Haryana, North India, Opinion

“The young officers are wanted…”

Dr. Kamlesh


“The young officers are wanted…” This comment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Central Hall of Parliament in the programme ‘Vikas ke Liye Hum’ has brought attention to the age-old controversy of experience represented by seniority and enthusiasm and zeal represented by youth.

Mr.Modi stressed that officers in their late twenties should be appointed as District Magistrates or Deputy Commissioners who are fresh and have strength and stamina to do something big in their life. Same sentiments were echoed when he was speaking at the inaugural session of  a national representatives’ seminar.

Aged officers are proving obstruction in the development task. Officers who are in their mid forties and early fifties have different priorities. They have tensions relating to family, education of their children and they want to have postings in the cities or metros. But now efficiency, productivity and development are being associated with youthfulness.

Mr.Narendra Modi immediately after occupying the Prime Minister’s seat, virtually sidelined all the senior leaders like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi by making them part of the newly-created and virtually powerless Marg Darshak Mandal of the BJP  so that he could have “unfettered power” at the top.

In the western countries, particularly in America, youth is given more importance than experience, i.e. seniority because they are believed to be “action-oriented”.

In Asian countries, particularly in India, growing old and growing up are two different things. Biological clock is ticking up, no one can prevent growing old, but growing up is a psychological process, you can always grow up at any stage of life and became wiser and more mature with the age.

The debate of seniority / experience vs. merit / zeal has come to centre stage.

According to a recent report in Haryana, in five districts, DCs are above 50 years of age, in 13 districts DCs have an average age of fewer than 40 years and in one district i.e. Karnal, the constituency of Chief Minister, the DC, ADC and Superintendent of Police are 30 years of age.

It is a matter of study and exploration what was the age of senior officers like DC and so on during the Jat agitation (Rohtak district), Rampal violence (Hisar district) and Baba Ram Rahim violence (Panchkula district). Even a young state like Haryana is under the leadership of grown up CM as he is also above 60 years of age.

Age is just a number. Zeal and enthusiasm are not the prerogatives of the young.Efficiency and capacity to take decision and working with zeal are not restrained by age. Age and experience carry more weight in terms of status and respect because our society is thought oriented. Vision is given more importance over speed and action. But now the trend is changing, respect, status of grown up people and value of their experience is coming down not only in their home, but also at work places.

Innovation and new ideas are generally associated with youth. Technological changes are taking place at a very fast pace and when age is catching up, one finds it difficult to cope up. But technology is only a means.Its contribution to increasing the speed and the efficiency is enormous and obvious, but it cannot be substitute for experience and wisdom. To react at a particular place at very high speed is different from deciding where one wants to go. Right decision making is critical in every affair of life and this skill sharpens with experience and learning at the workplace. Youth has zeal and enthusiasm but wisdom and patience comes with age.

If grown up officers are posing threat to development and obstructing the smooth running of administration, then the finger should be pointed out at political leaders first, because they have no expiry date and no retiring age. The elixir of power makes them young, keeps them ever young. Modi himself and his right hand Amit Shah both are grown up and they are not in their prime of youth. Enthusiasm and commitment to do something extra ordinary is not necessarily the sign of young people. It is not matter of age, it depends more on attitude and mental makeup.


The writer, a noted economist, is a regular contributor to North India Kaleidoscope and is responsible for the views expressed in this article.

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US NEWS, World

Miami bridge collapse: engineer’s answerphone message about crack not heard


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Miami bridge collapse: engineer’s answerphone message about crack not heard” was written by Richard Luscombe in Miami, for theguardian.com on Saturday 17th March 2018 16.25 Asia/Kolkata

Homicide detectives opened an investigation on Friday into the collapse of a new footbridge that killed at least six people at Miami’s Florida International University (FIU), as questions began to swirl about the companies behind the structure’s controversial design and construction.

Juan Perez, the director of Miami-Dade police department, said criminal charges were possible once exhaustive inquiries by his detectives and state and federal authorities were complete.

Hours later, the Florida department of transportation (FDOT) revealed that the lead engineer working for one of the companies involved in the bridge construction reported a crack in the structure two days before its collapse. The engineer, W Denney Pate, left a voicemail on the landline of a department employee.

“Calling to, uh, share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend,” a transcript of the recording reads.

“Um, so, uh, we’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.”

The unnamed FDOT employee whose landline the message was left on was said to be out of the office on assignment for three days, and did not hear the message until after the bridge’s collapse.

Meanwhile, teams of rescue workers and engineers with heavy lifting equipment began the slow and dangerous task of lifting the unstable remains of the 950-ton concrete structure from vehicles that were crushed when the bridge came down early on Thursday afternoon.

One of the victims was student Alexa Duran, 18, who was driving her car under the bridge when it fell. “My little girl was trapped in the car and couldn’t get out,” her father, Orlando Duran, told local press. He was on a trip to London when he got the news and said he was dreading the return.

“This is going to be the longest and saddest trip of my life,” he said.

Doctors at the Kendall regional medical centre continued to treat 10 trauma patients, two of them in critical condition.

Perez said federal investigators would look into every element of the tragedy. They will examine the innovative “accelerated assembly” technique used by Miami-based Munilla Construction Management (MCM) to piece together the $14.2m single-span bridge on a remote sitebefore it was lifted into place last Saturday.

On Thursday, emergency services had been racing to find survivors in the rubble using hi-tech listening devices, sniffer dogs and search cameras. By Friday, the operation turned fromrescue to recovery.

Workers will painstakingly break down the giant chunks of fallen concrete so they can be removed safely.

“Our priority is to get to the victims and recover the people that are below that bridge so their families can have appropriate burials and ceremonies,” Perez said.

The bridge, which was not scheduled to open officially until next year, was meant to improve student safety as they crossed one of the busiest highways in the county from their campus to the town of Sweetwater, about 45 minutes west of Miami, where many of them live.

“We’ve got to look at the reality there may be some negligence down the line,” Perez told Miami radio station WIOD. “[The inquiries] will help determine whether someone is liable for this. It’s obviously an accident either way. We have to look to see if somebody contributed to that accident.”

At a morning press briefing, Perez said a team of prosecutors led by the Miami-Dade state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle had visited the site of the collapse on Friday morning to assist the inquiry.

State officials revealed on Thursday night that the university’s bridge-build team, which included MCM and the Tallahassee-based Figg Bridge Group, had hired a third-party company to conduct an independent, secondary design review of the project, and that that contractor was not pre-qualified by the Florida transport department to do the work.

Carlos Giménez, the Miami-Dade mayor, said he believed MCM workers were conducting a stress test on the bridge when it collapsed, while Florida’s junior US senator, Marco Rubio, tweeted that support cables were being tightened.

Asked at the press conference why traffic passing under the bridge had not been halted, Perez said: “These are the answers we are looking for as well.”

So far, neither MCM nor Figg has responded to questions about the tragedy other than through social media posts expressing sympathy for the victims and promising full cooperation with continuing investigations.

Both companies have safety records that are giving rise to questions. A TSA worker at Fort Lauderdale airport filed a lawsuit against Munilla alleging “shoddy work” that caused injuries in another footbridge project.

The Miami Herald, meanwhile, said that sites constructed by MCM had been investigated by federal authorities eight times since 2013, resulting in four separate fines for violations.

MCM is owned by five brothers from the Munilla family, several of them former students at FIU. The company has built terminals at south Florida’s airports and cruise ports, and a school for the US government at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

Figg, the company behind major bridge construction projects including the Sunshine Skyway over Tampa Bay, was fined by the Virginia labor department after the collapse of a section of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge on to railway tracks in 2012, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Mark Rosenberg, the president of FIU, said the university was heartbroken about the death of the as yet unnamed student.

“This bridge was about goodness, now it’s about sadness,” he said. “Everybody’s in shock and we just want answers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Education Environment Health S&T, Health

‘I felt I was being punished for pushing back’: pregnancy and #MeToo


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘I felt I was being punished for pushing back’: pregnancy and #MeToo” was written by Justine van der Leun, for The Guardian on Saturday 17th March 2018 14.30 Asia/Kolkata

I spent one third of 2015 – about 120 days – on bed rest. I moved only to visit a hospital or doctor’s office, where I was scrutinised and presented with a list of concrete and potential deficiencies. There was certainly something wrong with my cervix, likely something wrong with my hormone levels, probably something wrong with my placenta, and possibly something wrong with my baby’s heart. Every time I was examined – which was constantly – a new potential problem surfaced. Having already lost two pregnancies, I was overcome by the looming possibility of catastrophe. I refused to prepare for anything more than a week in advance, as if hope were interchangeable with hubris and therefore deserving of punishment.

Throughout the pregnancy, I was grimly enthusiastic about suggestions, tests, and treatments – convinced that the more I endured, the more likely I would be to bring a baby home. I injected progesterone; sustained weekly ultrasounds; underwent a special MRI scan. I attended my appointments with the obstetrician, the maternal-foetal-medicine specialist and the foetal cardiologist. Most of all, I tried not to move. I believed that stillness might give me the best chance of giving birth to a healthy infant. Also, a sense of self-preservation urged me: if I were the most careful patient, then I would not have to blame myself were a tragedy to occur. Lying flat at home, I was in a dull, perpetual panic.

That panic ended two years ago, replaced by the more welcome panic of how to care for a baby. After so much dread, not a single could-go-wrong went wrong. I will never know if the precautions helped, or if everything was fine all along. My daughter, born healthy at full term, is a toddler now, and this, the spring of 2018, is the season of my fourth pregnancy.

Four pregnancies: two losses over two years, followed by one little girl, followed by one baby, currently inside, who occupies a tentative place between a pregnancy and a living child. I assess her week by week: if she were born today, she may never take a breath; if she were born today, she would soon die; if she were born today, she might even live. Yet, for months, I’ve been seeing her face, formed and shifting, on a black-and-white screen, beamed out from within me. At the least, she is and has long been decidedly present.

As soon as my now-two-year-old daughter was placed, hollering, on my chest, the bitter struggle to have her receded in my mind. But now that struggle has come back clearly, because it is repeating: specialists, scans, injections, constraints, doomsday scenarios, cautionary tales. But this new pregnancy, which began 18 months later, is occurring in a different setting, in the context of #MeToo. What once seemed like bad behaviour that women were expected to bear has been revealed as oppressive, grotesque and often criminal. Pregnancy and birth experiences do not exist outside the greater culture, but firmly within, along an ugly, interminable continuum.

I entered my recent pregnancy, which began with my personal tradition of early bleeding and confusion, during the Trump presidency, a couple of months before the Harvey Weinstein allegations. My obstetrician, a feminist who skilfully guided me through my pregnancy in 2015, recommended that I see a specialist. She didn’t know much about him, except that he had a high success rate with complicated pregnancies. He used aggressive techniques, but she’d heard he saved babies.

I went to the specialist for a series of intricate scans. I had 38 vials of blood taken at once; my arm ran out. The specialist diagnosed me with a mild clotting disorder. According to him, it meant that my placenta could be compromised; without treatment, it might not provide the baby enough nourishment. Or then again, it might, as it had before, with my daughter. That’s the tricky thing about pregnancy: nobody knows. If you weren’t so privileged, if the equipment weren’t so advanced, you may never learn that something about you doesn’t fit the many textbook requirements, yet you may have a robust little baby anyway. Or you might lose that baby and remain mystified as to why.

Once diagnosed, I was instructed to inject a blood thinner into my stomach every day. I was also prescribed progesterone, though my levels were only on the lower end of “normal”, placed on pelvic rest – no sex for six months – and scanned every two weeks. I was still mobile, and could continue with my daily life, so I felt lucky. Or that is what I told myself. To conceive my daughter, I’d spent years undergoing minor surgeries, miscarriages, fertility treatments. I figured any subsequent conception would be a similarly long, painful journey. Just in case, when I stopped breastfeeding, I visited my obstetrician to discuss birth control. Six weeks later, I was staring at a plus sign on a stick. My husband and I had been sloppy just once, but as any idiot teen knows, once is enough.

The timing wasn’t ideal. Beneath a thick veneer of gratefulness, I felt a guilty, unspoken regret. In what I considered the selfish recesses of my mind, I longed to be free. The path to parenthood, as it unfolded, had been invasive and constant, shocking in its intensity, grief-inducing, medicalised and without pleasure until my girl was born. Then I felt that I belonged to her. We were physically attached to each other, breathing the same pocket of air, and it had taken me more than a year to begin working in earnest again. After so long, I finally had autonomy over my own body – and then, before I knew it, someone was residing within me. But that tiny resident was the priority, I told myself. I wouldn’t dare tempt the universe with complaints.

At my 20-week check, the ultrasound technician informed me that, while my baby was in perfect condition, my cervix – the portion of the uterus that stands between the baby and the world – was shortening prematurely, the condition that had caused me much grief two years earlier. The official diagnosis is “incompetent cervix”. In a “competent” female body, the cervix stays long and closed until full term, and then dilates. But in an “incompetent” female body, the buffoonish cervix can shorten and open early, allowing a baby to tumble out. The “incompetent cervix” joins a number of curious obstetric diagnoses: the “inhospitable uterus”, “hostile uterus”, “hostile cervical mucus”, “blighted ovum”. Meanwhile, men experience “premature ejaculation” and not “inadequate testicles”; “erectile dysfunction”, but never a “futile penis”. They exhibit problems, but their anatomy is not defined as lacking. Pregnant women over 35 are of “advanced maternal age”, just a slight improvement over the previous term, only recently defunct: “elderly”. Those who have suffered more than two miscarriages are known as “habitual aborters”. We experience “spontaneous abortions”. A bad habit, that impetuous self-aborting: if only we had the self‑control to stop.

The specialist entered the exam room and inspected the images of my bungling cervix. He would perform a cervical stitch the next day, in an emergency surgery. My obstetrician had performed a similar intervention during my prior pregnancy, but she wanted a specialist to do it this time. Sitting on the examination table, I remembered my previous experience with bed rest. My obstetrician had steadfastly declined to order it, but another doctor had encouraged me to move very little and, terrified and vigilant, I decided to obey him. I recalled how, isolated and dull, I had worked half-heartedly on the edits of a book I’d spent four years researching and writing. Then, I had stayed with my mother in a building with an elevator near the hospital. Now, I was living in a third-floor walk-up with a dog, a toddler, a babysitter on the payroll and deadlines to meet. The specialist appeared unmoved by the logistics of my life. I asked what I could expect in terms of physical activity and continuing with work. He did not answer, but told me to stay still for 24 hours.

The next day, I was wheeled into an operating room, where a male anaesthesiologist commented repeatedly on a tattoo on my back and then grappled, mumbling, to insert a needle into my spine, just above my bare ass; general anaesthesia is bad for a baby, so I would be awake during the procedure. My feet and legs went dead. I was manipulated into a most undignified position, a sort of naked traction. A coterie of male medical professionals took to fixing my most intimate parts.

Later, my husband told me he knew how I must have felt. No, I said. Imagine that over the course of your lifetime a flock of people, many of them women, have prodded, inspected and peered at your nether regions. Usually annually. Sometimes weekly and sometimes, while sighing in exasperation, shaking their heads in disappointment, or nodding approvingly. Imagine, then, that for the second time in as many years a few of these women hung your legs up while you were fully conscious and sewed up your balls. My husband, a shade of pale grey, muttered that I was right: he couldn’t relate.

As instructed, I didn’t leave the house that week. I took a cocktail of drugs. They made me sick, but, according to the specialist, they were good for my uterus. But they might be bad for the baby. But if I didn’t take them, and the baby were born early, that would be worse for her: disabling, fatal. I stopped trying to assess the situation. I wondered if I would lose the baby because of either my flawed body or my poor choices or for no discernible reason at all. I also wondered about other things: if I would get to take a walk, pursue a lead for a story, keep up contacts, honour contracts.

At my next appointment, I learned that the baby was thriving and the surgery had been successful. Nothing was guaranteed – the situation could change silently and abruptly – but this was good news. The specialist nodded and seemed satisfied as he inspected the ultrasound images of my insides – once rebellious, but now pliant and deferential. Before he left the room, I asked again about the restrictions on my job and movement.

“You care only about your work,” he said, suddenly raising his voice. “You’re pressuring me.”

I am not a woman who shies away from conflict and have never once been mistaken for a people-pleaser. But had this interaction occurred two years earlier, I would have experienced a furtive rush of fear, convinced that I was at the man’s mercy. For the sake of my baby, I would have told myself, I would do well to yield, to calm him, to agree, to defuse – and then to go home and privately rage, feeling young and dumb and female. But now I saw the situation from the outside, through the lens of the feminist uprising that saturated the news. From this view, a woman was sitting on the examination table, the specialist standing before her. He was up, she was down. He was the expert, she the civilian. He had recently been elbow-deep inside her. Each time they met, only one of them was carrying a baby they could lose. And only one of them was wearing pants.

“I want to know how my medical situation will affect my professional life,” I said, not sweetly, and looking him straight in the eye. “You told me that we would assess it this week. I want to know what to expect.”

“What can you expect?” he said, irritated. “Fine, you can expect to be on bed rest for the rest of this pregnancy.”

This was punishment, I felt, for pushing back: four months’ confinement.

Bed rest is not widespread protocol. It is, in fact, highly controversial. Some medical experts have deemed it ineffective, unsupported by data and risky: it can cause blood clots, muscle atrophy, depression, the loss of a job or money. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cautions against it in most cases. Many argue that it’s an old-fashioned recommendation made when the stubborn mystery of female biology asserts itself. Doctors and patients want a solution, and bed rest allows them to prescribe and undergo something, rather than face the disconcerting reality of the unknown.

Then again, millions of women and doctors across the world have sworn by bed rest for centuries. They consider it a tried-and-true method to keeping a baby in. They have seen it work. To give your child a better chance, you simply have to stop your life for a few months. Can you really resist? I knew about this controversy, so when the specialist insisted that bed rest was imperative, I wanted him to justify himself. I reminded myself that if I felt inferior to this man, it was only because he wished it to be so, not because it was true. I asked again for him to explain his reasoning.

He took another tack. “I’ve had people disregard me and they lose a baby they’ve wanted for 10 years,” he said. “Because of an obsession with work.”

A woman who wanted or needed to work, then, and in so doing defied his orders, could be said to have caused her baby’s death. It seemed to me that he chose to place blame on that woman – to imply that she had caused her own loss, even when that loss may have been unavoidable. Though this man had made a successful business in women’s health, I understood then that he didn’t know a thing about the interior lives of women.

I left the clinic. I would have liked never to return. But here is the pregnant woman’s conundrum: we are not unto ourselves. We hold within us the beginnings of other people; we’re supposed to preserve our own independent humanity while growing new, dependent humanity. It’s a hard balance to strike, and we’re led to believe any decision, mistake, slip of the mind, can have atrocious consequences. We’re expected to subvert everything in our lives if necessary. Also, if not necessary.

The expectations placed upon women by the obstetric establishment – especially if our pregnancies don’t follow a perfect course, and often even when they do – are presented as normal. The field of obstetrics requires women to enter into an absurd realm, or perhaps to simply remain within the absurd realm in which we already exist. We’re subjected to methods that verge on Victorian: to remain prone, and in extreme cases tilted on a hospital bed at an angle for months at a time; to forgo work, pleasure, money; to allow painful interventions and invasive procedures; to agree to major abdominal surgery. We’re told it’s for baby’s sake; anything other than blind acceptance is selfish at best, murderous at worst.

There’s no easy alternative. Decades ago, a group of midwives, frustrated that pregnancy was treated as a condition and women as incapable children, created an empowering birth ideology, encouraging women to be confident about their bodies’ life-giving abilities. Their devoted following has morphed into a movement, itself sometimes restrictive and dogmatic, in which women are encouraged to forgo pain medication during labour – which doesn’t hurt, some adherents claim, but is simply a series of powerful sensations. By following this approach, the midwives claim, a woman and her child can avoid a host of devastating health disorders, possibly caused by hospital interventions. While this can result in positive, liberating birth experiences for some, it’s not a safe or reasonable option for others, especially those with high-risk pregnancies or those who don’t have access to properly trained midwives. Plus, some women just want the epidural.

Whatever approach you pick, there are rules, and any deviation can result in devastation. Pregnant women can ruin everything by eating sushi, ricotta or beansprouts; drinking wine or coffee; using toxic face cream; riding a bicycle; vacuuming; working a long shift; taking out the dog; sleeping on our backs; having sex; reaching climax. By caring for older kids or trying to make a living. By not having supportive partners, or enough money for babysitters, or helpful relatives. We can ruin it by being black, sick, poor, or rural – all factors that make a pregnancy or labour more dangerous. By moving, or not moving, taking medicine, or refusing to take medicine. By giving birth in the hospital, or in the home. Stress is harmful. We should relax. A bath could help, but could also be perilous. I often wake at dawn, hand on stomach, feeling my baby shift. I don’t know how to do right by her.

So many doctors deal in the fear surrounding pregnancy. They can impose terror upon their patients with their diagnoses, prognoses, protocols and regulations, handed down with meagre explanation, no personalisation and little consideration for the intricacies of a woman’s life. They are part of a system that should be tipped towards supporting a woman during a time of vulnerability, but instead removes her free will and constrains her, while making her responsible for almost any tragedy that may befall her or her baby.

Women now make up more than half of obstetrician-gynaecologists, but the field was designed and dominated by men for centuries. I don’t need the specialist to know what it is to give birth, to be a woman, a mother. I don’t need him to be relatable, comforting, permissive, protective – or a pal, a dad, a god or saviour. I do need him to acknowledge my humanity while dispensing his expertise. I expect him, and his contemporaries, to be honest about the mysteries of pregnancy and birth – honest with themselves and their patients.

For all the research and money poured into this realm of medicine, so much remains unknown, unknowable. One cannot compare two treatments of the same pregnancy, nor can one experiment on pregnant women. I cannot judge whether it is right, then, to approach complications in a pregnancy as aggressively as possible. I do know that medical restrictions can radically affect a woman’s life, and because of this, the choice of how to proceed should not be a doctor’s to enforce. A woman should be able to choose how to conduct herself, rather than do it under threat. She must not be asked to pay a ransom of her own movement and free will.

I went back to my obstetrician. After discussing my situation, she and I decided together that I would stop many of the specialist’s interventions. But I have still chosen to follow some of his recommendations. I administer my shots. I limit my movements when I can. But I wonder: am I erring on the side of caution, or on the side of fear?

During my last pregnancy, I didn’t ruminate on how the way women are treated during birth is linked to a cultural idea that the female body must be subdued, immobilised and controlled, and if the owner of that body is good and magnanimous, if she is on her way to becoming a wonderful mother, she must capitulate to any demand placed upon her. I didn’t wonder why, if growing a baby and giving her life is such a powerful act, the experience of doing so is profoundly disempowering. I didn’t ponder structures or systems. I just wanted to meet my daughter.

Times were different then, even though it wasn’t long ago. More women lived in a sort of collective denial, accepting the unacceptable. I was different, too. I’m a mother now, and I could say I’m thinking of my two-year-old, and of the better world she deserves. But, really, I’m thinking these days of what I deserve, not as a mother or a pregnant woman, but just as a human being, at once apart from all of that and intimately one with it. I’m thinking of how I should be treated, for the person that I was before I got pregnant, and the person I will be after I am pregnant. The person I have been all along.

• Commenting on this piece? If you would like your comment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).

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CRIME, Judiciary

Video evidence is taking over – and damaging the credibility of our courts


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Video evidence is taking over – and damaging the credibility of our courts” was written by Anonymous, for theguardian.com on Saturday 17th March 2018 15.50 Asia/Kolkata

I have worked in magistrates courts as a legal adviser for over two decades and I worry that the justice system is facing a broken future. Because now, instead of hearings physically taking place in courtrooms, we are moving towards a very detached virtual reality.

Since 2010, over 220 magistrates, county and crown courts have closed across England and Wales, meaning more and more of us live far away from a courthouse and are encouraged to make pleas online or give evidence via a video link.

Those who determine the credibility of an individual’s evidence will tell you how important body language can be when making that decision. Because you can’t always see the gestures someone is using, video links can create a barrier and alter the perception of what’s being said.

There are also genuine concerns about what the impact will be on vulnerable individuals who are disproportionately over-represented in the criminal justice system. I worry that defendants with mental health or learning issues, or those for whom English is not their first language, are at a disadvantage if their liberty is determined via video link. It is harder to assess and support them when they aren’t physically there – and harder for them to be advised and given instructions.

A defendant with severe mental health issues and would not respond to his name came before the court recently. A decision had been made that his hearing should take place by video link after no information had been provided to the court about his circumstances. The defendant became increasingly agitated and the hearing failed.

The digital future of our courts has been envisaged without consulting the staff who work every day in our courtrooms. The reliability of technology just isn’t up to scratch and the constant delays and interruptions become a distraction from the actual court proceedings. In a survey of justice sector staff carried out by the TUC [pdf] in 2016, only 4% of those who responded agreed that IT in courts works effectively.

Links to prisons cut out for no good reason on a regular basis, or an individual can be seen but not heard and vice versa. Last month the sex attacker John Worboys appeared in person in court after the video link to his prison had repeatedly failed. When a video link doesn’t work, court staff have to get creative with workarounds to try and ensure the hearing can go ahead and is not adjourned.

I have convened hearings in video link booths that are designed for lawyers to meet with clients, not for hearings. They’re about the size of a toilet cubicle and are certainly not designed to accommodate magistrates, a legal adviser, a prosecutor, a defence lawyer and a representative of the press. It isn’t dignified, and is far from ideal, but squeezing in there has ensured that a bail application can be heard.

Sometimes when technology fails, a witness can give evidence from behind a screen instead – but that often means the case has to be adjourned for weeks. Witnesses who have prepared themselves mentally to give evidence may not be prepared to come along again, causing the case to collapse. Where’s the justice in cases collapsing because of unreliable technology?

Even the new kit installed as part of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) £1bn justice transformation programme is unreliable. It feels like the changes are being made solely to meet a government digitalisation target. The technology is not fit for purpose and is already having a negative impact on the quality of justice delivered. It’s slow, cumbersome and not user friendly. Using it means I cannot concentrate on what is going on.

The reimagining of our court system comes at a time that we’re facing yet another consultation over the proposals to close another nine courts. The last major round of court and tribunal closures the MoJ consulted on ended with a decision to close 86 – all but four of the 90 at risk. This happened despite overwhelming opposition.

At least there are fewer of us to find this an outrage. More than 5,000 court staff have been cut since 2010 and there has been a tenfold increase in spending on agency and contract staff. The MoJ has also had its budget stripped from £9.3bn in current prices in 2010/11 to £5.6bn by 2019/20.

When money is so tight, instead of hiring ridiculously expensive management consultants to advise on digitalisation, the MoJ would do better by engaging with its own workforce about the improvements our courts really need.

This series gives a voice to the staff behind the public services that are hit by mounting cuts and rising demand, and so often denigrated by the press, politicians and public. If you would like to write an article for the series, contact kirstie.brewer@theguardian.com

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Japan cronyism scandal linked to Shinzo Abe and wife worsens with suicide note


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Japan cronyism scandal linked to Shinzo Abe and wife worsens with suicide note” was written by Daniel Hurst in Tokyo, for theguardian.com on Friday 16th March 2018 10.22 Asia/Kolkata

A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records.

The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie.

The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling.

An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week. Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame.

He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions.

His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”.

“I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member quoted by the Mainichi Shimbun.

In a sign of the growing pressure on the government, Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister, cancelled his appearance at a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Argentina next week to fight for his political future. Aso is a key factional powerbroker so there would be risks to the prime minister’s own support base if Aso is forced out as finance minister.

Abe has previously said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to be personally involved in the land deal with school operator Moritomo Gakuen. On Wednesday he again denied any involvement.

  • In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here

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From battlefield to basket of goods: our long love affair with leggings


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “From battlefield to basket of goods: our long love affair with leggings” was written by Steven Poole, for The Guardian on Friday 16th March 2018 12.00 Asia/Kolkata

The basket of goods used to calculate the rate of inflation was this week updated to include quiche (at the expense of pork pies) and also “leggings”. But why are leggings called that? Long gloves are not called “armings”, and a jumper is not a “torsoing”.

Surprisingly, the English already had “leggings” 300 years ago, to describe a short sock (along with “heelings”, the part of a shoe or sock that covered the heel). But leggings inexorably grew longer: the Indian stockings, “leggings” ordered by no less a fashion authority than George Washington for his soldiers in 1758 probably came up to the knee; and by the 19th century, outdoorsy Americans could sport full-length “leggings” made from deerskin or leather.

It was only in 1895 that the gender balance shifted, when a Nevada newspaper noted the peculiar appearance of a woman “wearing a pair of blue cotton leggings like tights from her waist to her ankles”. These days, of course, we have “jeggings” (jeans leggings) and even “treggings” (designed, cunningly, to look like trousers). But, happily for a certain class of post-gym male hipster, it turns out that “meggings” preceded them all.

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Food and Drinks

Losing the booze: five ways to drink less without missing out


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Losing the booze: five ways to drink less without missing out” was written by Chad Parkhill, for theguardian.com on Friday 16th March 2018 10.30 Asia/Kolkata

Sandwiched as it is between the first socially sanctioned dry periods of the year (Dry January, Febfast) and the later ones (Dry July, Ocsober), March can be a pretty boozy month. Those of us who abstained from drink after the excesses of Christmas have now probably eased back into our regular consumption patterns. When it comes to Anglophone drinking culture, it’s often feast or famine, which isn’t exactly a healthy approach.

Most people who consume alcohol regularly do so despite knowing the health risks involved – not just the risk of hangovers but, over the long term, much less pleasant health conditions, including cancer.

Nonetheless, many of us continue to imbibe, for any of a number of reasons – cultural, social or simply because it gives us pleasure. So how can you maximise the pleasure that drinking gives without increasing the quantity of alcohol you consume?

As someone who has derived a living from working with and writing about booze, I’ve used a few of these techniques over the years to recalibrate my own quality-to-quantity ratio. I hope you’ll find them useful.

1. Measure your drinks – and your glassware, too

At a dinner party recently, I was handed a gin and tonic that nearly blew my head off with its potency. The host had made a round of them after some wine had been consumed, and she had eyeballed the gin pour rather than measuring. It’s a common occurrence and it can easily lead to overconsumption – because it’s easy to rationalise a glass of extra-strong rum and coke as “just one drink”.

The simple solution is to make like the professionals and invest in a jigger – those little metallic or plastic measuring devices for spirits – and use it for every drink you make for yourself. (The size of the jiggers you find may depend on your location – US jiggers measure in ounces, Australian ones in 30ml increments and UK ones in 25ml or 35ml increments.) You can get a cheap one from your nearest restaurant supply store, but if you want to splash out I can recommend the Leopold model by Cocktail Kingdom.

wine glass sizes

If you drink wine, it also pays to know exactly how large your glasses are and to what level you should fill them. Wine glasses are now, on average, seven times larger than they were in the 1700s, which can lead to inadvertent over-serving based on the “it’s just one glass” principle.

An easy way to find out the ideal fill level is to measure a half-cup (125ml) of water and pour that into your wine glass. Take note of where the water level lies and use that as a target for your wine pours. As a bonus, you’ll find drinking wine more enjoyable with smaller pours, as there will be more space in the glass for the wine’s aromas to express themselves and develop.

2. Get to know and love lower ABV alternatives

Unlike full-fat versus skim milk, lower ethanol levels don’t necessarily mean less flavour. One of the quickest ways to drop your alcohol consumption is to swap your favourite hard spirit for a fortified wine analogue – something that’s on the same wavelength but has less ethanol.

For instance, if you enjoy the herbaceous complexity of gin and tonic, you’ll probably equally enjoy a high-quality vermouth with a splash of soda. If you like to finish your meal off with a finger or two of whiskey or brandy, you might find that a measure of madeira, oloroso sherry or rancio sec does the job just as well.

The world of fortified wines is surprisingly diverse – you can even find a vermouth-based alternative to strawberry liqueur (Dolin’s Chamberyzette) or a quinquina with a pronounced orange flavour that can stand in for a post-dinner Cointreau (Distilleries de Provence’s Orange Colombo).

Fortified wines are often used in cocktails as modifiers – something to soften the blow of the harder spirits. But they also make great bases for cocktails in their own right, as the bamboo cocktail proves. This drink, supposedly the first cocktail to be invented in Japan, drinks like a sherryfied version of a dry martini – it’s the perfect tipple for when you crave a bracing aperitif but don’t want to drink a glass of cold gin.

Make it at home: bamboo
If you find the bamboo cocktail a bit too dry and lenten, you can fatten it up with a teaspoon (5ml) of syrup, made from one part water to one part sugar.

45ml fino or manzanilla sherry
45ml dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash aromatic bitters

Build ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

3. Spend more money on less booze

Bottles of wine sit on a shelf at an independently owned, specialist liquor store.
By investing in quality alcohol, you’re more likely to treat it with reverence. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cheap booze is a big business; the real robber barons of the booze world aren’t the tiny Burgundian domaines making bottles worth thousands of dollars apiece, but the gigantic corporations making oceans of cheap wine (usually stuffed full of preservatives and flavour and colour enhancers to boot). Many of us habitually drink mass-produced, highly commodified alcohol products because they’re easy to find, cheap and consistent – but they aren’t exactly the peak of bibulous pleasure.

You can get much better bang for buck by spending a little more money. And, having invested in some of the good stuff, you’re more likely to treat it with reverence – one fancy gin and tonic on a weeknight rather than three subpar ones.

Of course, spending more money on alcohol is no guarantee you’ll be getting a better product; the shelves of liquor stores the world over groan under the weight of overpriced pap.

For a better shot at finding something you’ll love, shop at independently owned, specialist liquor stores rather than chain stores that compete on price or supermarket wine sections. The staff employed by these stores tend to be knowledgeable and passionate about their product, and can help you find something nice that’s suited to your budget.

4. Invest in a wine preservation system

Rhik Samadder with a Coravin wine access system. Photograph: Graham Turner.
A Coravin allows you to pour wine without removing the cork. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

If you consume wine regularly at home, you’ll understand the problems posed by the common 750ml bottle format. You want one glass of wine, so you open the bottle – but now the bottle has been opened, the oxygenation process has kicked off, which means the wine is already on its way to becoming vinegar. Better drink another glass or two now and polish off what’s left tomorrow night. It’s a recipe not only for increased consumption but also for a lower quality-to-quantity ratio because it’s hard to justify spending more on wine when drinking it is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition.

Fortunately there are ways to maximise the window of time between opening a wine and its oxygenated demise. The current gold standard is the Coravin, which gets around the problem by never actually opening the wine: a thin, hollow needle punctures the cork and the wine that comes out is replaced by non-reactive argon gas. If it sounds very hi-tech, it is – its inventor also works in the biotech industry as the inventor of spinal implants. In practice, though, it feels more like wine sorcery.

Since acquiring one, I’ve been able to enjoy smaller pours of much better wines than I previously drank without worrying about the leftovers turning into expensive vinegar. (There is also an attachment that allows the Coravin to be used on screw-cap wines.)

The only downsides are that it takes a bit of practise to master and it’s not cheap – not just the system itself but also the replacement argon canisters.

If a Coravin sounds like too much hassle, you can still use argon to preserve your wines – simply grab a can of the stuff (sold at most specialty wine shops) and squirt a dollop on top of your wines after you’ve poured a glass. Argon is heavier than air, so it will form a layer over the remaining wine and slow down – but not entirely stop – the oxygenation process, giving you a few extra days in which to enjoy your bottle.

5. Take a few nights per week off – and have a delicious no-booze drink instead

A teacup with the accoutrement’s of a cocktail
Non-alcoholic drinks have come a long way. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

While the jury’s still out on the effectiveness of long periods of abstention from alcohol such as Febfast and Ocsober, there’s merit to giving yourself a few nights per week on the water wagon. The good news is you don’t have to stick to sparkling water or sugary “mocktails”. Thanks to a growing focus on health and wellbeing, bartenders have applied their skills to non-alcoholic drinks, with some delicious results.

Possibly the biggest news in this sphere has been the development of non-alcoholic distilled spirit Seedlip – essentially a non-alcoholic gin analogue that delivers the herbaceous complexity of mother’s ruin, minus the ruin. If you can bear the price – which can equal the cost of a nice bottle of gin – then it’s worth trying with tonic and an extravagant Spanish-style garnish.

But you don’t need expensive distillates to have booze-free fun: any well-balanced drink with a bit of acidity and tannic grip can give much the same satisfaction. Tea is particularly versatile here: think not just iced teas but also kombucha, or tea-based syrups mixed with sparkling water and fresh citrus. Or, for something approaching a classical tiki drink, whip up a Mister Oxford, invented by bartender Matt Siegel.

Make it at home: Mister Oxford
30ml pineapple juice
30ml lemon juice
30ml orgeat (an almond-flavoured syrup)
2 or 3 drops sherry vinegar

Build pineapple juice, lemon juice and orgeat in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake to chill. Strain into a tumbler or old-fashioned glass and top with fresh ice. Drop sherry vinegar over the surface of the drink and garnish with fresh mint, grated nutmeg and, if you have some, pineapple fronds.

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Education Environment Health S&T, ENVIRONMENT

Country diary: it clung like a stilt walker to its wavering perches


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Country diary: it clung like a stilt walker to its wavering perches” was written by Claire Stares, for The Guardian on Friday 16th March 2018 11.00 Asia/Kolkata

Spotting reedbed-dwelling birds is tricky at the best of times, but more so in winter as only one songbird is resident year-round – the bearded tit (Panurus biarmicus). Their common name is somewhat of a misnomer as they are neither bearded nor tits, though with their “ping pong ball on a lolly stick” body shape, they do bear a passing resemblance to long-tailed tits. They are also referred to as bearded parrotbills or bearded reedlings – given that they are entirely dependent on reedbed habitat for their survival, the latter seems most fitting.

At this time of year “beardies” tend to feed out of sight, fossicking through the soil in search of fallen seeds. Their tonal plumage makes it difficult to pick them out as they flit through the bleached stands of Phragmites australis, but eventually I caught sight of a flutter of movement deep in the vegetation. I raised my binoculars for a closer view, but the dense reed monoculture lacked any prominent features to use as a visual point of reference, so I immediately lost sight of my quarry.

Gazing into the reedbed felt a lot like looking at a magic eye puzzle. As the cane-like stems swayed in the breeze, my vision began to blur. The key to finding the bird’s hidden form was to diverge my eyes and focus as though I was looking through the reeds instead of at them. Suddenly I was able to pick out a tiny, globular body perched between two stems, its legs splaying into the splits as it clung like a stilt walker to its wavering vertical perches.

Bearded tits are sexually dimorphic and even at a distance there was no mistaking that this was a male. While both sexes have rich cinnamon-brown plumage, males’ heads are bluish-grey and they sport conspicuous drooping moustaches and bold black lower tail coverts.

Two more beardies skimmed over, their presence betrayed by echoing metallic calls reminiscent of the end-of-line “ping” of a typewriter bell. The male flew up to join them and the trio rapidly disappeared from sight.

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Entertainment Films Shopping

The final frontier: how female directors broke into sci-fi


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The final frontier: how female directors broke into sci-fi” was written by Anne Billson, for The Guardian on Friday 16th March 2018 11.30 Asia/Kolkata

Critical reactions to Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time may have been mixed, but there’s no denying it is a cinema landmark. DuVernay is not just the first woman of colour to direct a $100m (£72m) movie, but a member of a very exclusive club – female directors of big-budget science fiction.

It is sobering to realise that Kathryn Bigelow’s $42m sci-fi noir Strange Days was released nearly a quarter of a century ago. It was a resounding flop, which no doubt convinced studios that women should not be allowed to direct the genre at all. Since then, we have also had Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending from the Wachowskis. But one can’t help wondering if, back in 1999, Warner Bros would have entrusted The Matrix’s $60m budget to a couple of relative unknowns if they had been called Lilly and Lana, instead of Larry and Andy.

The next high-profile sci-fi film directed by a woman will be Claire Denis’ first English-language film, High Life, starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche on a spaceship. But Denis is French, and a 2014 survey found that nearly a quarter of France’s film directors were female, compared to single figures for the US. Sci-fi movies invariably demand big budgets, and Hollywood is notoriously reluctant to admit girls into a boys’ playground where Colin Trevorrow, Josh Trank, Gareth Edwards and Jordan Vogt-Roberts were all given blockbusters to direct after a single indie hit, whereas Patty Jenkins had to wait 14 years between Monster and Wonder Woman.

Robert Pattinson in Claire Denis’ High Life.
Robert Pattinson in Claire Denis’ High Life. Photograph: PR Company Handout

But sci-fi is still fiercely defended masculine territory. The word “science” doesn’t help, judging by men’s rights movement support for James Damore, the Google engineer fired for claiming the gender imbalance in the science and technology sectors was due to biological differences. Or for the Sad Puppies movement agitating for a return to pre-diversity science fiction. Or never-ending Gamergate nonsense, or whingeing about Star Wars being sullied by women or people of colour. Sci-fi is a cultural Custer’s Last Stand for bigotry. Sometimes it’s just easier to cave in and call it speculative fiction.

Yet it is clear that blockbusters such as Passengers and Jurassic World could have benefited from more female input, if only to point out that women don’t usually fall in love with creepy stalkers or go on safari in stiletto heels. It’s not that we need more kick-ass sci-fi heroines so much as a wider perspective on technological and ethical issues in the imagined future.

In the 200th anniversary of the publication of one of science fiction’s cornerstone texts, written by a woman, it is dispiriting to reflect that no female director has ever been allowed anywhere near any of the dozens of screen adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

But the way forward for would-be female sci-fi film-makers is surely honing their craft in the low-budget sector, following in the footsteps of outliers. For example, there is Lizzie Borden, whose 1983 faux-documentary Born in Flames depicts a dystopic New York in which women mobilise against a post-revolutionary socialist US government (a sci-fi concept in itself). Or – in complete contrast – Susan Seidelman, whose sci-fi romcom Making Mr Right (1987) stars John Malkovich as goofy android love interest.

More recent female sci-fi directors have floundered on a crucial failure to engage the audience, and a lack of the narrative focus seen in low-budget male-directed films such as Predestination, Coherence or Time Lapse. The ideas are there, but the craft needs work.

Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous, in which a single mother undergoes an experimental procedure to make herself look younger and more ethnically ambiguous, fails to merge intriguing concepts into a dramatically satisfying whole. Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch begins in sensational style as the heroine loses a couple of limbs to cannibals, but the story runs out of gas. Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as sisters holed up in an isolated house during a technological collapse, but Rozema favours dull sisterhood cliches over her story’s sci-fi themes.

Angela Bassett in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days.
Angela Bassett in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/20 CENTURY FOX

A more promising use of that mainstay setting of low-budget sci-fi, the post-apocalyptic huis clos [no exit], is Stéphanie Joalland’s writing-directing debut The Quiet Hour, a British/Irish co-production in which siblings are besieged by aliens and human predators in a remote farmhouse. Joalland says the micro-budget obliged her to keep the science fiction elements in the background, and it is true the results are maybe a little too low-key for modern tastes, but she is keen to explore the genre further. “My next film, Ice, deals with neuroscience and will pave the way for my more ambitious project, The Seedling, which is set in the future and deals with global warming and biotechnologies,” she says.

“I don’t burden myself with too many concerns with regard to gender dynamics, to be honest.” But Joalland is optimistic about a future in which female directors are “making studio movies and succeeding, and thus creating a compound effect of inspiring a younger generation of female sci-fi writers and directors”. So get to it, female sci-fi film-makers – the future is yours for the taking.

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After the Skripal attack, talk of war only plays into Vladimir Putin’s hands


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “After the Skripal attack, talk of war only plays into Vladimir Putin’s hands” was written by Simon Jenkins, for The Guardian on Friday 16th March 2018 11.30 Asia/Kolkata

Do we really want war with Russia? Do we want to risk one, even a tiny one? The prospect has certainly taken British minds off Brexit. It has exhilarated the press. It has given Theresa May an immense boost and helped the defence lobby in its campaign for more money. There is nothing democracy seems to enjoy so much as contemplating war, to unite it and raise its spirits. It is never unpopular – beforehand.

The official British response to the attempted killing of the Skripals has been precipitate but measured. We do not know the mix of greed, vendetta and shambles that may have fuelled the Salisbury outrage, but it is hard not to treat Moscow as guilty until proved innocent. May’s portfolio of expulsions and ostracisms is the traditional diplomatic ballet. It has received welcome support from the US, France and Germany. Matter closed?

Sadly not. History warns us to distinguish the banality of a single incident from its wider contribution to an emerging crisis. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo in 1914, the killer was not a state agent but a terrorist with a gun. It could have been settled by a mediating conference. Instead, a continent roused to war fever craved escalation. Soon Austria declared war on Serbia, Germany on Russia and France on Germany. As AJP Taylor wrote afterwards, nothing “caused” the first world war. “Statesmen miscalculated and became prisoners of their own weapons.” At a certain point armed conflict was unavoidable, as nations raced to re-enact some primitive tribal rivalry.

Russia’s method of settling its internal feuds is obscene and archaic. The BBC’s vivid profile of Vladimir Putin this week depicted a paranoid, money-obsessed bully who, in an international context, needed handling with firmness and clarity. But even if the Skripal poisoning was “state sponsored”, it was clearly a specific act against an individual, like the Litvinenko killing. Why elevate it, as May did this week, to the “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK”?

Parliament parroted the same nonsense. The Tories’ Tom Tugendhat said the poisoning “if not an act of war, was certainly a warlike act”. Labour’s Chris Leslie and John Woodcock worked themselves into a lather over “our country under attack” and “the gravity of the threat Russia poses to this nation”. In these bidding wars of exaggeration, words lose all meaning. Attacking people with poison is detestable. So are Russia’s infantile cyber-attacks and crude fake news trolls. They are unfriendly acts, but they are not war. Why be driven by some fiendish yearning for them to be so?

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the west has revelled in the humiliation of Russia. Every act of the EU and Nato after 1989 was to the same destructive end. Russia’s neighbours were welcomed into the EU. Nato extended its defensive border to the edge of the Russian Federation, despite then president Boris Yeltsin (and to an extent Germany) pleading with the west “not to play with fire”.

As Yeltsin plunged into his botched privatisations in the 1990s, London egged them on by opening its banks to handle Russia’s stolen billions. Britain was complicit in creating the world’s greatest kleptocracy, brazenly and for a quarter of a century. Even this week, the prime minister lacked the guts to face down the City of London and call a halt to Russian money laundering.

All this is a grim echo of how the allies treated Germany after Versailles in 1919. They rubbed its nose in defeat, occupying its territory, destroying its dignity and stripping it of its flimsy wealth. Germany eventually found refuge in dictatorship. When in 2000 Russia found in Putin a leader capable of asserting a degree of order staging a nationalist revival, the west and Nato seemed almost to sigh with relief. Devoid of ideology or creed, Putin was a cynical autocrat of the old school. He was eager to liberate his country from the stain of cold war defeat. He wanted to reassert tsarist supremacy over Russia’s “space”, its Russian-speaking neighbours in parts of Georgia, Ukraine and possibly the Baltics. Nato had a recognisable enemy.

Putin duly feasted on an image created for him by the west, of a Russia rising alone above a sea of misunderstanding, encirclement and ostracism, a country with little to be proud of but pride itself. His every misbehaviour seemed to invite an over-response. The the west kept them coming – as if wanting to strengthen him.

Even on its own terms, the west can have no interest in declaring cold war 2.0. It may indeed be that Putin only understands power in an enemy, and when he clearly oversteps a mark, as now, he needs to be “sent a firm message”. But he is not another Stalin. He is not Napoleon eager to bestride Europe. Russia is not the Soviet empire. It is rather a dangerous bundle of insecurities.

Putin is riddled with what Freud called “the narcissism of small differences”. Nothing could be more calculated to exacerbate them as western confrontation, denying contact and engagement with Russia and its people. May is thus playing Putin’s game by exploiting each incident as a statist threat – as she does threats from Isis and “world terrorism”. It is the oldest trick in the populist book. It “nationalises” a crime. It summons patriotism to the suppression of reason. It gets in the way of proportionality. It raises the risk of mistakes.

Camus wrote that “plagues and wars take people equally by surprise”. The idea that Skripal may be the Franz Ferdinand of the next European conflict may seem ludicrous. Yet the west’s responses to post-Soviet Russia, however reasonable in the short term, have been disastrous in general. A war with Russia would be the west’s fault.

• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist

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