Thursday, October 27, 2005

Licence to kill?

Quietly announced today behind stories on the smoking ban and bird flu, was the review of the firearms strategy for dealing with suspect suicide bombers, A Scotland Yard review after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menenzes having concluded it remained the best approach. The review on whether or not to change this policy is ongoing.

Now it strikes me that police need an effective way of dealing with such situations, but we come up against a questioning of the use of lethal force. Now in a clear-cut scenario, I have no problem with the police using any force necessary to stop a suicide bomber intent on killing even more people. But in a situation such as that which happened in London earlier this year, the intelligence possed by the police was obviously not enough to justify the shooting of someone who 'was thought' to be a bomber.

The thing is, if the police are going to sanction lethal force in a situation where they are not in full possession of the facts, then they are effectively judging someone guilty before the fact, and, by shooting them in the head, denying them the possibilty to defend themselves or be found innocent at a later date. It is very difficult to offer a reasonable explanation of your actions from beyond the grave, after all.

It is also worrying that in the same BBC website article, the shoot-to-kill policy is already being talked about in non-terrorist terms. Again, I defend the right for the police to use lethal force, but it should not be authorised carte blanche, even in specific situations. We need a greater focus on information and crime-prevention than simply shooting the suspect and having done with it. It is often the case in police shootings that the victim is mentally ill rather than 'evil', and as such if at all possible the individual should be given medical help as a patient rather than shot as a criminal.

Now of course, this is a fundamental problem of dealing with terrorists. We need an effective was of stopping suspects which doesn't involve detaining them without trial or shooting them on weak information. But at the same time there is obviously a need to stop criminal acts and terrorist atrocities which we have intelligence but not proof of. It is admittedly a very difficult situation to be found in. Crucially, however, a quick response should not be confused with a poorly thought out response, especially when such a method as shooting suspects is being used. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty; killing someone, however simple it may be, removes that right permanently.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Updates: Piglets, torture and stuff

Muttawa gives us the good news that Dudley Council has realised they got carried away when they banned Piglet et al, a follow up from my opinions here on the ban itself and here on the right to cause offense.

Meanwhile, in a related story to Paul's observations on torture, Craig Murray points out further evidence that the British Government is quite happy to torture people itself. There's plenty doing the rounds about why torture just doesn't work, so no need to repeat myself here.

In not-blog-related but possibly useful info for any readers we've thus far picked up, I'm typing this on a brand new PC, the old one was on its last legs and crashed on me once too often last week. There are some articles pending, apologies for the delays, I really want to address the future of the Tory party and a needed realignment, and the English question really does need to be addressed somewhere outside of the comments sections. However, as I'm also no longer single, life is getting in the way on a few fronts. I'll get them done, I've got a folder full of links on the Tory article.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A political puzzle

When is torture not torture? When it's done by someone else, or at least that's one of the possible outcomes of the House of Lords review on the use of evidence garnered from currently held suspects who gave statements abroad.

Now to my mind, this sounds like something of a joke. The very idea that we could ban the deportation of asylum seekers to Zimbabwe because they may face torture there, or that we are currently seeking assurances from middle eastern countries (such as Libya)that they will not torture people who we extradite there, shows quite clearly that we don't do torture in the UK. So to think that we might allow evidence from tortured suspects, as long as it happened somewhere else, truly does make me laugh. It sounds like the worst kind of NIMBY-ism possible - 'Well, we'd love to do it, and we'll accept anything you get from it, but our electorate's a bit squeamish see. Perhaps if you could do it for us?'

Thing is, it doesn't just turn the whole issue of torture into a farce, but it also makes Britain look bloody hypocritical on the global scene. The worst thing is that double standards on something as emotive as torture (especially when those countries we're condemning are Islamic ones) plays right into the hands of the very terrorists we're trying to stop. The idea that we can condemn civil rights in the middle east, whilst allowing Camp X-Ray and even using evidence gained from it - well, I can see why people start to hate us quite frankly.

Now I could go into a debate about the ethical considerations of the use of torture, whether it's acceptable under certain conditions, or whatever. But I don't think we need to have that debate, because the vast majority of our laws show the debate is already won in favour of not embracing torture. What we really need is a single coherent approach to torture, either one way or the other. Considering we have gone to such great lengths in the past to ensure torture does not occur in the UK, and that we play an active role in convincing other countries to stop using torture, it would seem to make sense to go the final step and uphold the ban on using evidence gained via torture regardless when in the world it has been obtained.

The other option, to allow torture under 'extreme' circumstances, both lessens our standing as a democratic state, and lessens the liberty of our everyone by condoning torture at any level.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Nielsen on Blogging

When I was first introduced to the web, and almost immediately afterwards to web design, a friend pointed me in the direction of Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox. As one of the founders of the web usability movement, it's a site I return to again and again, as although I'm an amateur at design, it's great to look a a supposed 'professional' site and spot basic, glaring errors.

Today, he gives us in the 'blogosphere' a gem, Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes. I've scanned it, I agree with what I've read. Completely off topic for this blog, but just generally worth linking to so go have a look...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Blair Vs World


The decision yesterday by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal not to return a Zimbabwean man to Zimbabwe for fear of facing reprisal once he got there was almost certainly the right decision. It seems entirely incompatible to, one the one hand, say that it is safe to deport asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe whilst, on the other hand, decrying the truly awful state that the country is in.

That's about as much as I'll talk about that though, because now I think there's a bigger question facing us. What I want to know is, who, outside of Blair and his supporters, actually supports the moves currently being taken by the Labour government?

What I'm saying is that it seemed clear from the start of the case over deportation to Zimbabwe that the government was in the wrong, yet they've stuck with it anyway. After the 7th of July attacks, no-one except the government and the police saw the need to introduce new laws that were previously covered by old laws anyway. Detention without trial for up to 90 days is opposed by both the opposition, the Lib Dems, and members of the Labour Party itself, not to mention all the civil liberties groups. ID cards too are opposed by both other major political parties. Where exactly is Blair going with this agenda, and why is he still so keen to pursue it with so much opposition?

Probably the most popular response is the need for Blair to be seen to be doing something about the most pressing problems facing the country; terrorism, asylum, national security. All of the these measures do, to some degree, offer protection in some way. Thing is though, for example after the London bombings, the police did incredibly well in tracking down those responsible in a very short space of time without any of these new measures.. Clearly the police were doing something, and something far more tangible than creating new laws to appease the electorate. Seemingly, each and every one of the schemes that Blair is currently pushing is opposed because it offers an overblown solution to a problem which is actually quite a bit easier to solve. Why does it feel that everyone but Blair can already see this?

It seems pretty clear to me that what people actually want is results, not white elephants or singled-out scapegoats to make everybody feel better. We shouldn't be faffing about with pointless new laws, we should be giving more funding to the police, we shouldn't be introducing ID cards, we should be hiring more police officers in the first place. And we definitely shouldn't be condemning people to torture or death by returning them to their unsafe place of origin just because 'we need to be doing something' about asylum.

Then again, perhaps bread and circuses really is the way to deflect real criticism. If so, let's look forward to another Labour government in 4 years time...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Which thousand years, exactly?

I am reminded by my friend Mark, from Alderney, that today is the anniversary of his bit of the worlds invasion of our bit of the world, the Battle of Hastings. This brings to mind a little phrase that always seems to crop up when matter European are discussed, that wonderful old phrase about a thousand years of history. An example, from UKIP, here:
...the Prime Minister is signing away nothing less than Britain’s right to self-government. A thousand years of history goes down the drain...


The historian in me is always bothered by this terminology. What thousand years are you referring to, exactly? While you're at it, can you explain how this:
Duke William of Normandy left St.Valery
in Normandy with about 600 ships and 10 to 12,000 men Sept 27th in 1066.

is an invasion whereas this:
It took an immense foreign armada of possibly 600 vessels carrying perhaps 15,000 Dutch and German troops
(Schama, op cit, p.312)
was an entirely internal revolution? Why are reputable websites still perpetuating this "thousand years" myth?

I grew up just outside Brixham, I know how pivotal William III's invasion of this great nation was to the foundation of the Union. Why do we still stick our heads in the sand and proclaim it an entirely internal affair?

Backlinking as promised

NM doesn't like me, or something. Me, cheeky? Never. Oh, wait...

I've also had links from strangelyrouge and the dairy product.

Been a bit of a hectic week, but the weekend is fairly clear, and I've promised at least two proper responses to comments, so stay tuned for "Why an English Parliament is a bad idea" and "What to do with the Tories". Honest, they'll happen. No idea if Paul's got anything planned...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Backlinks: link here!

Blogger has it seems over the weekend given us an easier to use, slightly less effective although much harder to spam competitor to trackbacks. Last week, I spent a bit of tie researching if it was possible to run trackbacks on blogger without using haloscan, which I really dislike. After our favourite dairy product switched to Haloscan in order to run trackbacks over the weekend, I was almost tempted. Then I sw the option to enable them while tweaking something else, and after the WTF reaction, started looking into things.

So, an experiment to see how good they are; link to this post, and if you're on blogger set up backlinks of your own; it's already enabled in my template, (I turned it on and it was there, yay!) so it may already appear for you, unless you're Nosemonkey, who will probably have to recode the site from scratch again...

Tomorrow night, I'll look at the backlinks, add them to a new post, and we'll see how they go; deal? Go on. Not just whoring for links to the new blog,honest guv'nor!

[Edit: Nosemonkey just called me a cheeky bastard, but he did link to this post, so we'll see if it works- Mat-14/10/05]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

News from Elsewhere: DK is away

Devil's Kitchen informs us he's off to foreign climes, but has asked Tiny Judas to stand in. Who? I hear you ask. Well, precisely, so I went and had a look. Apart from the occasional frequent missing capitalisation, very impressive. Especially this on Godwin's law
Here is the crux. By Fetishizing Hitler and Nazism. By setting it to one side, as evil like no other, we devoid ourselves of responsibility for it. It was just a period in which Hell reigned on earth and there's not a lot anyone could have done about that, apart from be thankful that its over. By imagining that it is something that happened once, we soothe ourselves to the potential for cruelty we carry. We deny the possibility of it happening again.

and this and this on NuLab's continuing attacks on our liberties.
Blair's rhetoric is fucking bollocks. justice is not dickensian (its much older than that). and if all the above is Tony's vision of contemporary justice, then he's been getting a hard on from one too many judge dredd comics.

Good to know a more favoured blog from the sensible Right is in good hands, enjoy the break DK.

Meanwhile, in response to this discussion on here about the ECHR, Ken at EU Realist gives us this breakdown of the important differences between the Council of Europe (which was set up in 1949 and virtually all countries in the continent of Europe including Turkey are members of) and the European Union (which has grown out of the European Coal and Steel community established by 6 members of the Council who wanted something more). While I disagree with some of his conclusions (we're sort of in favour of remaining within a reformed EU in these parts) it isa pretty good summary of why the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice should not be confused, being,a s they are, the judiciaries of two, entirely separate, organisations.
The Council of Europe is the continent's oldest political organisation, founded in London 1949. the first major convention was drawn up: the European Convention on Human Rights, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and coming into force on 3 September 1953.
Shortly after the accession of the Federal Republic of Germany, Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister approached all the Council of Europe countries with a proposal for a European Coal and Steel Community, to be provided with very different political and budgetary means.
The six countries most attached to the ideal of integration - Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany - joined, and on 9 May 1951 signed the very first Community treaty. Strengthened by the experience and commitment which had brought the "Greater Europe" into existence, the "Smaller Europe" was now making its own "leap into the unknown" of European construction
(my emphasis; regardless of what you think about the EU, we should be damned proud of our acheivements in WWII and the subsequent creation of the Council). Thanks Ken.

Elsewhere, Dead Men Left and everyone's favourite dairy product are slamming Blunkett for his latest misstatement of the facts and, well, him in general really. Can't say I blame them. Or disagree, for that matter.

In the meantime, I'm planning a long response to Gary's comments here in my post about the necessary break up of the Tory party. But, well, I'm a bit busy, and I want it to be a good one. In the meantime, definately appreciate the comments over the last few days, feedback makes it all seem worthwhile, and we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't like to argue with people.

Fair's fair?

Just a quick post on the nature of fairness.

This week there's been a fair bit of talk by George Osborne and others within the Conservative Party about the possible introduction of flat tax as a fairer system of tax than current income tax. Fairer, because it sets a basic rate of tax which everyone is liable to pay with no sector being discriminated against.

What got me thinking about fairness is that this system is clearly both fair and unfair at the same time. Charging everyone the same rate certainly does seem fair, but it means different things to different groups, which means it's not fair.I think the difference is between fairness and universalism, which seems to be the main distinction between the two extremes. Basically, flat tax is universal because it applies everyone equally even though the effects may not be equal. Another example would be the British legal system, which is also universal in principle but, for example when levelling fines, doesn't take into account a persons capability to pay that fine with the charge being the same whether the individual is rich or poor.

Now obviously we feel that our legal system is reasonably fair (well maybe not, but it's not like we're rioting in the streets just yet). So maybe a flat tax is fair too? Well, no. Not really.

Even exempting the poorest from paying any tax at all, the real winners from a flat tax are the really high earners whose tax rate under flat tax would drop from 40% to 22%, saving them huge amounts of money each year and completely belittling the extra £1000 that someone of minimum wage would get. Anybody between the cut-off point for not paying flat tax and the current higher tax rate would suffer massively, and that group would likely consist of the average wage earner at around £22'000. With some losing greatly and others gaining even more, it can hardly be called fair, now can it?

Basically, we what have is a new type of tax to help a small minority disguised in word which make it sound like it's equal and fair. What we're actually getting is a tax break for the rich, with a little sweetener for the poor as some thinly veiled attempt to buy them off. It's not fair in the slightest, and, most laughably, the person that wrote the book on which the idea is based doesn't think it will work.

Thing is, we seem to be entering a phase where the Conservatives have realised they need to engage more people and gain more than just right wing support. They some very promising young members in David Cameron and George Osborne and for a change it seems like the Tories might be making some progress. (Mat has talked about the possibility of a Lib-Dem/Tory alliance along a new axis of politics elsewhere and he's not wrong) But this is clearly not a move which is going to bring the Tories back to the centre, it's just a new policy designed to make the rich richer and screw everybody else. The whole point of trying to help the poorer sections of society is to give them a better chance of doing as well as everybody else, and taking money away from them isn't the way to go about it. When it comes to money, some people do need more of a leg up than others. It's hardly 'positive discrimination' to support the more needy in society over those comfortably well off - maybe it's not universal, but it's certainly more fair.

Quick one in the Torygraph

Go here and read this. A Tory blogger quotes an article in the Telegraph and I agree with every single word? What is wrong with the world when Blunkett and Clarke want to lock the world up and Tories are making perfect sense? I despair of the supposed 'left' of this country, half of it still thinks Blair/Brown is a good thing.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Freedom breakthrough: the nannies drop a plan

Nosemonkey brings us the news that they've figured out telling us how to live is difficult. I hate smoking, filthy habit. But many of my friends do, and given my lack of sense of smell, it's never bothered me. My favourite Paignton cafe is a smoking cafe, they do such a great omelette I don't care. The only reason I could see for the ban was staff health and safety, but that can be worked around, and it's already banned at the bar itself. Simple solution to the govt: make pubs, etc. put up a sign and in their ads saying how much smoking is allowed, and let individuals make the choice? Market forces will decide, and then there can and will always be a few pubs for the unhealthy reprobates and their tolerent friends.

[Edit: a friend took a completely opposed view on his livejournal, and we had a debate, made me think through a few of the issues a little more than I had; non-smoking areas are essential for some, and unenforced n-sm policies are downright dangerous. Perhaps this is an area where the market does need a little more assistance?]

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Euromyths

Not so much an update as a plug for a very nice website serving to dispel some of the myths about Europe which our media so love to shout about.

The website is called Euromyths, and should provide a good laugh for anybody who remembers the stories a while back about straight bananas, fake chocolate and the general claims of over-harmonization that seem to crop up whenever some Eurosceptic hack cant be arsed to find a real story.

To give a little background, I stumbled across this site because I heard that awful line from UKIP on friday about
70% of british Law being made in the EU

Now I was basically searching around trying to prove or disprove this claim, but suffice to say the only, only reference I can find to it is on UKIP's own website, and they, obviously don't offer any evidence for this claim.

Thing is, it's partly believable in that a lot of British laws are now made after consultation via the EU institutions. That's not to say, as UKIP would have it, that those laws are imposed on us, but that as a member of the EU, we work within a certain framework. Sometimes that benefits us, sometimes it doesn't. More often it does both, but our lovely reactionary media *cough* Daily Mail *cough* only pick up on the bad aspects. The laughable thing is that you can usually see straight through their reports, so it's really the people that read the articles and take them at face value who are the people at fault.

Anyway, I may well email the keepers of the Euromyths website and see if they have the answer.

Oh, and another thing. During his speech to the Tory conference last week, Dr Liam Fox made reference to the need for Britain to avoid Europe's 'ever closer union'. I would like to correct Dr Fox here by pointing out that all reference to 'ever closer union' was dropped from the draft EU constitution as early as February 2003. I'm sure he'd like me to point that out; God forbid the Tories mislead the public over Europe or anything.


[Edit:Link fixed to what I think Paul meant, thanks to NM for pointing it out-MatGB]

Friday, October 07, 2005

On piglets, freedoms and flying the flag.

Apparently, the English flag is racist. In fact, if you see one flying somewhere, you should report it as intimidating. So, because small minded racist thugs like a symbol, that means the symbol itself becomes a problem? Should I stop buying red roses because the nanny staters use them as a symbol? I don't often agree with the England Project (let's face it, they want to destroy the Union), but on this one I agree completely; the English and British flags are thigs we should be proud of. Reclaim it so we can be.

Mark Steyn wrote an article on the Piglet ban in The Telegraph, and, unsurprisingly, misses the point completely. Firstly, he blames the 'liberals' for bending over, when any true liberal knows this sort of ban to be completely illiberal (oh, Tory run council that did it by the way, the sort of people the Telegraph normally likes). Oh well. It's idiotic nanny staters that want to protect us from being offended Mark, not liberals. Still, he ends well..
But at some point Britons have to ask themselves - while they're still permitted to discuss the question more or less freely - how much of their country they're willing to lose. The Hundred-Acre Wood is not the terrain on which one would choose to make one's stand, but from here on in it is only going to become more difficult.
Other blogs out there have been covering this, but they're all blaming the Muslims. I'm not, I'm blaming the idiots who decided to go overboard and ban everything...

Oh, The Independent had some good coverage. on HMG's non-complaince with our international obligations as members of the Council of Europe, an organisation with a proud history we helped found. shame they still want you to pay for access to their archives.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Voting

The European Court of Human Rights today ruled that it was a breach of the Human Rights Act to deny prisoners the right to vote. The immediate response to this by Lord Falconer was that 'not all convicts will get the vote'. It struck me later whilst reading the debate on the BBC website regarding giving prisoners the right to vote, how similar the argument of many people who would deny prisoners the vote was to one of the main failures of the work of John Locke.

The argument championed by the group against giving prisoners the right to vote focussed primarily on the idea that criminals had placed themselves outside of society by committing a crime. This too was one the main arguments of Locke's Two Treatises of Government. One of the main problems which faced Locke during Two Treatises was in trying to explain why society needed to punish people for crimes against property considering that the state of nature he had created was one of abundance with no need for people to worry unduly about that sort of crime. Locke argued that not only was committing a crime a crime against the individual target, but it was a crime against the whole of society because it represented a refusal of the law put in place by the wider population. In doing so, the criminal placed themselves outside of society because no rational person would disagree with the law - the criminal in this sense was reduced to nothing more than an animal, and it was the right of the wronged individual to punish this animal as he saw fit.
Man hath a Right to punish the Offender, and be Executioner of the Law of Nature.

The obvious failure of this argument is that is carries that any person who breaks the law, even for minor and arbitrary crimes, is seen as irrational and inhuman and should be punished accordingly. Taken to its logical extreme, 'Don't walk on the grass' means don't walk or be put to death, and Locke's abundant and pleasant state of nature which was so critical to his whole argument starts to fall apart.

The lesson that should be learnt in regards to prisoners is that whilst criminals should be punished, they should not be removed from society lest they be seen as less than human. Voting, which is defined under the Human Rights Act as a basic right of life, is therefore inherent in a person and cannot and should not be removed as a punishment for committing a crime. Criminals are to be punished in prison, not made into monsters, and voting is simply a part of ensuring that prisoners remain involved with British society and hopefully able to be integrated back into society after their term is served. It is also folly, as Lord Falconer seems to be suggesting, that some prisoners might get the vote, whilst others do not. Does this mean that some prisoners are not human?

Don't make the mistake of vilifying criminals any further than need be; they are to be punished but not stripped of their humanity - falling back to the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short state of nature of Hobbes is not what Locke had in mind, and it's not what I have in mind either.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Tory leadership; time for a new Gang of Four?

Well, the Tory leadership contest is once again making the news, and we might get an idea about who is in charge at some point before Christmas. Musings from Middle England has aan amusing round up here. The scary thing for me is that I grew up under Thatcher, and I had no doubt whatsoever by the time I was old enough to vote that the Tories were the enemy and must be defeated. It wasn't, really, the economic policies that bothered me about them, it was the illiberal lock them up, hand 'em and flog 'em approach they took to all crime, criminals, people with long hair, young people who like to party, etc.

I knew we had to get them out of office, as did every other liberal, socialist and fed up middle grounder in the country. We all voted (in many cases tactically), for the candidate best placed to defeat the local Tory, and get them out of office we did. I was up for Portillo, and I did cheer when Twigg stood there with that little grin. Only now, when I see it repeated, I just see the grin of a smug New Labour git. They're not just the new Tories. They're worse.

I'm a soft LibDem supporter by inclination, they're the only viable party that pretty much across the board supports the ideals of individual freedoms that I most value. So why is it when I read the platforms of half the Tory leadership candidates I agree with them? Why is it I find it very hard to disagree with any of the recent entries on Boris's blog? Dead Men Left is running a series of articles on the 'danger' of a LibDem vote, but, to be 100% honest, this lefty would rather a Tory in office than Charles Clarke. As long as that Tory isn't Howard, Davis or Fox.

Then someone like Howard or Davis stands up, or Fox is quoted somewhere, or I look at the Cornerstones website. And I'm torn, they're everything I grew up despising in politics. Fox, it appears, has no chance. That's probably a good thing. Davis is supposedly the front runner, with Cameron having the support of Boris and Duncan. Duncan would've been my preferred choice overall, he is, essentially, an Orange Book LibDem who joined the wrong party. And so we come to the point.

Do we want a strong, rejuvenated Tory party led by someone like Clarke, that is able to challenge Labour and get the Nanny Staters out of office? Even if it means having authoritarian Island Staters in the Cabinet again, possibly in charge of the Home Office, and running the "anti-terror" state take over in pretty much the same way?

Or do we want someone like Davis or Fox to win, the 21st Century equivalents of Michael Foot for the "modern Conservatives"? Because, let us face it, they're not going to win. They're never going to win. But they're popular with the membership rump that's still there.

Let them win. Let the Tory party write its own Suicide Note. But let the sensible half of the party split off to form a new party, a party able to form an alliance with the economically slightly left but otherwise freedom loving LibDems. The present day Conservative and Unionist party was formed by a merger with many who left the old Liberal party when it fragmented in the first half of the 20th Century. That broad church alliance has had its day. Let the liberal wing of the Tories once again split off. They lack a name? In the run up to the celebrations of the Act of Union 1707, given that the Scottish wing is already semi-detached and stressing its Unionist credentials, why not call themselves the Unionist party?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Gun culture?

One of the aspects of living in Britain as opposed to many places in the world is its very sensible approach to gun usage. Not only are guns strictly controlled but even their use by the police is closely monitored. In this way we keep a balance which allows our police force guns, whilst not encountering any problems with the idea that the state can use force against its citizens without having to account for itself.

Take for example the case of Philip Prout, shot dead by police in May last year after an armed siege and a stand-off with marksmen involving Mr Prout brandishing a katana. It would appear from looking at the case that the police action was justified - attempts had been made to talk Prout down, non-lethal methods (a baton gun) were attempted and finally, as a last resort, Mr Prout was shot and unfortunately later died in hospital.

What is notable about this case is that there is was a lengthy inquest performed by the IPCC and currently another inquest into the shooting being conducted by members of Prout's family at Plymouth Crown Court. These investigations are a necessary and crucial part of the legal system and serve to show how gun usage is seen in Britain and how each individual case is considered worthy of a full public enquiry. Hopefully, by IPCC or private hearings, the truth will come out about what happened last year and appropriate measures will be taken.

Which is why, when it came out last Friday that Sir Ian Blair had refused the IPCC access to the scene of Jean Charles de Menezes' death, I was more than a little outraged. More so, in fact, than when I learnt that de Menezes was not a terrorist (because mistakes can happen), or when I learnt that he had in fact not ran, nor vaulted a barrier, or been wearing a large, bomb-concealing jacket (because we'd all known that was the case from the American Press over a week earlier). Outraged, because whilst our country must protect itself against terrorists, and must act upon best information even where this is unfortunately incorrect, it must also do this is in a way accessible to the British people, so that when mistakes do happen, we can see why, and learn from our mistakes. Terrorist crimes should not warrant private investigations - keeping information from the public helps no-one in the long run, and only serves to undermine the long-standing and impressive relationship with gun use and gun crime that we are so lucky to have. Terrorism and the response to terrorism is no excuse for hiding the truth.

We owe the families of Philip Prout, Jean Charles de Menezes and many others that much at least.

Monday, October 03, 2005

State of the Nation

The thing that gets me about the idea of nation-state is some people's purely fictional idea that it is somehow the de facto unit of political relations. As such, everything seems to get reduced to the idea of interacting nations, whilst the actual components of the nation states, it's people, get left behind.

It may or may not come as a surprise to know that nation states are not actually set in stone. The concept of state has only really been around for the last half a millenia; nation less than that.(see Paul Magnette's book on citizenship for a really good discussion of this) The concept of nation state is usually seen as having started with the Treaty of Westphalia, but even after this thinkers were unsure about the viability of a tied people and state. Immanuel Kant, for example, expected the events of the American and French revolutions to herald in a new republic in Europe based primarily on the will of its citizens. After the revolutions, Kant saw no reason why a French of American citizen would put their life on the line for their country - 'For this would mean calling down upon themselves all the miseries of war'. Kant obviously could not foresee the rise of nationalism and patriotism, but the link between nation and state was still not concrete over a century later; the Second Internation gave way to the Comintern after World War One because Lenin had underestimated the power of nationalism to compell workers to fight against each other.

The real link between nation and state has really been a distinctly 20th century phenomena, and even then one which looks like it may be falling apart in the face of globalisation, NGOs and global communication. Multi-national corporations are now larger than some nation-states anyway, and even the big countries like those of Europe have had difficulty reigning in some big names such as Microsoft when it comes to playing fair. The Nation-state is now just one of many actors on a global scale, and it's crucial to work on many different levels as a country to be successful.

Basically, the nation-state is not the be all and end all of politics, and any future development is likely to see the nation state slide even further. Those islanders that think that Britian can bury it's head in the sand, safe beyond her watery borders, are in for a bit of a shock. In many ways we're at a turning point again right now very similar to that of revolutionary Europe and the nation-state is not going to come through unscathed.

Get some perspective, and see the bigger picture, eh?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Requiem for Harry

I'm not particularly a fan, and I've frequently disagreed with him, but at the very essence, he's right about blogging, and he's right about democracy; his quote from John Lloyd about reason replacing dogma is something I definately relate to, although in my case it was a drift towards support of markets and an acceptance of the monarchy; not sure he'd like that, but well. Harry steps down from running his place. The site remains, and I'll still go read it every so often.
The liberating element of blogging lays precisely in the fact that we are able to create our own platforms or spaces to challenge the views of that small group of people who are fortunate enough to be given column inches. Some of the opinion makers have responded well to this challenge, choosing to engage with people who are, after all, nothing more or less than their interested readers while others have been less enthusiastic, even hostile, about the fact that people are actually taking up their arguments – they should get used to it because, while individual bloggers like myself may come and go, this medium isn’t going to disappear nor are readers going to return to being passive consumers of other people's views.

Let's face it, how can you dislike a blog that has that quote as its strapline?
"Liberty, if it means anything at all, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear"
-Good luck Harry

News from elsewhere -good deed needed

The Chicken Yoghurt asks for assitance for a Guantanamo detainee, he grew up in Britain and got his law degree here, why is he rotting in Cuba?

Tim Worstall has provided us with his weekly BritBlog round up, and there are a few gems worth highlighting directly. The Liberator describes Blackpool as "a Chav Beirut" and also quotes my MP's description of the place. OK, small bias, Torquay is a rival to Blackpool in the tourist industry, but from thet description, Torbay wins hands down. The Campaign for an English Parliament (as in those misguided reformers I'm directly opposed to) also give us an English blog round up.

However, the pick of the week is definately Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads giving us a summary of the Labour eviction and the worrying implications for freedom of speech:
The bottom line is that apologies have been made, so it's all over and it shouldn't worry your little heads that an anti-terror Act was used to stifle legitimate debate.

He then goes on to highlight many of my concerns over the end result of limiting freedom of speech:
This attempt to stifle and shut down debate under cover of zero-tolerance of terrorism enrages animal rights activists. Some who feel they have little choice take that Big Step Beyond Reason, and the next thing you know grandma's bones are kidnapped and hidden in a shed in Burton-Upon-Trent.

Repeat message: Continuing to deny reality actually makes the problem worse.
Freedom of speech must be an absolute.
Oh; read on till the end, I love the Santa Claus thing, wonder if we can get it into a t-shirt?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

How do you glorify terrorism?

I mean, that's the real issue about the whole thing isn't it? When does talking about terrorism cross over the line into glorifying terrorism?

Fundamentally, I believe we have in Britain the right to free speech. That is, assuming we are not accusing anyone else of doing something criminal or obviously being predjudiced, we can say whatever we want. People might disagree with you, but then that's a good thing because it encourages further debate. Being tolerant enough to accept that people might have different ideas to you is part and parcel of living in a free, democratic society. To pull out the old and cliched quote from Voltaire 'I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

Not any more, or at least so it seems. Now we cannot 'glorify' terrorism. So back to the first point; what is glorifying terrorism? Now to my mind, whipping a crowd into an ideological frenzy, encouraging martyrdom and sending people off to commit acts of terrorism is pretty much already covered by existing legislation. As Liberty's initial reactions to the anti-terror bill comment, "There are sufficient measures in the current criminal law to allow prosecutions where necessary." So what is it exactly that the government is trying to stop - fuel protestors? animal rights groups? hecklers?

Glorification is difficult to pin down. Considering that universities have now been put on watch for 'extremists', does this mean that academic discussion of terrorism is going to be cracked down on? This cannot happen - there is a world of difference in my mind between debate and acceptance. Looking at an event from a different perspective is called being objective - terrorist/freedom fighter, and all that. There are two sides to every story; we should not allow our government to ban the side they do not like.

And that's another thing. (And a final thing, before I go on forever) You want glorifcation of terrorism, how about funding and supporting terrorism? OK, it's a cheap dig, but it highlights a greater point - if you support a group which later becomes a terrorist group, are you to be held accountable for what you may have said or done in the past? It's a tricky world out there, and loose fitting, ill thought out legislation helps no one.

Be careful what you think.

The right to cause offense

The Religious Policeman gives us this story in the Sun (of all places to link to, I like his description of it though) about a ban on pig related imagery in a council workplace, "in case it might offend". Why? A muslim council worker objected to being given a pig-shaped stress releiver in the run up to Ramadan.

There's a huge difference between objecting to being given a gift and objecting to the interests and preferences of others. I object to being given Nestlé products by those who know of my longstanding boycot, I object to being given meat by anyone if they don't first check my dieatary requirements. I don't object to others eating things I dislike, but I reserve the right to persuade them of my position.

I do not understand why people do this sort of thing and submit to or issue blanket bans. I do not have the right to not be offended. Britain is a country that prides itself on its longstanding tradition of tolerance, respect and understanding. We respect and tolerate the beliefs of others, and fight to uphold their rights to believe and explain them. But we do not allow ourselves to be dictated to, and we should not seek to avoid causing offense to those who take themselves too seriously. Winnie the Pooh and Piglet are British institutions (ignoring the Disney sell out thing) and to ban them because of a complaint about something else entirely?

It was insensitive and insulting to issue a stress reliever to personell that would offend some of them based on their religious beliefs. It is even more insulting to issue a blanket ban on innoffensive childrens characters being displayed at all.