Monday, December 17, 2007

Darwin Awards

The Bad and the Ugly

News that John Darwin, seemingly the architect of a scam to extract money from an insurance company by pretending to be dead, has been remanded in custody should come as no surprise to enlightened observers of the English legal system.

Quick recap. John and his wife have swindled an insurance company and the government out of a considerable sum of money. On the plus side – no-one has been seriously hurt. No-one is dead. No-one is ill, destitute or dying as a result of what is, at the bottom line, a fairly amateur attempt to perpetrate fraud.

John should appear very soon on the Darwin Awards web site.

The Darwin Awards are given to folks who generously remove themselves from the gene pool in order to help promulgate the rest of the species – who are, by definition, nowhere near as stupid as the recipients.

In the meantime his case neatly demonstrates two important points regarding the English judicial system. Point one: if you are accused of a crime which involves allegations of stealing money from the state, you will be persecuted to the rigour of the law. Point two: if you are so accused, your chances of obtaining bail are nil.

Neither of these points are very sensible or very fair.

If we contrast Darwin's misdemeanors with some other of society's miscreants, it might prove instructional. For example, get drunk, mow down a few innocent pedestrians and attempt to evade arrest and you will get into trouble. How much? Depends. You might get a jail term of a few years. With good behaviour you could be out in 18 months. Most certainly you will not be remanded in custody whilst the police make inquiries.

Lose the entire DHSS data base by posting it to your granny in Inverness and you will not even be named, much less blamed. “Systemic failure” in the system will probably pick up the tab for that one.

The English have a curious ambivalence towards a “fiddle” Whilst deploring it in public, in private everyone secretly loves a rogue. Robin Hood. Alfie. John Stonehouse. George Best. The list is long.

But, when the rogue in question defrauds the state, it's another story. Just a s likely, after a long period on remand, a short trial and a swift sentence, you will find your self examining the Scrubs – from the inside and for a fairly long time.

Not only is this not very fair, it's a waste of police time, court time, my time and your time, not to mention our money. Mr Darwin, if convicted, should not go to jail. He should have to pay back the money. Turning what is a crazy human interest story into a cause celelbre' is silly – if not downright criminal.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bury Your Tomahawks

Banged-Up Chiefs retire not so gracefully!

The K.C. Chiefs have self-destructed. Despite my early season predictions of a revival, they are in danger of sinking.

Local Kansas City newspaper pundits have already buried this season and are concentrating on the college draft next February. By all accounts what was a decent team have self-destructed and sunk.

They appear to be right.

So, where did it all go wrong?

First, the franchise running back, Larry Johnson, is out and has been out for a number of weeks with a mysterious foot injury. Actually, the injury is not so mysterious. You could see his foot change into a hitherto non-existent human configuration live on TV if you are so inclined to watch such horrific footage. I, I regret, can not. Every time the replay shows someone's ankle being mangled, I turn away. Sorry, I'm just too squeamish and have had too many ankle injuries myself.

Larry injury is only mysterious because he doesn't seem to be getting any better. He may not play again this year. This may not be an altogether bad thing – provided he comes back strong. His dyed-in-the-wool dream successor, Priest Holmes, took one too many shots to the head and retired. Can't blame him for that!

Consequence? We have no running game.

Oh, did I mention? We have no offensive line either.

Prudence might dictate that these factors are related, but the commentators who are supposed to know just won't have it. They seem crazily capable of divorcing the two. It remains to be seen if the relationship improves when Johnson returns.

Consequence: the rookie QB has to throw the ball too much and there is functionally no offence.

This is bad. Now the defence has malfunctioned as well. What was the strength of the team is tired and worn out. Recipe: take one offence that can't score and one defence that can't defend and what have you got? Pretty much nothing.

So the local KC press have given up on the team and are busy planning how the team can best benefit from a series of high picks in the draft.

One hopes that the players are going to play for their roster spot next year and surprise someone down the stretch.

The only other area of interest left is whether or not New England can go undefeated throughout the season. I bet not.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Monroe Doctrine

Fleet Street Numpties

This week saw the conclusion, well a kind of conclusion at least, to the saga of the Nat West Three. They plead guilty to a number of charges relating to the collapse of Enron. They will serve some time in jail. They were very naughty financiers who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Today the Sunday Times has forgotten what this story was about. When they were extradited to the U.S to face charges relating to fraudulently obtaining lots of money, the press were outraged. This, better than most, exemplifies the prurient jingoism which colours the popular press in the U.K. Nothing quite like a good spell of “Johnnie foreigner bashing” is so eloquently therapeutic to the Fleet Street hacks.

I find this very odd.

In America we love foreigners. Most of our families, you will remember, started out as immigrants and, by definition, foreigners. There are no more hospitable people in the world than Americans. Even Borat was welcomed with open arms!

One reason is because we seldom meet one. Except for Canadians (who are really Americans in disguise – though if you tell them that you will likely get a punch in the nose for your trouble!) and Mexicans (who increasingly have many relatives in the U.S.!) Americans do not see, speak to, or know any foreigners. Down in Texas they think foreigners are people who live north of Dallas. This explains old Dubbya a lot!

It's not surprising, then, that when Americans do meet someone genuinely from another country, particularly an English-speaking country, they fall over themselves to be welcoming and hospitable. Ask anyone who visits. Even in Florida, where no self-respecting American would vacation in the summer and in New York, which I would gladly give back to the Indians for the 24 dollars in beads, Americans are universally glad to see you.

It's strange to find that the Sunday Times, in what can only be an attempt to “cover-up” the fact that these dudes were guilty as hell and deserve to be in prison, has decided to shift the ground to kidnapping. Apparently, it is still legal for the U.S. to kidnap people, drag them back to America and put them on trial. Outrageous!

Actually, it seems a good idea to me. The hacks who are so staggered by Enron and rendition are the same bods who are apoplectic at the arrest of a British teacher in Sudan.” Crickey what will those nig-nogs do next!!”, and the poor girl who may have been killed by a Dago in Perusia. Honestly!

The Mornroe Doctrine is almost 200 years old. President James Monroe pointed out, rather arrogantly at the time, that the American continent was no longer available for European colonisation. And, he made it stick. He wanted to stop European countries from interfering with North and South America. In the process, he made it clear that the Americans had no interest in the affairs of Europe.

This was fine in the early 1800's – when travel was the province of the super-rich.

Then along came two world wars.

Now, the skies are filled with sun-seeking Brits, and global business interests respect no doctrines.

An updated Monroe Doctrine is needed. It should go something like this: we respect the rights of all citizens of all nations. but, if you commit a crime in our country we reserve the right to find you, bring you back to America and put you on trial. Unless you agree to this, do not visit America or do business with us. Simple.

Britain should do the same. Don't forget – it is Britain who routinely lock up the wrong people for many years and refuse bail to just about everybody.

I'm thinking stones and glass houses here. The Nat West guys got a fair trial. They got off light. I hope they've got their money well hidden. Seems a small price to pay for a few years in jail!!

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