Friday, January 30, 2015

A Very Short Sighted Public Inquiry

I believe as hard as I can in all the improbable things of this world like Santa Claus and tooth fairy and public inquiries that are really public and really an inquiry.

Because I believe, I am doubly disappointed when they fall so very short of the mark of either public or inquiry.

The Scottish Police Association spent a lot of time and money and good will on their recent inquiry into the decision by newly minted Police Scotland to decide arbitrarily to allow armed police to respond to routine inquiries. That was the first issue. Folks in the line at the checkout found themselves next to an officer with a sidearm--or worse. It was, at best, startling.

But that was only the first issue. And by ignoring all the rest, the SPA inquiry tips its hand as nothing more than jockeying for more power for themselves over police matters.

This is my blog so I'll be straightforward and say Stephen House, Chief Constable, lied. Please 
check the facts for yourself. You can track the media reports (including my own articles in the Caithness Courier) for the sequence of events. By delaying  publishing the results of their inquiry, most folks will have forgotten all that stooshie. But he lied. I am old fashioned. I think when folks in public office are called out on a lie, they need to resign. Especially police officers. Especially the chief cop.

Now to the findings of the so called public inquiry.

On the basis of only 1000 replies (for my American readers: yes, Scotland is small but not that small--overall population nearly 6 million if we all stand up tall and get counted), those of us who objected to the policy have become a 'significant minority'. Most people, they say, thought the policy was OK. Cue the Mark Twain quote re liars, damned liars, and those who use statistics.

Now what is worse is that headline makers do not even bother to see that only 1000 people responded (badly written questionnaire--perhaps in retrospect it was designed with just this oversimplified conclusion in mind) so now the headlines are that most people actually approve of the policy. That is a giant stride forward into self-servingness.

By calling it a PR problem, the SPA steps into the breach to help the police manage their communications. The fix is in.

It is not a PR issue to be lied to by the Chief Cop. It is not a PR issue to have a major cultural shift in how police relate to the people they are pledged to serve--not to bully, not to intimidate, not to protect themselves from, but to serve.

Iain Whyte said that even those who objected to the policy would have accepted it if it had been better communicated to them. That is half true. An essential part of that communication was to make the case for why armed police were necessary. That case was not made then and I daresay won't be offered now. Having been given headlines saying it was all a PR problem and most people really agree with the policy, the lies have been given the imprimatur of a public inquiry,
except it was neither public nor an inquiry.

I am so angry because I believed in this inquiry. I went to Inverness to give evidence and I wrote letters and answered their questionnaire. In short, I was used.

Now if you think this blog is un British in its tone and righteous indignation, then check out this blog:
http://nonprofitwithballs.com/2015/01/are-you-or-your-nonprofit-or-foundation-being-an-askhole/

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Because Margaret Said So

Who knows what makes us connect one person to another. And some more firmly than others. It starts, in this case, with a shared connection thorugh a friend and knitting.  I have always lived more in my head than with my hands so I come awkwardly and tentatively to schooling my hands, which perhaps makes me appreciate more not only others' skills but also their willingness to share them with me.

Margaret tumbled into my life like that. If she hadn't been the sister of a friend and a knitter, we might never have known each other, but she meant a great deal to me even though we were so different and so tentatively connected. And so when news came today that she had died in her sleep I felt her loss for my own sake as well as for my friend's. Her eyesight had begun to fail her and she had set knitting aside. I don't think she found anything else to fill that gap.

Only yesterday as my fingers fumbled over a new stitch, I heard her words in my head--I cannot recereate the Yorkshire in her voice-- but the gist was that I had to be tough with my knitting and tug on the stitch to get it to line up as it should. And so I did as Margaret had taught me and was surprised yet again to see that the stitches did, in fact, behave. Margaret said so. That was enough for them.

Sunday, January 04, 2015



from The Floral Offering by Henrietta Dumont:

Moss is selected to be the symbol of maternal love, because, like that love, it glads the heart when the winter of adversity overtakes us, and when summer friends have deserted us.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Homeopathy for Christmas Blues

Ex pat syndrome can hit any time. I should have been on guard, but it is sneaky and will find you in the best of times as well as the worst. 'White Christmas' did it for me this time. I was having a great time in the loft of a beautiful Methodist chapel in Grassington the first time it hit me. The bell ringers were good and bells are well suited to most of my favourite Christmas music and the acoustics in the loft in the shadow of the stained glass windows were perfect. I sang along to 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' enjoying the sounds of our earnest but amateur ad hoc choir. And then singing 'White Christmas' and I was fine until that line, 'Just like the Christmas I used to know..' I had to pretend to cough the tears came on so quickly.

Now ex pat syndrome is both more and less than homesickness. That's what makes it so tricky to deal with. I miss my family and the smell of Christmas trees and lights--even the gaudy outrageous over the top ones-- because those lights represent the best of the human spirit in all its pagan nonsensicalness--my fairy lights will bring back the sun is what we all are really saying. My little Celtic soul loves the irony and the magic of it. If it were just homesickness, I could hop on a plane or string lights around the house or Skype home or any of the other things large and small that keep us connected.

Ex pat syndrome--as I've said before and others have said better than I can-- is missing something that never really was. Christmas was never like in the songs.  Rarely white, often frantic, and lights were expensive and difficult to put up and trees were awkward and prickly and hard to dispose of and came with a sense of guilt about cutting a live tree or the hassle of trying to keep a tree safe and cool enough til spring for planting out. I know all that even in the moment that White Christmas stops me in my tracks, but knowing it and holding it at bay are a world apart.

I have a good life and good friends. The second time 'White Christmas' got me I was stopped mid step in the pedestrian precinct of Thurso on Fun Day.  Before I was even aware of it, my friends had folded me into their arms. It didn't matter what made me sad. Their response was automatic, unqualified. That is the gift of Christmas now and always. My antidote for my ex pat syndrome is to fill the house with Christmas music, starting with Joan Baez and I knew I was on the mend when I heard 'I wonder as I wander how our dear saviour died for ordinary folk like you and like me.' OK. I may cry again at 'White Christmas' but I have Christmas in my heart now. To celebrate, to honour the gift of that unconditional love. 

And perhaps a few fairy lights.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Secret Decisions and Stolen Tomatoes

After my optimism three posts back in the shift of the rhetoric about the decision on routine arming of police in the Highlands, I have again lost heart. The first of the independent reviews seems only to have netted folks who said 'we never had any authority anyway, so what do you think we can do?'. Time is on the side of the people in power. If they can stall and stonewall, then they can wear down the reviewers and the reporters and the weary watchers. The news of the referendum will crowd the issue off the pages of the press; the minister and the chief constable--through their spokeswoman--will repeat their only 2%  shrug of the shoulders line as if that were the issue, but as a retired judge recently wrote in the paper, it is the secret decision that is the issue. Or should be.

I am like the geese on the Capitoline--they sounded the alarm for those who would have attacked Rome, sneaking over the hill in the dark, or so the story goes. It is a good metaphor for the defense that ordinary creatures make at things that go on in the dark that should not. Neither the Justice Minister nor the Chief Constable must get past the last hill by stealth. Keep squawking.

And what about the stolen tomatoes? In a community garden in Chicago, someone has been coming by night to steal tomatoes and other produce. How we behave when we think we can get away with it is one of those markers of character--both individually and collectively. Our leaders are supposed to set an example not only in their decisions but also by their character. That erosion of decisionmaking and their apparent character paves the way for that slowly sagging into anarachy that is always the real enemy behind any of these rough spots in governing ourselves.

We need to work that much harder now that many of the things we take for granted are under threat to ensure that we behave by day and by night with regard for old fashioned civility. Don't take things that aren't yours. Take your ethical role in the community--whether as minister or unemployed student-- more seriously than you take your ego or your power or your image.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

So what can we do in the face of such travail?

One of my favourite snatches of poetry recalled is from Bertolt Brecht. 'Even anger against injustice makes the voice grow harsh.' I realise that my creating arguments is not only hard work but also gets in the way of  seeing things that aren't broken.

As I was constructing a letter to the editor of the Herald in my mind, I took some time to browse among my garden.

The fennel flowers (good for butterflies and collecting their seeds) are beautiful in their own right. The sea holly has now grown way beyond the bed where he was put temporaily some time ago. They are neighbours in my garden, so I put them together and brought them inside.  I think they look great and they smell wonderful, with the licorice-y scent of the fennel. Now I have to write that letter to the editor.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rhetorical Shifts in Armed Police Debate and a Personal Note

In today's Press and Journal I noted a shift in the rhetoric. MacAskill, after stonewalling about the decision is now part of a who knew what when debate--in the face of 2 independent reviews of the decision to have armed police on routine patrols. I welcome this shift in the rhetoric because it implies that they already accept that the decision was a bad one and they are distancing themselves from it. Good, but not quite good enough because this decision is only the symptom of a larger problem. The problem is a shift in how the police--or their leadership at any rate--perceives their role. I alluded to this in one of my Courier articles. When House said that the police needed to be armed because of the number of guns per capita in the Highlands, this only made sense if the police perceived the community as enemies or as is so often used these days 'potential threats.'  Between the Glocks in Inverness and Ferguson police in camouflage and county sheriffs in armoured vehicles, some big shifts had to take place, but they did not come all at once. That is why we need to listen now carefully and stop the first step down that irrecoverbally slippery slope.

I leave it to people more savvy than I am to chart the steps but I lay a few out here for the sake of those who would say 'that could never happen here..'

I suggest the militarization of the police has at least some of its roots in declaring war on domestic things. In America we had first the war on poverty, then drugs, then anti-terrorism. These wars were never won (and hence never over). Such long lasting failures and the attendant escalation of violence dehumanizes us all.

Blaming the military industrial complex is too obvious, so I  will include it here only in passing. If you have armoured vehicles, then someone will find a use for them.

But the rhetoric is what we are watching here--pay no attention to that tank rolling by the window.
One of my friends in the States sent me this snippet from a blog she reads:
Instapundit,
...the militarization of police, which has its roots both in the drug war and the post-9/11 terror-industrial complex. As my former colleague Radley Balko, now at The Washington Post, has documented for years... “The buzz phrase in policing today is officer safety. You’ll also hear lots of references to preserving order, and fighting wars, be it on crime, drugs, or terrorism. Those are all concepts that emphasize confrontation. It’s a view that pits the officers as the enforcer, and the public as the entity upon which laws and policies and procedures are to be enforced.”
The italics in that last phrase are mine. I urge my readers on the Highland side of the pond to note them because we have an opportunity now to make an important change in those stepping stones to Ferguson. Tell the police and the independent reviewers, we are not the enemy and you are not the enforcer. You are still a public servant and we are the public. We are on the same side. Put away your guns.

And now the personal note. Yesterday would have been my brother's birthday. I miss him all the time. Sometimes I feel it more than others. Yesterday was one of those days, but I am in the fray now because, like my brother, I never liked bullies, and he was always the one to insist on taking up the cudgels for what was right. OK, Mike, I'm on the job.