Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Tuesday 17/02/09

Serious subjects today.

Pakistan has signed a peace deal with a Taliban group that will lead to the enforcement of the Islamic Sharia law in the Swat valley. Chief Minister of North West Frontier Province, Ameer Hussain Hoti, said that the agreement had not been made under pressure from anyone and it was reached after realisation that it was the will of the people.

It seems to me that the ‘will of the people’ was ensured by Taliban-sanctioned beheadings and the destruction of hundreds of schools where girls could get an education.

Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber, should be released from prison to be allowed to "die with dignity", a penal campaigner has said. Biggs's son has also called for his father to be freed. Biggs’ son has called on the Home Office to show compassion. He said: "My father is a very sick man who will be 80 this year. Why don't they just show some compassion and free him so he can be with his family. Why waste taxpayers' money now? My dad isn't a danger to anyone."

Ronnie Biggs has not served his full sentence and has some 20 years left to do. In 2001 Biggs returned to Britain to receive, at tax payer’s expense, medical treatment he could no longer afford in Rio. Biggs has cocked a snook at the British legal system for decades. Biggs’ son does not seem able to weigh Biggs’ remaining threat to society (which is virtually non-existent) against society’s need to extract retribution for crimes committed (which is huge). Using Biggs junior’s logic, any convicted criminal who escapes, decamps to warmer climes and then returns when he is no longer a physical threat and requires medical treatment he can’t afford deserves the right to die with dignity and not be thrown into the clink. Does Biggs deserve to die with dignity? I make no judgement and merely ask the question.

A Royal Navy nuclear submarine was involved in a collision with a French nuclear sub in the middle of the Atlantic. The MoD insisted nuclear security had not been breached. Both the UK and France have insisted there was no danger of a nuclear incident. CND described the reported collision as a nuclear nightmare of the highest order. CND chair Kate Hudson said: "The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons onboard, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed." The fact is that it didn’t and comments like these are unhelpful, to say the least. If two fully laden tankers collided the potential devastation would be far greater, as oil doesn’t sink.

Nuclear powered vessels have been plying the oceans since the early 60s. The German-built Otto Hahn sailed some 650,000 nautical miles on 126 voyages in 10 years without a technical hitch. She travelled 250k miles on just 22kg of nuclear fuel – and that was not the highly enriched stuff they use today. A nuclear sub can operate for 13 years on the amount of nuclear fuel contained in a waste-paper basket. While there have been no western incidents of nuclear leaks from atomic vessels, the Russians have had some 16, a handful sinking with the complete complement of crew and warheads that still lie today where they sank. They don’t seem to have caused a catastrophe though.

On the other hand, consider all the oil spills that have occurred since the 60s and the devastating effect they had on marine life – not to mention the millions of tonnes of carbon released from conventional marine diesel propulsion. I think CND needs to come up with a scientifically analysed risk assessment before making wild and unsubstantiated claims about the safety of nuclear marine propulsion. The Friends of the Earth are probably on the same side of the fence as CND on this one; they don’t want nuclear propulsion and yet they don’t want fossil fuel propulsion either. It’s all very well nay-saying, but what is their proposed solution? Back to the stone age chaps!

Returning to the submarines in question – the thing about subs is that they need to be designed to be totally silent. Given the foregoing and the fact that they can thus only use very sensitive hydrophones to listen for other craft (unless they want to advertise their positions with sonar), it’s hardly surprising that two submarines in close proximity can collide. If nothing else it shows the bloody things do what it says on the tin!

Here’s an extremely amusing YouTube vid of an interview with Admiral Sir George Parr (John Bird) about HMS Prince of Wales.

Have you noticed how journalists are constantly asking politicians whether they would rule out certain actions and when the politicians, quite justifiably, refuse to rule out anything (based on the simple premise that uncertainty means you have to leave all options open), the item that’s not ruled out becomes, in the eyes of the media, a virtual certainty and transforms into the story of the day. Headline news in 3 different papers - Prime Minister does not rule out a tax rise; Prime Minister does not rule out a tax breaks; Prime Minister does not rule out leaving taxes just where they are for the time being.

Saw an advert on TV last night for a programme about babies. The ad contained a shot of a parent changing a baby’s nappy, however the baby’s bum was fuzzed out. I couldn’t believe it. Of course I forgot that there’s a paedophile around every corner, isn’t there?


  1. I suppose it depends on your view of prison and the legal system - is prison a means of punishment and retribution - and thus a university of crime or, should it be a means or rehabilitation and education attempting to ensure that criminals do not re-offend? I would prefere the latter and it's an experiment that has never really been tried in the UK.

    Additionally what is the point of maintaining someone in Ronnie Biggs condition in prison at great cost to the taxpayer - unless you subscribe to the thinking that he should be PUNISHED! because it's difficult to see him as a threat to society and there would also seem to be little chance of him re-offending.

    Richard x x

  2. Has Biggs been rehabilitated?

    One must also consider the signals sent out when criminals are released in this manner.

    We've already had the Guinness affair, where Ernest Saunders just about got off scot-free with a get-out-of-jail card due to a supposedly incurable disease (Alzheimer’s) from which he miraculously recovered once out. The symptoms were apparently induced by a cocktail of drugs.

    How about tagging Biggs?

  3. What is the point of exacting a legal punishment for a crime if it is not enforced?

    This would devolve a legal ramification into a farcical oxymoron.

    If you commit the crime you must do the time. I don't care how old and impotent you have become. The fact that you are no longer a threat is irrelevant.

    Say some old codger raped 30 girls. In jail he reaches the age of 90. He is no longer physically capable of committing such crimes, physically. This does not, however, diminish his desire to inflinct harm in some other way.

    You and I suffer the consequences of our actions every day. No man, no matter how old and decrepit should be indulged to believe he becomes exempt from his punishment the moment he is no longer capable of re-committing it.

    Your blog is spectacular. We do not get this information in the States. Our media outlets are owned by a select number of corporations with a variety of interest none of which have any interest in “the common good”.


  4. //No man, no matter how old and decrepit should be indulged to believe he becomes exempt from his punishment the moment he is no longer capable of re-committing it. //

    Or woman!

  5. I'm with Charmaine. This has less to do with the fact that she is my sister and more to do with the fact that I'm a lawyer.

    Punishment and rehabilitation are BOTH motivations in the US legal system, but they exist in different proportions based on the matters like the type of crime, criminal record, etc.

    Rehabilitation if more likely to play a role for non-violent crimes (such as drug possession) where there is some kind of treatment/education that can make it less likely one will re-offend.

    The criteria never includes the criminal's physical capacity to re-offend. (Just because the 90 year old rapist in Charmaine's scenario can't "perform" that again, there is no assurance that he can't do something else.)

    The legal system does not consider the cost of imprisonment to the taxpayer. The goal of the justice system is to protect the community from criminals, not save the taxpayers money. I don't think anyone would prefer a criminal be relelased early into society based solely on the dollar cost to the state.

    Bill, I'm sorry that your first view of my blog was a bunch of drivel about a fat hippo and skinny giraffe. It's not always so stupid. Given your discussion of the First Amendment, you might want to track down an older post in which I recount my First Amendment Law class taught by Archibald Cox (the special prosecutor during Watergate).

  6. Briana,

    It seems that we're not allowed to use the word retribution anymore in relation to the penal system.

    What's so wrong with retribution when justified?

    You harm society and society takes some right away from you. You may not learn a lesson, but society feels a whole lot better.

  7. I was using the word "punishment" as "retribution". Retribution is probably more precise. Oops!

  8. Briana,

    let's go tghe whole hog and use the word revenge. Revenge is good, providing it's done by the state...