Silence & Subtlety, How Double-Standards Became Normal

It isn’t often that Britain is the target of organisations like Human Rights Watch, just as it isn’t often that the U.K. comes under the spotlight. It is, after all, a functioning democracy, the (very much alleged) home to parliamentary politics and a nation of free men. Except it isn’t. Creeping control, the world’s highest penetration rate of surveillance and over-weening bureaucratic rule make it anything but free.
That’s why HRW’s report is so refreshing. This is a serious organisation, not one, like Amnesty International, that gets overly-excited or follows liberal pretension.

So when HRW says that the U.K. has “lost its way,” what we have is a statement of fact that should be taken seriously.

“It should be well-established that freedom of expression includes the freedom to shock, offend, or disturb. Yet with the amplifying effect and legal novelty of social media, that basic truth is too often overlooked” the HRW report reads.

Europe’s attitude to free speech has always been skewed. It works on the assumption that the freedom can be one of degree – but this is like saying a woman can be “a little bit pregnant.” Speech is either free or it isn’t, there’s no degree. If a degree exists, it exists in how limited the freedom is. Does Europe guarantee the right? No, it does not. Is Europe’s lack of freedom comparable to, say, North Korea’s? No, Europe doesn’t guarantee free speech, but it isn’t as stringent as North Korea.

In other words, there are degrees of obstruction to freedom – but something is either free or it is not. Are those woman pregnant? Yes, they are; one is eight months pregnant, the other is two months pregnant. Or, no, neither are pregnant.

It has to be one or the other, because free speech has tangible effects on society. We know this is true because the police in Britain have been arresting people, and the courts have been sentencing people, for expressing an opinion. Those opinions expressed were insulting – to some. They may have been crude, vulgar, obnoxious and unkind, too – to some. What is very clear, though, is that they were words – and words cannot be illegal.

The argument that words spread further and faster because of the Internet and cell phones is foolish. Words have always spread. The world is filled with libraries that prove this as a fundamental, unchangeable fact.

No one would single out Britain, or Europe, for its crimes against civil liberties but for one reason: the U.K. and Europe are notoriously noisy in their condemnation of limits to liberties elsewhere on the planet. They scoff at the use of capital punishment in some U.S. states, at the subjugation of women in some Muslim nations, at the treatment of children in China. And all this is fine, because they’re free to do so. That’s them exercising free speech, as it were – but they must also concede that a civil right curtailed is a civil right curtailed, whether it happens in London or Lagos. Whether you’re in Britain or Burma, your right to freedom of expression is limited by authoritarian and, yes, criminal, state action.


U.K. Police Taser Blind Man Walking at “Snail’s Pace”

Lancashire police have launched an “urgent investigation” into lessons they may learn after mistakenly tasering a blind man whose white cane was mistaken for a Samurai Sword. I have absolutely no idea how anyone (with eyes, that is) could mistake a cane for a sword at any distance, let alone tasering distance. I expect the first lesson to be learned will be eye tests for cops. Another good idea would be IQ tests, because it seems self-evident that the shooter was a mental defective. While it’s true that mental retardation is a pre-requisite for police recruitment, the truly, hopelessly, irretrievably thick ones shouldn’t be armed with anything more dangerous than a cup of tea.
It may be time for some retaliation in Lancashire. Why not taser a cop? Well, they can’t because the citizens of Lancashire aren’t allowed to protect themselves, not even from the police – which pretty well sums up the definition of a police state.

This is a picture of a person with a white cane.

This is a picture of a juvenile carrying a Samurai sword. They seem distinctly different.

The U.K.’s Daily Telegraph on broken promises and holding tight to unnecessary laws

Britain’s coalition government promised to withdraw the draconian, control-freak laws signed into power after Labour’s love-fest with Stasi-Style government. The promise has been broken, because, as the DT says, governments will only nullify laws that they don’t approve of. So… keep your Corona Corona in your pocket because their promises are empty. You still can’t light up and enjoy your whiskey with a good cigar.
You can, though, light up in your own home. And there’s no law against opening your door to guests – or asking them to pay for the drink they consume. Or you can sell “raffle tickets”. The police may be surprised that every ticket sold wins a beer, but life’s a lottery and if you can mess with their heads, well done and keep it up.

The New Freedom Construct

Two young Englishmen jailed this week for insulting others might well be wondering what happened. They’re told that their country is a western democracy that upholds the rule of law – and they’re right, it is and it does. That’s the problem. Had they lived 6,000 miles to the south and been Zimbabwe’s energy minister, they wouldn’t be in prison.
During the same week, Elton Mangoma, a Movement for Democratic Change minister, was held by police for about four hours after it was alleged he had insulted President Robert Mugabe. He was questioned by the Law & Order Section, a notorious and frightening department based at Harare Central Police Station. Then he was released, without being charged.
It’s illegal to threaten or insult the president in Zimbabwe, a fact the west has frequently criticicised. And mocked. After all, no such law exists in the developed northern hemisphere. Or does it? If no such law exists, why is Matthew Woods in prison for making jokes about missing girls on Facebook? The jokes were offensive, which now, apparently, is a criminal offense.

Another man, Barry Thew, faces eight months for wearing a T-Shirt that insulted the police. Thew’s son allegedly was one of the 1,443 people who’ve died in police custody since 1990.

Paul Chambers, who made a joke about blowing Britain’s absurdly named Robin Hood airport “sky high” was convicted for the “crime”. Fortunately Chambers wasn’t without means and, after months of appeal, had his case thrown out.

There’s a problem though. This is just some of the weirdness displayed by the cops and the Director of Public Prosecutions at the U,K. Crown Prosecution Service. You can tell them how Orwellian and peculiar they are here.

All this is made possible by the U.K.’s Public Order Act, again a law not hugely different to Zimbabwe’s law of the same name.

So, which is freer? The U.K., or Europe, for that matter, or those dictatorial regimes in the so-called developing world, the ones people find so funny or tear-jerkingly sad, depending on their beliefs?

In the U.K. over 1,400 circumstances give over 20,000 officials the right to enter your home without a warrant. As opposed to none in most of the developing world.