Saturday 14 November 2015


19 Sept 2014, Veteran of Foreign Wars (Iraq theater) Omar Gonzalez drove up to Washington, parked his car, vaulted over the railings and sprinted across the White House Lawn. He had barrelled through the front door and knocked over a guard in the hallway before being finally brought to the ground.  None of the Presidential family was at home. The chief of security at the White House, Julia Pierson, decided that the shame was too much and fell on her sword resigned. Gonzalez' lawyers said that he was all stressed out from his tour of duty and had only wanted to talk sense to the Leader of the Free World. In June of this year, Mr Gonzalez was sentenced to 17 months in jail for unlawful entry and assaulting an officer.  There are a couple of only-in-America aspects to the story.  Much had been made of the fact that his car was full of weaponry including guns, ammo and a machete but he made his home run carrying only a pen-knife. He had been stopped by Virginia police earlier in the Summer who found his car to be similarly gunned-up but he was deemed to be no threat to national security and let go on his way. Having rifles and hundreds of rounds on ammunition in your car is just normal US practice. On the other hand, his family are glad he's getting to serve his sentence, there are plenty of other less-than-white US Citizens whose recent encounters with police have been terminal.  At least 9,000 this century according to Fatal Encounters.

On the other side of the pond on 9th of July 1982, an unemployed painter-and-decorator called Michael Fagan climbed over the fence at Buckingham Palace, shinnied up a drain-pipe and wandered about the interior eating cheese and crackers and swigging from a wine bottle which he found on a table. He appeared in Mrs. Windsor's bedroom at 0715 hrs asking for cigarettes.  Herself left the room and came back after some time with a footman and two police who arrested Mr Fagan. He was committed for six months psychiatric evaluation.  I guess the sentences are roughly equivalent but Mr Fagan was not in danger of being shot to death: that would make an ugly stain on the carpet.

The leftist Prime Minister of Sweden Olof Palme was killed as he walked home from the cinema in Stockholm on the night of 28 February 1986. Democrats don't didn't habitually use bullet-proof cars and a team of security agents. There was a very measured response in Norway when Anders Behring Breivik went postal on Ut√łya and left 77 mostly young people dead but missed getting a shot there at PM Gro Harlem Brundtland by 2 hours. Nobody is Sweden or Norway suggested that the correct response was to spend billions on a national lock-down or make people remove their shoes when travelling on aeroplanes. The Palme case is still unsolved. Last night Paris was subjected to at least four mass shootings leaving something like 200 citizens dead. We'll have to see what model of security the French government adopts and then asks who benefits.  Flags at half mast here, I fell in love with Paris when I went there during the Easter vacation when I was 17.

So much for security for citizens and Heads of State. I've mentioned some failings in security w.r.t. paintings, especially one of a handful called Skrik or Der Schrei der Natur or The Scream. Antique maps can be priceless like a painting but can be stolen for sale by people sufficienty avaricious, daring and well-connected.  Slightly over 20 years ago Edward Forbes Smiley was convicted of razoring nearly 100 rare maps and removing them from libraries and museums. He was only nicked when he accidentally dropped >!clunk!< a craft-knife on the floor of Yale University's map room. He was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail and fined $2.3m. The response from librarians and curators was summed up by a quote from one of their number "we are in the business of being vulnerable". I like that sense of balance: there is no point in having cultural treasurers locked in steel cages in cellars where no scholars can read them or use them for research.

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