DAY 241: Truth

February 24th, 2018 § 2 comments § permalink

We all of us have our problems with it, being constantly required in everyday life to tell it, the whole of it, and nothing but it, so help us God; and while reference to Pilate and jests, or the post-truth era may get us some mileage, there are situations where the existence of only two alternatives (truth and lies) seems unnecessarily
simplistic. (And I don’t want to get caught up in the sixteen alternative theories of what truth is which, according to Wikipedia, the philosophers have to offer – I’m sure that every one of them is too simplistic, and not naked enough.) Here is one of the most hilarious ones I came


The Naked Truth  (Klimt)

across recently, in which one Robert Mugabe (remember him?) and Amber Rudd – her again, I fear – find themselves on opposite sides of the truth-question. I refer to the recent SSHD v JM (Zimbabwe) [2017] EWCA Civ 1669. Mr Mugabe has had a pretty bad press for as long as I can remember; but one of his good points, I feel, was that he wouldn’t let the Brits deport people to his homeland unless they wanted to go. How many other rulers in his position have allowed the deportation to go ahead, the better to imprison or torture the deportees! Not so Mugabe; and the Home Office is naturally waiting to see if now he’s out of the way they can start deporting thousands of Zimbabweans against their will.

Which brings me to J.M., a man who has little in common with Mugabe except a belief  that you shouldn’t be deported if you don’t want to. This was unfortunate, since once the Home Office had decided it had enough of J.M. (his AIDS, his destitution, his dealing in Class A and B drugs), they tried to send him back ‘home’ asap. Annoyingly, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t accept him unless he signed a statement that he wanted to go. This he refused to do. He was interviewed by immigration officers on 1 October 2014 who recorded him as being “polite and courteous throughout” but he explained that he did not want to return to Zimbabwe. The Home Office therefore faced an unusual ethical prublem: they needed to require J.M. to say something (‘I want to return’) which was untrue.

At this point, is there any wriggle-room? Ms Anderson (counsel for the Home Office) submitted that, even on the judge’s construction of the section, he had misdirected himself in concluding that the Secretary of State was requiring JM to lie to an Embassy official. She submitted that, as the two section 35 Notices indicated, the Secretary of State was seeking consent or agreement and was not seeking to dictate that JM should use any particular wording to Zimbabwean officials. She said it was not the Secretary of State’s position that JM had to lie. Furthermore, when the Court put to Ms Anderson that it could be said that by saying: “I don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, JM was giving his consent or agreement, she was constrained to accept that the Court could well interpret what he said as sufficient. The trouble is that while J.M. would sign the truthful statement  “I
don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t admit him if that grudging admission was the best he could do. What to do? Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive! In the outcome, the court decided that ‘the Secretary of State cannot lawfully require JM to tell Zimbabwean officials that he agrees to return voluntarily because that is seeking to use the general power in subsection (1) in a manner which is inconsistent with and contradicts the specific limitation in subsection (2) (g), under which JM can only be required to answer questions in interview accurately and completely’ (Got it?) And he even got damages for unlawful detention – which we could think of as a happy end except that he never should have been detained in the first place.

What do we deduce? Fist, as you might suspect, that the Government will stop at nothing, including forcing people to lie, in the hopes of getting rid of them. Second, that they can’t always get away with it – that given a nice judge on a good day, you might end up with a decision which has something to do with morality. But I wouldn’t count on it. Morality? Speaking truth to power? Among many examples recently, I suppose the one that comes to mind most strongly is high school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez telling a packed rally how much President Trump gets from his friends in the NRA.

The opposite of truth (or one opposite) is fiction; and fiction is what the minions of the Home Office usually think we are constructing when, traumatised and tempest-tossed, we get around to telling them our life-stories. Surely Dido

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 22.36.38

was more tolerant with Aeneas – to whom she had given asylum, despite his not being an obvious victim of persecution – when she (and everyone else, we’re told) listened raptly to his story:

Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant.
Inde toro pater Aeneas sic orsus ab alto:

Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem,
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum

eruerint Danai, quaeque ipse miserrima vidi               5
et quorum pars magna fui.

and so on. Did she find him credible? The horse? Laocoon? I doubt if they’d get past even a novice in assessing asylum claims.

So I suppose we have to go on remembering that, alternative facts or not,as the Ink Spots remind us it’s a sin to tell a lie.



DAY 240: The snow

February 16th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Or have I referred to snow before, in these divagations? At least three winters have passed, I think, (2015-2017) since this journal started; and it would be surprising if at some point I hadn’t commented on its presence in a facile way, either as a news item because refugees were (as they are now) freezing to death in it in the streets of Paris while the state’s hirelings shut the doors of its shelters and rip their tents; or because I have used it as a metaphor for something (whiteness, blanketing, cold, stillness, it’s an easy game). [128 names of unaccompanied minors were listed as in danger in Paris by a group of concerned lawyers a week ago as temperatures plummeted. And of course the same is happening across Europe. Who gets to read about it?]

What does this social disintegration signify? I was reminded the other day that Jorie Graham, who I refer to perhaps too rarely, was notoriously caught in a snowstorm when bringing her daughter’s forgotten leotard, and saw a huge flockimages-2 of starlings, then tried to grasp the problem of unity in multiplicity:

Then I heard it, inside the swarm, the single cry

of the crow. One syllable – one – inside the screeching and the skittering’

inside the constant repatterning of a thing not nervous yet not ever still – but not uncertain – without obedience –

yet not without law – one syllable – black shiny, twining on its single stem,

rooting, one foot on the earth,

twisting and twisting –
I could go on, and as you will remember, Jorie does, in ways which I couldn’t begin to quote or analyse thank God. (Indeed, flicking through her writings she seems to draw on snow quite a lot, which leads me to think that she ‘s a denizen of the northern United States.) What I hadn’t realised, being pretty ignorant about poetry among other things (e.g. the classification of click-consonants or the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus or how to fix a leaky tap) is that Ms Graham in an earlier poem had touched on some of my own obsessions (not snow) viz. tear gas and the CRS. Yes! Writing about Paris in 1968 – you’ll remember – in a reminiscent mode in ‘The Hiding Place’ from ‘Region of Unlikeness’ – how much of it can I get in?

Marches, sit-ins, helicopters, gas

They stopped you at gunpoint asking for papers.,,,

and torn sheets (for tear gas) thrown down from shuttered windows

and bread; and blankets, stolen from the firehouse.

The CRS (the government police) would swarm in around dawn

in small blue vans and round us up.

Read it all! Particularly the man who started beating the girl in her eighth month.

In my own small way I’ve been having a similar problem with how you unify experience- haven’t we all? The weather (oh don’t let’s go back to that), refugees, buses, gigs in Islington, ballet, what’s on Netflix, getting phone credit for people in tents -yes I could write a good few lines on that. How can we be convinced that these multiple experiences are unified simply by the fact that one person is having them? I should go back to Husserl who probably thought either that they were or that they weren’t; but I lost my copy of Ideas I ten years ago, and I didn’t understand it too clearly even then. This person worries quite a lot about all his experiences and their seemingly amazing diversity. Is there any meaning to being part of so many different frames of reference? I could for example give you the benefit of my recent information about the long-running battle of our old friend the SSHD with a seemingly endless sequence of Sri Lankans, who are arrested, beaten up, and so have a not unreasonable fear of persecution, but can’t (of course) get asylum in the U.K. because they can’t produce the documentary evidence that they had the experience which led to the fear, indeed that they were even in court; notoriously, the British legal system currently operates on the assumption that all refugees’ stories are made up, and in particular that documents from Sri Lanka are probably forgeries and acquired for a few rupees in a not-unreasonable-fear document shop. (See for example P.J. (Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWCA Civ 1011.) But why should I do that – it would probably needlessly distress you when there are so many other problems in the world? Did their persecution actually happen?

To change the subject if only slightly, Stand For Humanity, an outfit run by


Yasmin Autwal, a friend of mine, has produced an 18-minute talk on themes which run on roughly parallel lines to some of my own usual ones – Calais, not being apathetic, connecting with your fellow humans and that; about halfway through the talk an impressively wise old 78-year-old geezer tells her that yes indeed things are now worse than they have ever been. (And, like Jorie Graham, he was around in 1968.) But how does he know – say about the time of the barbarian invasions, or the conquistadors? Was it snowing then – not to mention on the retreat from Moscow, on which I’ve quoted Victor Hugo’s snow-filled lines a couple of years back)

And, whatever the 78-year-old may say, there’s always (as Edgar says in King Lear), worse to come:

The worst is not

So long as we can say, This is the worst.

It’s easy, as Billie Holiday reminds us, to blame the weather when what is really responsible for the whole débâcle is neoliberalism; and that isn’t going to go away unless we give it a pretty good push.







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