Tuesday, 30 September 2008

On Trust and Legislation

I have read the newspaper reports and analyses; I have surfed the web commentators and blogs; I have watched and listened to the pundits and experts; I have followed the unfolding events.

But I still have not come across a clear explanation for the current banking crisis. And without an understanding of a problem, how can one chose one proposed solution over another?

As far as I can tell, at bottom it is about trust. The banks just do not want to lend to each other. The banks do not feel confident; the banks lack trust.

If this is indeed the case, then it is hard to see how legislation, and taxpayers' billions, can alleviate the problem.

One cannot legislate to make people trust one another, just as one cannot legislate to make people love or hate one another.

If such things were possible, then politicians would legislate to make us trust them.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

On Adapting A Christmas Carol

I am adapting A Christmas Carol for a play.

I cannot help noting, however, that under its old prudent management policy, Scrooge & Marley would not have needed this week's bail out at the taxpayers' expense.

Friday, 26 September 2008

On the Bank Bail Out

I know how decent and honest Communists must have felt with the Stalin showtrials and the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslavika.

In those cases, such Communists must have just felt so let down. You spend your time believing in something - say socialism and a classless society - and some crisis or emergency comes along and every principle is discarded.

Like many Tories and economic liberals, I have defended the principle of wealth in the city (rather than sex in the city, though I have so many frustrating near-misses for both). After all, those who take risks should be rewarded. And also, one cannot buck the market or deny economic changes.

And then last week happened. The investment banks and the retail banks got it wrong. And so they suffer the downside to the rewards and profits they (according to usual old arguments) they deserved.

This is a proposed state bail out on the most drastic scale. A state intervention refused to mining communities and Midlands car factories. The bail out may well be necessary so as to prevent a greater collapse. There might, as one could say, be a greater good.

Be that as it may: these are extremely disconcerting times for any of those both reflective and right-of-centre.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Jack's Crap Criminal Cases 2: The Feet of Kathleen Jennings

This was the case which started me thinking about Crap Criminal Cases - prosecutions which really should not have been brought.

Such cases usually involve an administrative body (not the police) taking leave of any common sense and bringing a disproportionate prosecution in respect of a trivial infringement.

The awful truth is that the poor defendant can end up with a criminal record because of this gormless and excessive prosecution, such that it would ruin a career and indeed a life.

But the prosecuting body prosecutes because it can.

So here is the (almost) heartening case of Kathleen Jennings, a 19 year old promising student, aspiring teacher, and scout leader.

She was prosecuted for the dire crime of putting her feet on a train chair, for just a few seconds. See here.

The plonkers at Merseyrail brought a prosecution which could have destroyed her hopes of a teaching job.

She had the misfortune of being captured by an enforcement officer with a CCTV camera fixed to his head as she rested the edge of her flip-flops on the seat opposite.

(No doubt he was wearing a uniform and was loving it.)

The Chester magistrates, showing more common sense than Merseyrail ever possessed, gave her an "absolute discharge". This is the lowest penalty that can be given by a criminal court. It means no criminal offence will be recorded and she will suffer no penalty.

(As the article explains, if she had been fined, it would have stayed on her record for five years and a conditional discharge would have remained for a time set by the court.)

Indeed the court said:

"The bench is united in feeling that whilst this is contrary to a byelaw, we feel that Merseyrail should have a less draconian method of dealing with matters of this nature."

I read that another seven people whose cases were also brought before the court, were also given absolute discharges.

You will see at the end of a Telegraph article a vomit-prompting press release seeking to justify this needless prosecution.

Perhaps in an extreme circumstance - where other customers were actually inconvenienced - such a prosecution would be appropriate and such a press release could be relevant.

As it was, the prosecution and press release demonstrated an arrogant and high-handed prosecutor.

But, thanks to the Chester magistrates, this Crap Criminal Case did not lead to a crap criminal record.

Monday, 22 September 2008

On the Radio Silence in the BCA v Simon Singh case

Just a quick post about the seeming lack of activity in this case.

One way litigation is like warfare is that there are long boring bouts where it appears (wrongly) nothing is going on and then very public dramatic bursts of activity.

(Other simlarities are that it is expensive, ultimately unpredictable, and often started and carried through (at least to begin with) by stupid stubborn people who did not properly explore the other options.)

Unless the BCA have dropped the case, the lack of visible activity does not mean there is nothing happening behind the scenes.

I am sure more will be revealed in due course...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

On Gordon Brown and David Lloyd George

The current situation of Gordon Brown makes me think of David Lloyd George in 1922.

Then everyone, but the cabinet, revolted.

The pragmatic trimmers in the cabinet - the Jack Straws and Geoff Hoons of their day - all went down with the Prime Minister.

(Sadly, this wretched illness is limiting my Blog output...please do wait. I hope to be back in full action soon.)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

On J.K. Rowling's Awfully Bad Copyright Victory

Just as in Prince Hamlet's Denmark, there is something rotton in the state of copyright law.

The victory of J.K. Rowling in her copyright case - see here - is disturbing.

The reference book in question does not copy lengthy passages from Rowling's works. Instead the book provides an informative reference work based on a collaborative website.

But J.K. Rowling wanted to use the law to ban the book, and she has (so far) succeeded.

In my opinion, this is an abuse of copyright law. If cases like this succeed then copyright law, at least in the United States, is as in dire need of reform as their tort (ie, personal injury) law.

I like the Harry Potter novels. I have read them all. The last few I have bought and read on the day of publication. I am not one of those who sneer at her readable style or anguish at her commercial success. She deserves every penny she has earned from the novels.

(Indeed, in Sirius Black, she has created an ideal godfather that those - like me - who are destined only ever to be godfathers can hope to achieve.)

The Harry Potter works are good stuff, and such an original creation warrants legal protection, but Rowling's intellectual property rights should not extend too far.

But they have done on this occasion.

A reference book about the world of Harry Potter should not be within the scope of her copyright protection. If it is, then there is no reason in principle why any copyrighted work should not be protected from being the subject of a reference work.

A reference work, by its very nature, needs to expressly refer to elements of the original text.

And it is no excuse - no excuse at all - for Rowling to witter on that she wanted to do such a reference book herself, with the proceeds "going to charity". (Or is that "charidee"? ) The fact that her exploitation of any copyright will go to a certain end does not logically confer to her a prior copyright.

As Prince Hamlet's mate Macbeth almost said: "Is this a gross abuse of copyright law I see before me?"

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Coming Up, and an Update

I have finally managed to cast off - for now - the toad, work (and also a bout of rather tiresome illness).

Normal blogging shall re-commence shortly. The next Crap Libel Case will be on Dr Andrew Wakefield (of MMR fame).

I am now also a moderator on the UK Skeptics Forum for their new "Skepticism and the Law" section - click here.

This news section will deal with the various attempts to use criminal and civil law to close down public debates.

It will also feature, from time to time, "Jack's Witchcraft Cases" and (soon) "Jack's Blasphemy Cases" commentating on relevant news stories from around the world.

As for the BCA v Singh case, litigation can appear silent at times, but there may well be something to report in a week or so.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

On Being a Son of the Enlightenment

Just another quick post whilst I wrestle with "toad".

One Woo has dubbed those who question the value of "alternative" medicine to be "Sons of the Enlightenment". See here.

It is intended to be an insult.

I think it is more a label to be worn with pride!