Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “justice”

The final reckoning by Sam Bourne (book review)

The Final ReckoningThe Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I picked up this book from the shelf in the book shop I read on the cover the blurb, “The biggest challenger to Dan Brown’s crown.” Normally that would have been enough to make me put the book back on the shelf and look for something else, but I recalled that I had just read another book by Sam Bourne and it hadn’t been nearly as bad as anything written by Dan Brown, so I thought I’d take a chance on it anyway. It was remaindered and going cheap so I wouldn’t lose too much if it was a serious contender for Dan Brown’s crown as a writer of trash.

But the cover blurb certainly influenced the way I read the book — looking for comparisons with Dan Brown.

There are some superficial resemblances to The da Vinci code (the only Dan Brown novel I’ve read). The main characters are a man and a woman who meet and get hooked into travelling around ostensibly trying to solve a mystery together. Unlike Dan Brown’s characters, they have more believable professions — a doctor and a lawyer. And though it turns out that they are investigating a conspiracy, it is based on a real historical one, and not an imaginary bogus one.

Though the characters and many of the incidents in the story are fictitious, the historical setting is for the most part real. Like The da Vinci code, the story has several plot holes, but they are not as numerous and obtrusive as those in The da Vinci code. There are a couple of points at which the reader’s credulity is strained, a sort of “this kind of thing just doesn’t happen” moment, and then one thinks of former US President George Bush’s “extraordinary rendition”, and one realises that of course it does happen. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Truth is always stranger than fiction, because fiction is a product of the human mind, and therefore congenial to it.”

I won’t say too much about the actual story, because of the danger of spoilers. A suspected terrorist is shot outside the UN headquarters in New York, but turns out to be an apparently harmless old man. Lawyer Tom Byrne, who formerly worked for the UN, is hired to offer hush money the victim’s family so they don’t make a fuss about it, but gets a crush on the victim’s daughter, which complicates things. It seems that shadowy people are looking for something that they suspect her father of having had, possibly his World War II memoir of persecution of the Jews and resistance movements against Nazi occupation, which the old man had been involved in.

The book also raises some moral issues about justice and the pursuit of vengeance. Is vigilante justice ever justified? When does the pursuit of justice cross the line and tip over into vengeance?

It’s not outstanding, but it’s quite a good read, and the tale is quite well told. In that respect, Dan Brown doesn’t come anywhere near challenging it.

View all my reviews

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Thought crime

Back in the bad old days of apartheid we had all sorts of repressive laws in South Africa. There was detention without trial, a long list of banned books and films and laws restricting press freedom. The democracies of the world, including the UK, rightly criticised us for these things, and eventually we repented and abandoned them and opted for a free society.

But now those democracies seem to be adopting the evil ways that we discarded back in 1994. Hat-tip to The Ergosphere for this example:

Just seen on the Telegraph: a story about a woman convicted of a crime for downloading a banned magazine that promotes Islamicist terror. Her story, which the judge believed: she wanted to see what had convinced her brothers (both convicted terrorists) to become terrorists. She was given a short jail sentence, just a month after the time she has spent awaiting trial.

I have a problem with this. Thought crime is NOT crime. Acting on what she read would almost certainly have been criminal, but reading it? I’ve downloaded and read a bunch of terror material, starting with the Turner Diaries and Mein Kampf. I had no interest in becoming a Nazi: quite the contrary. I was merely interested in these documents that convinced people to support Hitler and led to the Holocaust. I wanted to understand what could cause people to do such things.

Is this British justice in the 21st century?

It reminds me of Pontius Pilate “having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him… I will therefore chastise him, and release him” (Luke 23:14, 16).

What was the “therefore” there for?

Daily Maverick :: Biko Lecture: Kentridge warns against government meddling in judicial affairs

Daily Maverick :: Biko Lecture: Kentridge warns against government meddling in judicial affairs:

The police officers responsible for Biko’s death were not reprimanded. In fact, two received promotions. And despite Kentridge’s efforts, the inquest’s verdict found nobody was to blame for Biko’s death.

The reason for the sham verdict, Kentridge reminded us, was that the independence of the apartheid judiciary was undermined by biased judges appointed by the state. At this point there was an almost audible intake of breath from the audience seemingly putting two and two together about recent events around the appointment of the Chief Justice.

Hat-tip to Carpenter’s Shoes: Kentridge and Biko 2011.

‘Nuff said.

I lose my zest to look my best when I read the daily news

The heading is a line from Jeremy Taylor’s song Confession

Well one fine day I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street
Good day, I’ll say, I’ve come a long way
excuse my naked feet
But I lack, you see, the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone
If I’ve gotta die then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?

If the daily news was depressing fifty years ago when Taylor composed his song, it’s just as depressing today, though for a somewhat different reason.

Back then it was depressing over things that mattered, like atom bombs.

Now it is depressing over things that don’t matter so much.

Back then there were important issues at stake, life and death issues, one could say.

Now it’s just about the personalities of politicians jockeying for position.

Three years ago Julius Malema was saying he would kill for Jacob Zuma. Now it seems there’s nothing he’d like better than to step over Zuma’s dead body and into his shoes.

The two big stories for the last fortnight have been Julius Malema’s disciplinary hearing for bringing the ANC into disrepute, and Zuma’s appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice.

But what are they about really? are there any really important issues at stake?

I don’t think so.

I think that the central issue in both is Jacob Zuma’s attempt to curb ambitious or potential rivals, to surround himself with yes-men and distance himself from potential no-men. Thabo Mbeki was accused of doing the same thing when he tried to slap down and discredit Zuma. Zuma bounced back, and perhaps Malema will too.

About the appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice, I think veteran journalist Allister Sparks put his finger on it when he wrote BusinessDay – ALLISTER SPARKS: At home and abroad:

Zuma has bypassed Judge Dikgang Moseneke, the deputy president of the court, whom the legal profession is almost unanimous in regarding as the obvious choice, and named a highly controversial figure instead.

Why? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the president has a personal prejudice against Moseneke. This is the second time he has bypassed the most respected legal mind on the court, who also happens to be in pole position for the senior job.

Moreover, it is believed Zuma approached three other judges before turning to Mogoeng, and that all declined the job. Could it be they, too, recognised Moseneke as the obvious candidate and were uncomfortable about accepting it ahead of him? If that is the case, it means Moseneke didn’t even figure among the top four potential candidates in the president’s mind. In fact it means Zuma has blackballed him.

One is left to assume this is probably because Moseneke is not a member of the African National Congress (ANC), but was once a protege of the ANC’s great rival, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

If Moseneke were Chief Justice, there might be the danger that he would exercise an independent judicial mind, and not be swayed too much by the interests of the ruling clique of the ruling party. It wasn’t so much that Zuma was desperate to have Mogoeng, but rather he was desperate not to have Moseneke.

That’s what’s so depressing about the daily news nowadays. It’s not about big issues any more, but only about the ambitions of politicians to retain or grab power, and the shifting alliances as they do so. Oh yes, Julius Malema talks of nationalising the mines and the spirit of the Freedom Charter. But it might be more in the spirit of the Freedom Charter if the RDP were to be revived. Nationalising the mines might have been a viable option in 1955. All it would achieve now would be to saddle the taxpayers with nearly fully amortised assets, and the liabilities of solving the problems of acid water. So I suspect that is just empty rhetoric to try to gain support.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Steve Biko. Would it have made a difference if he had lived? Or would have have immersed himself in a medical career, as Dikgamg Moseneke has immersed himself in his legal one?

Are todays politicians like children dressing up in their mothers’ clothes, going around saying “I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal”? Trying to walk around in shoes several sizes too big for them, shoes once worn by people like Oliver and Adelaide Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu?

When I read the daily news it certainly looks like it, but are the media telling us the truth?

Perhaps we should follow Bishop Nick Baines when he says, “And most of us have a life to live and work to do and will leave this media game (for, entertaining though it obviously is, that is all it is) to the media.”

Is it just a media game, part of the entertainment that the media provide for the masses?

Bishop Nick writes (Game off | Nick Baines’s Blog) about a different setting, a different group of newspapers, and a different group of people, but perhaps what he writes is true of the media here too.

And, as he says, “Despite the accurately vague language that is used in these reports, it is sadly inevitable that many people will think them credible. I don’t blame the writers for amusing themselves in this way, but the readers need to ask themselves a few questions.”

Central Methodist Church could face closure

Central Methodist Church could face closure – Mail & Guardian Online:

Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church, which houses over 3 000 Zimbabwean refugees, could face closure after a visit by the Gauteng legislature’s health and social development portfolio committee early on Friday morning.

‘We will make a recommendation to close the church after witnessing the horror that we saw this morning,’ said committee chairperson Molebatsi Bopape.

‘If I could have it my way, I would close it down today.’

Quite how they plan to “close” the church is not clear. There might be a slight problem with the constitution, which guarantees religious freedom.

But the fact is that Bishop Paul Verryn has been asking the provincial and municipal authorities for years now to do something to help homeless refugees, and they have done nothing concrete. The church opening its door to homeless refugees is “horror” — but what then is the attitude of provincial and municipal authorities, who would prefer them to sleep in shop doorways?

And all credit to the South African Council of Churches, who have not only supported their member church, the Methodist Church of South Africa, but have, in a clear and lucid statement reminded national, provincial and local government of their responsibilities. Reggie: SACC Media Statement on the situation at Central Methodist Church:

It is well known that the living conditions of the refugees at the CMC are poor and often appalling. No one wants to live in an over-crowded situation where there is no privacy, few sanitation facilities, etc. People are not living in these conditions out of choice. They are not living there because Bishop Paul Verryn and the staff at CMC have invited and encouraged them to live there. Nor is this the reason for Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF) camping at the CMC. The people have moved into CMC because it responded to a humanitarian crisis – to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government responded. It is the calling of the church to provide care and refuge to the destitute and the vulnerable.

While it is easy to turn CMC into a villain in this scenario, SACC warns against jumping to that conclusion. The primary villain, if there is one, first and foremost are such governments as that of Zimbabwe and of those African countries whose nationals live at the church. Within South Africa the primary villain is government; and not the Central Methodist Church.

For far too long the South African government has turned a blind eye to Robert Mugabe’s autocratic and kleptocratic fascist distatorship, which is why millions of Zimbabweans have voted with their feet and fled to neighbouring countries to seek refuge. They are here, in part, because the South African government coddled and cossetted and pampered their oppressor, and doesn’t even want to acknowledge their existence because to do so would expose the unpalatable truth that Zimbabwe under Mugabe is a fascist dictatorship.

Ms Bopape, your government helped to create this situation, and the Methodist Church just responded to it. If you regard it with “horror”, then the best long-term solution is to help make the homeland of the refugees habitable again, instead of turning a blind eye to the repression and gross violations of human rights that are taking place there. And until Zimbabwe becomes habitable again, do something about helping the homeless refugees now.

Reggie Nel quotes the SACC statement in full on his blog, and it is well worth reading.

Want to do something about it? Sign this petition for a start.

Now the US bullies Scotland


When Barack Obama became president of the US, some of us hoped that among the changes we were urged to believe in would be the US abandoning its role as self-appointed bully of the world.

But it seems that this was a change we could not believe in.

Laurence White: Lockerbie case has more to do with politics than justice – Laurence White, Columnists – Belfasttelegraph.co.uk:

The Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, is equally convinced. Indeed, such is his fury at the release of al-Megrahi, that he wrote a letter to the man who set him free, Scottish justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, in such vitriolic terms it is a wonder it did not spontaneously burst into flames when exposed to the open air.

There can seldom have been such a missive sent from the security services of one country to a its friendliest and longest standing ally. He described the decision to release al-Meghrahi as making a “mockery of the rule of law”.

FBI director rips release of Lockerbie bomber – Terrorism- msnbc.com:

‘Your action,’ he wrote MacAskill, ‘makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988. You could not have spent much time with the families, certainly not as much time as others involved in the investigation and prosecution.’

He ended the Lockerbie letter with a frustrated question: ‘Where, I ask, is the justice?’

Perhaps he should ask where the justice was when William C Rogers did not spend any time in jail at all. Doesn’t that make a mockery of the grief of the families that lost their own on 3 July 1988, just six months before the Lockerbie crash?

Are there no limits to US hypocrisy and bullying?

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