Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Extradition of Richard O’Dwyer – a case of moral courage

Anybody who’s friends with me on facebook will know that on Monday or Tuesday of each week I always post a picture of Richard O’Dwyer; something I’ve vowed to do every week until his ordeal is over. For those unaware of the current situation; a ruling by the Court of Appeal on Richard’s extradition has been deferred until October. Unfortunately I’m left with the worry that this may simply be a stay of execution and a prolonging of the agony for Richard, his family (especially his mother Julia who has sacrificed much already to try and save him) and his friends. I was tempted to include his supporters in this but that would be insulting; there’s nothing in it for us, win or lose.

Here’s a new article from The Guardian last week http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/aug/08/richard-odwyer-leaked-memo-hollywood-lobbying which everybody should see, it’s noticeable because it features an interview with the man himself. This is important – this is the human face of the drama. The thing that strikes me most about Richard is his ordinariness. I meet plenty of people like him every week. If you have a 23 year old boyfriend, son or brother (or just know a lad that age) think how they would deal with the threat of extradition to America hanging over them.

Now, before we go any further I am not, in the main, anti American. The judicial system there may not be perfect (neither is ours) but America is not China or Russia, let alone Zimbabwe or Syria. But we need to look at what will happen to Richard if he is extradited.

1, As a foreign national he is unlikely to be granted bail, at least not initially. The experience of Christopher Tappin, the businessman extradited on arms charges, has been widely reported (lights in the cell kept on constantly, limited access to his legal team, his family not knowing where he had been taken for several days). There is nothing that contradicts this.

2, Unlike in the UK America makes no distinction between remanded and convicted prisoners (although according to recent reports even the UK are getting this wrong). Unless Richard is held in solitary confinement (itself a demeaning experience tantamount to torture) he will be housed with hardened criminals. Violence is rife in US jails. There are no guarantees about his physical safety, none at all.

3, The distance is going to make it impossible for Richard to call defence witnesses, therefore his right to a fair trial is being severely compromised before its even started.

So much for the facts of the case and there’s very little I can do about it except blog and spread the word. However I have exchanged several letters with my MP Andrew Jones (conservative Harrogate & Knaresborough) and also written a letter to the Home Secretary to which one of her underlings has replied. Now Mr Jones can hardly work miracles; all he can do is raise the issue with his Parliamentary colleagues and send a few letters on my behalf. That, in fairness, he has done. However every letter I have sent has drawn attention to the humanitarian issues detailed above; because this IS a humanitarian issue foremost and the legal and political issues are secondary. I have asked Mr Jones to comment on this and also asked him for his own personal views. He has declined to do so. I will say this – he lacks the moral courage to do so.

The following metaphor may seem way over the top but I will justify it shortly. Imagine Richard was facing the death penalty for a crime that hardly merited it but due to a prosecutor pressing for that sentence, seeking justification in a law that is being misused (just as the Extradition Act was designed primarily for their extradition of terrorists) would Mr Jones be telling me that the law was under review and a report would be published in due course (a fat lot of good if the execution happened first)? And is that example really all that different? We don’t know what will happen to Richard in America. Whatever happens he will probably bear the psychological scars for some time to come – and this assumes he comes to no physical harm.

So much for the case of Richard O’Dwyer. I shall of course publish updates. But until there are significant developments I shall cease my correspondance with Mr Jones – his last letter was a terse paragraph telling me there was little more he could say on the matter (while not answering the humanitarian questions I posed). However I am disappointed that Mr Jones’ moral courage was tested and found wanting. Worse – if Richard is extradited I doubt this will bother him.

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Harrogate Advertiser incompetence part 2

Continuing my occasional series about my ludicrous bigoted and ignorant local rag. The Harrogate Advertiser’s new tabloid format seems to be encouraging the editor to produce a tabloid.

If there’s any section of the paper that should be as neutral as possible it’s the Court and Crime section. In most reports the facts will speak for themselves anyway. There is clearly no need to headline a report with the word `yob` (unless you’re a downmarket tabloid of course). Whatever happened to subjectivity – or maybe Ms McQuarrie (editor) doesn’t understand the concept.

Now that I can live with (the person in question has a lengthy criminal record) but what follows on the opposite page is simply disgusting. Under the headline `Seaside stay after a night in prison` the paper reports on a man ACCUSED of burglary who was found a place in a hostel in Scarborough after spending a night in prison (a home at the seaside as the paper points out).

Note the following points.

1, The man in question has merely been charged with a crime (in this case burglary). He has not been convicted of it yet. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

2, The fact that Scarborough is on the coast is surely irrelevant.

So here we have a supposedly responsible publication deliberately distorting information and implying that a criminal has been found a nice holiday home. I’ve got no sympathy with CONVICTED criminals but reporting like this is so wrong it makes my blood boil.

I wonder how many more examples of this I’ll find over the weeks ahead.

WEEKEND GIG REVIEW PART 3, HARD ROCK CALLING SATURDAY

I must be honest, going to a festival is a bit of an endurance test, particularly if you’re by yourself. I ate a sandwich at 13.30 before setting off and, after getting the best the spot possible, I didn’t dare go for food or a comfort break for fear of losing my place. Anticipating this problem I missed the first act and thus the show for me began with Tom Morrello’s Nightwatchmen.

Rock music will throw up these interesting little twists; Tom Morrello was of course the guitarist in legendary rap metal band Rage Against The Machine before re-inventing himself as a protest singer songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie who (as were were reminded several times by Morrello, was born 100 years to the day of the concert). I’m not sure how many in the audience cared about Woody Guthrie or Morrello’s more socialist pronouncements but it proved a curious start to a day that would mix the corporate with the confrontational.

Digressing slightly, one false note was struck by Morrello’s championing of his former band’s greatest triumph – getting to number one at Christmas ahead of the X Factor machine. Leaving aside the fact that Morrello should be intelligent enough to appreciate the irony of a million people downloading the same song like sheep because they’ve been told to and doing this in the supposed spirit of rebellion. More to the point the loser of this particular chart battle was Joe McElderry who had come out as a gay man shortly before this particular chart battle; given that rock tends to be more homophobic than I would like I’ve always read an element of homophobia into the Rage Against The Machine campaign – even though I’m sure this was not Morrello’s intention it left a nasty taste in my mouth (to be fair to all concerned the target was more Simon Cowell than Joe McElderry).

Next up were Lady Antebellum and the afternoon became soft rock calling. The band did their best but couldn’t help but come over as excessively wholesome, conservative and corporate. John Fogerty was much better. I pride myself on being a rock buff but to my shame I was only vaguely aware that Fogerty wrote Proud Mary and certainly didn’t know that he originated Rocking All Over The World. However I was aware that Bad Moon Rising and Fortunate Son were greatĀ  songs and they sounded fantastic. Credit must go to Fogerty for managing not to be upstaged by the headline act who introduced him, watched the entire set from the wings and joined him at the end for a duet.

Which of course should lead into paragraphs and paragraphs of purple prose about how brilliant Bruce Springsteen is; a temptation I intend to avoid. Hard Rock Calling marked the fourth time I’ve seen him and the second time this year (the first was Manchester in June – a concert I intended to review on here but never got round to doing). Suffice to say that by the time the set was finished the rest of the weekend (Adam Lambert, Iggy, Soundgarden etc) was pretty much irrelevant compared to the Boss.

No two Bruce Springsteen concerts are quite the same and part of the fun lies in contrasting what he did do and what he didn’t do. In the case of Hard Rock Calling he opened with an acoustic version of Thunder Road to mark the fact that he played the song on his first UK visit back in 1975. He also opened the encore with Born In The USA; his signature song as far as the man in the street is concerned but one Springsteen tends to sidestep for some fairly good reasons. It’s not my favourite Springsteen song by a long shot but when he got to that part, `I had a brother at Khe Sahn/ fighting off the Viet Cong/ They’re still there, he’s all gone/ He had a woman he loved in Saigon/ I got a picture of him in her arms now` I felt the goosebumps only genius can produce. How could that moron Ronald Reagan think it was a patriotic song?

At the other end of the scale the highlight of the show may have been when Springsteen collected a sign from a gentleman in the audience requesting an obscure song and noting all the concerts he’d attended when it hadn’t been played. The fan got his wish and the song in question (Take Them As They ComeĀ  from the rarities collection Tracks) was played – given that it must have been unrehearsed it sounded fantastic. Dig out the youtube footage and ask yourself; how many great bands would kill to write a song as good? How is it possible that this man can throw it away on an offcuts collection?

Another mini highlight always comes when he plays the song, `Waiting On A Sunny Day` from The Rising album. Springsteen’s trick here is to invite one of the younger members of the audience to sing a couple of lines of the song. Given that this could easily misfire (as Krusty the Clown once said, `Talk to the audience? My God that’s death) it’s testament to Springsteen’s midas touch that it works. Having seen this trick twice now it must be said that the Manchester boy won hands down, singing his two lines pefectly and looking like a pint size rock star in the making. Hard Rock Calling’s boy somewhat swerved the actual notes but redeemed himself with a cheeky, `Come on E Street band` at the end. To improvise that way in front of a crowd of thousand takes guts – there are many things that make a future rock star.

If there was one small disappointment of Hard Rock Calling it was how Springsteen never really let rip as he did in the final third of Manchester when he fired off about ten of his rockier songs in quick succession. But just as the concert seemed to be winding down there was one final surprise when Springsteen announced (in a strangely matter of fact way) that Paul McCartney was coming on stage. Obviously on a strict icon for icon basis McCartney has been running on past glories for the past forty years (if you disagree please name any song he’s written in the past thirty – no, me neither) but he is still arguably the most important living figure in pop music and is one of the few people genuinely worthy of reverent awe.

So that was my weekend (bar a two hour wait at Kings Cross – even a major refurbishment hasn’t stopped it from being the world’s most boring train station) and the only word I haven’t mention is curfew …