Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Catch and release

“Catch and release” is a term common in game-fishing tournaments. Catch a fish and reel it in, weigh it for the record, and throw it back in the water in order to preserve the stock. In Cayman, the term is also applied, cynically, to our justice system. Catch and try a criminal, take him to court, and throw him back on the streets again.

Sometimes there is a brief time in prison between court and release, but not always. Our Prosecution Service doesn’t always prosecute a bad guy for the correct crime, and doesn’t always prosecute him enthusiastically when it is the correct crime. It’s a small island, and people know people.

Our judges’ sentences are erratic; concurrent terms are the norm instead of consecutive. Only a few convicts seem to serve their full sentences in prison. Parole is readily granted; the Probation Service seems to operate more generously than is warranted. And although Police lock-ups are notoriously dreadful places, the actual prison is not as tough as my old boarding-school used to be.

I don’t know how much help convicts receive when they are released from prison; it’s all pretty hush-hush. Cayman’s governance in general operates on a need-to-know basis, and the public doesn’t need to know much at all, according to our rulers. Policing and justice are secretive, and scarcely monitored. Corruption is universally suspected, and no serious effort is made to dispel that suspicion. Recidivism is rife. So. How can we (our society) get our repeat-criminals off the carousel?

The latest new idea is a day-release program that will (hopefully) persuade selected convicts that they can to cope with life after prison. They will become useful members of society, earning an honest living and not go back to their criminal careers and bounce in and out of pokey the rest of their lives.

It hasn’t been decided yet what jobs they will be doing, or how much they will be paid, or – most important – what degree of criminality will be addressed by the program. The public wouldn’t stand for any baby-rapists to be chosen for the list, or violent offenders of any kind, surely. Or seducers of children, or gang members. Drug-dealers would probably be out of consideration, mainly because it’s hard to believe they ever retire from such a lucrative line of business. That leaves only petty thieves, burglars and embezzlers, really.

The voluntary risk-taking employers would have to be very community-minded people indeed, wouldn’t they – very determined to thwart Cayman’s drift towards the development of a permanently lawless underclass. One must wish them well, and their auditors and insurers…

To what extent will our politicians and Civil Servants cooperate? How will the employment of convicts fit into government’s existing labour-policy? Will Caymanian convicts on day-release be given priority over the three thousand supposedly unemployed Caymanians? Some of the latter may be shiftless and lazy, but they are not convicts, or at least not at the moment.

 Will the convicts receive wages at the going rate, or will they have to work for nothing, like slaves? Free labour generally has difficulty competing with slave-labour, for obvious reasons. Would the risk-taking employers be exempted from the Labour Law, and the Minimum Wage law when we have one?

 And another thing… Half of all Cayman’s Civil Servants are reckoned to run private businesses from their desks. Would they favour themselves in the allocation of no-wage convict workers? Damn right they would.

What about government’s permanent immigration policy, which requires that Caymanian citizens be hired and promoted ahead of Work Permit foreigners, regardless of ability? Might employers of convicts be rewarded with extra Work Permits, say one-for-one? Huh. Not likely! So how would they be rewarded? Public approbation, alone?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"No other gods before me"

In a post in January 2012 I speculated on the origin of the Biblical Children of Israel, which came into existence some time around 1500 BC. The names of its gods and legendary heroes suggested that it was an artificial tribe constructed from diverse elements of refugee groups during a clash of empires in northern Phoenicia.

The tribe was created and consolidated over several generations by a ruthless gang (all that unnecessary smiting…) of warrior priests that I called “the Taliban of their day”. A year or so later (February 2013), The Hebrews took the story back to Father Abraham in the city-state of Haran, and in October of that year Noah and Company moved it even further back, to the original homeland of at least some of the ancestors in the vicinity of Ararat.

“Ur of the Chaldees” is more plausibly identified as Ur of the Khaldis in north-eastern Anatolia than as the city on the southern Tigris River. A slow-but-steady tribal-drift (folk-wandering) from Ararat down to Haran is infinitely more likely than a pointless migration down to the Persian Gulf and back, for Abraham and his forebears. (Haran was a focal point of one of the busiest trade-routes in the region, and the legendary Abraham left there a rich man.)

The name of the tribal god Yahweh/Jehovah appears in several guises, notably Noah and Jacob. (n is a vocalisation of h in human speech.) All the names and their variants, and all the contemporary legends – were memorized and recited by thirty or forty generations of tribal bards before being written down in later tribal dialects. The writing was done around the time Celtic-speaking tribes were conquering the native peoples of the British Isles.

The huge time-scale provides scope for superficial changes of names and dialects. My speculations are based on the premise that names (holy names in particular) retain their basic structures. The claimed meanings of proper names in all languages, have always been assigned on the basis of folk-etymology; they shouldn’t ever be taken seriously.

The proto-Hebrews carried Yahweh-the-god from the Mountains of Ur down to the Land of Egypt – not in the Egypt of our modern maps, but the part of northern Phoenicia under Egyptian rule at the time. That’s a defensible and legitimate speculation, based on history. But speculations can’t cope with the time before The Flood. The names of Adam’s descendants are mostly the names of regional gods – probably the ancestral gods of the wanderers before they settled on Hebe (and variants), and before their adoption of Yahweh/Jacob.

Every tribe has always had its own god, whose duty was to protect the tribe. The creation of the world was usually not ascribed to tribal gods. Generally, creation-gods did their Big-Bang job and left the stage. The Children of Israel, being an invented tribe and not a traditional one with a long history, and having selected one of their ancestral gods to be their very own, went the extra furlong and declared that their newly-agreed-upon tribal god had actually created the entire world and everything that was in it. Wow!

That declaration didn’t make them monotheists, but it did give their god a great customer-relations boost. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, the god said, and “I am a jealous god”. In effect: Look, I’m number one; the rest of them are make-weights; don’t waste your time with them. The priests who wrote the script were on a winner, with that line - at least for the time being.

But monotheism arrived only with the energetic heresy of the cult of Christianity. That cult’s fervent proselytising among the pagans embraced large numbers of other tribal gods, but its priests (oh, the chutzpah!) refused to acknowledge them as gods. Agents and saints, yes, but not gods. One single god since the beginning of the world – not limited to one tribe – was irresistible. As Christianity (and Islam, later) proved in much of the world.

Yahweh’s original tribe became marginalized. Over the centuries it gained some converts here and there – Berbers in North Africa were the ancestors of the Sephardic Jews, and the mini-empire of the Khazars north and east of the Black Sea produced the Ashkenazi Jews. But in the Levantine homeland, most of the original tribe fell prey to (and converted to) the two major heretical cults. Their descendants are today’s Palestinians.

Captivated by the romance of an ancient tribal ethos, and cynically manipulated by JINOs (Jews In Name Only) the European descendants of converts to the Yahweh cult are currently engaged in the slow-motion conquest of the ancient homeland of their cultural forebears.

But the old tribal ethos demanded the mass slaughter of all who stood in the way of the jealous Yahweh and his people, and mass slaughter is out of fashion now. Even ethnic cleansing is frowned upon, in an age of human-rights. So it’s a futile exercise, strategically – an historical aberration that has nothing to do with the Israelites.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Gay Marriage thing

Most people in the West are tolerant – if that’s the word – of same-sex sexual relationships, but half of us draw the line at same-sex marriages. Why is that? Most people in the world probably couldn’t care less if siblings live together, but very few approve of sexual goings-on between or among them. Almost all of them would draw the line at sibling marriages. Why is that?

What is so special about marriage? It can’t be all about children, surely, in these sophisticated times. At least, not in the West. Promiscuity is blatant, adoptions are easy, artificial insemination is routine, divorces are simple, surgical sex-changes abound, birth control is everywhere, and serial monogamy is the norm. The old ideal of “the nuclear family” has gone out the window.

Why should we (society) draw the line anywhere, as long as there are no children involved or envisioned? What would be lost, if we scrapped the idea that society needs to formally approve every marriage? Nothing. Not a damn thing. The law governing civil contracts can take care of any children.

Is it about taxes, pensions or other entitlements? It may be. The last surviving widow of a US Civil War veteran died in 2003, and the last surviving son of a US Civil War Veteran was still alive just last year. (I would want a DNA test for him, but the relevant US Government agency was still paying his pension of $70 a week.)

It was the custom for young girls to be married off to ancient Veterans specifically in order to inherit their lifetime pensions. Sex was not always required of them. Deathbed marriages were just a way for old codgers to do their friends’ families a favour. Sometimes the favours would be reciprocal. Today’s marriages of convenience are following some fine precedents.

Some private companies will not pay spouses’ lifetime benefits (pension and medical) if the age gap is greater than a designated number of years. It’s a good idea. Why don’t national governments introduce a similar measure? Or, why don’t they simply get out of the marriage-approval business altogether? (Or, busybody-ness, which is what it really is.)

The original purpose of community-approved marriage was to give tribal elders the power to ensure the stability of the ruling classes. In the earliest civilisations, marriages within the nobility had to be carefully monitored to mimimise the likelihood of factional rebellions. Marriages were designed to cement alliances of families, clans and factions.

The serfs were generally left alone to arrange their own marriages, though rulers kept a weather eye out for suspicious alliances. Slave families were deliberately split up in order to remove any temptation to plot against their masters. It happened to the Africans in the Americas, and the provenance is an old one.

The difference with same-sex relationships was the absence of children, but in actuality the ruling classes were less against homosexual marriages than for the traditional form. Long ago, empires in China were largely governed by eunuchs, whose value to emperors was that they could not produce lineages to which they might owe their primary loyalties.

National histories are cluttered with examples of military dynasties jostling for political power. As individual rights have gradually superseded community rights, the reason for the official licensing of marriages has lessened. There is no point in the custom any more, and if it were scrapped altogether, it would be no loss.

Even today, there is occasional deep suspicion by hereditary rulers of a “Pink Mafia” whose members, like Masonic lodges, might be loyal to each other at the expense of loyalty to the community as a whole or to the ruling classes. That kind of loyalty might indeed exist here and there, but formal marriage doesn’t and wouldn’t frustrate it. Some state, somewhere, ought to have the courage to give up on marriage altogether. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose any more.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

“The death of Lady Mondegreen”

Things aren’t always what they seem, in the English language. They say (“They”!) that English is the easiest language in the world to be understood in, but one of the hardest to speak well. With only 800 words (They say), a total stranger can get by, but years of practice will usually leave him a bit short of perfection. (Surely German is fifty times more difficult. It’s a wonder anybody speaks it well. And actually, when you think about it, we only have their word for it that anybody does speak it well.)

English spelling is a hodge-podge of folk-etymology and class eccentricities. Who else but the English upper class would identify one’s nightly sleep as a dietary “fast” to the point of calling the first meal of the day “break-fast”, while abbreviating it to “brekkie”? Well, until recent Centuries only upper-class clerics were literate, and claimed to know everything there was to know about the language.

An infinitely more plausible speculation is that the word we pronounce brekfust is but a dialectal variant of Scandinavian frukost, which means a meal comprising fruit (fruk) and cheese (ost). That might be folk-etymology too, but who knows? Fruit and cheese is a man’s brekkie. When we break our “fast” is when we get up in the middle of the night for a pee and raid the fridge on the way back. I know, the Vikings didn’t have fridges, but they would have shared the same nocturnal habits. ***
*** A friend has pointed out that the Scandinavian word may have originated in the German word frueh-kost meaning "early food". This seems a more likely explanation than mine; but, either way, English "break-fast" is nonsense.

It was, reportedly, an 18th-Century Earl of Sandwich who introduced his handy snack to his aristocratic chums at the roulette wheel, but his serfs had been munching pieces of bread with bacon + a wedge of cheese for many generations before. One can picture the chums laughing at his adoption of such peasant fare: “A sarney-wedge, my lord? More of a Sand-wich, what, what? Hahaha!”

Next: why is “cupboard” spelt the way it is? A cupboard is a cubby-hole with a door, and a cubby is simply a variant of a cabi-net. All cupboards have doors. A cupboard without a door is a pantry. A board that you keep cups on is a shelf. Sheesh! The bizarre spelling “cupboard” is folk-etymology deriving from upper-class eccentricity.

My personal term for this sort of rot is “muster-bin”. The imagined origins of English surnames present a long list of muster-bin falsehoods. The first person bearing the surname Smith must ha’ bin a smith by trade. The first Mr Brown must ha’ bin brown in skin or hair or eyes. The first Jones and Johnson were the sons of men named John. And so on. They simply must have been. Actually, as we say in the Caribbean, “they don’t must.” There are more plausible alternative explanations for those names. But plausibility finds it hard to beat out facile assumptions.

To Lady Mondegreen, now. Not quite a folk-etymology, because it was invented by a child who grew up to be a writer – one Sylvia Wright. In 1954, she published an essay on a verse her mother used to read to her from an 18th-Century collection of ballads:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, 
Oh, where have ye been? 
They have slain the Earl o' Moray, 
And Lady Mondegreen.

The little girl felt desperately sad for the poor lady who died with one of Scotland’s famous martyrs, and resented the poet’s failure to mention her again in his story. Decades passed before the adult Sylvia Wright actually read the poem for herself, and learned that the killers of the Earl o’ Moray had in fact laid him on the green. Unaccompanied.

Wikipedia tells the story, and gives other examples of what are today called Mondegreens. We all have our favourites. Bob Dylan sang “the ants are my friends”, Creedence in Bad Moon Rising sang “there’s a bathroom on the right”. And, at Number One, for me, the last verse of Psalm 23, which begins “Surely good Mrs Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life”.

Friday, March 14, 2014

In memory of Rachel Corrie

March 16th is the anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, a young American girl (aged 23) run down by an Israeli Army bulldozer in occupied Palestine while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes.

All those of us who care about human rights should make a point of remembering her, and of respecting her physical bravery in defence of those rights. It takes a special degree of bravery to step outside the protection of one’s tribal and ethnic loyalties, in defence of members of some foreign community.

Often, there is a large element of naivety to physical bravery. Victoria Cross winners in war zones aren’t usually the sharpest knives in the drawer. Mostly, they seem to have the same mind-set as suicide bombers and kamikaze pilots – prepared to die for the sake of their fellows.

Military personnel in hospitals and ambulances, and individual medics who retrieve wounded soldiers from free-fire zones, often (usually?) presume “the enemy” won’t target them. Amazingly brave, and naïve. That describes young Rachel to a T. She seems to have believed that she would be protected by both her US citizenship and Israel’s notional human-rights ideals. Instead, a Los Angeles gang would have given her as much help.

I tend to bracket her name with that of Bradley Manning, the naïve young US Army clerk who blew the whistle on a war-crime committed in occupied Iraq by an Army helicopter crew. The killers were deemed to be acting in the best interests of the USA and were let off with a caution. Bradley was jailed for 35 years without parole, for putting a higher value on the lives of defenceless foreign civilians than on the gratification of his tribal fellows. How dare he!

During the US occupation of Vietnam, the unarmed civilian villagers of My Lai – mostly old folk and children – were hacked down en masse by an Army platoon, in the perceived best interests of the American people. Those killers, too, were let off with a caution. (I don’t know what happened to the whistle-blower of that atrocity; he probably fell out of a tall building somewhere…)

The theme common to all three incidents is the easy victory of tribal solidarity over universal human rights. One has to wonder why national leaders who condone such blatant flouting of the human-rights ideal even bother to pretend they care about the ideal. Is anybody ever taken in by the hypocrisy?

Western MSM (main-stream media) organs are currently reporting the US President’s hesitation in ordering the assassination of some obscure US citizen in Yemen. Hey, come on, man! The CIA has promised that the victim is a terrorist, a traitor, a Muslim, and a jobless layabout who picks his nose at the dinner-table. Is that not enough? Anyway, when sustained physical torture is such an everyday occurrence in the American gulag, why hesitate for an instant?

Perhaps there exists a skerrick of tribal solidarity in the President’s mind and the minds of his advisors. There certainly isn’t any sense of mercy there, or compassion. They will gladly order the slaughter of housefuls of innocents, as long as they are not fellow-citizens. I wonder how long that exemption will survive, though.

A blog of mine back in October 2012 (The war on women) speculated that those veteran soldiers and drone pilots who are not kept awake every night by their guilty consciences are well suited to become the torturers and executioners of our children and grandchildren, in a dystopian Big Brother society. Those who are kept awake by their memories are, by default, the hope of mankind. At least for as long as they manage not to kill themselves out of remorse. Ain’t that the truth?