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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Editing

I've just played around with the blogroll slightly. Hope it looks fine, but if it doesn't then to be honest it's too late for me to be bothered to do anything about it now.

Of note however I'm linking to Mister District Attorney (which I noticed via Uncivil Litigator actually. I feel I ought to have at least one prosecutor on the list!

Actually the gentleman's initial entries have been interesting. In one post he goes on about a relatively new judge basically not being competent, and being particularly exacerbating in terms of various processes. In my own line of work we've been working around a similar sort of person for about a year now (indeed, this person started about the same time I did), and it looks like we're going to have another person to work around in the immediate future too. Not fun, as if we don't have enough work to do already.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading about things from the other side of the aisle to the more prevalent defence blogs. Good luck MrDA, and have fun blogging.

A case of negligence

At least from where I'm standing. A fortnight ago my Mum takes her car in to be servived, which it duly is and given the clean bill of health. This weekend she goes on the motorway to come down to this end of the country, and within five miles she's pulled over with no brake pressure. The cause, a loose bolt or something (I'm no mechanic) that came free resulting in the brake fluid leaking all out. Fortunately she had enough time to pull over safely, and was not going too fast when it happened. The mechanic who came out apparently had some very choice things to say about the quality of work in the garage if they can let something like that go through. It is, apparently, just routine. And this is an AA mandated garage, so it's supposed to be more reliable than average.

Now, all in all this is probably going to work out OK, but for most of the weekend in the back of my head there's been a little voice saying "but what if...". Thankfully I don't need to worry about it, but with the c.3000 road deaths a year in the UK you have to wonder how many had events like this has contributory factors.

But for the Grace of God

Blonde Justice offers a fairly lengthy reply to my reaction to the "but for the Grace of God" argument.

I suppose I should explain my reaction a little further, and to me it mostly comes down to a sense of personal responsibility. With a few exceptions I think we must all be responsible for our actions. One of my favourite rants, albeit not done on this blog yet, is how the modern world contrives to abdicate personal responsibility. Of course, those with mental problems might really be unaware of their actions, and in such cases the "there but for the Grace of God" does have resonance, but because of the mental problem rather than for any crime committed as a consequence. Also those under great emotional stress will not necessarily be aware of their actions, though in general I feel such people should nonetheless be accountable.

I am reminded of one of Ken Lammers frequent complaints, about those clients caught driving on a suspended license because it is their only way to get to work. In my mind its plain that there is a reason for the license being suspended in the first place, be it drink driving or speeding and so on. However, clearly there is an issue when the only way for someone to maintain their livelihood is to break the law. Clearly these people need defending, if only because of the blind nature of the suspension (wrecking someone's livelihood seems to me to be wildly disproportionate to the offence, and last I checked one basis of the common law was the proportional nature of the penalty - but I realise I am probably being incredibly naive). But the "but for the Grace of God" argument rings hollow because of the initial offence.

In the case of "overbroad or misapplied laws" then I think we enter a slightly different realm, one where the defence lawyer is a most necessary balance on the state.

I suppose I should re-emphasise that, although I do have great difficulty with the "but for the Grace of God" argument for why defending the (probably) guilty is important, of the ones I have read it is really the only one I have reacted negatively to. Plenty of the other positions resonate positively. I should also repeat my reaction to "but for the Grace of God" is at least partly gut-based, and so perhaps not entirely logical. But there you go. Who expects feelings to be logical?

Monday, August 30, 2004

A destructive motor? Thoughts on the EU

Warning! Long-ish post of semi-recent politics (it's been on the slow burner for a couple of months). Might well make no sense. You have been warned.

Traditionally the Franco-German axis in the European union has been seen as the driving force of the European Union, from its foundation at the European Economic Community to its current incarnation. French political clout and (West) German economic power basically dominated the other members, or bullied when it proved necessary. In terms of population and economic might those two countries outstrip any other, with one notable exception. That exception is of course the United Kingdom, but for most of the UK's membership this has not been a serious problem, largely I think because of the many opt-outs of European policies and treaties granted to the UK.

Things are now changing, and though it is far too early to say with confidence where matters will end up, some guesses can be made. Firstly though we need to ask why things are changing. I draw attention to three things.

1) The adoption of the Euro by 12 countries, and its rejection in 3.

2) The enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 memebers.

3) The Iraq war.

The adoption of the Euro created for the first time a formal distinction between various members. Previously there had been opt-outs certainly, but these were ad hoc. Now there was a formal group within a group, something that had been talked about for most of the 1990s. This came into being moreover because three members choose not the adopt the Euro. In the case of Denmark, and later Sweden, this was because of democratic vote via referendum. We in the UK didn't get a chance to vote, at least in part because public opinion was so strongly negative anyway.

The enlargement fundamentally altered the demographics. Most importantly France and Germany's strong position in terms of population (the latter even strong since re-unification) is now greatly diluted. Also many of the new entrants from Eastern Europe are more naturally pro-American and rather less in awe of France. In addition, although all the referendums to join the EU were won it quickly beciome clear that these new countries often had populations with a large Euroskeptic element.

The above two events created a situation which was going to cause difficulties for the previous order - acknowledged as far as I can recall beforehand. A re-adjustment of some sort was expected. What was not expected I imagine was the manner of the catalyst.

The Iraq war was that catalyst.

In late 2002 and early 2003 two important events happened. The first was "Le Row" between Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac. I think it is often forgotten how important personal relationships are at the level of international politics. On the face of it if Tony Blair can get along with George Bush then there is no reason why he should not be able to get along with Jacques Chirac. But the run-up to the war saw a serious breaking down of the personal relationship in December 2002 where Blair and Chirac basically ended up having a public and messy slagging match. It has poisoned their relatinship since, and I think there should be no doubt of the animosity both men feel for each other.

The second was the "Vilnius Letter" whereby the eight eastern european countries stated their support for the Iraq war. Jacques Chirac immediately denounced them. His line was "they had wasted a good opportunity to keep quiet". It was this episode that really prompted to the "Old" and "New" Europe divide, one I dislike since Italy, very much a part of "Old" Europe was very much committed to the war. However, you had a situation here whereby France was basically telling eight soveriegn states to shut up.

Amongst all of this debate between Blair and Chirac there was one noticeable absence: Schroder. Germany kept remarkably quiet. Although its hostility was well-known Germany seemed to be content to let the French do the talking. The result was that the Iraq war split got caught up in the personal split between Chirac and Blair, and by extention between France and the UK.

To say that France and the UK have had a troubled history of interaction is a gross understatement. We are historic enemies, and despite relatively recent alliances (the Entente Cordiale is only just a century old after all) the competition goes deep. France basically blocked Britain's first attempt to join the EEC (as it was then), and in very recent history the French kept up the ban on British beef long after such a ban in Europe was ruled illegal. Let's just say that we still don't get along very well. Germany's relative silence drew attention away from the Franco-German axis and onto a old relationship of new importance: Anglo-French animosity.

However, simultaneous to all of this were the ongoing negotiations for the European Constitutional Treaty, and through them one thing was starting to become apparent to the French and the Germans: that combined they no longer would have enough weight to bully the new EU of 25. Another thing also become plain, with the UK they might.

Also at this time there was a Franco-German defence summit, also attended iirc by Belgium and Luxembourg. It showed that there could be no coherent EU defence policy without the inclusion of the UK. The Iraq war also showed that without the UK there could not be a coherent EU foreign policy. And there was alot of heartache about both these things, because foreign and defence policies are one of those areas that integretionists have been wanted to make movement on for some time.

So a painful attempt to create a tripartite axis are being danced. In fact moves along these lines had begun pre-war, but the Iraq conflict showed how desperately some form of co-operation was needed. But there is a problem: two of the three participants retain cold-shoulders to each other. Germany therefore has started to have to act in the role of peacekeeper at the heart of the EU - especially since Romano Prodi was/is more concerned about his personal vendetta with Berlusconi.

This personal vendetta has been another source of poison in EU politics, and personally I wonder how much it had to do with the collapse of the talks to finalise the Consititional Treaty in December 2003. Nonetheless that collapse was also important in another way: it was brought about by two smaller countries (Spain & Poland) fighting it out head to head with France and Germany, and winning.

France and Germany could still bully their way within the Eurogroup - those countries who have adopted the Euro - as was shown by their emasculation of the Growth and Stability Pact. But in the larger EU it was now stark and obvious that the Franco-German motor was not powerful enough to keep the EU running.

The renewal of Anglo-French rivalry was obvious again however in the matter of the new President of the European Commission, and I think this rivalry is here with us to stay for at least as along as either Blair or Chirac remain in power. It has become an important fact of European politics, and I personally think it can only be destructive for a negative relationship to have such importance.

Looking ahead for the moment at least one of the themes of the above - the changing demographics of the EU - is set to continue. Bulgaria and Romania are due to join in 2007, and the remaining Balkan countries (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia & Montenegro, FYROM, and Albania) are probably going to join further down the line. This will only further dilute Franco-German power. The big question is Turkey, which is making a strong bid for membership, and Turkey's prospective membership was something of an issue in some Continental countries during the recent EU elections. If Turkey does join we will need to speak of the Big 4, rather than the Big 3, and I think Franco-German dominance, already under threat, will be kissed goodbye (though of course both France and Germany would remain important, just not dominant).

However, a new possible trend is about. That of democracy. Several times recently a democratic vote has turned out against the EU of France and Germany. The first of these really was Sweden's rejection of the euro, and this was important because, unlike Denmark and the UK, Sweden does not have an opt-out, but the Commission acknowledged that they could not in any way try to force Sweden. Second was the "no" vote in Cyprus for the unification deal. The real test here though, to see if this is something as opposed to nothing, will be the forthcoming referedums on the Constitutional Treaty.

So that is how I see the EU moving at the moment, albeit rather negatively. I have high hopes of the new President of the Commission however, and already he has made some positive moves. Under Jacques Delors the Commission would be another motor, apart from France & Germany. Since then the role has been filled poorly. But its too soon to tell if he will live up to his promise.

There but for the Grace of God - further to below

Thanks to Blonde Justice I note that Arbitrary and Capricious also discussed the question I posed.

One thing he draws attention to is the "there but for the Grace of God go I" argument. Actually of all of these I must admit to reacting badly to this one. I think in my mind this is because a great deal of the other reasons given by Mr Lammers at CrimLaw, Blonde Justice, and by A&C don't seem to me to excuse those that are guilty, whereas this phrase in my own mind does. Other people might react to the phrase differently.

Of course, I can relate to that phrase for those people who are wrongly accused, which is why for my question I asked about the (probably) guilty.

Anyway, it's all been very interesting to read about, and I think I can say with total honesty that I've learnt a fair bit in all that reading.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

A question answered

Before I went away I asked an open question "Why is defending the (probably) guilty important..?" Blonde Justice has been kind enough to answer. I note that Ken Lammers over at Crim Law has also answered (though in response to something originally on Blonde Justice's blog).

I suppose I should say something about why I asked the question I did. After all, it's not that dissimilar from the "How can you represent someone when you know they're guilty" question. From my perspective however it appears obvious that people like Blond Justice and others think that what they do is important, and it's altogether more interesting than the more confrontational question.

I must say that being religiously inclined that Mr Lammers' biblical grounding has a great deal of resonance for me. It is something I can understand on a gut level, even if I don't entirely understand on a head-level. Blonde Justice hit something on the head though: "The biggest one, for me, is because no one else is."

Food for thought.

Back from holiday

More of a flying trip across the southern third of England visiting various relatives. Visited a very good second-hand book shop, more on that later. However, of more importance I have an update on my ankle.

On the first day of my holiday I had an appointment with the Orthopaedic Surgeon. This surgeon I had originally been referred to in July 2003 by my GP, but my case was re-directed to another Orthopaedic Surgeon, who just ended up referring me back because he wasn't an ankle specialist, and because this one is. Of course, I did have an MRI in the interim, but nonetheless I feel that something between 6 and 9 months' time was wasted in the process.

In any event this surgeon went into much greater detail with what is the problem with my ankle. It appears that when I had the original injury (back in October 2000) it looks like I sheered the surface of the talus bone and did some damage to the cartilege as well. The result basically a bone that no longer perfectly fits, and therefore it sometimes scrapes, and that is what causes me the pain. More or less, or something like that.

There is an operation he can perform that has about a 70% chance of improving symptoms. As I understand it is basically smoothing the surface of the bone, so that it interacts better. It is a keyhole procedure. I think I will probably elect for that, but in the meantime I have been referred to the orthotics department. That is, to be fitted with some insoles or something to make me stand properly. This is because I walk very much on the outside of my foot as a result of the injury, and that certainly can't be good.

I now have a one month wait for the Orthotics appointment, and then it will probably be a month before I get the orthoses themselves. Two months after that I will see the Surgeon again and come to a decision. Watch this space.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Annoying questions

Blonde Justice mentions her irritation of the question "How can you represent someone when you know they're guilty?"

My equivalent to this, being a good graduate working in a below-average paid job is "What on earth are doing that for?" Indeed, just last week someone at work asked me the same thing, to which I gave my standard waffling reply.

However, there is a slightly different question I would ask any criminal defence lawyer I met in person, and it is probably just as annoying, but here it goes: why is defending the (probably) guilty important to you?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Weather

It is a British obsession to talk about the weather, and of course there has been a fair amount of weather going on recently to talk about. Hurricane Charley aside however, I have just noticed this story over at the BBC, where the river Camel in Cornwall burst its banks causing a flash flood, a rather severe one given that the river is nothing much. Of course, what really drew my interest is that area is where I grew up. The River Camel passed within a mile of a place where I lived for 5 years or so, and though the focus of this flood was further downstream, these are places I know very well. Inevitably this makes it more real and urgent to me than the far more serious goings on in Charley's wake.

Of course this is not the first time it has happened. A number of years ago a similar flash flood happened in the little coastal town - village really - of Polperro. Something like this happens once a decade. Enough to remember, but never enough to think of as something real, to be prepared for. I have also heard similar things being said comparing Charley and Andrew.

I don't think I have a real point here - just meandering thoughts of a similarity of situation despite the vast difference of scale.

Monday, August 09, 2004

What one does...

when an American comes to visit.

Although I have visited Waddling Thunder twice on his home soil, this weekend saw Waddling Thunder come to my neck of the woods for the first time. Which I must admit left me somewhat wondering what to do. I mean, I am hardly the most exertive of people on weekends, or holidays, or even weekday evenings. As it is a solution readily presented itself.

First go to the lovely country town of Wells. Wells has simply one of the most wonderful mediaeval cathedrals in the world. It also has a fully functioning 14th-century clock, which is worth a look all by itself. The town's fairly pretty to boot. Of course, being very much a country turn you take a left and you're walking alongside a field full of cows. This provides for a somewhat fragrant afternoon miasma in the (relatively) humid sun.

Of course, the above means inflicting a rural bus service on poor Waddling Thunder. This should be done to each and every American visiting to remind them why the car is so important, and why petrol taxes are so evil - not that many need convincing. For the record I can't drive, the primary reason being the simple inability to afford to run a car with petrol prices rather higher than $6/gallon. Of course, something like 80% of that is tax.

And then, once one has returned to house and home to have the traditional British dinner of a curry (and yes, these days this is pretty much standard) we relaxed to baseball. And more baseball. And FoxNews (ignoring CNN).

Hell, after putting myself through 2.5 hours of rural buses I was completely out myself.

NB: Of course, since WT has lived over here for some time he knows pretty much what to expect, even from rural buses.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Why I like American football

In answer to this question left be Al:

You mean to tell me a Brit prefers American football to the European blend? Amazing! How in the world did that happen?

It happened mostly because I have never ever liked soccer. I have watched a total of two soccer matches in my life, and I have never been so bored. And those were national games where I had a chance of getting excited. I find it dull and utterly uninteresting. I can't even be energised enough about the sport to properly insult it.

On the other hand I have always liked watching rugby - speciacally Rugby Union. Rugby is exciting. It can be utterly magical as the ball is passed along the line, faked and switch-passed, as the line gets broken, to see centres or forwards powering through, dragging would-be tacklers for several yards, to see wingers take off and side-step around befuddled defenders, or to see one of the those defenders close of an attack with a bone-crunching, spine-chilling tackle.

Rugby and (American) Football are rather similar. Rugby is more free-flowing, and therefore somewhat less tactical. The game is more physical than Football, surprisingly so at first glance, and players are less specialised. Football is more tactical, the down system breaking each play into well-defined units. The quarterback position also has no analogy in rugby - and therefore adds its own wonderful dimension.

If pressed I would have to say I would give rugby a slight edge - but only because I can get to watch England playing rugby and that's something that Football does not offer.

However, back to the question about how it happened. The answer is a trip to Boston 20 months or so ago, to see Waddling Thunders. I arrived on a Friday. Naturally that Sunday WT thought it was high-time that I was introduced to Football. It was the Patriots vs the Bills (iirc). Shall we say I was hooked from the first play. Unlike in baseball where I do definitely have a "favourite" team I don't really in NFL/college. Perhaps that is something that'll start to develop this year. who knows.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

The football season

is finally here. And no, I do not mean that vile game called soccer, but the frankly far better American football. Plus of course the rugby season is nearly upon us too. All of which will allow me to pleasantly ignore the wails of many of my fellow Brits as they bemoan their soccer woes.

Looking at what NASN has to sate my viewing this year we are getting a bunch of the pre-season NFL games, but none of the regular season. We are also getting a healthy dosing of college football. That's fine by me. I really enjoyed watching college football last year. The atmosphere just seemed so much more .. well, fun, than the more serious NFL. And of course for the time being there is still baseball to keep me occupied.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Eternal father, strong to save

Well, having been quiet for a bit I'm coming around again, but this first post is going to be rather sentimental I'm afraid. For a very particular reason today this hymn is of special significance. It really says all I want to do, only far, far better.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Christ, whose voice the waters heard
and hushed their raging at thy word,
who walkedst on the foaming deep,
and calm amid the storm didst sleep;
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

Most Holy Spirit, who didst brood
upon the chaos dark and rude,
and bid its angry tumult cease,
and give, for wild confusion, peace:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and power,
our brethren shield in danger's hour;
from rock and tempest, fire and foe,
protect them wheresoe'er they go;
thus evermore shall rise to thee
glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

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