Friday, December 20, 2013

I Fear for Peter Hitchens

I’m worried about Peter Hitchens. He wants to do bad things. He is compelled to do these bad things. Every day, he wakes up and he is assailed by temptation. Jesus had it easy in the wilderness compared to the trials and travails that he suffers. The only thing stopping him from lighting a crack-pipe, getting drunk and disorderly and, presumably, going on a terrible crime spree is his immense, monolithic, immovable self-will, and what remains of the Criminal Justice System.

Why do I worry about this? Well, in his now much re-tweeted debate about Drugs Courts on Newsnight with Baroness Meacher and Matthew Perry, he said this: “The whole point of the Criminal Justice System, and we forget this all the time, is to deter people from committing crimes.”

He is, of course, absolutely right about this. I know from personal experience that I am but a judge’s-day-off away from mass-murder. Every day, Peter and I must have the same experience. We want to tear into the streets with sub-machine guns, give into our ids, and gorge ourselves on the buffet of potential delinquencies available to us. We don’t, but only because we are deterred by the Criminal Justice System. That is what it is there for. That is “the whole point” of it. If it weren’t for that, we would be unleashed.

I am, of course, being facetious – displaying the sort of "levity" that Hitchens aspires to but can never attain, the sort of activity that he tries so hard to deploy but fails to deliver, and therefore resorts to self-righteous spite and venomous disrespect instead (note how he gets gradually more defensive on Newsnight) – but, of all of his ridiculousness and Matt Perry’s flippant rejoinders the other night, that single statement has to be the most stupendously ludicrous, and the most disturbing.

“The whole point of the Criminal Justice System … is to deter people from committing crimes.” The nonsense of this is immediately apparent. The Criminal Justice System enforces the law, certainly with an eye to deterring (something which, incidentally, you can never measure the success of, for there are no records of people who consider committing a crime and then don’t, nor of what their reasons for their change of heart was either), but it also has a look to retributive justice and, we hope, rehabilitation. None of this is easy, but all of it is necessary. The approach to law, morality, and justice must always be highly nuanced and considerate of each individual case according to its circumstances. There must never be a “whole point”. We can never afford to be so blinkered.

It is when you dwell on it that the sheer unpleasantness of thought behind that statement reveals itself. Its implication is that the only thing stopping some people from committing crimes is the threat of punishment. He seems to think, though, that human beings are inclined to failure, to laxity, to wrong-doing, and therefore we need a “stern and effective” CJS to keep us on the moral path prescribed.

Hitchens has no time for rehabilitation. He seems to have no time for considering the complexities of retribution. He is merely interested in the rules of the game. Transgress them, and you are gone, not because you have done something morally wrong necessarily, but because you have made a life-choice that Peter finds disagreeable. To jail with you then, so that others may choose better. Such a view is smug, arrogant, self-centred, uncompassionate, ill-informed, flat-out stupid, and, in his case, probably intellectually dishonest.

To err is human, but should erring (if erring this be) be greeted as something worthy of harsh punishment, solely for the reason that others may be deterred from erring again? Not only is this an unjust form of reasoning, it is also a rod for one’s own back. The recurrence throughout the ages of drug-abuse, for instance, suggests that this is a problem we will not be able to eradicate. If it is a scourge, then it is not one we can defeat, as the failure of drug policies worldwide have demonstrated. The condition is too rooted in human nature.

One needs to rise above the level of the primary school headmaster in our thinking here in order to find better solutions. Hitchens, the crotchety, snarling, disgruntled school teacher par excellence, is not the man whose reasoning we should follow.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Sherlock Solution?

Having just rewatched The Reichenbach Fall, I am madly excited by the prospect of Series 3 of Sherlock (BBC1, 9pm, New Year's Day), not least because we will get the solution (we're told it's satisfying) to the greatest TV conundrum since Richard Whiteley revealed one with a Q and no U in it.
Theories have abounded, though I have to admit that I haven't gone looking for any of them. Here at any rate is my shot in the dark as to how Sherlock survived his fall from the roof of St Bart's Hospital.

Here are the facts:
1. John got a phone call saying Mrs Hudson had been shot, when she hadn’t been. This caused him to leave St Bart’s, but he would inevitably return within a broadly predictable period of time – the length of a return cab journey to and from 221b Baker Street.
2. Sherlock picked the location on the roof of St Bart’s. He may have guessed that he was going to be required to jump off the roof, or not. That is unclear, but he certainly chose that location.
3. Moriarty is definitely dead. His brains are all over the roof. If you look closely, there’s actually a little piece of brain. The rule of Sherlock is always trust your senses, and we saw his brains on the masonry, so he is dead. Dead. Finished. Extinct. A former-Andrew Scott. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He’s run down the curtain and joined the criminal fraternity invisible. This is a late nemesis.
4. Sherlock definitely jumped. John saw him.
5. We definitely see a body hit the floor. Obviously, there are issues about what’s broadcastable and so on, but it doesn’t look like it’s hit the floor at a particularly fast speed.
6. When we first see “the cadaver” (marvellous word), it is partly obscured by a rubbish truck that is quite full with rubbish.
7. Before he can get to the body, John is hit by a cyclist. Afterwards, he is dazed and confused.
8. The cadaver on the floor is definitely dead.
9. Sherlock is definitely alive.

So, here’s my theory:
If Sherlock had jumped from that height and hit the ground he would be dead. He did jump from that height, and is alive. Ergo, he did not hit the ground.
The obvious option would be the rubbish truck. There doesn’t seem to be any other option for anything intercepting him with suitable cushioning to prevent him from dying. He must have landed in there.
Did he get lucky? No. I reckon Sherlock must have worked out that Moriarty wanted him to commit suicide to complete his story, and so he has this all set up, including exact timings. He would have found out what time the bins are usually collected, or there is another option which I’ll return to later.
That explains how he might have survived the fall, but not how we saw “Sherlock” dead upon the ground. Molly’s help is enlisted, and working, as she does, in the morgue, she will have access to cadavers. Find one that fits the symptoms of a severe trauma from a heavy fall, make it up to look like Sherlock and you’ll fool most, but not John. Surely not?
John can’t have been seeing straight. He saw what he feared he would see. When have we heard that before? Why, in The Hounds of Baskerville of course, with the gas that causes terrifying, suggestible hallucinations. So, give John some of that and he will see the dead Sherlock he fears he will. How would that be administered? By the cyclist – only option.
NO WAY. No way Sherlock could have organised that collision between cyclist and Watson. Apart from with the homeless network. That he could have done. He could also have arranged a similar thing with the rubbish truck. Because Sherlock picked the location, we can safely assume that he is in control of the environment to a reasonable degree.
Here’s the problem. Witnesses. Moriarty pointed out that there’s a crowd. People are milling around, buses are going past, and people rush to the body very quickly. It would be an unreasonable degree of control if it’s suggested that he controls all the people going past St Bart’s. So, how does the cadaver get there? Because at no point can that body be Sherlock’s. If it were, he would be very dead, which he isn’t, so it can’t be him.
So, how does Molly get the cadaver out onto the floor and how do people not notice that Sherlock actually landed in the truck? Molly must have dropped the cadaver from a lesser height – third or second floor, something like that. Then, it’s a magic trick. You see the body fall, you see a body hit the ground. Suggestion, distraction – it may well be seen, but it is not perceived.
Ok – even I’m not convinced by that last bit, but I can’t see any other way.

So, over to you Messrs Moffat and Gatiss. How did you do it?