2016-08-26

Why jail women at all?

I've noticed increasing concern among UK media column writers over the past year about the situation of women in prison, with a clamour to reduce - if not eliminate - the practice of sending women to jail. A good example is this column from Eric Allison in (where else?) the Guardian, late last year: "Women are dying in jails they should not have been sent to":

Many female prisoners are mothers and primary carers. Every year, around 18,000 children are affected by their mother being sent to jail. As women are usually the main caregiver, many end up in care. We can only guess how much that adds to the anguish of mothers behind bars.
A compelling argument to be sure.

Let us turn to the case of Eunice Spry from Gloucestershire, who was sent down for 14 years at Bristol Crown Court in 2007:

Judge Simon Darwall-Smith told the devout Jehovah's Witness that this was the worst case he had come across in 40 years.
Passing sentence, he said: "It's difficult for anyone to understand how any human being could have even contemplated what you did, let alone with the regularity and premeditation you employed."
As punishment for misbehaving, she would beat the children on the soles of their feet and force them to drink washing-up liquid and bleach.
I'm sure Eunice Spry's children were affected by her being sent to jail, but I'd imagine it's more along the lines of thanking God that she was finally kept away from them.

Her defence brief did his best to mitigate, but had something of an uphill struggle:

Mr Mitchell also revealed that Spry had needed protection in prison following her convictions and it was a "particularly unpleasant" place for her.
To which I'd be minded to respond "Et alors?" I hadn't realized before reading the detailed verdict that she was also convicted of "Intimidating a juror or witness or person assisting, or who has assisted, the investigation of an offence" - this is not just a woman who made a few bad choices.

Spry was of course eligible for parole in April 2014 and (of course) was released on schedule - the 14 year imprisonment sentence was reduced to 12 years on appeal.

There's certainly an argument that people are being sent to jail for crimes which are not obviously harmful to society - for example, possession of substantial quantities of narcotics but no obvious intent to supply outside their circle of dysfunctional friends - but let's not special-case women in this argument. If we are serious about gender equality, we should apply the same standards to the decision about jailing a father that we do about deciding to jail a mother. Otherwise we're perpetuating serious inequality in the application of the law to men and women - and isn't that something an enlightened society should want to fix?

2016-07-28

Does Putin want Trump as President?

I'm a huge fan of thoughtful blogger Richard Fernandez from Belmont Club, but respectfully have to disagree on his take on the current Wikileaks leaking of Democratic National Catfight emails and voicemails:

By striking at Hillary's aura, the Russians may be attempting the same thing. Democratic voters looked up to her to protect and defend the nation because that's what presidents do. By hacking Hillary and humiliating her, Putin has sent the message that she cannot even defend herself -- and what's the use of a president who can't defend herself?
This is an excellent point, except that - despite the tone of publicity - Hillary is not actually President of the United States. She's locked in a deadly struggle with Donald Trump for the title, and the decision won't happen until November.

I have no trouble at all believing that the Russians have the goods on Hillary. FBI Director Comey's statement on the Clinton private email server left little doubt that any competent foreign security service would have gained complete access to her communications, and have any amount of blackmail material on her and on her confidants. But if you're playing poker and have four kings, why would you all-but-announce this at the start of bidding?

Wikileaks has doubtlessly been compromised by Russian security services, but such compromise is covert - the SVR doesn't have an editorial veto - and it still provides a low-friction platform for publicising controversial data. This is a classic example of a disgruntled insider publicising information to hurt someone they loathe; Wikileaks is just the medium.

If you doubt this assertion, ask yourself: if you were Putin, with whom would you want to negotiate? Trump who is well-established as a wildcard who could say or do anything, and is (in practice) very hard to blackmail because of all the unsavory facts which are already public? or Hillary who still tries to project an aura of robustness and foreign intelligence savvy from her time at State, and whose private email correspondence you have available on request?

2016-07-13

I'm starting to believe that May is trolling the Guardianistas

I thought that the chorus of butthurt from the why-didn't-the-plebs-listen-to-ME part of the Remain camp was finally starting to die down, but then May appointed Johnson as Foreign Secretary, and oh my goodness. My Twitter feed and Farcebook timeline have erupted in caterwauling once again.

Note that this has the effect of focusing the limited Guardianista attention on Johnson and his various alleged[1] faux pas, and there's been very little comment on the appointment of the sharp and strongly pro-Brexit David Davis as "Minister for Brexit". I rather suspect Davis is going to be the source of most of the actual heartache for the Remainers in the next couple of years.

[1] Most of which I suspect they're overselling. Johnson has his flaws, Heaven knows, but he's a smart cookie, extremely well travelled, with a highly multinational family. And I'd endorse him as Foreign Secretary solely on the basis of his trolling of the Chinese about ping pong at the Beijing Olympics.

2016-06-26

Denatonium Benzoate loses its crown

Also known as Bitrex, Denatonium Benzoate held the record for the most bitter substance on earth until 24th June 2016. A teaspoon of the substance added to an Olympic size swimming pool (volume 2.5M litres) makes the water noticeably bitter. Bitrex has been a very successful additive to poisonous substances to prevent accidental ingestion, such as car antifreeze.

Sadly for manufacturer Macfarlan Smith, since 24th June Bitrex's record has been overtaken by the UK Guardian opinion page. One opening paragraph has the same bitterness impact as approximately 300ml of Denatonium Benzoate. Rumours suggest that Macfarlan Smith has opened negotiations with Jonathan Freedland, Nick Cohen and Polly Toynbee for purchase of their spleens as a manufacturing source of the Bitrex successor.

It is serendipitous that the name "Bitrex" is an anagram of the new product: "Brexit".

2016-06-24

Toys firmly out of prams

I predicted a certain amount of tantrums, but really didn't think it would get this bad this quickly. Scotland and London wanting to split off and rejoin Europe, Labour Party stalwarts gunning for Corbyn (who, up until a couple of hours ago, must have thought he'd played a blinder) and Twitter and Facebook in meltdown with Remainers calling Leavers "racist idiots" and worse.

Heavens sake, you're all adults, bloody act like it. This was a full national referendum with a turnout of 74% which is way above recent elections. If your side lost, sit down and put up with it. Don't whine like a three year old deprived of an ice cream. Leave seem to have been a heck of a lot more restrained in their unexpected win than you'd have been in their place.

Not entirely surprised by Cameron chucking the towel in. He seems to be one of the few people today (and maybe the only Remainer) acting with dignity.

2016-06-23

Referendum predictions

I have no idea on the actual result. I don't think I could place a bet if I was offered 50:50 odds on each choice. That said, the breakdown by region is going to be very interesting, and I wonder if the rain/floods will hit turnout in the SE, and whether that will make a material difference.

If "Remain" wins: The Guardian (and, less obviously, BBC) will be insufferable. Juncker et al will keep true to their promise not to give any concessions to the UK, even if the result is knife-edge. UKIP effectively dissolves in a frenzied pit of backbiting. Who knows what the UKIP voters will do at the next election?

If "Leave" wins: Immediate witch-hunt from Guardian, BBC. Cameron resigns. Panic in Europe. Stock markets burning. Sweden and maybe Denmark start feeling popular pressure to exit or form referendum. Juncker et al refuse any trade deals with the UK. Boris's hair a fixture on the international news.

I've observed my Facebook stream becoming increasingly stridently pro-Remain over the past 2 weeks. The Leavers are keeping very quiet, presumably because they're swamped by insufferable Remainers if they post anything. Remain posts seem to be relatively free of Leaver comments. So is this due to Remain having an insurmountable majority, due to me having a supermajority of Remain friends, or because the Leavers don't care what the Remainers think or do?

Going by their selection of stories and interviewees, the BBC have steadily abandoned impartiality over the past couple of weeks. The only really studiously neutral Beebite I've seen has been the indefatigueable Kuenssberg.

2016-06-19

Weasel will find a way

After the furore last year when it turned out that UK airport shops were demanding boarding passes to save themselves VAT but not save you any money I assumed that this was the effective end of the weasel. From my recent experience at Birmingham International (motto: "We put the 'slack jaw' in 'security'") it seems not.

First stop: the bookshop, to buy some doorstop-sized illiterate literature. No shortage of supply. I present the volume to the lady at the till who demands: "Boarding pass?" with no hint of shame. I enquire whether it's actually mandatory, at which point she rings up the transaction with no further questions. 1-0.

Next stop: W H Smith, for a magazine. Avoiding the single human-manned till I opt for the self-service till. I scan the magazine for a grand total of £2.50 - and it asks for a boarding pass, and won't proceed until I scan one. I hit the "my boarding pass won't scan" button, wait a minute for the roaming attendant to punch the override and proceed on my way. But hell, I remember the huge fuss in August 2015 about this. It seems that the airport shops were content to let the hubbub die down, then go back to their old ways.

Don't let them do this! Make them pay a cost in salaried worker time for each time they demand a boarding pass. Once the average worker salary rate times delay is more than the expected VAT, they will shut up about the boarding passes and let us buy our dubious literature un-monitored and without delay. (Until 1-2 years later when some bright MBA spark spots an opportunity to re-introduce the practice, at which point we hang them from the Heathrow radar pillar as a warning to others.)

2016-06-05

The implications of the "Out" threats

With the UK In/Out referendum less than three weeks away, and the BetFair odds on "Leave" starting to come down - albeit still very far from 50-50 - it has been instructive to listen to the veiled, and not so veiled, threats about what will happen if the populace vote for "Leave".

A good example was the comment in late May from Jean-Claude "Piss Artist" Juncker, European Commission President:

"The United Kingdom will have to accept being regarded as a third country, which won't be handled with kid gloves.
"If the British leave Europe, people will have to face the consequences -- we will have to, just as they will. It's not a threat but our relations will no longer be what they are today."
Apparently EU officials don't want to have lengthy negotiations[1] with a Brexited UK, which makes sense. But of course, the easiest course for both sides would be to retain status quo ante: continue trade under the same conditions and tariff schedule as before. Why wouldn't this be the starting point? In general, trade tariffs hurt the populace of the country / countries that impose them: they make imported goods more expensive for their populace. The main function of trade tariffs is to protect local industry from "abuse" from "dumping" by foreign manufacturers: selling goods below the cost of local produce. This may not be good for local industry, but it's certainly good for anyone who wants to buy those goods, at least in the short term.

It seems fairly clear that, whatever the merits of the "Remain" and "Leave" positions, the EU establishment is happy to cut off its population's noses to spite the UK's faces. One has to ask: if national membership of the EU is supposed to be of benefit to the population, why would the EU take action to screw over all their population in order to punish a member nation that wanted to leave?

[1] Note that the EU can apparently spare the manpower to negotiate a mostly free trade agreeement with Canada, which has half the population and a bit more than half the GDP of the UK.

2016-06-03

I'm starting to think that Trump might just pull this off...

Trump's political opponents seem hell-bent on getting him elected. Dixit Linus Torvalds, father of Linux and otherwise political moderate:

It used to be that the only thing that made Donald Trump look good was comparing him with the other Republican candidates. Because even a whiny five-year old megalomaniac looks positively stellar when compared to a religious nut who loves the death penalty.
Now, those other Republican candidates are gone. That should make for a saner baseline, no?
No.
These days, it's the anti-Trump protesters that make "the Donald" look good in comparison.
Christ, people. You're doing it wrong.

One can only assume that this is in reference to the sustained violence at the Trump rally in San Jose, CA last night which seemed to be perpetrated by a motley crew of students, Mexican nationalists and union-backed thugs and involved Trump supporters being pelted with eggs, sucker-punched, and clubbed on the side of the head. I watched the videos and it was indisputably appalling. The American Constitution has the First Amendment which guarantees the right to free speech; as P. J. O'Rourke remarked, it also implies the responsibility to live with the consequences. If you vocally support Trump because you hate people with brown skin, you're an asshat and the concomitant public opprobrium is your problem. But if you are physically attacked for supporting the Republican party candidate for President, then there are other laws which should come into play and they should be squarely aimed at - and enforced on - your attacker.

The Bay Area news organisations - with the commendable exception of KRON 4 were carefully keeping the lid on reports of the violence last night. Even CNN sat on it until reporting on the violence was unavoidable; even then, there were strenuous efforts to deflect the blame towards Trump. San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo's comments were particularly awful:

"Our police officers have done an extremely courageous and professional job so far," Liccardo told The Associated Press Thursday night. "At some point Donald Trump needs to take responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of his campaign."
Yes, heaven forfend that a Presidential candidate actually speak clearly about his intentions to enforce the law of the land and secure a nation's borders. There are very reasonable arguments to be had about whether this is a good idea or not, but the implicit blaming of Trump for the actions of the protestors was disgraceful. Liccardo has the luxury of an electorate who would vote him in based on party affiliation even if it came out that he framed OJ, spied for China, and buggered raccoons on his free weekends, so the concept of trying to win an election based on popular policy is doubtless alien to him. His blatant repudiation of the First Amendment might well be related to metropolitan California's sustained attack on the Second Amendment, but neither does him any credit.

Faced with a Twitter firestorm, he tried to walk this back later on:

but it's clear where his sympathies lie.

If I were Donald Trump, I'd be campaigning from now until November in Democrat stronghold cities around the USA. It won't win me those states, but the widely-reported predictable riots and abuse from the opposition will steadily win me marginal voters in every marginal state around the country. Even if those marginal voters can't stand me (or my hair), they'd rather be with me than the scumballs throwing eggs and beating up women.

2016-03-23

Hillary Clinton to give counter-terrorism speech at Stanford University

"Do as I say, not as I do!" Hillary Clinton will urge listeners to stand in solidarity with Europe in order to defeat the Islamic State group:

"Today's attacks will only strengthen our resolve to stand together as allies and defeat terrorism and radical jihadism around the world."
Heaven forfend that we strenuously deny any connection between organized terrorism and this event and instead speciously blame random YouTube videos for incitement.

Hillary certainly has balls. She probably took Bill's in exchange for keeping quiet about his dalliances...