To the Letter…

30 05 2008

Dictionary.com, the only dictionary I currently have to hand provides me with the suitable starting point for this post. The site offers 27 different defintions for the word ‘law’. I will not elaborate any further on what these definitions are, feel free to look it up. The point that I am interested in is actually an amalgamation of the following two definitions:

“the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision”

and

“any rule or injunction that must be obeyed”

I thought this was reasonably clear. The law, as far as I’m concerned, is something that, if broken, should be punishable to some degree or other, whether it be a slap on the wrists, a fine, or a jail term. Except that it no longer is such a thing. There are though, it seems, in society various degrees of the law. Some adhere to the rebellious ‘laws are made to be broken’ phrase. Others, who consider themselves ‘law-abiding citizens’, endeavour to lead a legal life. Those of the first camp seem keen to convince those of the second camp that they are boring or uninspired. Then there are those who float between the two trawling out the phrase ‘the law’s an ass’ to justify breaking it.

My personal pet hate is cyclists on the pavement. Clearly, in the law, cyclists should not be on the pavement (and they should wear helmets, but that’s a different matter), yet they bomb down pavements with scant regard for those walking on them. Maybe this is just in Birmingham, I somehow doubt it, but maybe. However this is one of those laws that people either a) don’t know, or b) choose to ignore, after all, the law’s an ass, right? A little bit of innocent law-breaking is fine, as long as no-one gets hurt. Right?

I’m not convinced. I know that in many places the law is probably dated. I know in many places it can be a pain to stick to. Yet I return to the notion that it is there for a reason. Someone, somewhere, has decided that we need such a law to prevent something happening. If you break it there deserves to be consequences.

About a month ago, I got a letter telling me that I was being charged for jumping a red light. I do not really remember the incident, and was not aware, at the time, that I had done it. Apparently I had. What I do remember is that the road was deathly quiet on the day. There were no other cars nearby. There were no pedestrians or cyclists either. My action hadn’t affected anybody, it hadn’t had an affect on anything, other than getting me to my destination slightly quicker. Yet I was, correctly, charged £60 for breaking the law. I accepted this. I had broken the law, and deserved my punishment.

Yet it seems that people are happy to break the law if they know that they can get away with it. I know I’m being idealistic here, but I think this is the wrong attitude to start with. It’s easy, for example to break the law in relation to drinking underage (it was this post that made me consider this whole point), because, apparently, it isn’t hurting anyone apart from the people who break it. It is after all, something small, not worth worrying about in relation to bigger problems of society. And the police cannot monitor all underage drinking everywhere. Therefore it is fine to break the law.

Now I realise I am being too much of an idealist here, but I maintain that it is the wrong attitude to have, the law is there for a reason and as much as anyone disagrees with it, it must be adhered to if we are to help maintain a society which does not collapse on itself. Perhaps that is the problem at the moment, perhaps we are too willing to turn a blind eye to people breaking the law on a small scale, and can do little when this escalates? Perhaps. I don’t really know. I do know that laws prevent anarchy and rebellion, and go a long way to aiding our own democratic system. That is why I believe they should be taken seriously. Right the way through. It isn’t just the ‘bigger’ crimes which should be a concern, everything, ranging from not having a bus ticket, to buying alcohol underage, to stabbing someone, to burglary should be punishable. The more mundane crimes should still be punished. Even if it is just a slap on the wrist.

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You only sing…

27 05 2008

I just wanted to share this with you. It’s worth a read for a laugh.

Who said football fans were stupid?





The Root of All Evil…

27 05 2008

This evening, Channel 4, usually a station I associate with good quality documentary programming (although the rest leaves a lot to be desired!) has finally let me down. The programme, entitled, cunningly, Life After People depicted the type of apocalyptic rubbish more befitting of Hollywood. Working with the (flawed) premise that humans have deserted the planet, the programme proceeded to demonstrate what would happen to the world were mankind never to return.

Taking the flawed assumption that the world will develop like the site around Chernobyl has in 20 years, the narrator proceeded to warn us with apparent glee, that the major cities will firstly flood, and then quickly become overgrown. Rats, it was maintained, would initially struggle without humans providing them rubbish on which to feast; but pigeons (in my opinion equally adept at scavenging food in big cities) would have no trouble adapting to the lack of human kind. Trees would puncture the city, growing at some fantastic rate, and plant roots would damage all the buildings foundations causing eventual collapse. All wooden buildings would, naturally, be destroyed by fire very quickly, and metal will soon rust and collapse.

All this doom-mongering was, it must be said, thought-provoking. However, the biggest question I was left with was “where did the humans go”? This problem was never answered, and, in all fairness, the programme never tried to answer it. It was though the most pertinent question. If the writers of such fantastical drivel are not going to consider such a basic question then it is little wonder they produce something of this low calibre. As I see it, there are two options. The first is that humans have abandoned the planet in favour of another planet capable of supporting life. If this is the reason then one must wonder why the humans left given that (as the programmes premise was based on humans leaving on the very near future) the planet is still surviving.

The second option is that disease has wiped us out. If, though, this were the case, then one would expect the decaying bodies of the 6 billion people to be found somewhere. Yet there was no corpses to be found. The answer then must be the first option, we have simply packed up and left. However, as I see it, the sheer logistical difficulty of transporting some 6 billion people to another planet renders this option impossible.

So it was, working with the flawed premise that there are no longer any humans, that the programme proceeded to demonstrate how quickly nature would reclaim the land man currently occupies. Apparently it would not take long. However even this is questionable. Chernobyl, deserted 20 years ago, still looks like a town, buildings are still in place, cars are still present. Yes there is some decline, of course there is, but the suggestion made in the programme was that the likes of New York and London would be lost to layers of plant life within roughly the same time period, seems foolish. The programme looked too at the pyramids, giant stone monuments build centuries ago, but still standing today. Pointing to the weathering on the sides of the pyramids, the narrator explained that this weathering would cause the crumbling of all stone buildings worldwide. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that stone weathers, the over dramatic nature of the programme was painful.

My final gripe about the programme was its sheer stupidity. I am no geographer, or indeed a climatologist, but I know that certain plants grow in certain conditions. The same goes for trees (it is why we do not have an adundance of large cacti growing along our roadsides in Britain). The narrator, at one point in the programme questioned whether large trees usually found (I think) in Asia would grow in London. It is ridiculous fatastic questions such as this which indicates to me that the makers of this programme really knew little about what they were talking.

I am not sure the point that the programme was trying to make. Was it trying to blame mankind for somehow infringing the rights of nature? Was it trying to make us aware that despite our best attempts, nature will always win? Or was it just some CGI boffins demonstrating what they could do in the ‘end-of-the-world’ genre? In all the programme was poorly conceived, poorly delivered and poorly thought out. There were many pressing issues which the programme failed to adequately deal with, notably climate change, working with the flawed presumption that without humans there would somehow be an automatic stop to the climate changes which are going on.

In history we were taught never to presuppose something. That is, for example, never suggest that had Britain had a different tactic in 1915 the war would have finished quicker. This thinking works on the broken premise that Germany’s reaction would remain constant, obviously a point which is false. I think the same logic applies to this programme. The writers worked with the assumption that everything would continue to be the same as it is now, with the exception of the lack of humans. Obviously though humans contribute a lot to global affairs, to simply take them out of the equation leaves something very unbalanced. Everything would change without humans, make no mistake about that. The writers of the programme are perhaps the ones on another planet if they think otherwise.





Sexual Justice?

20 05 2008

Every once in a while, you go through a phase of being completely uninspired to write. There is nothing ‘meaty’ to grab your attention in the news, and with the football season (at least The Championship, for my team) long over, a sense of lingustic apathy can overwhelm even the most ardent writers.

So it was for me. Until I saw this story, hiding away amongst the furore surrounding the 24-week abortion vote, the US elections and various natural disasters. I will be honest, the story threw me slightly. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Yes, it is a good thing that this man has been granted asylum given what he would have to face otherwise. Yes, the punishments for homosexuality in Iran are irrational, and downright wrong. No, I’m not happy.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things here, and if so bear with me. This man, who studied English at university in London, was granted asylum in Britain because to be sent home would have meant his death. Clear so far? Now I don’t want to go on about this but something is slightly off to me. Ama Sumani, who you may remember was sent home to Ghana, despite the drugs and equipment needed to keep her alive being scarce in her home country. She was effectively sent home to die. She had been in Britain on a student visa too.

Now I accept that the causes of death would have been different (one a terminal illness, the other a noose cunningly placed around ones neck), but beyond that I am stuggling to see how different these cases are. Apart from one count. That of the man’s sexuality. That is obviously what has saved this man, and was likely to be a mitigating factor considered when granting him his asylum. What of Ama’s mitigating circumstances, like the point she could not afford care to keep her alive in her home country? They were dismissed, she was packed off home. To die.

I just wish consistancy would play some part in making these decisions. Case-by-case is all very well and good, but there needs to be some marker, some level that those deciding who stays and who goes must work to. If, as in both these cases likelihood of death is deemed to be, let’s say, ‘high’, then the authorities need to either rule with an iron fist, and send them both off home to suffer the consequences; or they allow them to stay. At the moment (as with the current edition of the offside rule- which, you can be certain will be revised again before the European Championships start in a month or so) no-one is really clear on what is needed to grant asylum, and different people are working to different standards. Or so it seems.





War Laws?

14 05 2008

Whilst rather aimlessly meandering my way through another book relating to the war, I was struck by the notion of “the laws of war”. To me, this seems something of a oddity. Is it possible to suggest that you can only kill or injure your opponent via a certain method? In 1915 the German army used Chlorine gas for the first time in combat. The British were outraged as this form of attack was seen as most barbaric and indicative of the lowest form of human which the Germans were perceived to be. The outcrys harped on about the unspoken, unwritten, but very much existing, laws of war.

Now perhaps this scepticism for such a concept comes from the Second World War. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki irreparably changed the nature of war forever. Whilst the wartime revolution had begun in 1914, I think 1945 was the time when this nature changed into something more sinister. Wars were no longer about soldiers, engaging in a tactical battle of intelligence and brute force. Wars were now about civilians. In the poker table of war, normal people became the chips. Ultimately, in 1945, the USA called Japan’s bluff to devastating consequences. The following Cold War saw this game played out between the Americans and the Russians. No-one called the other, despite, or perhaps because of, the stakes.

This returns me then to the original point, how can a concept as brutally savage as war have laws? The simple answer is that it can’t. When your objective is as simple as to cause as much damage to your enemy as possible in order to do one of two things (wipe them out entirely or force a surrender) there is scant regard for the methods used. This, it seems, is another one of those ‘means/ends’ questions. If using a ‘dirty’ (which, in effect, means ungentlemanly) tactic helps ensure a victory, is it reasonable to push ahead with such a method. In war the answer is always ‘yes’. In war there are no morals to be offended. After all, how can one have morals about killing, right? It isn’t as black and white as that suggests though. What of the conscipts to the army, forced to join up because they were of suitable age? Do they abandon morals once they hit that front line? Again, the answer is in the affirmative. However, one must sympathise with them, there is no choice, the primative problem is one of ‘kill or be killed’. As the human is born to survive, there is only ever one choice for those in the line, especially those who engaged with the enemy in the First World War.

The fact that a war is occurring means that the laws governing on an international stage have failed. These rules, kept in force (to a greater or lesser extent) by the United Nations in today’s society; did not though exist in World War One. Whilst there were numerous treaties allying various countries (hence why the war started in the first place), there was no overall body. The League of Nations was set up in the aftermath of the Great War, and even it was unable to prevent the Second from erupting.

Wars have little regard for rules. The fact that they are occurring in the first place is indicative of the point that somewhere, the rules have been broken. Once the first law is broken, the rest simply follow like a row of neatly arranged dominos until you arrive at the precipice of war where there is but one option. A criminal, having already robbed, will have little compunction in robbing again. Once this CV of rule breaking has been built upon and expanded, it becomes irrelevant how many more laws get broken.

My point then is that there can be no such concept as “war laws” simply because the time and the place for such modes of discipline have long since passed by the time war erupts. War laws are a nice concept created by the side which feels they have been the victim of a new type of attack. In 1915 it was the British. They were so offended, they made large scale plans for the use of gas attacks later in the conflict. Apparently, it is alright to break the rules if the other side has broken them in the first place. Either that, or, as is more realistic, we accept that there are no more rules which can be broken when you are in the midst of war.





“Tongue-in-cheek” or accurate appraisal?

9 05 2008

So the new edition of Rough Guide for England has been published. The comments, at least the ones available on the BBC’s page, paint a very mixed view of England. According to the book, no other country is as “insular, self important and irritating” as England, and the “hearts of many towns- and increasingly their outskirts- consist of identikit retail zones”.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, “it’s also a country where individuality and creativity flourish, fuelling a thriving pop culture and producing one of the most dynamic fashion, music and arts scenes to be found anywhere.” and some places, such as Bath, Oxford and Newcastle come out of the book well.

The point that struck me was the comment at the bottom of the page, with a spokesman insisting that the book was written “tongue-in-cheek”, and reflected the famous British sense of humour. I for one do not buy that line. According to the BBC’s page, the content of the book seems to be quite accurate. The brief excerpt from the book that is here is equally accurate.

It all paints a rather odd picture of a country struggling with its own national identity, with its people adrift in a sea of celebrity induced apathy, content to drink home-brand lager from the nearest off licence, yet with such a rich culture and heritage that is not easily surpassed anywhere else in the world.

So I will float the question out there, what do you think of England? Is it more accurately described as a country of “overweight, alcopop-swilling, sex- and celebrity-obsessed TV addicts”; or is it better described with  “the classic images [that] are found in every brochure – the village green, the duckpond, the country lane and the farmyard”? Or is the final conclusion perhaps the most apt, “England isn’t just one place, but a perpetual collision of culture, class and race…the only certainty for visitors is that however long you spend in England and however much you see, it still won’t be enough to understand the place”.





He’s at it again…

7 05 2008

So my least favourite footballing bureaucrat is at it again. Today the muppet that is Sepp Blatter has come out with this nonsense. As I’m aware of the situation, there has to be a set number of English born players in any given Champions League squad already. Blatter has identified a ‘problem’ that there has been too many English teams in recent Champions League semi-finals and finals.

For the past three years there has been an English finalist. This year there is two. For Blatter, that is too many. It apparently does not show the strength of the English game in comparison to other leagues, but shows that English teams are too dominant because they are reliant on foreign imports. Blatter seems to ignore the period in the late 90’s/ early 2000’s when Real Madrid pretty much bossed the competition because they had bought the best players in the world for outrageous fees. That isn’t his concern. His concern is sticking his nose into English football to limit it’s potential on a European stage. This really annoys me.

I think the concern should be not with limiting the impact of English clubs, but instead with improving the quality of the game in other countries. Blatter, in his limited wisdom, thinks otherwise. People across the world rate the Premier League as the best in the world (even allowing for a club like Derby), the nature of the league, with its fast pace and competitive spirit I believe is second to none. Looking at the top leagues in other European Countries and I’m not so sure the same can be said. Italian football, now back on our tv’s after a long absence, is watchable, but lacks the blood-and-guts passion of the English game. Spanish football likewise seems a tad, well, pedestrian. The less said about the generally poor state of German football the better. Greece (the reigning European Cup holders) have a league, which, if we are generous, is on a par with our Championship.

To me it seems everywhere else has got the problems, but not in England. Our football is so strong that there was three Championship sides in the FA Cup semi-finals. Now how much our strength is down to foreign imports is a matter of much concern, and I think this is the issue Blatter was trying to combat. I disagree from a club perspective. Foreign imports are a necessary part of our game, if only to encourage development of better English players. Theo Walcott, a rising star of Arsenal’s team, was taught by the best player in the world at the time, Thierry Henry. Foreign players serve to strengthen the leagues, and limiting their numbers would only detract from the game at a time when more and more money is being pumped into it by fans. They want to see good football, and paying the prices that they do, care little of the nationality of the players.

For me, Blatter has got it wrong. His concern should not be with limiting English clubs potential, but instead with improving foreign clubs potential.