August 11th 2011
I'm sure I'll have more to say about the riots at some stage, but I'm off on holiday today so I'll just leave you with this footage from the front line where rioters meet riot police:
On this day in 2004... I continually hear people complaining about speed cameras being used simply to generate money for the police, rather than maintain safety on the roads... my answer has to be, so what? The police need money (after all, those speed cameras don't come cheap...) and it is certainly preferable that speeding motorists should pay it than anyone else.
August 17th 2011
Society is predicated on the notion that other people won't commit crimes. OK, we lock our doors when we're out and make sure we don't leave expensive items on show in the car, but if I decided I wanted to kill someone walking past me on the street, it would be pathetically easy for me to do so. We just assume it won't happen, and except in exceptional circumstances (as the sad recent events in Norway show us) we're safe in that assumption; partly because people simply aren't motivated to commit most crimes (I don't really want to kill strangers on the street, unless they're walking really slowly or are smoking) and partly because they judge that the risk of punishment is not worth the potential gain. This is in fact an interesting distinction: if someone doesn't steal a TV from a shop, is it because (i) they think it's wrong; (ii) they don't think they'll get away with it; or (iii) they don't want a TV? For most of us, I would hazard, the answer is (i), but obviously there's a sizeable proportion of the population for whom the answer is (ii), and it's these people who thought that they had a free rein last week. They believed that it was mob rule, and that they wouldn't be held responsible for their actions. I'm delighted to say that they were wrong. When the riots first broke out I tried to find out what the reason behind them was: I had assumed that they were aimed against the police, or the government, or bankers, or some other hate figures. There is some support for the theory that this was an exaggerated version of the "hate the rich" mindset in this country that I have discussed here before (for example: "It's the rich people, the people that have got businesses, and that's why all of this has happened, because of rich people. So we're just showing rich people we can do what we want"). The truth, though, was that the riots had little to do with confronting the rich, or even the fact that the a policeman shot a man called Mark Duggan, and more to do with people's greed and the joy of destruction. There's no denying that smashing things is fun (come on, you know it is), and that owning nice things is pleasurable, so it seems that the riots were an excuse for people to have their way without having to worry about the consequences. Or so they thought. Our courts have been very busy over the last few days with thousands of people charged in connection with the riots, showing that there is no such thing as a suspension of law in this country, and that nobody can sidestep our shared social contract for their own personal gain. This may be scant consolation for those people who saw their livelihoods go up in flames (and these crimes were the least excusable; there is nothing to gain, and no protest to make, from destroying one man's corner shop) but it should help to ensure that we do not see repeats of such events. The question now is: are the courts going too far? I have written before on the importance of keeping emotion out of the justice system, and the anger emanating from these events (and I have to admit that I'm angry too) should not lead to disproportionate sentences or knee-jerk reactions like evicting the families of rioters from council houses. Surely it is not justice to 'make an example' of particular perpetrators? It is now exceedingly clear that last week was not a free-for-all without consequence, so the message does not need to be enforced by giving criminals a longer sentence than they would have received had their crime been an isolated incident a month ago, say. This morning brings worrying news of two people given four year jail sentences for trying to incite further riots over Facebook, despite the fact that they didn't actually manage to incite anything. The judge said that the pair had acted in an 'evil' manner, and it's hard to disagree; what they did might even be illegal - but four years for a drunken message on Facebook? Can that be right? You could argue that the severity of their acts should be judged by their intention rather than by the outcome (although the statute book generally tends to think differently on such matters) but to me it sounds like a judge who has failed to get to grips with social media. This is nothing new: last year Paul Chambers became something of a cause célèbre when he was fined for a tweet (y'know, on Twitter) reading: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your **** together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" The judge dealing with his case, one Jacqueline Davies, fined him £1,000, saying that the tweet was "menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed." Judge Davies was entirely wrong - any 'ordinary person' reading this (and since Mr Chambers had only 600 followers, there wouldn't be too many of them) would surely know immediately that it was a joke, albeit not in particularly good taste. This was the "who are the Beatles?" moment for our generation, but I'm not sure the judiciary have learned their lesson since then.
On this day in 2007... In other news - literally - it is officially 'silly season' apparently. This is the time of year when nothing important really happens, so newspapers have to resort to frankly ridiculous stories, such as the great white shark off Cornwall, or Hitler's record collection.
what was I listening to?
Very Best Of - Elvis Costello
what was I reading?
Dave Gorman vs. The Rest of the World