September 04, 2005

Thoughts on Katrina

Even though I was safely half a world away, I spent a lot of time worrying about the impact of Katrina on Lousiana and neighbouring regions. The internet brought the lead up and aftermath of this disaster right into my workplace.


My thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of those affected.

To appreciate just what has happened to New Orleans (and I realise this is only one part of the much larger area affected), check the photos linked from this map at NOAA.

But it seems to me that the potential for the tragedy was foreseen well in advance - Noone can say they didn't see it coming (unfortunately link appears not to be working tonight) - and the funding to fix it got cut to help pay for the war in Iraq. It was a game of Russian Roulette, and this time the chamber was loaded. Now the 'foreseen' disaster will end up costing so much more - in lives and dollars - as a result.

Here's another post that I found very interesting: For They That Sow the Wind Shall Reap the Whirlwind. As Katrina sat in the Gulf of Mexico building to a category 5 hurricane, some meteorologists were quick to discount global warming as playing any part. If they are right (I doubt it), good, but if they are wrong then I really am concerned about the environment we will be leaving for our kids if we do not take some action now.

I was discussing with my wife what it would be like to lose just about everything, as has happened to many in New Orleans. How do you pay your mortgage when your workplace has disappeared? Where do your bills get sent when you have no address? Just how understanding are your creditors when they lose contact with you for a while? (Personally, I have insurance for as many of these risks as possible, but it doesn't cover every possibility.) Well, perhaps Dubya needs to rethink his Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act before it is too late.

God save America. I don't think Dubya can do it.

Posted by Jeffrey at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2005

The scales of justice

Today there has been a lot of media interest in the Schapelle Corby sentence - 20 years jail following discovery of 4 kg of hash in her luggage.

To me, this reinforces that Indonesia has one of the most flexible legal systems on earth. By flexible, I mean that the end result bears as much or as little relation to the evidence as someone with influence feels is appropriate.

I don't know if Schapelle is innocent or not, but even a cursory examination of the facts (or absence thereof) during the trial seems to reveal large holes in the prosecution's case.

Before I elaborate, lets back up to the trials of the Bali bombers. The bomb in October 2002 killed 202 people. Four people were identified as 'hands on' bombers and sentenced:

Amrozi - death
Imron - life
Samudra - death
Muklas - death

And the cleric Abu Baka Bashir was sentenced to 2.5 years jail for conspiracy in plotting the bombing. Lets look at some comments on his sentence (full article here):

HASSAN WIRAJUDA: Look at when the law is in action. In the case of the Bali bombing, three perpetrators were sentenced to death. Others were imprisoned for years. Of course it was because the court has found substantial evidence that allowed these heavy sentences.

While in the case of Bashir, there is no direct evidence, strong evidence of Bashir's direct involvement in the Bali bombing, but I learn also in the case of the Mariott bombing. And that's why, based on pure legal process and calculations, that was the result.

Now back to Schapelle's case. Yes, there is irrefutable evidence of drugs, 4 kg of it. But the bag containing it was not fingerprinted. While she could easily have asked someone else to put it in her luggage, her fingerprints on the bag would prove that she did put it there. Someone else's fingerprints would open a channel for further inquiry, and leave open the question of whether Schapelle had knowledge of the drugs presence in her luggage. It seems like a simple forensic test with the potential to strengthen the case dramatically, and at worst a dead end.

More telling in my view is the failure to weigh her luggage. Each item of checked luggage has a tag on it listing the total number of items checked by the passenger, and their total weight. 4 kg is obviously sufficient to make a noticeable difference to the total luggage checked. If the total weight was higher at the Bali end by 4 kg than when it was checked in at departure, that would tend to point to the fact that the drugs were added after her luggage left her control. Once again, a simple 'forensic' test (if it even deserves that description) could not harm the prosecution's case but may have led it in a different direction (away from an innocent person). The 'scales of justice' were not used.

The failure to tie up these loose ends, testing for which is low-tech and well within the capabilities of any police force, leaves open two glaring holes in the case and introduce's some doubt as to whether justice was achieved. Compare this situation with the quote above where the presence of circumstantial evidence and absence of direct evidence created doubt and resulted in a light sentence for a crime that killed in excess of 200 people. This strongly suggests that the facts were not really considered important to the result of the Corby trial, and it was considered more important to create an example to discourage drug trafficking.

Tonight I am crossing Indonesia off my list of holiday destinations. I have been there (all be it briefly), but I won't be back. I lived in Asia for two years in the late 90's, and have travelled there since 9/11. Something has changed, and the place has lost a lot of its' charm. Today it lost most of what remained for me.

My wife and I donated to charities for tsnumani relief in Aceh. This was because we genuinely cared about the victims. As it turns out, the Indonesian bureaucracy ('the best bureaucracy that money can buy') has got in the way, and none of it is making it to Aceh. No real surprise there, it's a christian province and Jakarta could not really care if it disappeared off the face of the earth. We should have thought of that before we wasted our money. Next time around, I doubt that Indonesia will find Australian's as generous as they have been.

Posted by Jeffrey at 12:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack