Sunday, April 29, 2007

Roundup of Today's Obersver.

Four important and interesting articles in today's Observer:*

First, columnist Henry Porter can always be counted on speak up for civil liberties and against surveillance.

Secondly, an article on UK Information commissioner Richard Thomas' warning against increased surveillance. Thomas is right to emphasise the way surveillance undermines trust in society and alters the way individuals interact with the state and each other.

Thirdly, an article on the 'garrison economy' of the United States. According to two US economists, one-fifth the US workforce is now employed as security guards, prison officers or police. Especially interesting, in my opinion, was the finding of a correlation between economic inequality and the number of such 'gaurd workers'. This should raise some serious doubts in the minds of those who defend the so called "Anglo-Saxon" economic model. Is the good society and good life really advanced by allowing the market economy to create more and more inequality and for society to be dominated by security guards and police?

Finally, a business article comparing professional team sports in the US and Europe by someone who actually knows what he's talking about.

* The Observer is the UK's oldest Sunday Newspaper, owned since 1993 by The Guardian and effectively 'The Guardian on Sunday'.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mid-Life Crisis

I don't know exactly what a mid-life crisis is, but I'm beginning to understand.

It happens at the point in life when you realise that all the things you thought you were going to do are never going to happen. A time when your defeats and disappointments outweigh your hopes and aspirations. You no longer know who you are or what you are doing!

Maybe I'm wrong but it seems like you spend your teenage years creating a personality, answering the question of "Who am I?" Then sometime in mid your 30s or 40s, you realise you've constructed your life on a falsehood. A dream thats no more real than the childhood fantasies you once had.

You realise that life is empty and void, and the rest is indeed silence!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tort and Liability of Public Bodies.

Right now I should be using my precious time to study for my Tort tutorial tomorrow. However, my mind keeps wandering and I can't seem to focus on the liability of public bodies! Tort, which in civil law systems often is called 'non-contractual liability', is, in any case, an area of law which I'm very uncomfortable with. I guess I can identify three reasons for this dislike.

First, while tort does rely on statutes, judge-made law seems to dominate. This is true whether the tort is Negligence, False Imprisonment, Trespass to the person, Trespass to land, Trespass to goods, Occupiers Liability, Misfeasance in public office, Slander or Libel (to mention just a few of the 70 or so torts that are thought to exist).

Secondly, Judges, in the formulation of tort law, are too willing to strain the law to fit into what they intuitively think is the right outcome of the case in front of them. This is most clearly evident when the case concerns purely economic or psychiatric harm. A good example of this is Lord Denning's statement in the 1972 case of Spartan Steel and Alloys v. Martin:
'Sometimes I say "There was no Duty". In others I say: "The damage was too remote". So much so that I think it is time to discard those tests that have proved so elusive. It seems to me better to consider the relationship on hand, and see whether or not, as a matter of policy, economic loss should be recoverable.'
Thirdly, tort is fundamentally a capitalistic and materialistic concept. Although different torts have different aims, for example to compensate the victim of a negligent act for the damage caused by the act, the underlying idea of torts is that the best way to correct undesirable behaviour is to impose financial liability on the individual or body committing the wrongful act.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gonzales v. Carhart

Gonzales v. Carhart is an interesting decision.

First, it confirmed that Bush's appointments of Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts has titled the court towards the conservative right. Secondly, the abortion question is an area of law in which the justices are clearly straining the law to fit their own personal beliefs, whether these beliefs are for or against the right to have an abortion. Finally, abortion is widely seen as a litmus test for the political power of the religious right.(1)

The only thing that really isn't of interest to anyone is whether the law in question will have any significant effect in changing whether and when woman will choose to have an abortion.

While the abortion question creates different opinion poll responses, according to how the questions are phrased and the methodology of the poll, there seems to be general pro-abortion stance by the majority of Americans. Neither is there evidence that the 'Pro-Life' position is becoming more popular.(2) However, in spite of not being able to move public opinion, the religious right and Pro-Life movement has been able to move the Supreme Court to the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade.

If you are inclined to read the courts opinion (I've only skinned it), then notice the emotional language e.g.: "No one would dispute that, for many, D&E [dilation and evacuation] is a procedure itself laden with the power to devalue human life." (per Justice Kennedy at 23) and "Today's decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously."(3) (per Justice Ginsberg at 31).

1) I use the term 'religious right' to identify conservatives who emphasise their Christian beliefs in the formulations of their political positions, and not just far right religious politicians as Farwell, Robertsen and Dobson.

2) For more on public attitudes to abortion see different polling results at

3) 'Casey' and 'Stenberg' are supreme court precedents: i.e. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 and Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Loving Big Brother.

Maybe I'm wrong after all. Surveillance Cameras (i.e. CCTV) will apparently make us all happier, safer and our streets cleaner!

At least that's the message from Middlesbrough Councilor Barry Carpenter, who in today's Guardian defends Middlesbrough installation of cameras which enables its operators to speak to the people being watched. Carpenter's good news is that Middlesbrough town center now only needs to be swept four times a day instead of six.

Not only is Midleborough cleaner, apparently its citizens are also happier. According to the city's own surveys 95 % of residents felt safer because of the camera's and virtually 100 % supported the new cameras.

This all leaves me shaking my head. While British cities are full of litter, Britain is not a crime infested place where its not safe to live. Surely there's a better way to deal with litter. Yet, the population wants its privacy invaded and wants to be watched by the state, police and private security firms!

Is this how we should expect to live our lives? Is this the good life?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Political Outrage and Free Speech.

The furore surrounding the 15 British sailors captured by Iran and their subsequent selling of their stories to newspapers, is very telling of how the political system works in Britain. It illustrates how the right wing tabloids are allowed to control the political debate and even dictate government decisions.

More interesting, however, is the fact that no one seems to question whether the Defence Sectary had any right to ban the sailors from selling their stories. Even the Guardian, in today's leader, calls the initial decision of allowing the sailors to sell their stories, as "jaw-droppingly inept".

Yet, I must wonder how the government of country, which claims to adhere to human rights, can arbitrarily limit the sailors free speech and their freedom to contract. Forbidding individuals from receiving compensation for publishing their stories is a severe limitation of freedom of speech.

Of course British citizens do not have any constitutional rights which cannot be taken away by Parliament, but the UK has signed up to the European Convention of Human Rights. Article 8 of that convention states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression" and restrictions of this right are only allowed when such restrictions "are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary."

The European Court of Human Rights, which is the judicial guardian of the convention, has consistently held that while certain limitations of freedoms are inherent in military service (see Kalac v. Turkey), such limitations must be "proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued" (see Smith & Grady v. UK).

Since the Ministry of Defence had decided that national security was not threatened by the sailors telling their stories, there is no good reason for them not to receive money for doing so. Neither national security nor public order was threatened by the sailors contracting with The Sun. While protection of the Royal Navy's image may be described as a legitimate aim relating to national security, it is not proportionate to so severely limit the sailors free speech.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Two events today, both concerning surveillance cameras, have filled me with feelings of disillusionment. What a sad and depressing place this world is!

First, I walked the few hundred meters from my home to my local supermarket. I noticed that I was observed by at least 6 surveillance cameras (in UK called CCTV), and I know not how many more.

Secondly, according to this Danmarks Radio article, there is now a majority in the Danish Parliament in favour of increased TV surveillance of public spaces.

Until now it has been illegal, according to 'Lov om forbud mod tv-overvågning' (Law on the ban against TV-surveillance), for either private or public enterprises to "engage in TV-surveillance of streets, roads, public squares or the like that are used for public traffic." Exceptions to this rule has been limited to “petrol stations, industrial areas, covered shopping centres and similar areas with economic activity as long as the surveillance is carried out by the legal owner of the area.”

The new bill will allow shops and businesses to install cameras monitoring its premises facade, as well as street in front of it. According to Justiceminister Lene Espersen the TV surveillance will make it easier for police to solve crime.

The problems with surveillance cameras:.
While the effectiveness of surveillance camera's are subject to much debate among sociologists and criminologists, the important question is not, in my opinion, the effectiveness surveillance, but the effect it has on society.

Constant TV surveillance is, in my opinion, a serious violation the right to privacy. A right that should be recognised as an essential element of a free society. The argument that law abiding individuals have nothing to fear from being watched is therefore missing the point. Surveillance is sanction without transgression of the law.

Worse, surveillance has a devastating effect on society. George Orwell understood this and used his novel 1984, to illustrate how surveillance is the essence of totalitarianism. Similarly Jeremy Benthem invented the Panopticon, a prison in which inmates can always be observed, as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example"(see Bentham "Panopticon"). Foucoult, in 'Punishment and Discipline' (New York, Random House, 1975), used Bentham's Panopticon as a metaphor for the control society. For Foucoult control is exercised by an individual knowing that they at all times may be observed, not in the act itself.

In short, surveillance is the death of freedom.

Surveilance cameras are, however, extremely popular. This is true in Denmark, in Britain, in Germany, almost everywhere. My heart aches. I cannot take it anymore.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Baseball Season.

The baseball season is one week old and unusually for me I've haven't quite got into it yet. This is partially to do due with the worries I have concerning my degree and partially to do with me being too tired to stay up late watching games on the Internet.

However, with the Mets home opener yesterday I'm starting to get excited.

Unfortunataely, my allegiance in baseball is split between the White Sox and Mets. I attended my first Major League game at old Commiskey Park in 1978 and have ever since been a Sox (not Chisox, Pale Hose or any other name, just: Sox) fan. In the later years, however, I've been following the Mets more closely, for three specific reasons:

1) The Designated Hitter. I'm growing tired waiting for the American League to abandon this bad experiment. While I dislike the DH for the usual reasons, i.e. being contrary to baseball's traditions, integrity and its effect on run scoring and strategy, my main objection to the rule is that I actually like to see pitchers bat. I love the David and Goliath confrontation and I really enjoy it when a pitcher gets a hit or draws a walk. Watching major league pitchers, who (usually) are great athletes, struggling at the plate also reminds me of how difficult batting really is.

2) Time Zones. Games that start at 7 PM in New York, start at midnight Greenwich time, whereas 7 PM Chicago games start at 1 AM Greenwich time. Following the Mets therefore gets me to bed earlier.

3) Roger Angel. Author of some the best books on baseball. His essays covering the old New York Giants and New York Mets, hightened my interest in the Mets.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

EMG No. 2

I went to the hospital yesterday for my second Electromyography (EMG). The first one was performed on Dec. 1.

The result of the EMG was the same as the last time: evidence of nerve damage and reduced nerve recruitment in my rigth leg, but nowhere else. The Consultant who performed the EMG said that it was possitive that there was no change from the last test.

My neurologist is not willing to make a diagnosis yet. I think he's holding back and not telling me what he suspects, until he has more evidence.

All I can to is to leave my life and health to Jesus. I guess thats all any of us can do!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Shimon Tzabar

Maybe its because I'm getting older or just frustrated with the other sections of my daily newspaper, but I've begun to read the obituaries regularly.

In today's Guardian there's an obituary of Shimon Tzabar, an Israeli painter, satirist and writer I hadn't previously heard of. What particularly caught my interest was the letter Tzabar co-signed in 1967 shortly after the 6-Day War. The letter, published as an advertisement in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is spot on in its analysis:
"Our right to defend ourselves from extermination does not give us the right to oppress others. Occupation entails foreign rule. Foreign rule entails resistance. Resistance entails repression. Repression entails terror and counter-terror. The victims of terror are mostly innocent people. Holding on to the occupied territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims. Let us get out of the occupied territories immediately."

Sweet Jesus and Christian Anger

A chocolate Jesus is, in my opinion, a very appropriate image of Easter. A Christian festival, remembering the central event in that religion, the death of Jesus, which has become all about bunnies and chocolate.

Socially conservative Christians are (predictably) outraged by such an exhibition, and an all to familiar exercise in anger is performed for the public.

This TV interview shocked me however. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic league, refers to artists as losers, rejects the artist's claim to being a Christian with the words "Oh, you're a Christian. Please. Don't lie about it", and even makes what could be understood as a veiled death threat: "you're lucky I'm not like the Taliban, because you would lose more than your head".

What struck me as interesting, however, was Donohues response to the question of what offended him about the sculpture: "asking the public to come in and eat Jesus, with his genitals exposed, during Holy Week".

With that one sentence Donohue, in my opinion, completely justified the exhibition. Didn't Jesus tell us to eat his body, and wasn't Jesus crucified naked during 'holy week'? And haven't we made a mockery of Jesus' very offensive death, by making it a chocolate feast?

For a good comment on the chocolate Jesus outrage and the Donohue interevew see: The Spectrum Blog.