the debt as soon as possible? Or had we simply made too much of the fact that we'd never succumbed to the lure of benefits?
Not for the first time I wondered why our society seems dedicated to the punishment of those who are trying to pull their own weight. Is it because liberal democracies know that without the taxes extracted from those of us who concede the necessity to pay them, their mad social engineering schemes would vanish in a puff of brimstone?
But I'm not bitter: everything is grist to an actor's mill. If I am ever asked to play a victim of injustice, I can always draw on the memory of this experience.
How Not to Fight Discrimination
The EEOC joins a class-action effort against Wal-Mart
The federal government reversed course last week and endorsed a new model for suing companies that could result in untold riches for trial lawyers at the expense of U.S. businesses, employees and consumers. The Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission filed an amicus brief on Thursday in support of plaintiffs in a closely watched gender class action against Wal-Mart. The lawsuit was first filed by six women in 2001, and until now the agency had decided not to get involved. The retailer is accused of not promoting women and systematically paying them less than male counterparts.
Wal-Mart says the women who filed the suit are not representative of the 1.6 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees whom they seek to represent. But a U.S. District Court in San Francisco certified the lawsuit as a nationwide class action in 2004, ruling that statistical disparities in pay and promotion were enough to justify class treatment. The decision was upheld by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Wal-Mart asked for a rehearing, which was granted, and the full Ninth Circuit heard arguments Tuesday.
In its amicus brief, the federal government does not defend the trial court's class certification order in toto, which isn't surprising given that the judge's order conflicts with the decisions of many courts of appeal. But the EEOC brief does support the notion that a claim seeking billions of dollars in punitive damages and back pay may be decided on a class basis without individual hearings that would permit the company to defend itself. In other words, the Obama Administration is saying that it's appropriate to impose huge monetary damages on companies without allowing them to show that employees were treated fairly.
Wal-Mart says that not allowing it to defend against the women's claims on an individual basis is a violation of due process and would result in payouts to people who weren't harmed. Allowing the suit to proceed as a class action also conflicts with the Supreme Court's 1977 Teamsters ruling, which held that in cases alleging systemic discrimination, defendants have the right to challenge the claims of plaintiffs individually.
As startling, the EEOC's brief conflicts with the federal government's own defense against discrimination suits. The class action against Wal-Mart was certified under a provision of the law that allows for injunctive relief, not large money awards. Class claims for monetary relief must meet a higher standard to be certified. And one of Wal-Mart's arguments is that the plaintiffs are seeking billions in damages but never met the more rigorous threshold for class certification. The EEOC's amicus brief never mentions that the feds have successfully defended themselves in the past by making the same argument as Wal-Mart. Apparently, the EEOC would allow the government to play by a set of rules that are off limits to private companies trying to defend themselves against massive class actions.
The five-member EEOC is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans thanks to a vacancy caused by the recent departure of a Bush appointee. And we hope the brief against Wal-Mart doesn't mean we can expect a more radical agency under President Obama. If the plaintiffs prevail, companies will have every incentive to establish race and gender quotas for hiring, lest they be sued for statistical imbalances. The EEOC can play a useful role in combating discrimination, but not by urging courts to stack the deck against the accused.
"Great men are almost always bad men" (Acton)
We like the story of the disgraced former [Australian] judge Marcus Einfeld, jailed last week for lying about a minor traffic fine, because it is a reassuring morality tale. It restores our belief that character is destiny, that karma eventually catches up with everyone, and that lying, even in an era when trust is in short supply and truthfulness downgraded, is a serious transgression that can land a big wig in jail.
Einfeld didn't just start telling lies in 2006, when he falsely named a dead friend as the driver of his car when it was caught travelling at 10kmh over the limit by a speed camera in Mosman.
The pattern of deception apparent in even a superficial examination of his life shows that he gained a lot of kudos and reward from his fabrications, whether it was padding his Who's Who CV with dodgy degrees from American "diploma mills", or alleged plagiarism, or allegedly claiming a lost overcoat on expenses when he was head of the Human Rights Commission, having already lodged an insurance claim, or using the names of people living overseas in statutory declarations to evade traffic fines. A habit of dishonesty went unpunished.
Instead, Einfeld was richly rewarded, becoming a darling of the legal and media establishment, with an Order of Australia and named a "National Living Treasure". Sad as it is for a 70-year-old man suffering from prostate cancer and depression to be thrown in jail for what essentially began as a trivial matter, his punishment represents a larger righting of wrongs.
Being an incorrigible academic, I thought I might give a fuller version of the famous quotation from Lord Acton. It formed part of Acton's opposition to the declaration of Papal infallibility of 1870
"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. "*************************
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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