More Than Just Survival

March 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The worst part of this story is that those involved quite probably believe that they’re acting in the best interests of the child involved. The poor kid is in a vegetative state and is not going to recover, yet ‘Priests for Life’ have spent hundreds of thousands on a medical airlift to keep him on a ventilator at a new facility – the hope is that he can die at home over the course of six months or so. The absolute best case scenario is that the child in question has such severe neurological damage that he has no self-awareness – the time, money and emotional stress has all been for nothing, but at least the boy’s problems have long since ended. The much, much worse possibility is that he is still self-aware, and is trapped in a body that can still feel pain but cannot communicate with the outside world; if that’s the case, then the parents, and the priests, are fighting for the right to prolong a child’s suffering unnecessarily.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with death. Sure, a happy, healthy life is the preferable option, but if that’s no longer on the table then painful, forced survival simply for survival’s sake benefits nobody.

Speech

March 13th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

In the UK, the courts are ordering secret injunctions to prevent the press from discussing certain topics, sealed to the extent that even their existence is not supposed to be a matter of public record. In the US, the courts are awarding career-destroying damages against a blogger who simply told the truth.

So, what now? How are we supposed to deal with governments who allow this kind of behaviour? They’ve been legitimately voted in, so apparently the public condones their actions. We’re seeing in Wisconsin that protest does no good. Short of declaring my house an independent state, I’m genuinely at a loss for what to do next.

For Your Own Safety

March 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2002, the standard assumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is reversed – the police may confiscate your property and it is up to you to prove that it was obtained legally before it is returned. It is a law which I fervently disagree with in principle, but what is truly astounding is that the police claim not to be using it to engage in ‘fishing expeditions’ when, even with the reversed burden of proof, a recently reported raid resulted in 80% of the seized property being returned (at great inconvenience and expense to the legitimate owners) and a conviction rate of less than 1%.

Think about those numbers. Of just under 3500 secure storage boxes searched by the police, only 30 people were found to have committed any crime; about 2800 people had to spend months dealing with the police, who were working on the legal assumption that they were criminals, to retrieve their own, legally obtained property; the remaining 650 or so people have not been convicted of any crime, yet have been deprived of cash, jewellery, and so forth. At best, the police were right, and those in the latter group really were criminals – if that’s the case, then I would question what kind of intelligence they were working on that led to the mistaken confiscation of property from the other 2800, and how they possibly think it’s justified to root through the private possessions of that vast majority in an effort to root out a few who broke the law. This is the best possible case, and that vast majority suffered great inconvenience and, quite probably, a significant financial loss. In the worst case, the 80% majority still suffered the same, but the 19% who never got their property returned were truly innocent, and have lost thousands for no good reason.

At the very least, an apology wouldn’t kill them.

Defending Those I Despise

March 2nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

An oddly appropriate trifecta of stories on my BBC feed today: the right thing for the courts to do, the wrong thing to do, and the consequences of the wrong thing being taken to extremes.

Just to be perfectly clear: the Westboro Baptist Church are a group of bigoted morons who seem to do nothing but harm. The woman who mocked a blind policeman about the attack which disabled him deserves nothing but the deepest contempt. The fact remains, though, that free speech is a protected right for all people. Not just those who we agree with, or even those who the vast majority agree with, but everybody.

Arresting someone on spurious charges is never acceptable, even if she demonstrated herself to be a small minded, offensive moron. Doing so because she behaved in such a way to a police officer is, in a way, worse – not only is it punishing someone for exercising their fundamentally protected right to speech (although she did do so in a profoundly unpleasant manner), it’s punishing her for behaving in such a way specifically to someone in power. A seemingly small thing, perhaps, especially when the vast majority (myself included) would feel the immediate urge to retaliate for her behaviour, but that’s the point: small things are the way that major abuses of power work their way in. If the police can’t be trusted to remain impartial, or, even worse, if the legal system expressly codifies greater protections for certain groups (as in the Pakistan blasphemy situation), the rule of law breaks down – why would anyone accept a system which protects others more than themself, after all?

Streisand Effect: Activate

February 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

It appears that the estate of J.R.R Tolkien (primarily driven by his son Christopher, by most accounts) is continuing in its increasingly absurd attempts to silence those who dare to utter the name ‘Tolkien’. The latest evil copyright-flouting pirate to be brought to justice was the proprietor of a Zazzle store who offered a badge bearing the text “While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion.”. If that’s the level of ‘infringement’ that they’re going after now, I’m half expecting a cease-and-desist for this post, to be honest – I’ll be sure to post it here if one turns up, it should make for some entertaining reading.

In the mean time, the internet is responding in the usual fashion – giving the ‘infringing’ work far greater publicity than it would ever have received otherwise. Alongside the inevitable blog coverage, there is now a new store on Zazzle offering a range of censored Tolkien merchandise – how long that one’s going to last is anyone’s guess, but with the preposterous claims that the estate has been spouting thus far it should at least make for some entertaining viewing.

Think of the Children. No, Wait, Not Like That…

February 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Ah, the rallying cry of those who hope to circumvent logic and plug directly into the brain’s ‘moral panic’ centre. It would be amusing if it weren’t so destructive. The latest victim is a comedian facing a potential 20 year child abuse sentence for editing a video to appear that he was singing a song with some sexual lyrics in front of a class of kids. The idiocy of classing a few ‘inappropriate’ lyrics as child abuse is compounded a thousand times over by the fact that the kids never even heard the words – it was spliced together in post production.

Now, I do think that the guy made a bad choice – he didn’t get informed permission from the parents for his use of the video, and they were understandably pissed off about that – but to pull him up on whatever overly broad charges might stick is an enormous abuse of the legal system and vastly devalues the convictions of those who have done genuine harm by classing them alongside a comedian who happened to make a poor judgement.

The Week in Idiocy

February 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

A veritable smorgasbord of moronic stories seem to have come to light this week, and I’m far too lazy to write individual posts of even the most mediocre quality:

  • Russia are, unsurprisingly, expelling foreign journalists who they happen to dislike. Although international denouncement is a perfectly reasonable reaction, I have to wonder whether the British government really has the right to comment when they too have a documented history of banning visitors based purely on their political opinions. Not to imply that I agree with anything I’ve heard said by Terry Jones, Geert Wilders, or Zakir Naik, nor to suggest that they are on the same level as a reporter for the Guardian, but the simple fact is that both countries are refusing to provide a platform for certain speech which they happen to find objectionable. Whatever happened to “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it”?
  • An American school is doing an outstanding job of reminding us why zero-tolerance is very unlikely to be workable in a world where issues are not conveniently and unequivocally divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. I do see the theory behind the “no medical marijuana products on school grounds” rule – although I personally disagree with their logic, I understand why some parents and administrators would worry about the potential for abuse, which is much greater than for most other medications. The true stupidity, however, becomes apparent when the zero-tolerance rule is applied; logic and intent go out the window, and the letter of the law takes over. The end result is that a kid who has already moved schools in order to be able to get home quickly enough to take his seizure medication is no longer allowed to return to school after doing so because he is ‘in possession’ of the drug inside his body. Whichever way I twist it, I honestly cannot comprehend how the school feels this to be a decision which benefits anybody.
  • Apparently leaving a 14 year old to keep an eye on his 3 year old brother for half an hour is now worthy of an official police caution. How the police came to find out about this heinous crime occurring is not made apparent by the article. It does, however, raise the very reasonable question of how this issue would have been treated if it were the 14 year old’s own child rather than their sibling; not an everyday situation, of course, but one that makes clear the absurdity of the police involving themselves.
  • Japan has provided a fine example of how the idiotic superstitions of some can have an impact upon us all. Apparently the families of people who commit suicide are being charged large amounts to compensate landlords for the loss of resale value from the bad luck that the death bestows upon the building. I’m not even quite sure if I blame the landlords for this one – it might be considered somewhat callous, but if (and that’s a big ‘if’) the loss of property value is genuine, then I can understand why they want to be compensated, however stupid the reason – but even if it is the public in general who are at fault, the fact of the matter is that genuine economic value is being wiped out by the fear of evil spirits, and this is happening in one of the globe’s most technologically advanced societies. I’m left wondering firstly how people can really accept such utter absurdity in their day-to-day lives, and secondly why this can’t at least make for some nice cheap property in a city where I want to live?

The Sixth Amendment

February 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Julian Assange’s lawyer has suggested that allowing his extradition from Britain could be the first step on the road to Guantanamo Bay. I don’t know whether this is a realistic claim or not. That rather succinctly sums up the point I wanted to make here: by placing Guantanamo out of the reach of the law, the US government have made it unaccountable – that was precisely the decision that allowed them to run it as they have. What has become particularly apparent now is that accountability does bring some benefits, not least of which is trustworthiness. Even if the US really wouldn’t send Assange off in an orange jumpsuit, the nations considering his extradition have no way to know that; America can no longer be taken seriously in claiming that ‘our laws prevent us from doing that’.

Little comfort to those held without charge or trial, I admit, but perhaps a sign of some consequences, however minor, finally being felt.

Serious Abuse of Power? Hilarious!

February 3rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

You may have read recently that a British immigration officer decided to get rid of his wife by covertly placing her on a ‘no fly’ list while she was outside the country. It worries me greatly that this was possible (not to say that it particularly surprises me, however). It provides further proof that Jacqui Smith, who created the department in question, was one of the worst things to happen to British human rights in a very long time. It sickens me that the officer appears to have emerged from this without any kind of criminal proceedings.

For the moment, though, I will leave all of those issues to one side. What really, genuinely shocks me is the tone set by the news coverage; look at Reuters’ take on the issue:

If you thought breaking up with someone via text message was harsh, wait until you hear about this.

Or perhaps Time’s incisive opening:

Sometimes marriage gets a bad rap. But it’s another thing completely to prevent your wife from ever coming home. Avoidance issues, anyone?

Yes, I’m quoting selectively, but honestly those excerpts pretty much embody the attitude of the articles. No righteous indignation, no calls for justice, no questioning of how a single officer could exile an innocent woman for three years with no recourse nor even an indication of why she was not allowed home. Just a light chuckle from the press about the perils of marriage, and the whimsical lengths that these silly 1950s-stereotype men will go to in order to avoid their wives. This is the best we can get from an industry that makes its money by telling us that rapist-paedophile-communist-bankers are waiting around every corner to strike at our children?

Security Theatre and You

January 28th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The government have decided that they are still allowed to bypass the legal system (albeit to a slightly less egregious extent than has been tolerated in recent years) if they want to restrict someone’s rights and freedoms but don’t have enough evidence to secure a conviction. Aside from the fact that the plans are still a serious violation of the EU Convention on Human Rights[1], we’re being asked to believe that the state genuinely needs to be granted these powers in order to protect our safety. They do not, however, add any detail on the magical abilities which allow them to know when a person is plotting an attack, but simultaneously prevent them from bringing a case to court under any of the various “conspiracy to commit…” laws. At this point, we’d be doing just as well with an anti-tiger anti-terrorist rock.

On a vaguely related note, it is, at least, good to see some security officials doing their job properly. Only a few days ago, a rifle was found destined for a plane at Gatwick airport. Admittedly it was less than 10cm long, cast from plastic resin, completely non-functional, impossible to mistake for a genuine weapon, and attached to an action figure, but this did not prevent the gallant public protector from sending the passenger back through the airport (brandishing the item considered too dangerous to allow on the plane) to post it home. They slept soundly that night, safe in the knowledge of their job and civic duty well done, I’m sure.

[1] Well, they would be if the convention didn’t have get-out clauses you could drive a bus through. In any case, I’m pretty sure the spirit of the law granting ‘freedom of assembly and association’ is violated if you’re putting restrictions on people for reasons like this:

Security chiefs say the power is an essential tool in cases where there is intelligence that someone is involved in extremism but has not yet committed a crime, such as someone associating with known plotters.

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