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Posts from May 2010

Balance

Friday 21st May 2010

I read through the coalition agreement the other day, and on the whole it actually seems rather good. Of course it remains to be seen how well the coalition works, but as I’ve said before I’m quite optimistic. Especially when Nick Clegg makes speeches like this

But when I read the document, there was one line in particular that I was unsure about. The promise that “we will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants”. I did a sort of double-take when I read it (if that makes sense), because to put it frankly, there are almost definitely more important issues surrounding rape than whether or not the defendant is anonymous. Like the fact that a hideously low amount of rape victims even bother to report the crime, or the appalling way they are treated if they do report it. If it were me, that would be my priority to be honest.

Irrespective of that though, is this a good idea? The arguments in favour of anonymity are clear; rape (quite rightly) carries a certain amount of stigma, and I can imagine that even if someone is found not guilty of raping someone, it’s still a weight around their neck. There’s no smoke without fire, after all… This is a simple argument, but to my mind it’s an incredibly persuasive one. After all the fundamental idea is that someone is “innocent until proven guilty”.

I can sort of understand the counterarguments though. In some cases – such as John Worboys – the naming of the person who has been accused has spurred other victims into reporting their cases, and this obviously increases the likelihood of the defendant being found guilty. I’m not sure how common this is though, and even if it is common I’m not sure if it’s a valid reason not to have anonymity. Because to my mind the underlying problem is still that most victims don’t report the crime, and this doesn’t really solve that issue all that effectively.

I read on the BBC that Labour introduced anonymity for rape defendants in 1976, and the subsequant Conservative government reversed this in 1988. I don’t know what the rationale was for the Tories doing that, and it’d also be pretty interesting to find out what – if any – effect it had.

Not surprisingly, shouty feminists have pointed out that this is a very bad thing.  They say that it’s misogynistic, that it reinforces the idea that when a woman reports a rape, she’s obviously lying. To put it simply, I think that’s a complete load of bullshit. I think that all this aims to do is to address the effects of the accusation on those people who are innocent, and I don’t think that is a bad thing at all. Clearly there are valid arguments for and against, but I think the negative reaction is overblown. Yes, anonymity may have a negative effect in some proportion of cases, but isn’t it important to balance the rights of both sides?

No doubt someone will come along later and say “oh you would say that you’re a man” and put this down to “male privilege”. And to anyone tempted to say that, then just No. This is just trying to look at both sides of the argument in a balanced way, rather than simply jump to a conclusion. It’s very easy to over-react to things we disapprove of (and make no mistake, I think the way rape is dealt with in this country is atrocious), but I think it’s important to try to retain some sense of perspective.

Posted In: Politics Tagged: | 2 Comments

Talent, History and Danger

Monday 17th May 2010

After the last few posts on politics, now back to the really important stuff.

Monaco Grand Prix yesterday. I love this race; it’s a wonderful display of what the cars and drivers are capable of. It’s amazing seeing the speed they can carry through tight and twisty turns, and I am constantly in awe of the ability of the drivers around there. To drive a single quick lap round there is a massive test, requiring an immense amount of concentration, skill and guts. I simply can’t imagine driving any sort of car at 170-180mph on public roads, millimetres from solid barriers. And then I can’t imagine being able to keep that up for nigh on two hours. Great stuff.

I love the history too. The first race was held there in 1929, on basically the same layout (and incidentally, the guy who won that first race went on to work as a spy in WW2. Read this book because it’s fascinating). It’s amazing seeing the old videos and recognising the track, and realising that the challenges that faced Williams and Carraciola and Dreyfus are the same things which have challenged people like Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna and Stirling Moss over the years, and which still challenge the current crop of drivers. Some people fail those challenges, whereas others (people like Lewis Hamilton) thrive on them, and this means that Monaco – more than perhaps any other circuit – separates the great drivers from those who are merely very good.

Of course in the old days there were additional dangers. Note the lack of barriers in the old video, and the presence of street furniture. And the complete lack of protection in the cars. Luxuries that the drivers have today – things like seat belts – simply weren’t there in the past. And on that note, I heard an interview with Stirling Moss in the BBC coverage this weekend and he touched on this point. Listen to this even if you’re not a motorsport fan, because his comments on danger are fascinating:

“I’m glad that I raced when it was dangerous, because the exhileration of going round a really fast corner – 140, 150 miles per hour – knowing that if you go off you might die… Sure makes you feel pretty good when you get through it without dieing!”

It reminds me of another quote I’ve heard from him:

“To race a car through a turn at maximum speed is difficult. But to race a car at maximum speed through that same turn, when there is a brick wall on one side and a precipice on the other… Ah, that’s an achievement”.

Massive respect.

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | 4 Comments

Optimism

Wednesday 12th May 2010

When New Labour swept into power in 1997, I was 9 years old. At the time I was too young to pay attention to politics, so I didn’t know too much what it actually meant. All I knew was that John Major was out, and that a younger bloke called Tony Blair was now PM.

Basically, in the time that I’ve been reasonably aware of what’s going on and paid attention to the news and to politics, all I’ve known is a Labour government. And as long as I’ve been paying attention, I’ve mostly had one feeling towards that government: disappointment. A feeling, every time I read the news, of things getting worse. I’m not going to detail specific things, because the time has passed and I’ve said much of it before; but generally I’m thinking of things like ever-increasing taxes, or ever-spiralling public spending, or batshit-mental policy decisions which run contrary to what they’ve been advised to do, or of course the constant erosion of civil liberties.

This last thing is something that particularly ires me, because civil liberties – freedom – should be the hallmark of a civilised society, so it baffles me why anyone would think that taking some of them away would be a good thing. Someone I know who is a member of the Labour party says that I “exaggerate” this issue, that Labour hasn’t actually done that much to damage liberty. But that’s clearly bollocks; Labour have done quite enough, and I cannot take seriously any party who thinks that such attacks on individual freedom are justified.

So my experience has always been of the government disappointing me, always seeming to fail the people of Britain, and for that reason I’ve never supported the Labour government. Over the last few months, as I’ve been thinking about politics more and reading into the policies and ideologies of all the parties, I’ve began to understand exactly why I dislike them. The “nanny state” is a cliched joke now, but like most cliches there is a reason for it being – it’s true! Nick Clegg wrote a pamphlet last year called “The Liberal Moment“, and he said:

Labour requires a mighty nation state, just as liberalism believes in pooling sovereignty in multi-lateral institutions. Labour believes that society can only be improved through relentless state activism, a belief driven by far greater pessimism about the ability of people to improve their own lives. Liberalism believes fairness, fulfilment and freedom can be best secured by giving real power directly to millions of citizens. Labour believes in the ordered, controlled capacity of the state to take the right decisions about other peoples’ lives. A liberal believes in the raucous, unpredictable capacity of people to take decisions about their own lives. Labour believes a progressive society is characterised by enlightened top-down government. A liberal believes a progressive society is distinguished by aspiration, creativity and non conformity.”

I encourage everyone to read that pamphlet, because it’s a really interesting thing. As I read it, one thought kept running through my mind: “I agree with Nick”! I was shocked – and delighted – that any of the leaders of the mainstream parties actually believes the same sort of things that I do; that I’m not just some nutter on the fringes of the political spectrum.

After seeing their results and understanding their politics, my response to Labour campaigning for “a future fair for all”, or saying that theyre “fighting for your future” is: how dare they? After 13 years of illiberal, unequal government, how dare they pretend to stick up for anyone other than the rich and the powerful?

As I’ve said before, I support the Liberal Democrats. I seem to be in the minority in that I also don’t hate the Conservatives. And as you may have ascertained by now, I have nothing but contempt for Labour. And today, for the first time I can remember, I look at government and don’t feel disappointed. I think we really could be seeing the start of “new politics”, where the emphasis is on co-operation and compromise; not pointless tribalism where the aim is just to win.

For now, I feel optimistic. And I can’t tell you how excited I am about that.

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 7 Comments

The Alliance

Monday 10th May 2010

I’m not calling it a coalition, if indeed that is what we get. I’m calling it the Alliance because then the government sounds like something from Star Wars, and that’s just cool.

Anyway I’ve had an uneasy feeling since the election result. Not about the result itself – that’s quite interesting (it looks like Labour will shortly be out of government – of which I approve. And Jacqui Smith also lost her seat, which is what is known as a “Fucking Result”. I saw a blog the other day which said this was a bad thing; words fail me to be honest. Real shame about some of the other people who also lost out though). No, the general reaction is what’s made me uneasy. All through Friday, #dontdoitnick was trending on Twitter, because of the fact that the Liberal Democrats were (are) in talks with the Conservatives. Can’t remember where but I’ve read someone saying we’d been “LibConned” as well. Conned, you see, from Conservatives, and Lib from Lib Dems. Oh the rapier wit…

I’ve also read a fair few posts like this, criticising the Liberal Democrats for basically talking to the Tories. Not for anything they’ve agreed, just for talking to them. It’s a bit tiresome really.

Anyway the reaction to the whole thing – the idea that the two parties talking is the worst thing in the world – really didn’t sit well with me, and it’s taken a while for me to work out why.

I’ve been impressed by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats for the way they’ve handled this. Obviously I don’t really know what’s going on as I am not privy to the talks, but from the things we’ve heard it sounds as if discussions are really quite amicable, and that both parties are trying to bash out a deal. The speeches Cameron and Clegg made on Friday were both graceful and statesmanlike. Obviously they’re bound to be, because they want to work together and make friends, but it seems that both parties had the right attitude. Of course not everyone has had that reaction, but we’ll gloss over that…

Obviously proportional representation is a hot topic at the moment, and people criticise it saying “it ends up in weak governments”, “it always gets coalitions”. Well, I think the last few days have been refreshing. We’ve had the spectacle of two political parties apparently trying to put aside their differences and co-operate. I’ve often criticised politics for being too adversarial, too much about beating the other team and not about working constructively.

The parties have (apparently) been working constructively, and perhaps the new parliament will be formed in that sort of co-operative spirit. The parties themselves seem to understand this, but judging by the response on Twitter and the Blogosphere, a lot of supporters are still stuck in this old adversarial mindset. The time and place has passed, and there are more important things than sticking one to the other side. Politicians have impressed me lately (and I really don’t say that much), but their supporters have just depressed me. The point of politics isn’t to win; it’s to do good. Just because “your side” didn’t win, no need to be so bitter about it and oppose something that hasn’t even happened yet.

I suppose that a lot of it is down to Irrational Tory Hatred, but that’s another phenomena I’ve never fully understood. I mean I loathe a lot of things about Labour but I don’t exactly have a hatred for the party, yet for a lot of people the Tories seem to provoke a raw visceral hatred; as if Tory MPs drink the blood of dead babies and stamp on kittens for fun. Most bizarre.

In other news, I’m seriously considering joining the Liberal Democrats. How does one go about doing so? And what’s the cost?

And now I’m going to go read about concrete. My life is so rock and roll…

Posted In: PoliticsRant Tagged: | 5 Comments