Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Rich Man's Justice

The outcome of the Oscar Pistorius trial is a good example of rich man's justice, if you ask me.

Because this is a man who pled not guilty to all of the charges he faced, accepted no wrongdoing for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp which he described as a 'mistake' and lied through his teeth about firing a gun in a crowded restaurant.

Now Oscar was found guilty of the latter charge, but he will serve no punishment for this crime or for lying to the court, as the sentence of three years in prison was suspended four five years and will run concurrently with his five year sentence for culpable homicide.

So, in effect, he escapes the restaurant incident Scot-free and no sooner has the culpable homicide sentence been announced that his defence lawyers start to argue that he will spend only one sixth of his sentence (10 months) behind bars, with the rest being served under house arrest.  

Judge Masipa again seemed to revel in her celebrity status as she read an hour long statement before announcing the decision, but I think she made the wrong call by not finding the Blade Runner guilty of murder rather than culpable homicide.

So I hope the prosecuting authorities appeal the verdict.

Because it seems incredible to me that some can fire no less than four shots from a high powered hand gun and not be held responsible for deliberately killing another human being who was cowering behind a locked bathroom door.

And that's just on the Oscar Pistorius version of events, without even considering the credibility of a story which claimed that in the middle of the night Reeva Steenkamp got up out of bed, got dressed into her day clothes, made her way to the bathroom with her mobile phone in hand (and without Oscar noticing even though he was only feet away), deliberately locked herself in the bathroom and then failed to respond to any of Oscar's alleged calls (again from only feet away) before Oscar fired four 'zombie stopper' bullets at the 'target' behind the locked bathroom door; Oscar's defence being that he thought the target was a burglar which turned out to be a load of old bollix, of course.

The Wrong Call

If you ask me people have been far to kind about the judge presiding over the Oscar Pistorius trial, Thokozile Masipa.

Because her reasoning for deciding that Pistorius was 'not guilty' of second degree murder seems badly flawed to me, relying as it does on a 'subjective test' about what Pistorius said he believed to be true at the time of the shooting, i.e. that he believed he was firing his gun at and intruder and had no idea that the person cowering the toilet was his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Take another example, say someone banged on the former athlete's front door at 3 am in the morning. Would be entitled to go downstairs and fire four shots through the door because, he said, he felt vulnerable and was 'scared to death'.

Of course not, because he had other options and the only valid reason for firing four rounds from his powerful handgun would have been that he faced a real and obvious threat, which was clearly not the case when it came to the killing Reeva Steenkamp. 

So the legal test cannot only be a subjective one of what Oscar Pistorius says he believed at the time, but must surely take in account how believable or reasonable his explanation was - after is taking all the circumstances into account.

Especially as the victim is not around to explain, for example, why she did not respond to Oscar's shouting at the alleged intruder from only eight feet or so away. It simply doesn't make sense.

Say there was an intruder behind the door, a black, unarmed 14-year-old boy, would Pistorius still have been justified in firing his weapon? I don't think so since there was no real and obvious threat.       

What if the intruder was 30-years-old and armed with an assault rifle? Probably but he would only have been proved right after the event whereas in relation to Reeva Steenkamp he made absolutely the wrong call.

And, into the bargain, Oscar's story is riddled with riddles and lies such as his flat denial that he fired the same or a similar handgun in a crowded restaurant, a charge of which he was found guilty in the same trial.

So Judge Masipa doesn't really deserve all this fawning 'My Lady' guff and instead her terrible deserves to be criticised and called into question. 

Twisted Logic (12 September 2014)

The judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial, Thokozile Masipa, may still send the 'Blade Runner to jail for culpable homicide, but if you ask me she has made the wrong call by not finding Pistorius guilty of murder.

The judge decided first of all that Pistorius was not guilty of premeditated murder which was no big surprise because there is no evidence that he planned, with malice aforethought, to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, with a high powered handgun.

But on the lesser charge of 2nd degree murder, Masipa also concluded the former athlete had no case to answer because relevant test under the law was a subjective one - What did the accused believe at the time? - and she went on to explain her reasoning in more detail:

"Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door - let alone the deceased - as he thought she was in the bedroom."   

Now I don't see how it's possible for anyone to believe that firing four 'dum dum' bullets at someone on the other side of a wooden door is not highly likely to lead to their death.

Because if the aim of the shooter was to frighten an alleged intruder into 'coming out with their hands up', then why not issue a warning and fire a warning shot into the ceiling since the discharge of a weapon is supposed to be a last resort - in the face of a real and present threat.

By judge Masipa's twisted logic the Russian separatists who shot down Flight MH17 could also get away with murder by arguing they had no idea that the deadly missile they fired could actually bring down a plane, let alone a civilian airliner with the loss of 298 innocent lives. 

Some Mistake (31 July 2014)

What's the connection between Oscar Pistorius and the 298 people killed by the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17?

Well, it seems pretty clear that the pro-Russian separatists who shot the passenger plane out of the sky were not actually intending to kill 298 perfectly innocent civilians.

No, they thought they were killing fellow Ukrainians and that this act was justified because they regard  themselves in a 'state of war' over their future or otherwise within Ukraine.

But if these people were ver brought before a court of law, would their defence stand up to legal scrutiny?

I think not, because it is essentially the exact same defence as Oscar Pistorius - I/we 'made a mistake'.   

Which is some mistake if you ask me, because people who keep high powered weapons at home or even self-appointed Russian separatists both have a duty of care to other people - they are not at liberty to go around killing people and then blame their stupidity and failure to take sufficient care on a simple 'mistake'.  

Oscar Pistorius realised there was a human being behind the bathroom door into which he shot four 'zombie stopper' bullets and he must have known that by pulling the trigger he was going to kill that person.  

The key question is: "Did Oscar Pistorius have a good reason to discharge his weapon, was he in danger or was his life and safety at risk?"

In my view, the answer to that question is definitely No and therefore Oscar Pistorius is guilty of murder because he intended to kill the person behind the door, so even if he thought that was someone other than his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, it makes no difference.

Because he should not have discharged his weapon in the first place, just as the pro-Russian separatists should not have shot a passenger plane out of the sky - so their respective defence of making a terrible 'mistake' should not stand up in a court of law. 

Hot Line to God

I always thought that bishops and cardinals were 'good' Catholics, but I'm beginning to have my doubts as news reports from the Vatican confirm that Pope Francis has been rebuffed in opening the church up to gays and divorcees.

But what I don't get is that if all the senior figures in the Catholic Church believe that Pope Francis is speaking directly with God, then how can they tell the Holy See that he's barking up the wrong tree as he trees to drag the conservative wing of his church into the 21st century?   

Catholic family synod blocks Pope’s welcome to gays and divorcees

Pope Francis has said of gay people: "Who am I to judge?" Tony Gentile/ Reuters

By Tom Kington in Rome, Emily Hall - The Times

Pope Francis faces months of struggle to fulfil his dream of a more open Roman Catholic Church after senior bishops and cardinals blocked his proposals to be more inclusive towards gays and divorced people.

Prelates voted down the pontiff’s bid for a more inclusive church at a stormy warm-up synod in Rome, where insiders reported an atmosphere of rebellion with booing and angry speeches.

The Pope will now decide whether to pick a new fight with the conservative wing of his church before a key synod to discuss the family in a year’s time.

Tempers flared after a document was produced last week summarising speeches midway through the synod. One section, entitled: “Welcoming homosexual persons”, stated that gays had “gifts and qualities” and should be offered a “fraternal space” in the church.

While offering no change on the church’s doctrinal opposition to gay marriages or gay sex, the tone of the document mirrored Pope Francis’s statement, “Who am I to judge?” when he was asked about gays last year.

Conservative bishops rebelled against the document, however, claiming it as the work of a small cadre of liberal, pro-Francis prelates which did not represent them, and they pressed for changes.

When a final synod document was put to the vote on Saturday, the “welcome” of the title of the section on gays was gone, as was reference to their “gifts and qualities” and “fraternal space”.

Rather than addressing homosexuals directly, the new paragraph preferred to discuss “Families who live out the experience of having people in their midst with homosexual orientation.”

But even that change was not enough for hardline bishops, who denied the section the required two thirds majority it needed during the vote on Saturday.

Additionally, two other sections inviting bishops to study ideas to end a ban on communion for divorcees who remarry were also struck out, despite backing from Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of Pope Francis’ favourite theologians.

In a sign that he refuses to let the debate on gays and remarried divorcees end, however, the Pope ordered the passages to be included in the published synod document anyway, with Vatican spokesmen justifying the move on the grounds that it remains a working paper until the final document to published after next year’s conclusive synod.

Speaking today at a ceremony for the beatification of Pope Paul VI, who was elected in 1963, Francis quoted Paul as saying that the church and synods needed to adapt to the “growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society”.

In his speech to bishops at the end of the synod on Saturday, Francis said that debate inside the church was healthy and warned against both the “hostile rigidity” of traditionalists and the excesses of the “progressive and liberal” wing in the Vatican.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, who attended the synod, agreed that the debate had been positive.

“Why should I be worried when people express openly, clearly and courteously, with great care, what they think?” he told Radio 4 today. “That’s how we live together. That’s how the church works. That’s why these last two weeks have actually been a very good experience.”

Cardinal Nichols said he could not remember which way he voted on the watered-down section concerning homosexuals, but added that he had disapproved of it because it was not welcoming enough.

“There were three key words as far as I was concerned and the three key words were welcome, respect and value ... and I was looking for those words and they weren’t there, so I didn’t think that was a good paragraph,” he said.

Behind praise for the liveliness of the debate, observers expressed concerns that if the Catholic Church cannot reach a consensus on homosexuality and communion for remarried divorcees before next year’s synod, Pope Francis will make his own decisions, risking a huge rift within the church.

One analyst said it was already “embarrassing” that he had to work side by side with the arch-conservative Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who oversees Vatican doctrine as the prefect of the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“Francis won’t substitute Müller while former Pope Benedict is still alive, since Benedict appointed him,” said Marco Ansaldo, a Vatican expert at the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Benedict, who resigned in February 2014 before retreating to a life of prayer inside the Vatican, made a rare public appearance on Sunday for the beatification of Paul VI.

La Repubblica reported today that conservative bishops at the synod had secretly tried to enrol the retired, conservative pope to join an anti-Francis alliance, only for Benedict to refuse the offer.

Hotline To God (23 February 2013)

When I was taught religious education at a Catholic school - many years ago now - I was told that the His Holiness the Pope spoke directly to God.

Now all the other Cardinals, Monsignors and Priests - and whatnot - were and are also very holy and all 'good men' - except the ones who abused young boys and others in their care - or played a part in later in covering-up these terrible incidents, of course.

But now that we're going to have two Popes - one retired (Emeritus Pope) and one about to be 'selected' by the conclave of Cardinals - I have a question.

Will there in future be one Papal hotline to God or two - to take account of the new and different circumstances in 2013?

I favour two because the Catholic Church is in such a mess these days - that I think you could fairly say that two heads would be better than one.

Although on the other hand if every Cardinal was able to 'phone a friend' in times of need - it might have kept some of them out of trouble - by avoiding bad decisions and inappropriate behaviour . 

Now if I remember my religious education properly, Catholic children were always taught that the Pope was infallible - because his Papal actions and decisions were only taken after much prayer and consulting carefully with God.

But I have to say that I can't really buy that idea - because over the centuries Catholic Popes have done so many awful things - in which case they must have acted with God's blessing the faithful are asked to believe. 

For example, by unleashing the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades to the 'Holy Land' or - more recently - by propping up General Franco's fascist regime in Spain between 1936 and 1975 - and by entering into treaties with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the start of the Second World War.

So I - for one - don't believe the Pope is infallible - any more than I believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.

And I imagine the world would be a better place if more people thought that way - including many Catholics.

Shut It, You Slag!

The Telegraph's sketch writer made me laugh with his spoof script about Ed Miliband getting down and dirty with 'ordinary' Londoners in Albert Square.

Now I never watch the programme either, but I do like the Ed Miliband writing style which is punchy, peppered with 'important' points and punctuated with dollops of cod philosophy.

Phil Mitchell played by Adrian Mole written by Ed Miliband - a sure fire hit if you ask me. 

Ed Miliband’s at ’ome in EastEnders’ Albert Square 

The Labour leader showed he's got street cred when he talked to EastEnders' actor Danny Dyer. So the producers offered him a script...

The new geezer on the Miliband team: Mick (Danny Dyer, centre) Photo: BBC

By Michael Deacon - The Telegraph

Ed Miliband has revealed that he’s a big fan of EastEnders. Not that he ever watches it, obviously: “I don’t have time,” he confessed to its star, Danny Dyer, when the two men met at a party this week. But he has, he added, “been doing a lot of research about it online”. He proved this to Mr Dyer by informing him that the character of Martin Fowler has been played by three different actors, while the character of Ben Mitchell has been played by five.

EastEnders producers were impressed – so much so that I can exclusively report they’ve commissioned the Labour leader to guest-write an episode. Insiders say Mr Miliband has effortlessly captured the flavour of the soap’s dialogue.

An extract from his script is published below.


LINDA CARTER is behind the bar. Enter PHIL MITCHELL.

LINDA: All right, Phil, what can I get you?

PHIL: Now, look. What I would say to you is this. There isn’t a simple answer to that issue. But I do want to make this point, because it’s an incredibly important point for the everyday working people of Albert Square. And the point is this. I would like a pint of lager, please.

LINDA: You all right, Phil?

PHIL: Let’s be very clear about this, Linda, because I know the everyday working people of Albert Square will want an answer to that question. The reality is this. I caught some geezer in bed with the missus.

LINDA: You what? Some geezer in bed with Sharon? What did you do to ’im?

PHIL: Linda, I want to be honest with you, because when I talk to ordinary families up and down Walford I get a very deep sense that they’ve had enough of this Tory-led Government’s lies about geezers in bed with the missus. So what I said to the geezer was this. I said: “Now, look, geezer. Let’s be very clear about this. I’ve got to say to you: 'Sling your hook.’ And I make no apology for that. Because I think that’s the right thing to do.”

LINDA: What did Sharon say?

PHIL: Linda, if what you’re asking me is, “What did Sharon say?”, then I can answer that very directly. She said to me, “Phil!” But I’m afraid I had to stop her there, because I wanted to make an incredibly important point.

LINDA: What?

PHIL: Linda, the point I made to her was this. It was: “Look, Sharon. I’ll come to the detail of this in a minute. But first of all I want to respectfully ask you to shut it, you slag.” And I think she understood the point I was making, because in Albert Square today there is a huge issue around slags needing to shut it. Under this Tory-led Government, the number of slags needing to shut it has risen by over 63 per cent. And I think David Cameron has to start listening to what ordinary families are telling us. Because what ordinary families are telling us is that they want you to shut it, you slag.


MICK: ’Ere! Phil! Did you just call me a slag and tell me to shut it?

PHIL: Look, Mick, the way I see it is this. I don’t think we should shy away from saying that you are a slag and telling you to shut it. But what I would also say to you is this. Leave it, you tart.

MICK: Right. Outside. Now.

PHIL: Mick, I think the very real challenge for this country over the course of the next five minutes is to punch your lights out. And that challenge is profoundly oriented towards need. You slag.


Union Membership

I double checked the figures I used recently calculate the level of union membership in Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board (GGCHB) and, as I suspected at the time, it turns out I was being more than a little generous.

Because according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK's population at the end of March 2014 stood at 64.1 million while the latest figures for Scotland from the NRS (National Records for Scotland) show a total of 5.328 million.

So this means that Scotland's share of the UK population is 8.31% rather than 10% which I assumed for the purpose of calculating the Scottish RCN membership from a total of 410,000 members across the whole of the UK. 

Which means than instead of 41,000 RCN members in Scotland the true figure is likely to be  around 8.31% of 410,000 or 34,071 instead of 41,000, as per my original calculation.

In turn, 23% of 34,071 equals 7,836 as an adjusted figure for RCN members in GGCHB and adding this to the number of union members who pay their fees by check-off (13,770) gives an overall total of 21,606 union members in GGHB.

Following the same pattern as before 39,300 employees divided by 21,606 union members = 55% of the core workforce (39,300) or 41% of the total GGCHB workforce (52,482) which includes bank staff.

Now that really is a big surprise because it confirms that trade union membership in GGCHB stands a lot less than 50% of the total workforce.

Union Membership (16 October 2014)

I had a look at the RCN's (Royal College of Nursing) web site the other day for some information about the union's membership figures and here's what the RCN had to say.

RCN membership

Get a huge range of benefits when you join the RCN, including protection and support in the workplace, professional development and the opportunity to shape future health care.

Join the RCN today and become part of the UK's largest nursing union.

What we do

The RCN is the UK's largest union and professional body for nursing. We currently have over 410,000 members who are nurses, midwives, health care support workers and students from across a range of sectors and nursing disciplines.

We represent nurses and nursing and we lobby government and other professional bodies to make sure our views are heard where it counts. Your experiences will help to shape the development of future nursing policy both in the UK and internationally.

So, if the RCN has 410,000 members at UK level, I think it's fair to put their numbers in Scotland at around 41,000 which I'm sure is on the generous side.

Now the GGCHB (Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board) says that its provides health care services to over 1.2 million Scots or around 23% of Scotland's 5.32 million population as recorded by the National Records of Scotland in 2013.

23% of 41,000 = 9,430 and in my view represents a generous estimate of the RCN's membership in GGCHB and adding this figure to the number of union members who pay their fees by check-off (13770) gives a grand total of 23,200 union members in GGCHB.

In turn 39,300 employees divided by 23,200 union members = 59% of the core workforce (39,300) or 44% of the total GGCHB workforce (52,482) which includes bank staff.

Now that's a real surprise because it suggests that trade union membership in GGCHB stands at only 50% or so of the total workforce. 

Surprising Result (6 October 2014)

I sent an FoI request a little while back to Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board (GGCHB) about the number of trade union members who pay their membership fees by 'check-off' or Deduction at Source.

Now the reply that came back was very interesting, but before going on to look at some of these issues in more detail here are the original FoI enquiries and subsequent answers from GGCHB.   

1. Please confirm the total number of employees employed by GGCHB? 

NHSGGC employs 39,300 core staff. However we also employ ‘bank’ staff in nursing, admin and other staff groups. These staff may work on an ad hoc basis, or as and when required. Some bank staff may choose not to work for periods of time yet will still be registered on the staff bank. The total number of staff on the payroll including all bank staff is therefore 52,482. 

2. Please confirm the total number of employees who pay union contributions through the 'check-off' system which is also known as 'Deduction at Source' (DAS)? 


3. Please confirm the total number of employees who use DAS to pay their union contributions to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN)? 


4. Please confirm the total number of employees who use DAS to pay their union contributions to Unison?


The first thing that struck me is that the level or 'density' of union membership looks to be much less than I expected because Unison, which always claims to be the largest union in the NHS, has only 11,335 members out of a total workforce of 39,300 or 52,482 if you count all bank staff.

So to put this in percentage terms Unison represents 29% of core staff in GGCHB or 22% of all staff including bank staff.

Now it could be that some of the bank staff pay just one union contribution as a member of core staff, but even so it probably means that Unison represents only around 25% or so of the GGCHB workforce.

The RCN have traditionally operated a direct debit system of collecting membership fees which explains why this 'nurses only' union (Royal College of Nursing) doesn't seem to use the check-off facilities in GGCHB.

But even if the RCN had the same number of members as Unison (which is a big 'if', if you ask me), then this would still leave an awful lot of NHS workers not being a member of any trade union at all.

Because the majority of NHS workers pay their union fees via DAS or checkoff and those 13,770 employees represent 35% of the core workforce or 26% of the total workforce including bank staff.   

All of which suggest that the levels of union membership (across all the trade unions) must struggle to get much beyond 50% which comes as a real surprise to me, I have to say.

So I must go back to GGCHB with some follow up questions.