Not Saussure

April 16, 2007

Why didn’t this man win in 2000?

Filed under: Politics, usa — notsaussure @ 9:55 pm

I hadn’t realised, but, in the year 2000 US Presidential Elections, there was a candidate — sadly ignored over here, I fear — for whom I’d certainly have voted were I an American (which, as someone — I think Austin Mitchell MP, but I can’t find a quote —  noted, shortly after the event, gave you more say, at least if you lived in Florida, about British foreign policy than have most Labour MPs).

I refer to Doonesbury’s Uncle Duke, whose many campaign videos are only now available on YouTube and Slate.

As the country gins up for another presidential race, the Doonesbury Town Hall presents for your viewing pleasure an exclusive look back at the campaign videos of Duke2000 — Ambassador Duke’s “Absolutely Nothing To Lose” run for the White House as a maverick Reform Party candidate. E-campaigning from his headquarters at the E-Z Rest Motor Lodge in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, Duke set out to prove that an average citizen, with nothing more than a laptop, a few spam speeches, and a sackful of soft money, could make political history. His cutting-edge 3-D motion-capture animation campaign spots were so ahead of then-existing bandwidth capabilities that only now, two election cycles later and thanks to YouTube, can they be widely viewed and fully appreciated.

Here’s the great man making a rare early morning appearance, on The Today Show.

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April 15, 2007

Long arm of the American law

Filed under: Law, UK, usa — notsaussure @ 5:55 pm

Crikey! I hadn’t realised this. We’re most of us well-enough informed about the way the EU keeps on trying to impinge on national criminal law, what with proposals about holocaust denial and what have you. But how about this:

British businessmen could find themselves in American jails after a crackdown by the US Department of Justice on trade with “rogue states”, leading lawyers say.Ali Manzarpour, a Brighton-based businessman, is in jail in Poland awaiting extradition to the United States, despite never having visited the country.

He is charged with trying to export an experimental single-engine aircraft to Iran. This is not believed to have contravened any British or European law, but because the aircraft originated in the US, the Americans are claiming jurisdiction.

The unfortunate Mr Manzarpour was apparently arrested in Poland two years ago and has been in prison there ever since, trying to avoid extradition to the USA — a country he’s never visited, remember — because of a perfectly legal transaction he undertook from the UK, having obtained all necessary UK export licences. As Lord Waddington asked, in a brief debate in the Lords, initiated by the Conservatives, this time last year

My Lords, is it not correct that, in exporting the goods to Iran from Britain, Mr Manzarpour broke no British law and, if he had remained in Britain, there would have been no question of his being extradited to the United States? If that be correct, why are we not protesting vigorously to the American authorities at their attempt to have Mr Manzarpour sent to America from Poland to stand trial for acts that took place in Britain and that were not contrary to our law?

According to Michael Marinelli, an international trade lawyer with Cooley Godward Kronish in Washington,

The US is asserting its juristiction over people in other countries… If you resell goods that originate in the US, then no matter what UK law says, the US says: ‘We can come after you.’

Particularly, it seems, if you’re small fry; The Times goes on to explain that

Cases being brought by the US Department of Commerce against companies breaching export rules indicate that, apart from rare cases, such as that of ITT [the world’s leading manufacturer of night-vision goggles, fined $100 million (£51 million) last month for sending classified material to China], nearly all involve small operations. Companies such as Shell, which is planning a £5 billion liquid natural gas venture in Iran, and Halliburton, which had an office in Tehran for years, appear to be of less concern to authorities in Washington than an individual allegedly attempting to to sell a light aircraft.

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A surprising finding

Filed under: Education, usa — notsaussure @ 12:23 am

From the BBC:

US students attending sexual abstinence classes are no more likely to abstain from sex than those who do not, according to a new study.

Participants in special programmes were just as likely to have sex a few years later as those who did not attend.

In the past few years of Republican Party control of Congress, the spending on no-sex-before-marriage education has risen from $10m to $176m a year […]
The students in this study, which was ordered by Congress, came from a range of big cities across the United States, such as Milwaukee and Miami and from rural communities in Virginia and Mississippi.

They were 11 and 12 years old when they entered the abstinence programmes, which lasted one to two years.

The researchers also looked at the behaviour of their peers from the same communities who did not attend the classes.

The findings show that those who attended first had sex at about the same age as their peers – at 14 years and nine months.

But…

The Bush administration has warned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study.

Why?  What conclusions could anyone possibly draw from these results?  

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April 14, 2007

Duke University lacross case and due process

Filed under: Law, usa — notsaussure @ 1:12 pm

Via Tiberius Gracchus, the depressingly predictable news that, in the wake of the final collapse of the case against the Duke University men’s lacrosse team members for alleged rape and kidnapping, people have started calling for the public identification and prosecution of the complainant in the matter.

We’ve had similar cases here, of course, and my view remains the same; that, whatever the details of the individual case, such demands are, as a general rule, utterly misguided and rest on a complete misunderstanding of the burden and standard of proof in a criminal trial. Briefly, in any criminal trial, the prosecution has to make the jury sure that the defendant is guilty; nothing less will do, so if the jury think the defendant is probably guilty but there’s a chance, albeit a pretty slim one, he or she isn’t, then they must acquit.    And that’s as true in a prosecution for perjury, or for attempting to pervert the course of justice by making a false complaint to the police, as it is for rape.  

In practical terms, then, unless you’ve got persuasive independent evidence that a complaint is false, prosecuting the complainant is pretty much a non-starter, and quite rightly so.   She says, ‘Despite what people think, I’m telling the truth and the members of the lacrosse team did rape me’ and, in effect, we run the rape trial only with the burden of proof reversed.    The prosecution now has to prove — an uphill task, without independent evidence — that something didn’t happen, and, if at the end of the exercise, the jury is left thinking, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure she made it all up, but there’s a chance it happened the way she said,’ then they’ve got to acquit.  

Then, of course, on top of having had to suffer consequences of having the allegation of rape hanging over their heads, the defendants would have to live with the consequences of their accuser’s acquittal.   No thanks.    Obviously if there is persuasive evidence that she deliberately made a false complainant, then she should be prosecuted, but the mere fact that, on closer examination, the complaint didn’t seem very convincing isn’t, and shouldn’t be, enough.

Closer examination of the history of the case reveals a complete and utter shambles.    The District Attorney, Mr Mike Nifong, seems to have been far more interested in launching a sensational and high-profile prosecution in a politically charged atmosphere in the run-up to an election than in trying the case fairly, and is now facing very serious charges (pdf) before his bar association over his conduct of the case.   These allege that he made ‘improper pre-trial public statements and misrepresentations’ (and highly prejudicial ones, at that) about the case (paras 10 — 181),   that he withheld or suppressed exculpatory DNA evidence (paras 182 — 229) that should, in the normal process of disclosure, have been turned over to the defence and that he made misrepresentations and false statement to the Court and to opposing counsel (paras 230 — 278) and the State Bar’s Grievance Committee (279 — 291).    As I’ve pointed out before, when we see false allegations of rape go too far before the charges are thrown out, it’s usually because the disclosure process has gone wrong (with the suspicion that people are trying to cover their backs, of course). 

If anyone should be facing charges of attempting to pervert the course of public justice it should, in my view, be Mr Nifong rather than the complainant in the matter, if half the allegations about his conduct of the case are true. 

He seems to have been assisted in this by the — to British eyes — extraordinary way in which the media can, and does, in the US try the case before it gets anywhere near a jury.   CNN’s and Court TV’s Nancy Grace seems to have been particularly remiss in this respect and was deservedly skewered by Jon Stewart in The Daily Show. I particularly liked the courageous way she dealt with the collapse of the case.

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April 12, 2007

Due process

Filed under: Law, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 5:10 pm

At last, an encouraging story from the US legal system. A lengthy article by Jesse Bravin in The Wall Street Journal of March 31 (pay per view article, but here’s a link to a mirror of the full piece). It begins,

When the Pentagon needed someone to prosecute a Guantanamo Bay prisoner linked to 9/11, it turned to Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch. A Marine Corps pilot and veteran prosecutor, Col. Couch brought a personal connection to the job: His old Marine buddy, Michael “Rocks” Horrocks, was co-pilot on United 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.The prisoner in question, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, had already been suspected of terrorist activity. After the attacks, he was fingered by a senior al Qaeda operative for helping assemble the so-called Hamburg cell, which included the hijacker who piloted United 175 into the South Tower. To Col. Couch, Mr. Slahi seemed a likely candidate for the death penalty.

“Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands,” Col. Couch says.

But, nine months later, in what he calls the toughest decision of his military career, Col. Couch refused to proceed with the Slahi prosecution. The reason: He concluded that Mr. Slahi’s incriminating statements — the core of the government’s case — had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.

The Slahi case marks a rare instance of a military prosecutor refusing to bring charges because he thought evidence was tainted by torture. For Col. Couch, it also represented a wrenching personal challenge. Laid out starkly before him was a collision between the government’s objectives and his moral compass.

These kinds of concerns will likely become more prevalent as other high-level al Qaeda detainees come before military commissions set up by the Bush administration. Guantanamo prosecutors estimate that at least 90% of cases depend on statements taken from prisoners, making the credibility of such evidence critical to any convictions. In Mr. Slahi’s case, Col. Couch would uncover evidence the prisoner had been beaten and exposed to psychological torture, including death threats and intimations that his mother would be raped in custody unless he cooperated.

Col. Couch, it should be noted, is hardly sympathetic to Mr Slahi and neither is he in any doubt about his guilt; the article concludes,

Col. Couch says he’s still frustrated that the actions of the U.S. government helped ruin the case against Mr. Slahi. “I’m hoping there’s some non-tainted evidence out there that can put the guy in the hole,” he says.

It’s just that, quite rightly, he’s not prepared to convict him on evidence tainted by torture or duress. Members of the ‘decent left‘ (and the present government) please note.

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March 18, 2007

But is Steven Colbert white?

Filed under: Linguistics, usa — notsaussure @ 4:52 pm

Via Tim Worstall and FreeBorn John, Obama isn’t black. He’s African-African American (or perhaps African2 American?). Anyway, Debra Dickerson explains, with remarkable good humour.

No reason we should be confused, I suppose. After all, when Americans talk about ‘football’ or ‘beer’ they don’t mean the same thing by the term as does anyone else, and I once caused some hilarity by explaining to some American students that I needed to borrow a rubber to correct a mistake…

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March 15, 2007

Irreligous minorities in US Politics

Filed under: Politics, Religion, usa — notsaussure @ 10:33 pm

Some time ago I commented on the Gallop finding that 53% of Americans reckon they wouldn’t vote for an atheist as President.   While I still doubt how much you can read into that figure, since I find it impossible to believe that 53% of Americans would, when it came down to it, refuse to vote for someone with whose politics they agreed, purely on the grounds he didn’t believe in God, I must say I was a bit surprised to learn, via Andrew Sullivan, that only one member of Congress (Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.)) is prepared to admit to being an unbeliever.   He admitted this shocking fact in a survey, conducted by the Secular Coalition for America, intended to discover the highest-ranking elected official in the US prepared to come out of the closet as an

atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.

Even then, as The Economist comments, he’s a pretty religious-ish sort of atheist; he told The Washington Post (fourth item down)

“I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”

so he’s still a member of a church, even if he doesn’t believe in God. According to The Washington Post, the deputy historian of the House of Representatives says that although other members of Congress have, in the past, professed themselves to be ‘free-thinkers’,

“As far as I know, Representative Stark is the first self-proclaimed non-theist,”

Other than the courageous Rep Stark, only three other elected officials were prepared to admit their lack of belief, and — without any disrespect — they hardly move in the highest corridors of power; they’re

Terry S. Doran, president of the School Board in Berkeley, Calif.; Nancy Glista on the School Committee in Franklin, Maine; and Michael Cerone, a Town Meeting Member from Arlington, Mass.

According to the Washington Post,

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is the first Muslim in Congress. Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) are the first Buddhists.

and I find it hard to credit there are more Buddhists than atheists or agnostics in the Congress, so I can’t imagine the results are in any way representative of American politicians’ true views (politicians being disingenuous about what they believe — surely not?) .

Were such a survey conducted here, one imagines that iit would elicit a similarly sparse response, but on the perfectly good grounds that ‘It’s none of your business’. There, I fear, it’s probably more because the politicians are worried about what their constituents might make of their atheism.

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March 14, 2007

The Persian Version

Filed under: Books, Iran, usa — notsaussure @ 4:21 pm

I see from The Guardian that

Hollywood is already firmly established as a source of cultural decadence in Iran’s pantheon of hated western symbols.But now the country’s Islamic leadership has accused it of “psychological warfare” over its depiction of the battle between the Greeks and Persians at Thermopylae in 480BC, regarded as a key event in the birth of western democracy by some historians.

Well, of course. I’ve read my Robert Graves, and know

The Persian Version

Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.
As for the Greek theatrical tradition
Which represents that summer’s expedition
Not as a mere reconnaisance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse
(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)
But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
To conquer Greece – they treat it with contempt;
And only incidentally refute
Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute
The Persian monarch and the Persian nation
Won by this salutary demonstration:
Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together.

Yes, I know that Thermopylae was 10 years after Marathon, but it’s still a good poem, and I’m not waiting till someone makes Marathon as a sequel prequel to 300. They should be grateful no one’s made a movie of Aeschylus’ The Persians (Πέρσαι), is all I can say (and they should be even more grateful they didn’t have to translate it at school, along with sodding Horriditus).

Cometh the hour, cometh the man

Filed under: Politics, usa — notsaussure @ 2:16 pm

Forget Osama Obama, Clinton and all the other US presidential candidates. I’ve discovered, courtesy of a link in Andrew Sullivan to Respectful Insolence, the chap who, by rights, should walk it: Jonathon Sharkey, a.k.a. ‘The Impaler’.

Mr Sharkey announced his candidacy thus on December 13:

Greetings My Fellow Americans and Media,You know me as the Sanguinary Satanic Vampyre and Hecate Witch who on Friday the 13th of January this year announced my candidacy for Governor of Minnesota.

Though I fully sought and desired to help the people of Minnesota as their Governor, an evil from my past, even more evil that I am and can ever be, attacked me. This ended my quest for Governor.

In the world today, there are many evil people. Most are wolves in Christian Sheep clothing. The biggest is sitting in The Oval Office. King George “Worthless” Bush as I call him. He is in my eyes the main reason for the tragedy that occurred here on 9-11. Unlike when Ronald Reagan was President, our enemies don’t fear America or the President.

Our country is no longer looked upon with admiration, but as a joke. Why is our great country a joke?

Because the 3 presidents since Reagan, have been either; spineless, greedy, skirt chasing, and not to mention; lying hypocrites of their oaths of office.

A prime example of this; is recently when Valenzuela President Chavez while speaking at the UN mocked Bush, by calling him “the Devil.” Personally, I consider calling Bush the devil an insult upon my God. Chavez also went on to belittle our country. I challenge Chavez the next time he comes to America, to belittle my country in front of me. If he does, Chavez better have plenty of good doctors around, to put him back together again. (more…)

March 4, 2007

Stop being beastly to Americans at dinner parties

Filed under: Foreigners, UK, usa — notsaussure @ 12:28 am

Irving Stelzer, writing in this week’s Spectator, is in a right huff; if we don’t stop being beastly to the Americans they won’t exactly vanish, in the way the USA does in Attack Ads for Children, but apparently they’re apparently in danger of retreating into a form of neo-isolationism, and then we’ll all be sorry.

Mr Stelzer begins his piece with a survey of the various putative Presidential nominees and notes, All are internationalists; one might have thought that’s a bit of a problem for his argument, but not a bit of it. As he explains in the following sentence,

But the circumstances in which they will be campaigning to succeed George W. Bush might well drive them towards a form of neo-isolationism

That is, none of them have actually yet given any indication they’ll actually behave the way in which his argument assumes they will , but we won’t let a little thing like that stop us…. (more…)

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