January 24th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Political ideas, regardless of validity, rapidly seem to develop a level of inertia only otherwise encountered in the more esoteric branches of physics. The British government are currently kicking up a fuss about UK companies supplying drugs to death-row executioners in the US. I forget why the US prisons can’t get the stuff for themselves locally, but the question is immaterial; the supply of the chemicals is just one of the well documented issues with lethal injection, ranging from the difficulty of finding a vein to the question of the pain it may or may not cause. If it were the only option, or perhaps the best of the bunch, then debating and maybe accepting these issues (the morality of execution in general aside, for now) would be reasonable. That’s if there were any chance of lethal injection being the best option. There isn’t.

Nitrogen is cheap, absurdly plentiful, can be administered with minimal difficulty and essentially no training, is painless and effective, and even maintains a level of clinical detachment which some say is to be afforded as a courtesy to the executioner. This is not a complex moral issue, it’s not the debate about whether capital punishment should be carried out at all, it is simply a question of method. One method is demonstrably superior in all respects. So fucking use it.

Thirty-two Months

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Throwing a fire extinguisher from the top of a tall building was a colossally stupid and dangerous thing to do, but I have to wonder whether it really demands the same prison sentence as:

[Update, 7th Feb] Another delightful entry for the list: 33 months for blinding someone by stamping on their face with stiletto heels.

Freedom of Asshattery

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Some men in Newcastle burned a copy of the Koran. From this, I can deduce that they were probably intolerant, bigoted and quite possibly racist – it’s one thing to offend in the course of making a point, quite another to offend simply for the sake of it – but I see no reason for it to become a matter for the courts. They happened to get off, but only due to insufficient evidence, not due to any legal or philosophical protection for their actions.

Simply put, “acting like a dick” is not (in general) a crime; if “acting like a dick to a certain group” is a crime, the legal system has suddenly created an order of preference. As the wise and holy sages of South Park so eloquently put it:

Either everything is okay to make fun of or nothing is.

Sure, these guys weren’t exactly ‘making fun’ – at best they set out to show their disapproval in a clumsy and overreaching manner, and very probably intended to cause deliberate offence – but the principle is the same. Either we are free to mock, to criticise and to offend anyone, or we must be polite and deferential to all. Attractive as the latter option may occasionally sound, a free society can only function based on the former. Half-measures simply breed inequality or set the ball rolling towards uniform restriction.

Brains in Jars

January 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

For the purposes of this post, I will force myself to put aside the fact that the term ‘think tank’ will always conjure an image something akin to Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of course, logically that would mean I shouldn’t have bothered to mention it at all, but now the image has been etched onto your brain for at least the rest of the day, so my work is done in that respect.

It seems more than a little incongruous to read another ‘think tank’ study warning of the dire consequences that will befall [segment of society] due to the government cutting [benefit/tax break/service of choice]. At the risk of sounding like a low-rent stand up comic: might it not make a tiny bit more sense to just save a bit of cash and cut the think tanks instead?

There isn’t that much money spent on them, but then the whole MP’s expenses scandal was basically over pocket change when you look at it in context. Surely a government-sponsored sinecure handed out to those who need it least should be an issue that causes something approaching the same level of animosity? Even those running the bloody things admit that they don’t know why anyone’s bothering to pay them, after all.

I’d Make a Great Messiah

January 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

If someone wants to travel from the US to Cuba because it seems an interesting place to visit, that’s too bad. If, on the other hand, someone wants to travel there because they need to clear themselves of thetans, or because their chosen all-loving and all-forgiving deity will turn them into a pillar of salt if they don’t, that’s just fine.

It’s at this point that I would gather all my self righteousness and declare that we should start our own religion (with blackjack and hookers) to make clear the point that anything can be called by the name of ‘religion’ and that the law must protect all equally or none. Luckily, someone funnier than me already did so. So go and read his blog instead.

Some Rights Reserved

January 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I happened to be reading a column that roughly followed the now-standard “I support free speech, except…” model. Their particular justification was based on the EU Convention on Human Rights, specifically article 10:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Read that again, see if you notice the particularly gaping hole – apparently the right to free speech can be overridden “for the protection of health or morals“. I’m well aware that, politically speaking, absolutes are difficult; the majority of the other caveats up there could at least have a spirited argument made for their tangible purpose, whether or not one personally agrees with them. Morality, though? They really didn’t foresee any problems with including that one!? In writing a supposedly universal declaration of human rights, the EU have decided that those rights only apply if whoever is in power happens to agree that they are ‘moral’, whatever one may claim that to mean. Well done, guys.

“We’re going to take this kind of thing seriously, whether they’re joking or not”

January 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Some kids drew a map of their school, and apparently decided to add possible bomb placements to the map. It was intended to be part of a game, and there was no evidence of any actual explosives. Rather than talking to them, and perhaps explaining to the 11 and 12 year olds that this might be construed as threatening when taken out of context, the school has decided to recommend that they are kicked out, and passed the case on to the Sheriff’s office, who charged four students with criminal conspiracy to commit terroristic threatening, a misdemeanour, and one student with felony terroristic threatening. Again, these kids made absolutely no threat – the teachers chose to interpret the map as such – yet one of them has been charged with a felony. The title of this post is not even paraphrased, it is what a spokesperson for the school district actually said.

Worst of all, Lauren Roberts, the district’s public information officer, has commented that she doesn’t think a felony charge is too harsh, even if it was meant as a fantasy game. People actually believe that 11 year olds deserve life altering criminal proceedings even though they did not cause any harm, did not make any threat, and had no negative intent whatsoever. Their ‘crime’ was to show slightly poor judgement in their choice of game. She even had the gall to say that “The safety of children is our first priority”, as if charging these children even though it was not a threat had any impact whatsoever on the safety of others. I honestly cannot adequately express my anger here – I’m too frustrated to even joke about this one.

As Bad as Reading Palin’s Email

January 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Although I would never question the infinite wisdom of the fine US legal system, it does appear that there may be just be a tiny amount of inconsistency in sentencing. On that note, here are a few things that the courts consider equivalent to publishing someone else’s email:

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