Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Britain's uncaring "carers" again

Aint socialism wonderful? It is until you see it in action. Centralization of power trumps all else. Power matters to Leftists -- not people

Forget the G20 circus. On Saturday afternoon there was a politer protest meeting, in the old railwaymen's club in Oxford. Only a hundred or so people (small children skidding about in the next room too mobile to count) but a microscope is a better diagnostic instrument than a fisheye lens. The theme of the meeting chimed with the wider unease: a huge, arrogant, yet strangely incompetent body was gratuitously messing up ordinary lives. Not a bank this time but Noms, the National Offender Management Service: founded 2004, revamped 2008.

Under government policy of controlling everything from vast distant HQs, run by frazzled people who don't get out much, Noms brought together HM Prison and Probation Services in the name of “coherence” and blethers about a “vibrant mix” of “service-level agreements”. But in effect, in January last year the Prisons element more or less took over the Probation Service, which became a Cinderella.

According to Napo, the probation officers' union, Cinderella must cut its budgets by between 13 and 25 per cent and lose more than 2,000 jobs over three years. The national post of director of probation no longer exists, and in the Ministry of Justice business plan the amount spent at Noms headquarters is, the union claims, as high as the cost of the entire Probation Service for England and Wales. Yet you would think, given government rhetoric, that probation officers would be a priority. What they do is to supervise, mentor and (really quite often) reform the lives of the paroled and criminals on community sentences.

So much for the wider picture. Zoom back in on the Railway Club and the neighbourhood of Mill Street, Oxford. This - where I spend a fair amount of time - is not one of those chic addresses in the leafy North or a modish Jericho. It is a long cul-de-sac, a terrace of brick houses on the edge of the city beyond the railway. These are small homes for young families, new couples and lone pensioners.

Pleasant but not posh. There is one pub, and at the far end a small office block by the river, needing refurbishment. But a week ago Mill Street learnt that the Probation Service is about to sign a lease on this building, extending it into a “mega-centre” of 100 staff, replacing the city office and others in neighbouring towns. Thus every week 350 clients, from petty thieves to violent and sex offenders, would arrive for their interviews or group sessions. That's 70 a day from all over Oxfordshire, walking the long quiet street or approaching by a track through a churchyard and past two nursery schools.

No notice was given: this was a leak. The Probation Service confirmed it when pressed, but coyly refuses to meet residents. City planners are told it is just an office, class B1A under the Town and Country Planning Act, so no change of use is needed. You could argue that by covering “non-resident adult learning” it is actually category D1 - but then, of course, there would have to be democratic public notification, which the Ministry of Justice's agency seems keen to avoid. Mill Street is not amused, though there was shocked laughter when Evan Harris, the local MP, read out the response from Noms: “We doubt the value to the residents of meeting with us before we sign the lease.” Which is a bit like selling the house before mentioning it to your wife.

The protest is not sensationalist or illiberal (indeed, one leading campaigner got so interested in the Probation Service that he plans to volunteer with ex-offenders). It breathes reasonable anger at arrogance, secrecy and a cavalier attitude to citizens' concerns. The local councillor Susanna Pressel, the Lord Mayor of Oxford, confirms that such an office should be in the city centre, near courts and police. Dr Evan Harris concurs, though drily admitting that he has often in his right-on Lib Dem way taken sides against residents' groups (including his own parents) over unpopular but vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and council tenants. But even he is on Mill Street's side. This is a bum idea: its only merit must be cheapness. For all the mission statements about “focusing on individuals at a local level” it is a secretive and probably false economy of scale.

False? Well, consider the offenders' plight too. A powerful voice at the meeting was Joe, a veteran former prison officer and mental health worker who - not living locally - spent 48 hours worrying whether to stick his head above the parapet. But he did, and is worth hearing. Offenders, he says bluntly, dread having conspicuously to “run the gauntlet” of a quiet street for appointments.

Sex offenders, ordered to keep away from children, will find it difficult to do so up this street. Moreover, Banbury is nearly 30 miles away, Bicester 15, Abingdon a long bus ride. Promises about local needs are oddly served, Joe reckons, by “taking probation officers away from their communities, where in the past they had good relationships with police, even with offenders' families. The work is about building relationships.” Sadly, he predicts many missed appointments: in chaotic or addicted lives a long round trip is not simple. Nor is taking a full day off every week if you're lucky enough to have work.

People will bunk off, and be chucked back into prison for failing to meet probation conditions. How much of a public economy is that, eh?

The whole thing is a bit nuts, reeking of panicky, furtive, distant decisions unrelated to reality. Curiously, it brought to mind the equal nutty waste-through- centralisation I saw when out with the Metropolitan Police for a night of stop-and-search in London. Our vanful of elite officers spent two thirds of its time crawling miles through traffic with the latest felon sulking in the passenger seat, just to find the last vacant cell in a distant mega-station “custody suite”. The police were visibly frustrated. Once there were small local stations, Dock Green-style, with a couple of handy cells each.

But in the past decade more than 650 stations have been closed nationwide. I am told that when you get arrested in Penzance you now score a 45-minute ride to Truro to be locked up. Your mates can continue fighting undisturbed while the cops rack up their carbon footprint.

So there you are. Economies of scale that in the end cost money... managerialist bean-counting from plush London offices... ideas that look good on spreadsheets and lousy on the street.


Hooray! A lying bitch jailed for once

Estranged wife jailed for falsely accusing husband of rape. Women don't lie about that, say feminists. But facts never have mattered to feminists. Only their rage matters

A man has told of the pain and humiliation he endured when his estranged wife falsely accused him of rape. Anthony Scoones, 27, spoke out after Gemma Scoones was jailed for a year for perverting the course of justice. He described how he was arrested at his home - he was watching TV in bed when police arrived - and spent 16 hours in a cell. His clothes were taken for forensic examination and he was left naked so that DNA samples could be taken.

Mr Scoones said: 'I wasn't just stripped of my clothes, but of my dignity. I was stood there naked, with two police officers at one side of me and a doctor at the other side, having swabs taken from all over my body. 'It was humiliating and degrading. I don't blame the officers for investigating, but it is a heinous crime to be accused of and I'm still having nightmares now.' To add to his ordeal, even some people he thought of as friends doubted his innocence.

The rape accusation was part of an 'acrimonious separation' from his 26-year-old wife. Durham Crown Court heard that she told police Mr Scoones followed her home from a shop, forced his way into the house and raped her in a downstairs toilet. She claimed she was hurt but had not been able to call police immediately because he threatened to petrol-bomb her house.

It was only after discrepancies emerged in a police interview with her that Mr Scoones was told he was in the clear and his ex-wife was charged with committing an act intended to pervert the course of justice. Jailing Scoones, who had pleaded guilty, Recorder Neil Davey told her: 'The course you embarked on was one of sheer wickedness.'

Mr Scoones, of Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, said after the hearing: 'My family and my girlfriend have always believed me, but when the word rape is used, it changes the atmosphere. 'People did question me and this has opened my eyes up to who I can trust. 'Right up until she admitted her guilt in court and justice was done by sending her to prison, she was muddying the water and I've been worried about how people look at me. 'She's taken away my trust, self-esteem, pride and confidence with one attention-seeking, spiteful lie.'

The court heard that Scoones, also of Newton Aycliffe, made up the allegation after reading claims against her in a letter from her estranged husband's solicitor. Scott Smith, mitigating, said Scoones' actions arose from an acrimonious separation after a nine-year relationship. Mr Smith said: 'She was upset and this built up in her as time went on. She accepts there was a degree of planning and she considered her actions for several weeks.'

Jailing her, Recorder Neil Davey told Scoones: 'In my judgement, the course you embarked on was one of sheer wickedness. 'You decided to take revenge on your ex-husband, by falsely accusing an entirely innocent man of rape, giving a lurid account of how it was inflicted. 'He was strip-searched, intimate samples were taken and he was humiliated, held in custody for more than 16 hours, and still you persisted in your claims. 'It was only the skill and expertise of the police that forced you to break down your story and prove your allegations were false.'

Mr Scoones said that although his parents and girlfriend have stood by him, some friends had doubted his innocence. He said: 'Throughout the time Gemma and I were together, my family took her under their wing and supported her, but she would regularly take off and tell lies about me. 'My friends and family always believed me. But when the word rape is used, it changes the atmosphere. 'People did question me and this has opened my eyes up to who I can trust.

PC Elizabeth Graham, of Durham Police's domestic abuse investigation team, said the force was very victim focused and that the allegation of rape had been taken seriously and fully investigated. It was only when the truth emerged that Scoones stopped being treated as the victim.

PC Graham said: 'This was a calculated and malicious allegation made by a frustrated ex-partner who had an aim of discrediting her former husband and subjecting him to the indignity of a police investigation into an allegation of rape. 'The sentence imposed reflects the gravity of the offence committed and takes into account the trauma the true victim of this incident experienced, as well as the significant waste of police time and money spent investigating a crime that never occurred.'

PC Graham said she hoped the incident would not deter genuine victims of rape and sexual assault from reporting crimes to the police.


Chanel and the Nazis: what Coco Avant Chanel and other films don't tell you

Why is Coco Chanel getting a free pass on her collaboration with the Nazis? Her past was deeply compromised

As we gear up for cultural Chanel-mania this summer with two hagiographic films about the designer, a new biography and the sound of slavering from glossy magazines, it is worth pausing to investigate Coco Chanel's wholesale - and retail - involvement with the Nazis.

The world's greatest fashionista may have rescued women from the corset, but she did not have a good war. When shoppers swoon over the iconic quilted handbag with the CC logo, most are unaware that Chanel once went to Berlin to plot with Walter Schellenberg, who wore his Waffen SS logo as Hitler's chief of foreign intelligence.

Perhaps Chanel-lovers also have no idea that she tried to wrest control of her perfume manufacturing from a Jewish family, taking advantage of pro-Aryan laws. Or that she was arrested for war crimes - and then mysteriously released.

Previously, I'd seen it mentioned that Chanel had survived the war rather comfortably at the Paris Ritz in the arms of a Nazi officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage, and then gone into exile in Switzerland with him, but a few hours spent in the library revealed that she was far more deeply involved with the Germans than that. There was even a (somewhat ridiculous) Nazi plot, using Chanel as bait, called “Operation Modelhut”.

None of this will be discussed, of course, in two upcoming biographical films: Coco Avant Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou, and Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, with Anna Mouglalis, about Chanel's relationship with the Russian composer. Nor was it detailed in a Chanel television mini-series with Shirley MacLaine last year, or in the 1981 film Chanel Solitaire. With commercial good sense, all films avoid the German invasion of Paris and Chanel's collaboration. It's a case of “Don't Mention The War!”

Time heals, but sometimes it's worth opening the wound again when a reputation suddenly appears to be sanitised. While Chanel's biographer, Edmonde Charles-Roux, says her style genius “consisted in being incorruptibly sober and pure”, her life was less clean-cut. Paris during the occupation was a compromising and uncomfortable place for other artists and writers, who tended to keep their heads down: “Oh, I am not looking for risks to take,” said Picasso, her friend, “but in a sort of passive way I do not care to yield to either force or terror.”

Edith Piaf sang in nightclubs for the Nazis. Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Everything we did was equivocal. We never quite knew whether we were doing right or wrong. A subtle poison corrupted even our best actions.”

But Chanel was unequivocal. She decided to place herself snugly in the enemy's bosom, conveniently near to her shop. After the Paris invasion she fled to the country, but returned a year later to demand back her room at the Ritz, which had been commandeered by the Germans. There, aged 56, she shacked up with von Dincklage, a German playboy officer 13 years her junior, who may have been a spy and was known frivolously as “Spatz” or sparrow.

Whatever his role, von Dincklage's coterie brought Chanel into high Nazi circles, yet she remains inexplicably untarnished, unlike Unity Mitford and Diana Mosley. It's hard to tell what the intentions of Operation Modelhut were, but they included the peculiar idea that one of Chanel's friends, who knew Churchill well, would pass a letter from her suggesting that there should be secret negotiations to end the war. Chanel - who had met Churchill once or twice at social events - obviously saw herself as a heroic figure in this.

Schellenberg was interrogated by the British after the war concerning the visit in 1943 from “Frau Chanel, a French subject and proprietress of the noted perfume factory”. According to the transcript: “This woman was referred to as a person Churchill knew sufficiently to undertake political negations with him, as an enemy of Russia and as desirous of helping France and Germany whose destinies she believed to be closely linked together.” Operation Modelhut fell apart, and the mutual friend of Churchill and Chanel denounced her as a German agent.

It seems to me that Chanel bent to the times, always intent on survival. The French call this Système D, or système débrouillard, which means getting round the rules somehow. As Charles-Roux notes, “playing refugee was not her style”, hence Chanel's move to the Nazi-infested Ritz. Who else could afford to buy her perfume? Later, when the law banned Jews from owning companies, she tried to depose the Wertheimer family who manufactured her scents. And towards the end of the war, as the Germans looked less than victorious, Chanel revived her largely imaginary friendship with Churchill.

After the war, thousands of the collaboratrices horizontales - sexual collaborators - had their hair shorn in public humiliations, yet Chanel was arrested and soon released, though no one knows exactly who among the Allies protected her. Was it her connection with the Duke of Westminster? There's no proof, except that Chanel and her perfume royalties went into exile in Switzerland for a decade, because she was most definitely not wanted at home.

Chanel made a comeback in 1956. The French papers panned her collection as old hat: she was not forgiven. But across the Atlantic, the Americans just loved those bags and little black dresses. Sales grew, Chanel was rehabilitated, and history faded away. Now she is merely a brand in Karl Lagerfeld's hands.

In his fascinating book, The Shameful Peace, Frederic Spotts notes that “the occupation was merciless in exposing character”. Keep that in mind - or, if you do go to the Chanel films this summer, turn off your mobile phones, forget Chanel's compromised past and enjoy the show.


Arabs, Israelis, and Underdogs

"Who, a century back, would have imagined Jews making the better soldiers and Arabs the better publicists?" I asked back in 2005. A foremost example of the Arabs' p.r. prowess lies in their ability to transform the map of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the early decades, maps of the Arab-Israeli conflict showed Israel in a vast Middle East, a presence so small, one practically needed a magnifying glass to locate it. These days, however, the conflict is typically portrayed by a huge Israel looming over the fractured West Bank and Gaza areas.

This shift in size implies a shift in underdog status; whereas Israel's weak-actor status once came through clearly, the Palestinians have now usurped that position, with all its attendant benefits.

A recent study by Joseph A. Vandello, Nadav P. Goldschmied and David A. R. Richards, "The Appeal of the Underdog," in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin takes as its starting point the assumption that "When people observe competitions, they are often drawn to figures that are seen as disadvantaged or unlikely to prevail. … If people are drawn to sympathize with figures seen as underdogs, attitudes about the parties in this conflict might be strategically shaped by emphasizing the underdog status of one group over the other."

The trio then tested this hypothesis by looking, in part, at the Arab-Israeli conflict. To uncover the possible advantage of being perceived as the underdog, the authors conducted an experiment in which they
operationalized underdog status by subtly reinforcing physical size disparities through maps that shifted the perspective to make salient Israel as large, surrounding the smaller occupied Palestinian territories, or conversely, by making Israel appear small by showing it surrounded by the Arab countries of the greater Middle East.
Having set up the experiment with two maps, the authors "predicted that this shift in visual perspective would create perceptions of underdog status, which would in turn predict support for the underdog side."

They predicted correctly. Small size turns out to be key to being perceived as the underdog: Participants were asked which side they considered the underdog in the conflict. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, 70% saw the Palestinians as the underdog. In contrast, when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, 62.1% saw Israel as the underdog,

Being perceived as underdog does indeed confer advantages for winning political sympathy:
Participants were also asked toward which group they felt more supportive. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, 53.3% were more supportive toward the Palestinians. In contrast, when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, 76.7% were more supportive toward Israel.
That's a 23 percent difference, which is huge. Small size, they found, also has a "significant" impact on intensity of support:
Participants were asked to rate how much sympathy they felt toward each side in the conflict on a 1 (none) to 5 (a lot) scale. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, participants expressed slightly more sympathy toward the Palestinians (3.77 vs. 3.73), but when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, participants expressed more sympathy toward the Israelis (4.00 vs. 3.30).

(1) There is something peculiar about rooting in a life-and-death situation for the underdog, as though there were nothing more at stake than a sporting championship, but so be it. Modern life asks one to make decisions on many issues where knowledge is lacking; and the views of a poorly uninformed public then can drive the poll-driven politics of mature democracies.

(2) Pulling for the underdog fits into a larger context. For example, I documented in 2006 (in "Strange Logic in the Lebanon War") that "taking casualties and looking victimized helps one's standing" in the battle for public opinion.

(3) Wanting to appear the underdog or to be taking heavier casualties inverts the historic imperative "whereby each side wants to intimidate the enemy by appearing ferocious, relentless, and victorious."

(4) This inversion is one of the many ways in which warfare has fundamentally changed during the past 60 years, turning into a nearly unrecognizable variant of its historic identity.

(5) The framing of a war – shaping how it is perceived – has reached such importance that, as I put it in 2006, "the Clausewitzian center of gravity has moved from the battlefield to the op-eds and talking heads. How war is perceived has as much importance as how it actually is fought."

(6) Weak but innovative organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas have better adapted to this new reality than have powerful but tradition-bound Western governments.

(7) Those governments need to wake up to the fundamental importance of public relations in war.



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.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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