Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where did all the bad people come from?

Linda and her young sister learnt to swim in the hands of a middle-aged man who knew their mother, though not particularly well. He had no qualifications, no insurance, no supervision, and (on the evidence) no evil desires. It never occurred to anybody that he might let his hands roam where they shouldn’t roam – and one assumes it never occurred to him either. Those were the days, eh?

She and her friends rode or walked to school and back unmolested, and played in parks afterwards, and crossed roads and tramlines, and skipped safely through dark underpasses. No mobile phones to tell their mums where they were, no wrist-watches to tell the time; bikes were never stolen from where they’d been dropped on the ground.

(In the Exeter City public swimming baths a few years ago I was ticked off for taking photos of my granddaughters while they swam with their grandma. I was probably lucky not to have my name put on the sex-offenders Register.)

Out in the bush, my young brother and I rode our bikes home after school – in a convoy up the dirt road, peeling off one by one at the tracks to our respective homes, half a mile or more in from the road. During the rains, horses took the place of bikes on what was then a mud road.

Some days, I would go home with the Cameron kids, and Mrs Cameron would phone Mum to negotiate a departure time. On hot days, we’d all pile into their swimming hole. I don’t think any of us could swim, but we could stay afloat; the nearest adult was up at the house two hundred yards away.

Except for the time Bryan broke his arm galloping through the scrub [reported in The Man from Snowy River in the Archives of November 2012], nothing bad ever happened to us. Frankie once accidentally rode his bike over the tail of a brown-snake: that could have been nasty – but he was lucky, so we didn’t even bother to tell the parents.

Back then, we were allowed to look after ourselves – Linda in her seaside town, me in the bush. So was our son on this island, a generation later. So too are his children in their semi-rural Scandinavian setting. We have all learned to calculate the risk of any activity, and to act accordingly.
When Linda and I backpacked through the Middle East in our mid-20s, our mothers took comfort (well, some comfort…) in the knowledge that we probably could look after ourselves.

Surely, far too many middle-class children today are coddled – by parents, neighbourhoods, towns, provinces and nations. Toddlers whose parents leave them in cars for more than ten seconds run the risk of being abducted by social-services bureaucrats. Parents are publicly scolded for letting their kids find their own way home from schools and playgrounds. Indeed, for even letting them be at playgrounds without adult supervision. What’s next: certificates from City Hall for play-dates?

All parents know that at some stage children have to be capable of crossing streets without having their hands held. At some point car-drivers have to be trusted not to run them down, and ice-cream vendors not to rape them, and teachers not to turn comforting hugs into rabid molestation.

Sooner or later – children have to be trusted to look after themselves. Society just hasn’t got the resources to look after everybody. Already, “society” is looking after far more people than it ought to be – far more babies, far more children, far more incompetent adults, far more old folk.

Here in Cayman, half of all Civil Servants, half of all private-sector personnel-staff, and half of our Public Revenues, are assigned to protecting Caymanian citizens who aren’t even encouraged to look after themselves. Civil Servants and politicians all have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Like most other communities in the Western World, we are in danger of ending up with everybody being protected all of the time, by armies of bureaucrats whose wages are paid out of money borrowed against the taxes of future generations. In the end, everybody will have forgotten how to look after themselves.

That’s the socialist dream, isn’t it?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Entertaining the Norskies

We’ve just had our Norskies (son and granddaughters) here for a couple of weeks, and very nice too. The exit was not so pleasant, because of our local Airport Management’s policy of pissing all over people who schedule their departures on Saturdays and Sundays. What a shambles it was last weekend.

It reminded me of Athens airport in 1976 when I met my Mum off the plane from Australia. Poor Mum thought she’d died and gone to hell. Passengers and greeters and farewellers in mobs; cases and packages strewn around getting trampled underfoot by goats and camels and who knows what-all. It was like wandering in the wake of an earthquake. Being trapped in the middle of a thousand milling sheep back on the farm was much less dusty and disorganized, she reckoned.

It was like that on Saturday at our international airport. Two (count ‘em!) airline ground-staff were on hand to guide five or six hundred milling sheep (as it were…) to their respective check-in desks as well as the TSA security line that stretched the entire length of the building both inside and outside. For the record, the two ground-staff were employed by Jet Blue and Delta.

Nobody from American that I could see, nobody from United, nobody from Cayman Airways. Shame on the absentees: credit to the unflappable reps from the two good guys. What a slap in the face to all the tourists and businessmen whose last impression of Cayman was of Third World incompetence.

Except for the departure shambles, it was a super holiday for our family. Linda took time off from her part-time job, and swam with the girls every morning at the little cove down the road. Ross and I did it a couple of times with them, but we were poor substitutes. The girls adore their father, and tolerate me; but Mamma Linda is the main attraction in all circumstances. She cooks with them and takes them up to the Turtle Farm and the Dolphin place, and the Agricultural Fair, and even a tennis knock-around on a friend’s court on the south side.

She it was who dug out the Scrabble and the Boggle, and taught them all the English words and spellings. Ross and I gave an exhibition of Championship Monopoly (Ross’s World Championship appearance was the subject of my January 2013 blog Monopoly Money). Fortunately, the younger one is old enough now not to mind getting thrashed in table games.

The highlight of the vacation was a one-day “resort course” Scuba lesson. For one day back in 1993 Ross would have been the youngest PADI instructor in the world, and he has never lost his teaching skills. But after leaving Cayman he let his insurance lapse, and without a current card he can’t rent tanks and equipment for others. So he wore Linda’s gear and watched a young professional diver give the lesson.

He (Ross) never seriously considered making a career as an instructor. Piloting our local tourist submarines was the closest he ever came to an underwater career. Above my chair as I write this is a head-on photograph he took of a turtle in the wild when he was thirteen. He’s quite proud of that, but only in a “been there, done that” kind of way. Linda and I would never part with it.

The girls take their father at face value, the way kids do. His exotic history is only half-listened-to, when we refer to it. Maybe it’s a bit too exotic to appreciate, for youngsters raised in the protective custody of a Scandinavian welfare-state. The older girl has had her own exotic adventures – Mayan minders in Guatemala and Peru, and the tropical diseases associated with a hippy lifestyle in those parts – but they are lost in the mists of toddlerhood.

There aren’t many opportunities for Scuba divers in Norway’s frozen waters besides the offshore oil wells. But - who knows? The lesson here in Cayman may have given our two the taste for more diving – and maybe, even, the taste for a life in places without frozen waters, one day.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Global Warming, Global Cooling

Ross and I agree on most things in life, but the fuss over the changing climate isn’t one of them. We’re not scientists or climatologists, so our opinions are based on what’s reported as being the opinions of those who are. The real question for us is: which of the two competing sets of scientists and climatologists do we believe is telling the truth.

Every thinking person in the world believes in “climate change”, of course. Who could not? Winters and summers are colder than they used to be, in places – and hotter than usual in other places. Droughts are dryer: floods are wetter. Hurricanes are fiercer but fewer, except when they’re not. Sea-ice at the Poles is shrinking, or it is expanding, depending which set of observers is telling the story.

Unless we lower our consumption of oil, the planet is doomed - also our consumption of spray deodorants and Windex. Yet politicians and their sponsors all fly off to faraway conferences in their private planes once or twice a year, staying in centrally heated luxury hotels, so perhaps it’s doomed anyway. Fuel saved by conscientious households is all diverted to Imperial armies and their suppliers; won’t that doom the planet anyway? Better (for the world) to deny the armies than the householders, wouldn’t you say? I would.

My son and I both distrust liars. We don’t tell lies ourselves, and become distressed when we encounter blatant liars. We’re never quite sure how to handle them. He has been a wonderfully forgiving person all his life, and tends to give second chances - sometimes even third chances. I’m not, and I don’t. For me, once is enough. Life’s too short to tolerate habitual liars.

I remember the manufactured panic over Saddam’s WMDs. We were 45 minutes away from a mushroom cloud over London, the liars told the Western press, and the press told us suckers. The politicians and bureaucrats thirsted after war and bloodshed, and had a vested interest in those things. The sheep didn’t doubt the mass media, and let the bloodshed proceed on the nod. A million civilians died; millions more were traumatized, physically or mentally or both, and most of them will never recover. The perpetrators shrugged, and have never felt remorse.

How can such a monstrous lie and its enablers be forgiven by anyone with any moral values? Hitler’s willing executioners (that was the title of a book about them) have as much claim to respect as those monsters.

The same monsters and the same obedient reporters are today pushing another Big Lie in respect of the world’s changing climate. Instead of WMD, today’s selected enemy is AGW. The pushers don’t care whether AGW is true or not; they only care that the sheep can be manipulated to the point of believing it.

 In October of 2013 I wrote a blog-post called SUM TING WONG. Google will lead you to it if you search for that title with my name in front. That was the name of the captain of a Korean passenger jet that clipped the perimeter-fence at San Francisco’s airport, announced to the nation in all solemnity by a TV network reporter on the day, reading from what was typed and shown on the screen. The other officers in the cockpit were solemnly reported as WI TU LO, HO LEE FUK, and BANG DING OW. I kid you not.

The same degree of diligence goes into all that they do. By and large, only the “alternative media” questions the official versions of events - from Saddam’s nuclear weapons and the names of Korean airline pilots, to the casual defeat of the world’s most sophisticated national defence-system in 2001, by nineteen barefoot Arab boys with a dozen fifty-cent box-cutters.

It is independent researchers who genuinely seek alternatives to suspicious narratives – the Malaysian Airlines planes, the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the Ukrainian civil war, the threat of Global Warming. Mind you, the independents’ conclusions aren’t always right. Sometimes – when it suits Big Brother – the official versions are right.

One day, Sum Ting Wong really will be the name of an airline pilot. One day, either Global Warming will be proven to be the fault of mankind, and all the billionaires’ private planes will be grounded for the common good; or, Global Cooling will be proven, and reckless fuel usage will be encouraged. Hasten the day.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The right to die

In a blog-post called The Gay Marriage Thing in March last year, I recognized that the legalization of same-sex marriages in effect dismissed procreation as the basic premise on which formal marriage has always been based. The premise dated from the days when love had nothing to do with marriage, and everything to do with family alliances.

When marriage is removed from the context of family alliances and children, why does a community – any community – need to be in the business of licensing marriages at all? Why can’t communities simply butt out altogether, and let marriages happen in the absence of any community acknowledgment?

By the same token: why does any community have to be in the business of legislating with regard to death?

In most Western societies – liberal democracies – individuals are already free (within reason) to bequeath their assets to whomever they want. Most societies do levy ad-valorem taxes on deceased estates, though. That’s a custom that began when relatively primitive communities or their rulers held actual legal title to all the land, and whose approval had to be granted for the transfer of occupancy on the death of their tenants. It’s not called “real estate” for nothing; the word “real” meant “royal”.

At all levels of society, it wasn’t just the land that belonged to a community or its lords and/or kings, it was also the people who lived on it. The rulers held the power of life and death over their subjects. It still is, if you think about it. Even in democracies, such actions as abduction, assault, murder and theft are forbidden to all but the authorized servants of the state.

Chief among those prohibitions is the termination of human life. Even the most lowly members of the proletariat are valuable, as spear-carriers and cannon-fodder in tribal wars. To deprive the community of prospective soldiers was tantamount to treason. Even today, the killer of a fellow-subject must be tried in the lawcourts of the relevant king or his agents. Private vengeance is forbidden. Vengeance is mine, saith the king: I will repay.

 Suicide deprives a community and its rulers of their property. Therefore, nobody can assist in a suicide, any more than in a private murder. In many nations, a suicide forfeited the privilege of being buried in a churchyard – as well as the privilege of God’s mercy in the afterlife.

Over centuries, individuals have gradually been allowed to gain some rights over their own lives. In Western societies, at least. Some simpler, pacifist, cultures have always been generous in recognizing individual rights in respect of death. Committing suicide has never been a shameful act, there, and nor has assisting it.

Logically, suicide is the final freedom. Indeed, it is irrefutable proof of individual freedom. Neither church canon nor civil statute ought to hold any veto over the basic human right to be free. The main clause of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights obliges all national government-signatories to recognize a right to life, and the right to life ends with death, surely, not a split-second earlier.

Human Rights advocates and supporters claim that human rights exist ab initio, so to speak. They can’t be granted, only recognized: they can’t be withdrawn or cancelled, only not recognized. Communities who endorse the basic principle have no moral option but to recognize the logic of the statement in the paragraph above this one. The right to life ends with death, and not a moment earlier. Suicide is the act of a free man. Preventing it is the act of an unfree society.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Give a Kid Breakfast

One of Cayman’s most emotive charity-appeals is for children who arrive at school without having been fed any breakfast. A newspaper report from two years ago spoke of 1000 children in this situation, and the website of the (separate) children’s charity that gives schoolkids free lunches estimates that 1200 “families” regularly need food. The figures are probably a lot higher now than when they were reported. In every case, the parent or parents either don’t have the time to feed the children or can’t afford to feed them, or can’t be bothered to feed them.

Those who know of Cayman’s wealth (its per-capita Public Revenue is huge, by regional standards) must wonder if these charities aren’t a bit of a racket. Would 20% of Caymanian schoolchildren really starve without private charities’ efforts? I don’t believe it. I can easily believe that the 20% turn up at school without breakfast inside them or lunch in hand; but I don’t believe all their parents can’t afford the food. A simple breakfast of cold cereal and milk costs fifty cents, and nobody in Cayman is too poor to afford that.

The two main charities are Give a Kid Breakfast and Feed our Future. Between them they feed a reported 25% of all the Caymanian children in primary and secondary schools in the Islands. No expat children are included in these programs, because a) the children of well-paid expats must by law attend fee-paying private schools, and b) low-paid expat parents aren’t permitted to have their children with them in Cayman.

Are any of the charity-parents means-tested? Supposedly, yes, though I wonder how thorough the testing is. If I were to do the testing, how many would I find driving new cars and spending their wages on beauty salons or alcohol or huge flat-screen TVs? Those charities could hire me to do the means-testing (free of charge, I promise), and to publish my findings, with names. Huh. That's not going to happen.

Back in 1988, as a member of the government High School’s PTA sub-committee looking into the drugs problem at the School, I persuaded my colleagues to call for convicted drugs-dealers to be banned from the campus, even if they were parents or guardians of pupils, and for their photos to be posted on the Notice Board. The day after our report went forward, word came down from the Education Department to the Headmaster to close down the sub-committee immediately. Even drugs dealers had the vote, after all… It’s the same thing with charity-cheats. Ach, what can you do?

Even more important than the cheating, is the deliberate grooming of the unfortunate children to a lifetime of cosseting. Free meals at their primary and secondary schools, free scholarships for their college education, full protection by the Immigration system during their working lives, and free Meals on Wheels when they retire. From kindergarten to the grave, the community will protect them from the burdens of character-building and financial responsibility.

I have left out the pre-schoolers, because I don’t know what happens to them. I suppose that if they don’t get free food there, they are fed at home by relatives or friends. I’ve never heard of a new pupil turning up at a primary school malnourished, on his or her first day.

The other thing to say about the free meals is that a lot of careful thought has gone into the sample menus. I wonder if the whole program isn’t rather over-egged, so to speak. For my four years at the local bush primary-school, between home-schooling and boarding-school, Mum gave me Marmite sandwiches every day for lunch, and my brother peanut-butter sandwiches – plus an apple or orange. At break-times we drank water out of the school’s storage-tank, warm from the hot sun. If we were lucky! (Monty Python joke; video accessible via Google.)

We never swapped lunches. There were only a dozen of us, and our parents all knew each other. It would have been disloyal to spurn the lunch we were given. Anyway, I liked Marmite, and Doug liked peanut butter; it never occurred to us to expect variety, or a choice.

How times have changed.