Day 74 Pardon?

January 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments

I expect you’re waiting to be wished a happy new year. Well, a) I have my work cut out looking out for the Chinese, Kurdish, Iranian etc. new years (see last posting); and b) many years ago Ogden Nash made an observation on the dishonesty of the new year racket, which I reproduce (part of) here:

Put back those whiskers, I know you

Well, I know what the matter is, it stands out as clear as a

chord in a symphony of Sibelius’s,

The matter is that our recent New Years haven’t been New Years

at all, they have just been the same Old Year, probably

1914 or something, under a lot of different aliases.

In my eagerness to encounter a New Year I stand ahead of most,

But only if it’s a true New Year, not if it’s merely the same Old Year

with its beard shaved off and wearing a diaper labeled New Year

just to get on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post,

Because there are few spectacles less convincing or more untidy

Than 1914 or something in a didy.


To continue with the last posting – which left the central legal issues about pardons in suspense, as many of you will realize. What is your position if you have been ‘pardoned’ but don’t accept – as many gay men might not- that you’ve done wrong?

Indeed. Fortunately, this question has been well covered, and by now most of you will be recalling Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79 (1915); where Burdick refused a pardon because it ‘implied an admission of guilt’, and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. There seems to be no similar British case law (see comments on the relevant webpage two years ago).

[Here, before proceeding further, I should wander off to record that while in the library at Senate House - I knew it must be some use - I discovered a book with the title: 'Texting in early fifteenth-century sacred polyphony'.

josquinEarly text from Josquin

This takes the history of texting a whole lot further back than any of us had thought, indeed we can hope for the discovery of texts from Josquin Desprez to Dufay to the effect that 'Omg my motet huge smash at notre dam tops xmas list goin 2 get smashed with Villon in quartier latin lol']

In Burdick, of course, (to return to that) the Supreme Court decided that the acceptance of a pardon implied an admission of guilt – this is why Burdick didn’t accept it, as you remember. It’s a constant point in U.S. law; as Otto Kerner (convicted of bribery) told William Rentschler in 1975, “I would neither seek nor accept a Presidential pardon, which requires an admission of guilt. I would not perjure myself to obtain a pardon. I am innocent.” Mr. Kerner died some months later proclaiming his innocence.

The Turing issue is a completely different one (perhaps related to the current one of making amends). What do we (who’s ‘we’ here?) do about those who have been – rightly, if that’s the word – convicted under laws which are subsequently determined to be unjust? If your ancestor was hanged for sheep-stealing, or burned as a witch, you don’t want a pardon; and you probably can hardly expect a financial settlement. What one would hope for is a grovelling apology from the Government for the misdeeds of its predecessors. A particularly flagrant example is the Queen’s ancestor Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed

37maryexecutedMary executed, in a wig

under a stitch-up by her cousin Elizabeth. Can’t the Queen pardon her? I’m glad to say that I’ve found exactly the answer, since Frank J Dougan raised the question in 2010 and got, as you might expect, the brush-off in a mealy-mouthed and patronising letter from the Ministry of Justice (not from the Queen), which concludes: ‘I have to say that, bearing all these factors in mind, the conclusion has been reached that it would not be appropriate for the Justice Secretary to consider a posthumous Free Pardon in this particular case.I am sorry to have to send what I know will be a disappointing reply.’ So there you are.

Which, naturally, brings us back to Agamben (what were you waiting for?) Whose jaundiced view of the law leaves pardon for the ‘Sovereign’ – back to the Queen, bless her  - and no one else:

‘If the essence of law – of every law – is the trial, if the whole juridical order (and the moral contaminated by it) is only prosecutive law (and prosecutive moral), then execution and transgression, innocence and guilt, obedience and disobedience blur, become indistinct and lose all importance’. (The Remains of Auschwitz)

There’s a lot in that ‘if’, since Agamben seems not to have noticed the existence of (e.g.) copyright law, divorce and conveyancing. The law contains nothing but the trial, and we’re left with the bleak world of the Sovereign, homo sacer, and the Exception. One day I’ll post a 10,000 word riposte to this view, but no hurry. Perhaps – I suggest with all due hesitation – only revolutionary justice can overturn a contaminated order, and justly render null and void all previous condemnations; including those of my Quaker ancestors, so often jailed or exiled to the colonies for pacifism or keeping their hats on in church.

You write:

C.H. I’m a merchant banker lately fallen on hard times. My wife has run off with the au pair, taking my collection of Giacomettis but leaving me with the children, I’d rather it was the other way round. Please advise.

Wendy Brown writes: It’s about time you neoliberals got your comeuppance. Send the kids to boarding school, sell all you have, and give to the poor.

vittiM.V. My best friend disappeared on holiday on an island a couple of months ago. Now her boyfriend has started making advances, and I keep hearing strange suggestive music.

Slavoj Zizek writes: Stop watching old sixties films, they’ll rot your brain. Try Cronenberg; you’ll most likely be dead by the end.

O.ibn L. How do I stop semolina pudding from burning?

Yotam Ottolenghi writes: Don’t read your emails while it’s cooking.

Poets’ Corner

I’ve been put off from posting John Davidson’s ‘Thirty Bob a Week’ by its extreme length. This is of course nonsense in the context of the internet, you’ll read what you want and skip the rest, and it won’t take up any space. I’ve already posted a canto of the Divine Comedy, and I could probably post the whole thing without bothering the hard disk. (I don’t know how the copyright laws would take it, though.) Anyway, here it is, and well worth it.

I couldn’t touch a stop and turn a screw,
And set the blooming world a-work for me,
Like such as cut their teeth — I hope, like you –
On the handle of a skeleton gold key;
I cut mine on a leek, which I eat it every week:
I’m a clerk at thirty bob as you can see.

But I don’t allow it’s luck and all a toss;
There’s no such thing as being starred and crossed;
It’s just the power of some to be a boss,
And the bally power of others to be bossed:
I face the music, sir; you bet I ain’t a cur;
Strike me lucky if I don’t believe I’m lost!

For like a mole I journey in the dark,
A-travelling along the underground
From my Pillar’d Halls and broad Suburbean Park,
To come the daily dull official round;
And home again at night with my pipe all alight,
A-scheming how to count ten bob a pound.

And it’s often very cold and very wet,
And my missus stitches towels for a hunks;
And the Pillar’d Halls is half of it to let–
Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.

But you never hear her do a growl or whine,
For she’s made of flint and roses, very odd;
And I’ve got to cut my meaning rather fine,
Or I’d blubber, for I’m made of greens and sod:
So p’r'haps we are in Hell for all that I can tell,
And lost and damn’d and served up hot to God.

I ain’t blaspheming, Mr. Silver-tongue;
I’m saying things a bit beyond your art:
Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung,
Thirty bob a week’s the rummiest start!
With your science and your books and your the’ries about spooks,
Did you ever hear of looking in your heart?

I didn’t mean your pocket, Mr., no:
I mean that having children and a wife,
With thirty bob on which to come and go,
Isn’t dancing to the tabor and the fife:
When it doesn’t make you drink, by Heaven! it makes you think,
And notice curious items about life.

I step into my heart and there I meet
A god-almighty devil singing small,
Who would like to shout and whistle in the street,
And squelch the passers flat against the wall;
If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take,
He would take it, ask for more, and eat them all.

And I meet a sort of simpleton beside,
The kind that life is always giving beans;
With thirty bob a week to keep a bride
He fell in love and married in his teens:
At thirty bob he stuck; but he knows it isn’t luck:
He knows the seas are deeper than tureens.

And the god-almighty devil and the fool
That meet me in the High Street on the strike,
When I walk about my heart a-gathering wool,
Are my good and evil angels if you like.
And both of them together in every kind of weather
Ride me like a double-seated bike.

That’s rough a bit and needs its meaning curled.
But I have a high old hot un in my mind –
A most engrugious notion of the world,
That leaves your lightning ‘rithmetic behind:
I give it at a glance when I say ‘There ain’t no chance,
Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind.’

And it’s this way that I make it out to be:
No fathers, mothers, countres, climates — none;
Not Adam was responsible for me,
Nor society, nor systems, nary one:
A little sleeping seed, I woke — I did, indeed –
A million years before the blooming sun.

I woke because I thought the time had come;
Beyond my will there was no other cause;
And everywhere I found myself at home,
Because I chose to be the thing I was;
And in whatever shape of mollusc or of ape
I always went according to the laws.

I was the love that chose my mother out;
I joined two lives and from the union burst;
My weakness and my strength without a doubt
Are mine alone for ever from the first:
It’s just the very same with a difference in the name
As ‘Thy will be done.’ You say it if you durst!

They say it daily up and down the land
As easy as you take a drink, it’s true;
But the difficultest go to understand,
And the difficultest job a man can do,
Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
And feel that that’s the proper thing for you.

It’s a naked child against a hungry wolf;
It’s playing bowls upon a splitting wreck;
It’s walking on a string across a gulf
With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck;
But the thing is daily done by many and many a one;
And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.

In any case, thinking of the new year as the other side of the old year (so to speak), here are Jim Morrison’s reflections:


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