Friday, 23 July 2010

Was the Email The Wrong Shape?

In the middle of this table lay a single sheet of paper, evidently left there on purpose. ..The words were: "I die by my own hand; yet I die murdered!" They were in the  quite inimitable, not to say illegible, handwriting of Leonard Quinton.

Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the thunder Father Brown's  voice said out of the dark: "Doctor, this paper is the wrong shape." "What do you mean?" asked Doctor Harris, with a frowning stare. "It isn't square," answered Brown. "It has a sort of edge snipped off at the  corner. What does it mean?" As they went back through the study he stopped by the table and picked up a  small pair of nail scissors. "Ah," he said, with a sort of relief, "this is  what he did it with. But yet--" And he knitted his brows.

"Oh, stop fooling with that scrap of paper," said the doctor emphatically.  "It was a fad of his. He had hundreds of them. He cut all his paper like that," as he pointed to a stack of sermon paper still unused on another and smaller table. Father Brown went up to it and held up a sheet. It was the same irregular shape. "Quite so," he said. "And here I see the corners that were snipped off." And to the indignation of his colleague he began to count them. "That's all right," he said, with an apologetic smile. "Twenty-three sheets cut and twenty-two corners cut off them. And as I see you are impatient we will rejoin the others."

(G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown)

In the above story, the Father Brown, investigating a murder, comes across this strange suicide note. Despite other people telling him not to take any notice of the odd shape, he continues to worry away at it, sometimes to their exasperation, because he feels that something is missing. And he is, of course quite right.

"Of all these crooked things, the crookedest was the shape of that piece of paper. It was crookeder than the dagger that killed him." said Father Brown. "You mean the paper on which Quinton confessed his suicide," said Flambeau. "I mean the paper on which Quinton wrote, `I die by my own hand,'" answered  Father Brown. "The shape of that paper, my friend, was the wrong shape; the  wrong shape, if ever I have seen it in this wicked world." "It only had a corner snipped off," said Flambeau, "and I understand that all Quinton's paper was cut that way." ....Father Brown was still leaning back and staring at the roof, but he took his cigar out of his mouth and said: "Quinton never did commit suicide." Flambeau stared at him. "Why, confound it all," he cried, "then why did he confess to suicide?"

The priest leant forward again, settled his elbows on his knees, looked at the ground, and said, in a low, distinct voice: "He never did confess to suicide." Flambeau laid his cigar down. "You mean," he said, "that the writing was  forged?" "No," said Father Brown. "Quinton wrote it all right." "Well, there you are," said the aggravated Flambeau; "Quinton wrote, `I die  by my own hand,' with his own hand on a plain piece of paper." "Of the wrong shape," said the priest calmly. "Oh, the shape be damned!" cried Flambeau. "What has the shape to do with it?"

"There were twenty-three snipped papers," resumed Brown unmoved, "and only twenty-two pieces snipped off. Therefore one of the pieces had been destroyed, probably that from the written paper. Does that suggest anything to you?" A light dawned on Flambeau's face, and he said: "There was something else written by Quinton, some other words. `They will tell you I die by my own hand,' or `Do not believe that--'""Hotter, as the children say," said his friend. "But the piece was hardly  half an inch across; there was no room for one word, let alone five. Can you think of anything hardly bigger than a comma which the man with hell in his heart had to tear away as a testimony against him?" "I can think of nothing," said Flambeau at last. "What about quotation marks?" said the priest, and flung his cigar far into the darkness like a shooting star.

And so it proves to be the case - the murderer, who happens to be the murdered man's doctor - gives a written confession in which he reveals this to be the just as Father Brown deduces:

Quinton would talk about nothing but the weird tale, called "The Cure of a Saint," which he was writing, which was all about how some Indian hermit made an English colonel kill himself by thinking about him. He showed me the last sheets, and even read me the last paragraph, which was something like this: "The conqueror of the Punjab, a mere yellow skeleton, but still gigantic, managed to lift himself on his elbow and gasp in his nephew's ear: `I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered!'" It so happened by one chance out of a hundred, that those last words were written at the top of a new sheet of paper. I left the room, and went out into the garden intoxicated with a frightful opportunity. Then I saw that the quotation marks wouldn't do, so I snipped them off, and to make it seem likelier, snipped the whole quire to match.

I feel that something is amiss, something has been wrenched out of context, like the snipped off paper that is the wrong shape, when I read about the joke highlighted in the Wiltshire report. It is an extremely bad taste joke, and Wiltshire use to criticise Graham Power as follows:

A very sick Joke. This, in my view, shows an anti Jersey Slant which is totally inappropriate for a person who was there to serve the people of Jersey. ( I believe the joke was this, and was a dig at the jersey authorities> What is the difference between a Jersey orphan and a Jersey royal? least a jersey royal gets dug up after 6 months.)

Now that joke was circulating from at least as early as 29 February 2008, and occurs across a number of online bulletin boards, yet it is highlighted (from thousands of emails examined) as the one case which is picked up - presumably pretty well the only one of its kind. So the first thing to consider is numbers - is it representative of the whole? As they found this one joke to cite, obviously not.

But another matter to consider comes back to Father Brown and the story about piece of paper which was "the wrong shape". This email has no context. It has been snipped out of a whole. We cannot see what the rest of the email was, although perhaps Senator Le Marquand will now release this one from the "redacted" area, if it occurs there. I can see at least two possibilities.

The first is passing on a joke to a colleague, with perhaps some text of the kind as "have a laugh at this". That could certainly be the subject of criticism, although that fact that there is just this one of thousands that they managed to scrape up suggests that it is being treated disproportionally to the whole. I have a picture in my mind of someone waving a printed copy, and saying "at last, we've got some dirt". And of course, as the case of Gerald Ratner shows, an ill-advised jest can do untold damage to the sender.

But the second might be a comment on the impact on Jersey of the Haut de La Garenne investigation, with perhaps some text of the kind as " - this will show you how the populace at large are beginning to treat the subject." In that respect, it is more of a sociological comment on Jersey society than simply passing on a joke. I don't see how that is not legitimate. If I was writing a history of these times, I'd probably include it. Topical jokes tell a good deal about the kind of thinking that is going on.

But I don't know, because the full email is not given, or if that joke was in fact the full email, there is no indication that it is. We have once more, the truth, the redacted truth, and nothing but the redacted truth! And we cannot tell what the full email was, all we can see is an email that seems to be the wrong shape.

(the earliest occurrence I have found of this joke)


Zoompad said...

Wow, I'm glad I took the time to read this.

I think it is great that people like you are sieving through the small details of this.

Yes, the masonic way is to take anything they can find and distort it to how they want it to look. I had 7 years of secret family court masonic tomfoolery, a whole big gang of them trying to smash me and my family.

They've done it to too many people now, and they are bnot going to get away with it any more, the game is up.

TonyTheProf said...

Just to put the record straight - I'm not blaming freemasons here for how the email was handled.

Nick Palmer said...

We know that before the emails both Graeme Power and Lenny Harper had come up strongly against the "Jersey Way" while trying to root out corruption in the police force, not to mention whilst doing their jobs in the face of political interference, both petty and not so petty. Mainland police are apparently not used to the degree of "Jersey Way" extant here.

Without knowing the context of the email, it is difficult to judge it but gallows humour and mortuary humour are well established pieces of human behaviour amongst professionals in those fields and jokes from them in common currency would seem shocking to the general public, out of context. Clearly, those behind the hatchet job on Power/Harper must have chortled with delight when they found a nugget of dirt with propaganda value in a mountain of clean ore.

Furthermore, the emailed "orphan joke" probably represented a zeitgeist moment in the developing social history of HDLG which Mr Power could have simply passed on as an example of what the non-establishment, "man on the corner" was thinking about what the Jersey Way was capable of.

The very fact that there was so little substantive "dirt" trumpeted by the media across acres of newsprint highlights the relative proportions of spin and substance that we have been exposed to.

Even the famous "celebrity lifestyle" (£80 a head including alcohol - c'mon!) meals are a minuscule part of the whole, not to mention being blown up to be more than they reasonably are. A £25 limit for meals entertaining social class A and B high-up police officers IN LONDON RESTAURANTS? Somebody is having a laugh presenting this to the public as evidence of a fundamentally abusive regime - it reminds me very much of how the organised denialosphere recently blew up a deceptive media storm with the so-called Climategate by quote mining and misdirection. Numerous independent inquiries have vindicated the climate scientists who were attacked (some by our own Senator Ferguson) but mud has stuck and climate science has been partially traduced in the minds of the less informed public.

Those responsible for the redacted Wiltshire must also hold the intelligence of the general public in deep disdain if they think that metaphorically pointing out a few cracks, most of which fade on close analysis, on the face of the Mona Lisa is evidence that the whole painting is rubbish and should be chucked.

TonyTheProf said...

Bad typos - so I've reposted this!

Your "zeitgeist moment" or what I call in my blog "sociological comment" are in my view, at least as likely as any other explanation.

On meals, I haven't had time to filter the expenses stuff (that hasn't been chopped), but I'd say you have to (a) have an idea of what would count as excessive and count that (b) take the total number of means involved (c) look at the percentage of (a) to (b). We haven't got that at all - instead, we have anecdotal accounts of the worst case spending, with again, no proportionality. It's like looking at the time I've been out for a birthday party, and saying that is how I spend on food every week.

I assume, of course, that the Wiltshire team stayed in a B&B and ate in the police canteen when they were in Jersey to keep costs down. Sadly, that information is also missing...

Anonymous said...

The actual abuse survivors have not indicated that they find the emails offensive. They have supported Graham Power from the start. That should count for a bit more in the official scramble to express outrage over sick HDLG jokes.