The following posts have no fixed theme or style, but I hope you enjoy reading them!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The National Interest

A recurring theme in the news these days is the abuse of human rights. It's a well known fact that there are conflicts between one right and another, and conflicts where protecting one person's rights violates another person's rights. However, there is another type of conflict that emerges from time to time.

To what extent should it be possible to violate someone's human rights if it is in the national interest? Who should be allowed to make the decision?

A while ago there came the news that the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested. The Chinese government had decided that he was a bad influence in the country. It had calculated the pros and cons of locking him up and decided that it was better to arrest him. Like the Burmese government with Aung San Suu Kyi, it is likely to reconsider it if there is enough international pressure put on the government. Freeing him would allow him to enjoy freedom of movement and expression in accordance with his human rights. Article 9 of the internationally recognised "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" states
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile

So why does China keep him imprisoned? It takes a lot of resources. I don't think it is purely self-preservation on the part of the government. Instead, it can be argued that it is in the national interest to keep him and his ideas away from the general public. When an idea suddenly appears and spreads in a country, there tends to be a sudden revolution and, like a volcano, it causes a lot of damage before it settles and makes it a more fertile land. French revolutions caused violence for decades, and the breakup of the USSR left a vacuum in most of eastern Europe for years. The aim is to allow ideas to seep out gently to avoid political, social and economic collapse that would otherwise be possible.

OK OK, it's stretching it a bit to say that the government should be allowed to lock up any artists it doesn't like. I'm being provocative. But there is another story on the same spectrum that is being viewed differently.

The story I'm thinking of is the Julian Assange case and Wikileaks. Wikileaks is an interesting contradiction in itself, being on the one hand a breach of national security and on the other, the uncovering of the government's true feelings, which American voters might argue they have a right to know. Whatever you think about Wikileaks, the attempts to prosecute him for a long-forgotten sex crime are a thinly veiled cover for locking him away for the good of the nation.

So, with different situations, we arrive at the same conclusion. Governments feel that they can take away a citizen's freedom if their views, expressed as allowed under the principles of freedom of speech and information, are deemed to be potentially dangerous and disruptive to the nation as a whole.

Maybe that's fine and justified. But when we vote in a government, do we all realise that we are trusting them to the extent that we allow them to withdraw a person's human rights on our behalf?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


The council (or their friends) have been digging up our road. So far this year they've spent more time digging up our road than I've spent drinking tea, and less time filling in potholes than I have spent drinking coffee!! I'm not sure they have their priorities quite right.

First they put in traffic calming and road crossings in at the entrance to the road. I'm convinced it makes the road less safe rather than more safe, as you have to swerve into the middle of the road and towards traffic coming road the corner off the main road. I could draw a diagram, but I want to tell you about the second digging project of the year, so I'll skip over it for now.

Last week, holes appeared at intervals along the road. They were clearly working on a supply route for water, gas, electricity or sometime.

On Friday our gas was off. I had to resort to fast food when I discovered that our hob wasn't working. Still, it's not too important when the sun is out and summer is approaching. So I assumed it was all part of the process and didn't worry any more about it.

On Monday things were different though. I got back from a weekend away and Housemate Paul greeted me with the news that the gas was still off. This was a little more worrying, because the road was all filled in and the only reminder that anything had been there was a pile of cones and barriers ready to be picked up. I was starting to worry whether it was something in our house, but at 10pm I thought I'd look online on the off chance that there might be a helpline for this kind of thing. As it turned out, it was very easy and I was soon calling National Gas Grid plc.

A very kind gentleman calmly told me that he was very worried for my safety. I must not turn anything electrical on or off for fear of explosions, and I must isolate the gas supply to the house immediately and ventilate the house in any way possible. A gas man would call within an hour and make sure we weren't going to die in our sleep.

This all seemed a little over the top, but I was impressed by the fact that they were dealing with me seriously so I went along with it all. Except I turned on the telly. I've been turning electrical things on and off all the time and not had any problems, so I wasn't going to miss out on some TV for that. Somewhere across town a rather tired gas man got out of his bed and into his van so he could come and see me. He had a good sniff, using his rather tired nose, and a gas monitor. It turns out that there was no gas being supplied to our house, as we suspected. He reassured us, and we went off to our separate beds across town.

This afternoon, I came back from work to find this note through the door.

It turns out that they had managed to disconnect our gas supply during the road digging and had not reconnected it. This evening, there was also a brand new hole at the top of the road. A hole in the road, all for us! I feel so honoured!