No easy way to say this…

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There’s no easy way to say this, so I guess I’d better just dive in. Heretic TOC is going to be taking a sabbatical, probably for at least six months.

I need the time. A whole heap of stuff I should be doing has been long neglected and I feel I really must give myself a chance to catch up. In “Heretic TOC gets its mojo back” late last year, I was honestly able to report that the blog seemed to be going very well after a difficult patch. However, I also said time was a problem: “I would love to be spending time on writing books, and articles for academic publications, in addition to time spent on the blog. Right now, though, it just ain’t happening.”

It still ain’t. I don’t propose to take up space regaling you with details of all the projects I have languishing on the back burner – not just writing, but much more. I went into all that with an old friend of this blog, the estimable Leonard Sisyphus Mann, in an email exchange yesterday, and I can tell you my summarised sins of omissions pushed up towards 600 words.

And now, having mentioned LSM, it would be reprehensible not to add that he has a fabulous new blog post fresh out this very day, called “Dr Cantor & the Case of the Extrapolated Equivalence”, a title sure to whet the appetite of the many heretics who have followed the career of Jimmy the Screamer.

I nearly said I would be letting Heretic TOC lie fallow for a while, until it dawned on me that fields are left fallow when the crops are not growing too well and the land needs time to recover. But the “land” is still very fertile at the moment, judging by strong visitor numbers and encouraging feedback in terms of published comments and private emails. I also like to think some of my best work has been recent. Perhaps that is the root of the problem. Back in 2012 I started off with short top-of-the-head opinion blogs, doing one every day with what now seems ridiculous ease. But as you go on you tend to become more ambitious, probing the chosen topics ever more deeply. And that eats up more and more time…

So, after over 200 blogs in a little over four years (this is the 202nd) I need to change course, with almost immediate effect. A while ago, though, I said I would be tackling Ancient Greece as a theme, and I hope to do that soon as a final project before the sabbatical starts. It should be something very special as it will take the form of an interview with a leading scholar who has kindly agreed to grace Heretic TOC with his presence.

All I would add at this stage is my heartfelt thanks for your interest and often wonderful comments (of which 8,644 had been published as of yesterday), plus the suggestion that this would be a good time to think about becoming a regular subscriber to H-TOC, if you are not already signed up, so that future blogs will go straight to your email inbox. This will save the hassle of checking in from time to time to see whether anything new has appeared. That’s fine when there is always something new but could be irritating when there is a long gap between one blog and the next.

As for whether I will eventually return to blogging as regularly as I have until now, I rather doubt it. It’s not that I am running out of things to write about, quite the contrary: there are more and more, not least on account of the turbulent times we live in. On the plus side, my love of writing probably guarantees I will not be able to resist holding forth here again at least occasionally; guest blogs will still be welcome, too, and likewise lots of comments, of course. I will still be here to moderate and chip into the discussion. Also, I hope I will now be able to find time to bring out a Best of Heretic TOC book, with an e-book edition. This is one of those many projects I should be able to switch from the back burner to the front.

 

NEWS ROUNDUP

My blog last time about Milo Yiannopoulos, “Milo gives good (talking) head – usually”, coincided with one of those crazy spells when on-topic news is suddenly fizzing and exploding all over the place like a spectacular fireworks display. Lots of items would be worth a blog on their own, but – consistent with my intention to bow out for a while – I will settle for just acknowledging some of the main British ones briefly here.

  • Towards the end of last month the much heralded hearings of the massively overblown, unwieldy “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse” (IICSA) finally got under way under its fourth chairwoman, having already frittered away well over £20 million of taxpayers’ money in the two and a half years of its existence. Totally in accordance with this disastrously dysfunctional background, the first hearings focused on events thousands of miles away, decades ago, with the allegedly guilty parties all dead and so unable to defend themselves, and the institutions they represented no longer engaged in the complained of activities, so there are no continuing wrongs that must urgently be put right. The events in question have in any case already been the subject of a massive investigation on the far side of the globe. Could there possibly be any more utterly pointless exercise than expensively going through the entire process again? Some of the survivors (of what admittedly do seem to have been some horrible cases, primarily of callous child exploitation and neglect) said they wanted to see the guilty parties “named and shamed”, even though they were dead. Shamed? Someone should tell them the dead cannot so much as blush. They are quite literally shameless. The barrister Barbara Hewson wrote a good piece for Spiked on how an inquiry should be run.
  • Meanwhile, the police chief in charge of Operation Hydrant, which is supposed to be coordinating a whole string of other named police operations investigating allegations of “non-recent” child sexual abuse, has been showing signs of being just as overwhelmed as IICSA. So overwhelmed, indeed, that instead of redoubling his efforts in the face of hopeless odds, he has done a remarkably sensible thing by admitting defeat. But not on the “non-recent” aka ancient history front. No, apparently we can expect the police to keep on performing more “operations” than the NHS for the foreseeable future. Much more interestingly, the police chief in question has reiterated his remarkably liberal view that mere downloaders of child porn should not be jailed. Simon Bailey, who is the chief constable of Norfolk and lead on child protection for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said forces were operating beyond capacity because of the sheer volume of reports. This follows an NSPCC report claiming as many as 500,000 people in the UK could be involved with sharing illegal images of children online. Bailey said “we cannot arrest our way out of the situation…we must make prevention and rehabilitation a priority”. But this change of tack is surely far too humane and rational for the government to accept.
  • Not strictly news any longer, having been reported last August and somehow been neglected here, the extensive new statistics on sexual, physical or psychological abuse experienced before age 16 in England and Wales, published by the Office for National Statistics, are nonetheless important. This is because, unlike other surveys, these figures have been touted as “the first official estimates of their kind in the world”, conducted by a reputable survey body and based on a properly representative sample of adults aged 16 to 59, rather than a self-selected group, who were recalling their childhood experience. However, it has to be said that, in line with the spirit of the times, the questions asked seem designed to obscure rather than reveal the quality of the experiences in question. It appears to be assumed, for instance, that any sexual touching or penetration by an adult must have been unwanted. Table 9 is quite interesting in this regard, showing reasons why the “survivor” did not tell anyone about the sexual event. Although a number of reasons are set out their meaning is opaque, including quite a lot of responses categorised as “Some other reason”. What you will not find, but which is a definite possibility, is that many respondents did not regard the activity as “abuse” at the time. Another sign of the times is that genuine abuse – physical and psychological – is passed over very briefly in the report.

The chair is dead, long live the chair!

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The shock resignation of Justice Lowell Goddard as chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) last week, offered in a perfunctory two-line letter without explanation, followed by a statement that likewise gave little away, initially brought howls of outrage against the New Zealand-based lawyer, claiming victims would see it as a betrayal; but this was soon followed by hints that she had actually been sacked.

My guess is that she was indeed pushed, because her incompetence after 18 months in the job was becoming an unsustainable public embarrassment. She had shown herself to be confused by “local law” i.e. English law, and even fell down on the basic role of a judge during a hearing, failing to invite opposing arguments in the normal way. But there is also reason to believe she was set up to fail. So, was this an Establishment plot, as was immediately alleged by the “survivor” lobby in line with their long-standing devotion to conspiracy theory?

Not exactly. What I have in mind is a conspiracy of just one person, and if you think that is a contradiction in terms you are technically correct, although I was once the sole convicted conspirator in a case of conspiracy to corrupt public morals, so do not underestimate life’s capacity for turning up impossible things!

As for the prime and only suspect in this “plot”, or Machiavellian manoeuvring, we do not need to look far: Theresa May, now Prime Minister, was the Home Secretary responsible for installing Goddard, after the first two incumbents in the job, Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Dame Fionna Woolf had both fallen victim to the victim lobby. Both had been seen as Establishment stooges who would guarantee a cover-up of “Westminster VIP paedophilia”, then the obsession of the moment, as celebrity paedos had been immediately post-Savile.

So why would Theresa May want to set up Goddard to fail? Same reason she has given the Three Brexiteers jobs in her government. The referendum vote meant that May, a Remain supporter, has had Brexit foisted on her government. Very well then, let those who got the country into this mess be the ones given the impossible task – as she quite likely sees it – of making it work. When they fail, they will be the ones seen to have failed rather than the Prime Minister. Smart!

The Home Secretary, as she then was, also had a pretty shrewd idea the IICSA was in deep trouble too. As with the referendum result, which she could not defy because it had majority support, she could not simply drop the IICSA either: the powerful victim lobby would have been baying for her blood and would have swept her from office before you could say “lying compo seekers” or “attention-seeking fantasists”. Instead, in a move of stunning cunning, she gave the “survivors” exactly what they wanted, in the full knowledge that far from surviving, they would soon be shipwrecked again.

There is a wealth of evidence for this. Lauded for her careful attention to detail, Theresa May would most assuredly have done due diligence on Goddard. She would have known the New Zealander was not all she was cracked up to be. Superficially she seemed well qualified. You don’t get to be a QC for nothing, she had a long record of supposedly distinguished service on top public bodies, and as a judge her nickname in her home country was God, which suggests a certain level of esteem.

What May would also have known, though, is that Goddard’s high-flying reputation was “earned” not for genuine public service but the exact opposite. As Heretic TOC pointed out when she was given the IICSA gig, a survey of New Zealand judges gave her the lowest possible rating. She was ranked 63rd out of 63! Legal commentator Vince Siemer noted that many lawyers were “extremely critical” of Goddard’s “opportunistic public stances, liberties with the truth and contrarian judgments”. On his website Kiwis First, he said she was widely seen by lawyers as a political puppet – the sort of person who would do the Establishment’s bidding in order to advance her career.

But as Siemer hints, that is precisely what May might have found attractive. She would have understood that Goddard, rather than doing the right thing – which might mean opposing the survivor lobby’s injudicious “always believe the victim” dogma and their demands for an unfeasibly huge, unfocused inquiry – could be relied upon to just go with the flow, even if that inevitably meant eventual disaster. But that wouldn’t matter because by then May would probably have moved on to some other job, such as, oh, I don’t know, Prime Minister or whatever!

Goddard even had “form” with her excuses. In her departure statement, she referred to how hard it had been for her to leave her family behind, as if she had failed to realise, when offered the job, that Britain and New Zealand are on opposite sides of the planet. This was reminiscent of the over-privileged whinging she used in order to advance her earlier career, for Siemer tells us “She was appointed to the Independent Police Conduct Authority after she complained sitting on long cases in the High Court was too stressful on her back.” He continues, “Her days on the IPCA were mired in secrecy, political manoeuvring and tardy rulings.  She routinely sided with Crown immunity, suppression of information and against human rights.”

And, most pertinently, he asked:

So what did the Home Secretary mean when she assured MPs … that Goddard’s Inquiry will not be thwarted by the Official Secrets Act in an investigation which will delve into governmental department files in circumstances where there appears to be complicity by officials in the scandal?  A hint might lie in comments of the ‘fixer’ Home Secretary May has appointed.  “The inquiry will be long, challenging and complex,” forewarned Goddard J.

Experience tells us you can take Goddard J’s assessment to the bank.  Hopefully the British prefer an exhaustive and complex inquiry to an accurate and transparent outcome.

Exhaustive and complex it is certainly set up to be. The sheer immensity of the scale has necessitated the employment of 155 inquiry staff in dedicated offices around the country, dozens of lawyers have been expensively engaged, the projected cost has ballooned to £100 million, and – get this – hundreds of new allegations are arriving each month. The most recent report I have seen puts the figure even higher: the current rate of new allegations being forwarded to the inquiry team, according to the Mail on Sunday, is running at more than 100 a day.

It now looks entirely possible that the volume of allegations could outpace even this huge inquiry’s capacity to deal with them, so the endpoint, originally targeted at 2020, could keep getting further and further into the future. So instead of just one more successor, Goddard could be followed by a whole chain of them, linking from century to century like the kings and queens of England – an absurdity one might think would be terminated by the inevitable death of the victims, and hence their inability to give testimony or be cross-examined. But you never know these days: Jimmy Savile, Lord Janner and others have been pursued beyond the grave, so don’t underestimate the ingenuity of the victims’ descendents. It could all end up like Jarndyce and Jarndyce!

Actually, forget the cross-examination. In addition to the public hearings, the inquiry has set up a “Truth Project”, enabling anyone claiming to be “victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to share their experiences with the Inquiry. Their accounts will not be tested, challenged, or contradicted.” In true Orwellian style, the inquiry will thus facilitate fantasy but call it truth!

The inquiry is supposed to be investigating a range of institutions, including local authorities, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Immigration Service, the BBC, the armed forces, schools, hospitals, children’s homes, churches, mosques and other religious organisations, charities and voluntary organisations, regulators and other public and private institutions. The inquiry’s website tells us “It will also examine allegations of child sexual abuse involving well known people, including people in the media, politics, and other aspects of public life.” It will consider historic allegations going back to 1945. Whew! Even just reading the list is exhausting, never mind investigating it.

The opening session of the IISCA, which has yet to hear any actual evidence after 18 months, involved preliminaries concerning alleged abuse within the Anglican Church. Those present heard that the Archbishops’ Council alone had handed over 7,000 “items of disclosure”. According to one press report, this would be “a mere drop in the ocean of paperwork”. Ben Emmerson QC, the Counsel to the Inquiry, warned that “There are 100,000 items in the archive, which mostly comprises individual children’s files, and some 26,000 boxes of material held in locations around the country.”

This is utter madness. What on earth is supposed to be the point? It has nothing to do with justice. The inquiry is passing new allegations to the police, but that course is always open to complainants anyway. As for institutions, rather than enabling them to learn lessons from past mistakes, probing ever deeper into their history will only reveal what is abundantly known already: the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. As Luke Gittos wrote in Spiked, the IICSA seems to be just an extremely expensive form of therapy for disturbed people – disturbed for all sorts of reasons, not necessarily past sexual abuse – who want someone to talk to and make them feel important.

That might be a valuable exercise were it not for its huge cost, not only in terms of its massive commandeering of resources but also because it is even more grievously expensive in another way. The inquiry’s work, like the black farce recently seen in the disastrous police investigations of alleged VIP paedophilia, is likely to come at the expense of innocent people. It is bad enough when the reputations of deceased individuals such as former Prime Minister Edward Heath and former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, are baselessly trashed; this dangerously undermines confidence in public life as well as causing needless distress to families and friends. And it is far worse when it wrecks the lives and careers of the living, such as the unfortunate former MP Harvey Proctor, who has called for the IICSA to be dismantled, saying the inquiry was “in thrall to every fantasist alive”.

Even the mainstream media are now beginning to take the point. As David Rose, writing in the Mail on Sunday, put it:

It is a truth that if publicity is given to allegations that a famous person once committed acts of sexual abuse, many others will pile in with similar claims. Some may be genuine, but the multi-million-pound industry run by lawyers seeking damages for abuse ‘survivors’ has established a strong financial motive for those prepared to lie. And where police, politicians, and, yes, public inquiries have made clear that their bias is towards ‘believing the victims’, there is little risk of such perjury being exposed.

Your Honour, I rest my case.

 

NOT JUST YOUR AVERAGE SURVEY

The plethora of investigations into “child sexual abuse” (CSA) is matched by a torrent of surveys on the subject. Here in the UK most of them seem to be published by the NSPCC in its annual report, which I swear comes out monthly.

But the latest survey, by the respected Office for National Statistics (ONS), is far more authoritative and will be worth studying carefully. So for that reason I will make no comment on the figures at present but simply say that they are being touted as “the first official estimates of their kind in the world”. They are based on asking adults to recall sexual encounters experienced during their childhood.

The ONS survey asked about all kinds of abuse, not just sexual. That is good, and there is no problem, in theory at least, with the definition of “abuse” that is used in relation to sexual encounters. The report quite properly defines abuse in terms of harm. It quotes approvingly a definition taken from a document called Working Together to Safeguard Children, which  defines abuse as: “A form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm.” Turning specifically to sexual abuse, the survey includes “sexual assault by an adult”, which is further specified as “sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts)” and also “other sexual assault – this includes indecent exposure and unwanted touching/kissing of a sexual nature” [My emphasis].

Here is the problem: it seems no questions were asked about wanted or acceptable sexual contacts. Unless that possibility is spelled out, what is the respondent supposed to report? My guess is that most would feel they were meant to report any sexual contact with an adult, even if it was desired, based on the fact that below the age of consent their willing participation does not amount to legally valid consent. Thus I suspect that the figures would only be truly meaningful if accompanied by the respondent’s own personal rating of the contact, perhaps on a scale ranging from “Very negative” to “Very positive”.

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