Friday, July 25, 2008

Crime statistics matter. Sometimes. Depending on who you ask.

Dan Gardner had a great article in the Ottawa Citizen today about the recent stats released showing that in most areas crime rates in Canada continue to fall. Mr. Gardner goes through all the ways in which such statistics are trumpeted and lauded or ignored and derided depending upon such variables as the political leanings of the the commentator, the policy objectives of said commentator, and the price of tea in China.

A few highlights (go read the whole article lazy bones!):

"When national crime stats decline, everyone rushes to take credit...

My favourite reaction to last week's news was the line worked up by some spin monkey in the office of Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien: "New chief, new mayor, new approach. It works." Of course, this is utter nonsense -- not only did crime decline in cities across the country, the decline in Ottawa was actually less than the national average -- but Mr. O'Brien is a politician and in politics neither logic nor modesty is a virtue."

"The reaction of the justice system's critics to crime statistics depends entirely on the direction in which those statistics are headed.

If statistics show crime is rising, the statistics are a perfectly accurate reflection of the frightening reality.

If they suggest crime is falling, they are so transparently flawed that only fools, Liberals and criminologists would believe them."

"When serious violent crime rose a couple of years ago, Mr. Harper, then the opposition leader, waved the statistics about like a bloody shirt. Homicide is up 12 per cent! Guns, gangs, and drugs are out of control!

But then the stats turned around and Mr. Harper started warning people not to be bamboozled by numbers. 'Some try to pacify Canadians with statistics,' he scoffed in a speech earlier this year."

"'Mind you,' rejoined (Claire) Hoy, 'one in five homicides in Canada occur in Toronto but hey, when you count murders as a percentage of the overall population instead of counting them as dead bodies, it's easy to brag about how "safe" the city is.'

Mind you, by Hoy's logic, a village with a population of 50 in which one person goes on a rampage and kills the other 49 is safer than Toronto because the hamlet's body count is lower. I suspect the population of the village would dispute that interpretation. Or they would if they weren't all dead."

Go read the whole article. It's spot on.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Christian Bale is NOT the best Batman...

So, I saw "The Dark Knight" last night and let me just start off by saying yes, it's really that good.

Ledger's Joker is spectacular (it's a terrible shame we'll never get him as the Joker again, and also that there can't be a Joker in the next two or three Batman movies... 'cause no one should have to follow THAT!). I won't be at all surprised if he gets an Oscar nomination, and I think he'd be a more than deserving winner.

The movie is dark (for a movie rated 14A), both in tone and in visuals (the former more than the later... there's a great hospital scene in broad sunny daylight). There's lots of action and also nuance and subtlety and I think it's the best Batman movie yet (better than Batman Begins, which was really good!). The performances are all good (EXCELLENT in Ledger's case, very good in the case of Bale and the other main leads (what do you expect with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and the excellent Gary Oldman in supporting roles?). I didn't love Aaron Eckhart's performance, but it was fine, and my opinion of it is probably jaded by the phenomenon that was Heath Ledger's Joker. Definitely not to be missed. Go see it in theatres early enough to still be able to see it again if your decide you have to (which you might!).

All that said, I saw at Macleans just now a poll on who was the best Batman. I can't link to it as it was just an embedded poll on the page, but here are the responses.

Who's the best Batman?

Christian Bale 46%
Michael Keaton 30%
Adam West 14%
George Clooney 5%
Val Kilmer 5%

Now, I'm sorry, but no. Michael Keaton is the best Batman.


Don't get me wrong, Christian Bale is excellent, and I'd even agree perhaps that his two movies are the two best movies of all of them. However, I think the last few pre-"Batman Begins" Batman movies (which were abominations) really soured us all on the franchise, and made us forget how good that original Batman really was. As I said, I might give you that the last two movies are the best two (though I think I'd rank them 1. "The Dark Knight", 2. "Batman", 3. "Batman Begins") but that original Batman was the ORIGINAL, and I don't think you ever get "The Dark Knight" without Keaton and Bassinger and Nicholson setting that bar (nor do your probably get the X-Men films, or a dozen other comic book/ superhero flicks of more recent history).

Michael Keaton was a bit of a surprise casting to be the Dark Knight (Mr. Mom's gonna play BATMAN!?!?) but he was an inspired choice and a truly excellent Batman. Bale's great and all, and the two movies he's been in couldn't have been as great without him (you can't have a great Batman movie if you've got a sucky Batman) but Keaton is the best Batman, and we shouldn't let Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Chris O'Donnell in tights wipe from our memories how good the first Batman film was, and how good Keaton was.

Now, who's the best Joker?

Cesar Romero, hands down. (Did you see that coming?)

But for movie Jokers is it Jack or Heath?

Tough call. Very different performances in many ways. Today, I'm leaning towards Ledger.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When Johnathan Kay wants Khadr freed...

... just how much of a right wing nut do you have to be to disagree?

Today's headline of note from the National Post: Free Omar Khadr.

And what crazy left-wing moon-bat suggests this?

Johnathan freaking Kay.

Nicely written Mr. Kay.

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It's not that what's happening to Omar Khadr is particularly shocking....'s that it's happening to this particular person, for the particular crime he's accused of.

The release of the Khadr interrogation tape isn't particularly shocking to me in what it shows (more on that in a sec) and personally, I don't even think he's been subjected to anything that we should prohibit as a general principle. However (and it's a big however) that this is all happening to Omar Khadr IS pretty damned shocking.

Just to be clear, Khadr is ACCUSED of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. medic. No witness saw him throw the grenade, and the person who, frankly, is more likely to have thrown the grenade is dead (he was shot several times, Khadr's lawyers would say right after he threw the grenade). What's more, every other non-American involved in the fight is dead too (and I don't disagree particularly with those of you who just said "good riddance"). Now, maybe Khadr threw the grenade, maybe he didn't, but to me it seems at least possible that the reason he's the one who's been accused of throwing the grenade is that he's the only one left alive who can be accused of throwing the grenade. I often wonder, if Khadr hadn't survived the two gun shot wounds to the back would anyone have said after the firefight "I bet that kid's the one who threw the grenade that killed our medic". There's really precious little evidence to support the accusation, which is the first point worth noting.

That said, if Khadr threw the grenade he's (arguably) a murderer. Many will say that's not the case; that you don't need to be in uniform to fight back at armed foreign soldiers attacking your village, but I'll gladly concede that point for the sake of argument. He's a murderer (allegedly) and should be held accountable for that crime. However, there's a system of justice for these types of things, and on the crime itself, there's no reason, imho, to set aside due process and natural justice just for that.

But what about "intelligence"?

The problem, as I see it, is that we're (the U.S., but by extension, us) not keeping him locked up without due process because he has valuable intelligence either. Even if he did, don't tell me they haven't broken him in 6 years, or that after 6 years locked up in Cuba, this guy who was 15 years old when he was captured still has intelligence to give up that is of any use half a decade later.

And, for the record, I don't have a general problem with sleep deprivation either, nor do I think it's torture (Abuse? Maybe.) But to be clear, I wouldn't particularly object to such a technique being used on a bin Laden, or an al-Zhawahiri, or a Saddam Hussein. I certainly object to torture, but in the right circumstances, I think what;s allegedly been done to Khadr could get a pass from me. There was nothing in that video, or in the description of Khadr's treatment, that shocked my conscience, or that I would consider particularly reprehensible. However, the point is, why are we using such techniques on a kid like Khadr? I don't think a 15 year old like Khadr is worth using sleep deprivation on. After a couple of years, just what the Hell was he still going to give up? The kid may be a criminal; he may even be a terrorist; but he ain't bin Laden. What exactly is it alleged we’re going to get out of this kid interrogation-wise? More to the point, what actionable intelligence can we get from someone (anyone) whose been locked up in Cuba for 6 years? Even if he knew something worthwhile (which I kinda doubt), how could the first few years of interrogation not have broken him, and what could he possibly know that’s still useful 6 years later?

It seems pretty clear to me that they're keeping him in Gitmo because even a military tribunal couldn't actually convict him of anything if they wanted to. They're keeping him in Gitmo because the only other alternative is to let him go entirely. Now, many will argue that he deserves to stay locked up forever without ever needing to be convicted of anything whatsoever. Fine. But let's at least be honest that that's the argument that's being made. We're keeping him locked up without a trial because we can't convict him of anything if we hold a trial. It's really as simple as that.

What is happening to Omar Khadr wouldn’t be shocking, imho, if it were happening to someone else. But as it’s happening to Khadr, it is pretty damned shocking. He's a fifteen year old kid (or, he was the last time he was outside of a cell) accused of throwing a grenade at a soldier. For this we give up due process and the rule of law? This kid's such a threat that we need to keep him locked up forever without a trial? (and that's what it's gonna take... not even a legally dubious, Supreme Court defying, military tribunal is going to be able to ever convict him of anything).

If Omar Khadr needs to be kept locked up forever without a trial, and it was necessary for us to use sleep deprivation to squeeze as much intelligence out of him as we possibly can, then we're screwed. If we set aside due process and use dubious interrogation techniques on some 15 year old kid accused of throwing a grenade at an attacking military unit, no matter how bad he is, it's already over. If a little punk like Khadr is really worth all that; if we're really that desperate - we're never going to win.

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