Where satirists use art and language to promote their politics, fundamentalists use guns to enforce theirs. In satire and comedy nothing is sacred and everything is absurd, that is their politics. For religious authoritarians many things are sacred and nothing about that is funny.
The Daily Telegraph carried a piece by Dan Hodges today, written in the wake of the Shrien Dewani acquittal. He asks the question: why are legal systems weighted in favour of those standing trial? He was struck by the judge’s phrase in her ruling ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and writes that it is time to ditch the principle. The reason he gives is that if the standard of proof in criminal trials was lowered to ‘on the balance of probabilities’ more guilty people would be convicted and that is a good thing for society.
In Indianapolis this week a series of events are being run as a protest against books being banned in the United States. This includes the reading of a letter sent to the Chairman of the Drake High School Board in North Dakota in 1973, after 32 copies of the novel Slaughterhouse-5 were burned in the school’s furnace. A copy of that letter from the author of the novel, Kurt Vonnegut, appears below. Continue reading
An enterprising team of all-male scientists from North California State University has invented nail polish designed to change colour when you discretely place your finger into a drink that has been laced with a date-rape drug. It recognises, they state, amongst other drugs Rohipnol, GHB and Xanex. They claim they are “the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault“
In that they are wrong. In 2011 a lip gloss was made, also in the USA, which could detect GHB and ketamine; it was called, inappropriately, “2 love my lips“. In 2009 a chemist from Tel Aviv invented a drinking straw that changed colour on contact with these drugs. Neither of the products has had any commercial success.
The most common type of date rape drug is, of course, alcohol. Spiking alcoholic drinks with double or triple shots will be undetectable by even the most enthusiastic drink-dunking of the finger painted with the new polish. In my experience (for what it’s worth) as a rape and serious sex offences prosecutor of over a hundred cases, I have done only one drugged rape trial. The vast majority of rapists I know use alcohol to induce the state they require. These anti-rape manicures will, I suspect, go the same way as the lip gloss and the straws.
Perhaps a university could instead help invent a culture where men take responsibility for their sexual behaviour rather than one which requires women to stop them.
27th August 2014
The deputy leader of the Duma, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has proposed a Russian law forbidding the use of non-Russian words in public. He is the leader of the nationalist Liberal Democrat party and has said “We are sick of these Americanisms and Anglicisms. We will be making a list of words that are forbidden from use when there are normal Russian words.” The bill was approved last week by the parliament’s culture committee, whose deputy said that the law should be passed out of respect for his country and its language “The language of Tolstoy, Pushkin and so on”.
Here are the opening two sentences of War and Peace in the Russian edition:
“Eh bien, mon prince, Genes et Lucques ne sont plus que des apanages, des estates, de la famille Buonaparte. Non, je vous previens, que si vous ne me dites pas que nous avons la guerre, si vous vous permettez encoure de pallier toutes les infamies, toutes les atrocities de cet Anticrist (ma parole, j’y crois) – je ne vous connais plus, vous n’etres plus mon ami, vous n’etres plus my faithful slave, comme vous dites.”
The Tolstoy estate would have been much diminished by the fines if this was published after the implementation of the new law. The novel has substantial French passages and German and as well.
Pushkin’s poem To Natalie 1813 uses the word vokzals to mean ‘amusement park’ after the world famous Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in south London. The word vokzal is used daily in Russian now to mean central railway station. A Russian delegation visited the area in 1840 to inspect the London and South Western Railway. They mistook the sign at the platform at Vauxhall for the generic name of a railway station. Does Vladimir Zhirinovsky know? The Russian rail network could be bust in a month.
Instead of Mr Zhirinovsky legislating for others’ language, perhaps he could mind his own words. Last month after being asked a question about Ukraine at a press conference he told two of his aides to rape the female journalist who asked it.
I recently wrote a post on this blog complaining that a prisoner in the United States was sentenced to cruel and unusual punishment when she was forced to read a book by Malcom Gladwell (Prison Books, 1st February 2014). In taking things to the other extreme the Lord Chancellor, Mr Chris Grayling MP, has made it against prison rules to send any book to a prisoner in England or Wales. From 1st November 2013 it is forbidden for any convicted prisoner to receive a parcel (either in the post or by hand) whatever it contains, including books, unless exceptional circumstances apply. The rule can be found at Prison Service Instruction No 30/2013 paragraph 10.4. Continue reading
A court in Portland Oregon, on Monday 27th January 2014, sentenced Rebecca Rubin for the offence of arson in the following way:
1. 5 years imprisonment.
2. $14 million restitution on her release.
3. She was required to read, whilst in prison, Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath.
The prosecutor had asked the court to sentence her to 7 ½ years imprisonment and pay $40 million restitution (it is not recorded what book, if any, they required her to read). It seems rather savage to impose literary obligations on prisoners. Continue reading