Not Saussure

January 31, 2007

Translation, please

Filed under: Wingnuts — notsaussure @ 9:19 pm

Simon Heffer, in the Telegraph, after explaining why he’s unhappy about the government’s liberalising gambling laws:

I am a committed libertarian. It is why I write here, week in, week out about the need for the small state, low taxation, the diminution of welfarism and the promotion of individual responsibility. But I am not an anarchist. I believe there is a role for government. It was reflected in Enoch Powell’s dictum that “the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils”.

Well, errm, yes.   Patricia Hewitt will doubtless be happy to explain to him about the ‘preventable evils’ caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and so forth.   In the same article, he expresses an admiration for Oliver Cromwell, who I seem to recall was pretty hot against preventable evils like maypoles, Christmas and the theatre (not to mention Irishmen).

I think all that he means here is that he doesn’t like paying taxes but thinks that saying he’s a libertarian sounds more impressive.   

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Tough on crime

Filed under: Law, Politics — notsaussure @ 6:30 pm

Earlier in the week, I found myself in the rather unusual position of agreeing with Janet Daley in the Telegraph about something, though I didn’t particularly agree with the conclusions she drew.

Besides the obvious reasons for John Reid’s problems with the prison service — incompetence and a complete refusal to face the fact that they were inevitably running out of prison places — she identifies Tony Blair’s famous sound-bite about ‘Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime’ as part of the problem. Essentially, she argues,

What the New Labour doctrine has done is to conflate the purpose of law enforcement (“crime”) with the role of the social services (“the causes of crime”). Not only does that famous aphorism imply that crime always has a socially determined “cause”, but it creates conflicting and inhibiting constraints on law enforcement: the police and the courts are now under as much pressure to consider the supposed causes of an offence as its consequences. And the “causes” are not simply the specific mitigating circumstances that a judge would traditionally have taken into account in a specific case, but much wider and more endemic issues of deprivation and social injustice.

I think she’s misunderstood the way courts inquire into the cause of a particular crime and the use they make of this information; it’s not just personal mitigation in the sense she seems to understand it in which they’re interested but in how best to protect society by trying to ensure the individual criminal before them doesn’t re-offend. How and why he came to commit the crime is relevant both for determining the nature of his criminality and culpability — was his crime deliberately planned or was it opportunistic? Did he intend the harm he caused or was it through thoughtlessness and stupidity? And certainly, at times, public protection is best served by doing something about the causes of the defendant’s criminality, even though that may well trespass into the territory of social services; if the cause of someone’s being a persistent burglar or shoplifter is, as is so often the case, the need to fund a drugs habit, then getting them off drugs is likely to be a great deal more help to everyone than is imprisoning them, even though the latter may also be necessary. (more…)

January 30, 2007

Crime and punishment

Filed under: Law, UK — notsaussure @ 11:19 am

Via The Magistrate’s Blog.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council is seeking the views of the public as part of a consultation exercise on appropriate sentences for drivers who cause death. The consultation is prompted partly by the fact that Parliament has increased the maxmumi sentence — which is normally, though not inevitably, a signal to increase all sentences for an offence pro rata — for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and partly by the fact two completely new offences have been created, causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving and causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured driver.

The problem with this sort of offence, of course, is that the harm actually caused — death — is extreme but the offender’s culpability may range from very grave (e.g. driving extremely recklessly while drunk) to something far more minor — momentary carelessness or inattention caused by inexperience or unfamiliar road conditions, perhaps, or a sudden distraction inside the car.

Anyway, the Sentencing Guidelines Council has published a Consultation paper on causing death by driving offences, on which it would welcome written responses from the public by 19th April.

On the topic of sentencing in general, people might be interested (also via Bystander JP, from an earlier post) in two thoughtful speeches by Sir Igor Judge on sentencing; Sir Igor is a very senior member of the judiciary whose speeches are always, as Bystander says, carefully reasoned and calmly argued and, consequently, of no appeal to the popular press.

There’s one here, delivered last November, on sentencing and public protection, and one from the previous November on The Sentencing Decision, which particularly addresses sentencing and the public perception of crime. These both, I think, give a very valuable insight into the complexities of this aspect of the judge’s job, balancing, as he must, the various demands of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation in an attempt to protect the public.

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January 28, 2007

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds

Filed under: War on Terror — notsaussure @ 9:05 pm

Via Smokewriting, an article by one Nick Cohen from the New Statesman of 14 January 2002:

“Anti-Americanism” is a transparent slur that libels and subverts the best of American freedom. It’s a propaganda insult that is as contaminated as “terrorist”. Right-wingers in London and Washington use it shamelessly to suggest that those who are not happy with their abysmal status quo are the moral equivalents of blood-drenched murderers.

Cohen’s article concludes

American politics cannot be reformed by Blair or anyone else. Anti-Americanism is a prejudice, and it remains crass to identify a people with their government. But with no alternative to the present regime in Washington in sight, a depressingly convincing justification for anti-Americanism remains: that there is little about modern America to be for.

Of course, much has changed since 2002. I don’t think Nick Cohen then fully appreciated the merits of torture, for one thing.

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Quote of the week

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 7:05 pm

Brian Caton, the general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association said: “You don’t want to kick anyone when they’re down, but you feel obliged to with John Reid. “

History lessons?

Filed under: Education, England, history — notsaussure @ 5:09 pm

An interesting article (what else do we expect?) over at Westminster Wisdom, in which Gracchus considers concerns expressed by Matthew Sinclair over the government’s plans

to teach more British history to help pupils have a better understanding of their own identity and Britain’s religious, racial, social and political diversity.

Matthew Sinclair is concerned by the topics on which the proposed history syllabus is to concentrate; according to the Guardian,

Lessons on the Commonwealth and empire, the slave trade and conflicts such as those in Northern Ireland are to be made a keystone of revamped citizenship education. Other issues such as migration will be made central to the curriculum. Pupils will be expected to learn core “British” values such as tolerance, respect, freedom of speech and justice and learn of “the shared British heritage”. There will also be a drive to ensure that white working class pupils do not feel alienated by attention being paid to ethnic minority pupils.

Of this, he comments,

Combine a focus upon periods of ethnic strife with the perspective that these problems are caused by white, Anglo-Saxon, evil and you have a recipe for lessons about how we should accept immigrants because of how awfully we mistreated their ancestors. Instead of trying to teach British national identity they’re trying the old strategy of trying to guilt the white British population into playing nice; this is not a novel strategy and doesn’t have the most impressive record of success.

Gracchus disagrees; he argues that

one of the points about history is to understand that our society has been shaped by people who had very different attitudes to the world than we of the points about history is to understand that our society has been shaped by people who had very different attitudes to the world than we do

and, speaking particularly of one particularly important, complex, controversial and influential Englishman, Oliver Cromwell, (more…)

January 27, 2007

How to run a whelk stall

Filed under: nemesis, UK — notsaussure @ 9:58 am

The Beeb:

Mr Reid apologised on Channel 4 News on Friday, saying the government should have realised a tougher stance on crime would lead to a bigger prison population.

“It is a mistake not to forecast that we would require a larger number of prisons than we have got at present, by putting away a greater number of dangerous offenders for a longer period,” he said.

“I have attempted to remedy that by a ‘buy and build’ policy of already asking for 8,000 more prison places.”

He appears to be saying, in terms, that no one at the Home Office or in government realised that if more people go to prison for longer, this means you will have more prisoners in your prisons and, in consequence, will need more prison places in which to accommodate them.

What next? Sorry, but we didn’t realise that night follows day?

I’ve often thought that running a whelk stall must, in fact, be quite a complex business — you’re dealing, after all, highly perishable commodities so you need to predict your customers’ requirements pretty accurately, you need to know how to keep your stock while you offer it for sale and you have, of course, to grapple with all the complexities of running any small business and all the regulations concerning perishable food.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much foresight to work out that if we start serving larger portions of whelks, and also serve more customers at our stall, we’d better increase the order for whelks with the wholesaler or we’re likely to run out of whelks half-way through the business day.

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January 26, 2007

Overcrowded prisons and suspended sentences

Filed under: Law, nemesis, Panic, UK — notsaussure @ 6:39 pm

I don’t know what the government — or John Reid in particular — can have been thinking of with the now notorious suggestion to judges that they should use non-custodial sentences whenever possible; it does no more than restate sentencing policy and the media storm was an obvious consequence.

Some of the coverage is, in fact, odd, if not downright wrong. The case of Derek Williams, who was given a six months sentence, suspended for two years, for downloading child pornography and who was told that one reason he’d escaped an immediate custodial sentence was that the learned judge had to ‘bear in mind’ the Home Secretary’s circular is a case in point. The judge will also have said in his sentencing remarks that he had ‘to bear in mind’ the defendant’s guilty plea, pre-sentence report (assuming there was one), the quantity and nature of the images downloaded, his previous criminal record (two very old assaults) and the likelihood of his re-offending, but these comments don’t seem to have received equal prominence. (more…)

January 25, 2007

Two and a half cheers for the DPP!

Filed under: civil liberties, Law, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 8:57 pm

Yesterday, having read reports of the speech by Sir Ken Macdonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to the Criminal Bar Association, I called for three cheers on learning he told them

“London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ‘soldiers’. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’.

I’ve now read the speech, called Security and Rights, which is online at the CPS website; I gather that a video, which I very much hope will include the questions and discussion, should be online in a week or so at the Criminal Bar Association website. (more…)

Burns night

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 6:57 pm

Colin Campbell, in Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, reminds us that January 25th is Burns Day and provides, among many other pieces of useful information, a recipe in Scots for haggis (a wechtie pudden traditionally served wi chappit neeps an tatties.)

Back in the early 1990s, when communism was busy falling to bits in the old USSR, I spent a lot of time up in Leningrad/St Petersburg, where life went a lot more smoothly for me and my clients if I kept in the the local Dom Druzhbia, ‘House of Friendship’, which was the official body that tried to keep an eye on foreigners who were doing business up there. I used to do my bit for Anglo-Soviet relations (and a quiet life) by popping in for coffee with the Deputy Director every time I went over, taking her her out for lunch and using her trainee Intourist interpreters whenever I was doing anything I didn’t mind getting back to the authorities. In return, since they’d established I was harmless enough, they stayed out of my hair.

Anyway, one of the main parts of the House of Friendship’s work was entertaining visiting Soviet Friendship Societies, and for some reason the Leningrad branch had particularly fraternal relations with the Scottish-Soviet Friendship Society, who were always taking over parties to see them.

One year, I got an anguished phone call in London from the Deputy Director; she knew I was coming out shortly (presumably she checked the visa lists as part of her job) and could I do her a favour?

Slighly dubious, I replied I would if could, but it would rather depend. No, she said, nothing to worry about; they badly needed a haggis.

What on earth do you need a haggis for?

Turned out that they were entertaining a delegation of Soviet-friendly Scots who were over there for Burns Night and with whom they were planning to hold a Burns Supper. The Scots, obviously, were providing the haggis.

Unfortunately, the Scots organiser, being the sort of chap who’d hate to offend his Communist hosts in any way, had thought to check with the Soviet Consulate to see if they had any regulations on the import of prepared meat dishes — understandable, I suppose; the USA have all manner of similar regulations, so the Soviets might be expected to have them, too.

Well, of course they had regulations — they were Communists, after all, so they dozens of them. Unfortunately, apparently no one had thought to draft a regulation concerning the importation of haggis to the Soviet Union, or at least not one of which the London Consulate were aware, with result the whole matter had been referred back to Moscow. This, of course, took forever, with the result that the Scots had had to leave for Russia without any haggises, while someone in the Foreign Ministry there presumably tried to work out what on earth a haggis was for.

Consequently, as the Deputy Director explained through my howls of laughter, she would take it as a personal favour if I could would bring her a brace or so haggis, because otherwise the Burns Supper would be a bit like Hamlet without the Prince. Because, of course, had the idiots thought to ask her — or any Brit who went over regularly — they’d have known that the Soviet Customs were, by that stage, really not likely to be bothered about the illicit import of capitalist haggises (and, if they were, $10 would fix that easily enough).

Anyway, that was my contribution to Scots-Soviet friendship and understanding.

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