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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hobson’s Choice

When I was a boy… [Surely one of the benefits of becoming an old codger is that you can get away with reminiscences beginning with “When I was a boy”.] So. When I was a boy, life was simpler for children than it is now.

For one thing, the food was simpler. In the 1940s and ‘50s, shops didn’t carry pre-cooked meals, at least in Queensland. McDonald’s and KFC hadn’t come to us yet. Prepared food in general? Heck, even sandwich-shops created their goodies while we watched. Nothing was prepared ahead of time. We office-workers lined up at midday and gave our orders one by one to sweaty-handed lads living dangerously with razor-sharp knives. There was no air-conditioning, and the fans couldn’t really cope with the heat.

Hygienic gloves hadn’t come into fashion, then, but we hardly ever discovered any blood in our fillings. The sandwich-makers were skilled at their job.

We didn’t have allergies, because allergies are immune-deficiencies caused by the excessive avoidance of germs. Frankie Gardiner was the only kid with asthma that anybody ever knew, out at Hannaford; and he was from Melbourne, a thousand miles or more to the south. Maybe he had led too sheltered a life; he was a delicate boy, who tended to hang back when the rest of us were messing around in the dirt.

Kitchen-cleansers that remove 99% of all household germs are bad for young children. It’s the 99% of household germs that build up kids’ immunities. What doesn’t kill children makes them stronger – just like our Grandmas said.

When I was a boy, not only was food simpler than it is now: so were menus. Our mothers’ menus at every mealtime were quintessentially simple – namely, what was on the plate. The choice was Hobson’s choice: eat it or don’t eat it. Actually: eat it all or don’t bother turning up for the next meal.

My Mum would bend the rules a bit, in a good cause; but she never broke them. I hated pumpkin, so she kindly served me only a token amount; and in the spirit of fair play I ate all of that. It was easier at boarding school. There I could give my pumpkin away, and fill up with the stale bread that usually went begging.

In the bush, most of our food was mutton, home-raised at a marginal cost that was close to zero. In town, too, our only meat was mutton, out of residual loyalty to the sheep-farming industry. During my working years in Brisbane my landladies often served up roast beef on Sundays, but it was many years before I could eat it without feeling guilty.

I was left with a lifelong aversion to choice, with regard to foods. Even today I never feel completely comfortable in restaurants, for that reason. I love eating at friends’ houses, because they don’t give me a choice. Occasionally a hostess will say, “I hope you like this”, but she doesn’t really care. There’s never an alternative on offer. “Sorry, Wendy, I’m a vegetarian.” “Oh dear, George; let me scrape the meat off your plate and give you a few more potatoes. There you go.”

When courtesy requires, I will eat anything at all. In Tehran, I was once offered a sheep’s eye. As it happens – and fortunately – our host had lived in the West. As I steeled myself, the eye glaring at me defiantly, he took pity. (The host, not the eye. The eye was pitiless.) “I know it’s not a western thing”, he said, “and I won’t be offended if you’d rather not choke it down. But for us it’s a delicacy. Why not let me eat it?” I settled for the tender eyelid-meat that surrounded the organ. That saved me a little bit of “face”. Linda wouldn’t even eat that.

Somebody once told me of a British couple who discovered a restaurant in Madrid whose specialty was bulls’ testicles. Animals killed in the bull-fights are sold at the markets, and no part of the beast is wasted. One night the serving was meagre – tasty, but much smaller than usual – and the couple asked why. The waiter shrugged. “Senor, Senora… You know, the bull doesn't always lose. Very occasionally, he wins, and then it is the matador who dies.”

It – uhhh – it may not be a true story, but it’s worth the telling.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Standards in Public Life (in Cayman)

Having Cayman as a colony is not all fun and games for the British Government. The poor old FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) goes to all the trouble of designing a framework to contain bad behavior by our local rulers, only for the framework to be ignored or subverted.

Bad behavior is supposed to be monitored – and, ideally, curtailed – by three politically appointed Commissions, as well as by the FCO-appointed Public Auditor. A couple of other public officers are supposed to keep the Civil Service in line – an ombudsman (Complaints Commissioner) and a Freedom of Information Officer.

Nothing works the way it was intended. Each member of the Commissions was chosen because he or she was reckoned to be “a safe pair of hands”. The Anti-Corruption Commission has uncovered two or three of the most blatant of thousands of daily illegalities within the Immigration Department, but any trials will have to wait two or three years. After all, why hurry? There’s plenty of cash in the kitty to keep the suspects’ salaries and perks paid in full while they sit at home and attend to their private businesses.

The Human Rights Commission wastes its time on legal technicalities, and avoids taking official notice of the longtime exploitation of unskilled migrants, indentured (without the slightest supervision) to their employers. “Near slavery”, the Jamaicans call it, sometimes with good reason. The HRC also ignores Cayman’s treatment of our boat-people – Cuban refugees, many of whom die on the way from Cuba to Honduras via Cayman waters. The HRC doesn’t seem to regard refugees or poor migrants as human, within the terms of its responsibility.

The Standards in Public Life Commission does nothing at all, as far as we can tell.

Last week one of our Cabinet Ministers, responsible for Health, Culture, Youth and Gender Affairs, lost his rag when invited by his Chief Officer (the most senior Civil Servant in any Ministry) to provide evidence to support a dubious expense-claim before submitting it for reimbursement. The Minister – an arrogant bully at any time; he “has form”, as the English say – cursed out the unfortunate CO in the hearing of the entire staff. "How dare you!! I am a born Caymanian and you are just a piece of fucking driftwood! Get the fuck out of my office! Go on - fuck off!" Or words to that effect.

Our Premier backed his crony, the bully. The Chief Officer was transferred to another Portfolio. The Minister lost a couple of responsibilities, but retained Culture – which gives us lots of hope for the future…

Never mind the cursing. The word "driftwood" – and its tolerance by our Premier – is what will cost his Party the next election. That the Chief Officer was a highly respected immigrant of longstanding (foreign-born, but with bloodline-Caymanian children by her bloodline-Caymanian ex-husband) indicates the profound contempt for expats that flourishes in the leadership of our ruling party.

Ever since I began this blog in 2010, I have bewailed the anti-expat attitudes of many bloodline-Caymanians. Not all of them: probably not even a majority: but many. And most of the “many” voted for this present ruling party, which has always had a bit of a name for being anti-expatriate. This latest incident removes all doubt, and it is way too much for any of our expat communities to accept.

Our votes are gone, and they won’t be coming back. British and other European, North American, Latino, Jamaican, Asian, African… we’re all well represented on the voting lists these days, and we will probably vote as a bloc next time. Come back, McKeeva – all is forgiven!

Where does Cayman go from here? Into further tribal divisiveness, unfortunately. And further corruption. When Linda and I came here in 1978, Caymanian Status (citizenship, in effect) could be bought for $30,000, paid under the counter to the right person in high office. The “marl road” – our grapevine – reports that it has been available for only $20,000 recently. Ah well: it’s good to know some prices have escaped inflation.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

X is for Xmas

I came across a website the other day that challenged readers to write a series of 26 essays, within a selected theme, each essay to be identified with a different letter of the alphabet. Mentally flipping through my blog’s archives I found I could handle the assignment only if I used X for Xmas – or, X for Xnty, which is my private shorthand for Christianity.

Q & Z were easy: they could stand for Queensland and Zorba, respectively. Zorba the Greek was a movie that was showing at a cinema in Thessaloniki, Greece, one night in 1964; a gang of us from the Youth Hostel went and watched it – dubbed in Greek, with English sub-titles. I was reminded of the event by a Canadian chap we came across in what is now Vanuatu eight years later; I blogged about that meeting in January 2012, and it’s in the Archives under the name of the movie.

It’s nice to have a legitimate “Z for …” in my bag. My cousin Arthur was Secretary to the Bishop of Zambia in the 1950s, but I’ve never written about that; and nothing memorable has ever happened to me at a zoo. So it was Zorba or nothing. It’s much the same with Queensland. I’ve hitched to and through Queenstown in New Zealand and Qum in Iran, and I once took in a day’s polo at Windsor Great Park in the company of a Duke named Quentin. But Qs are slim pickings in any context.

This month I’m reading “The Atheists’ Guide to Christmas” – which to my surprise uses the C-word and not the X-abbreviation. That’s weird. I myself always write Xmas, unless to a known or suspected Christian whom I don’t want to offend. (My shorthand for “Christian” is Xn, naturally enough. Among some of my US acquaintances, Xian is a code word for Zionist, which is interesting; maybe they use it to throw the censors off the scent.)

X was and is the letter of the Greek alphabet whose sound was and is similar to our English hard-C. When Christianity began as a religion, Greek commentators translated the Semitic title “Messiah” [“the anointed”] as Christos – in Greek lettering which was later transliterated into Christ. Christos meant “anointed” (smeared with ointment) in a general religious context, and was conveniently close in sound to Horus, the Egyptian sky-god widely respected (and sometimes worshipped) in the Greek culture of the time. And who was born of a virgin, and whose holy day was 25th December. What a coincidence!

Happily, too, Jesus/Iesus was conveniently close in sound to Isis, that same virgin mother. Thus: Jesus Christ = Iesus Horus, as though the “Christ” part was a surname and not a title. There is another Greek word (probably related), that transliterates as kharis, meaning “grace”, which is used in their “thanks” – efkharisto, from which we got our English Eucharist.

Christianity is a largely synthetic religion, absorbing rituals, traditions, legends and names from just about every belief-system it encountered. It pinched the whole of the Old Testament from Judaism – and, more recently, the Christmas Tree and Santa Claus from the Germans.

Our English name for God is Germanic – Gott from the Goths and Scots, both of which peoples took their names from the same ancient tribal god. In contrast, southern European tribes mostly stuck with the name of Zeus in its several forms, inherited from the even more ancient tribal god of Sumer in southern Iraq. I blogged about The Names of God in March 2012.

For centuries the name “damn” was considered a blasphemy, after Christianity had commandeered the general sound of it for its own god. (“Damn/domine” in Latin meant “master” or “lord”; its origin – as far as can be speculated – was the ancestor of the Aramaic god Tammuz, whose name endures in England’s River Thames. And in the word democracy – as explained in a blog-post of November 2011.

Gods’ names are the very devil to shake off.